Colorado~ The last stop

July 22nd, 2010 No Comments »

Colorado was shorter than I would have liked. I didn’t spend as much time in the smaller, mountain towns west of the Rockies because we ran out of money and summer hit Colorado with temperatures in the high 90’s, prohibiting tent camping.

Our first stop was Ft Collins. I spent two days there and the day I arrived, Ft Collins was featured on CNN & Money Magazine as one the best places to live in the United States.
Best Places to Live

I wandered about downtown and shot video. I even stopped by Colorado State and spent significant time videoing there with my mother, mesmerized by the floral gardens. I noticed above average number of restaurants, plus lots of friendly folks going about their day. It reminded me a little of Boise. When a city chooses to invest and maintain the downtown, then the life quality of life is increased and small business owners have a chance to make a living and not be squeezed out by larger corporations. My first impression of Fort Collins was reminiscent of Medford, Oregon. I can’t say that I would never live there, but it felt a little big for me, though it’s significantly smaller than where I live.

Later I learned from a former resident that the area had been plagued by a meth problem. I wasn’t sure about this so I did a little research and the county where Fort Collins is located has struggled with meth labs. I thought that it was odd that the city was so high on the best places to live list, given this issue, but perhaps other factors prevailed in the sequencing of the cities.

The video I shot and put together if it were a salsa would fall in the mild category. I did meet a cool guy named Cody at Nature’s Own and he was interested in moving to Austin and talked with me about it off camera. While I could have gotten some good information from him he was too shy so I interviewed a nice young woman named Ashton whose immediate goal was to leave Fort Collins to sow some oats and who can
blame her? Sowing oats is like the customary smack on the bottom after you are born. Kick starts you, doesn’t it?

Here is what I shot in Fort Collins, a nice mild video that would befit it’s status as number 6 on the Best Places to Live list.

Downtown Fort Collins & Nature’s Own

We left Fort Collins and headed south to Denver. When we were in Crescent City, CA we met a family a few sites down from us staying in a KOA cabin. Astra and I had a lovely tent site right next to some massive old redwood stumps nestled in smaller (relative to the stumps) trees and ferns. It was a Jurassic landscape and we stayed four days. During those four days Astra and Maddie became friends and decided they wanted to meet up later when our journey took us through Colorado.

Denver is not on my radar for a place to live. I’d been to Denver and Boulder back in the 1990’s when my campus environmental organization was affiliated with a larger parent group called SEAC— Student Environmental Action Coalition. As I write this, I wondered if SEAC was still functioning and sure enough it is! One of the first SEAC conferences ever held was in Boulder, CO and I went there with my group called SCAPE (Students Concerned About Protecting the Environment) from Mississippi State University back in the early 90’s.


I’ve always liked Boulder, but it’s too pricey for me, so our trip to Denver was to see the friends we’d met. Astra found a kindred spirit and I met some lovely people with whom I enjoyed spending time. Vicky is a chemical engineer and Awon teaches creative writing and their daughter Emma is about the age of my students & I found much to talk about with everyone. Maddie and Astra who are about to enter the fourth grade were inseparable and talk about how they met and why they are going to be life long friends in the video below. It’s very sweet and I hope it will serve as a memento for them in the future.

Astra & Maddie: Kindred Spirits

We tootled around Cripple Creek, a town that has capitalized on converting older structures into casinos and of course there are wild donkeys that run free about the place and have the right of way. I did video Cripple Creek, but I could not find anyone to really talk with me except I did get the scoop from our waitress about the schools. She had an unfortunate experience with the local elementary school with regard to her daughter’s progress. I made some suggestions, though she did not want to be interviewed. It’s a small town so I can’t blame her. I may include a few clips. It’s not anything I find particularly illuminating except for my quest to find the grocery store after circling the town two times and finding nothing. Astra and I decided that Cripple Creek was a place to visit, but not a place to live. However, we did find a town we really liked and there is video of it.

The next video is from Divide, Colorado, a town west of Colorado Springs in the mountains. We popped into Venture Foods and a lady asked not to be interviewed but directed us next door to Darryl AKA Darren Thornberry and his interview is below. Astra was present for nearly all of the interviews & this one is her favorite. After we left she remarked, “That was the best interview ever, mom!” Darren’s flair makes him a great front man for his band and I was lucky to meet him. You see I woke this last morning of our adventure weary from road travel and dreading finding no one and nothing of interest. I should not have despaired, because the universe smiled on me and I had a great day.

Darren Thornberry

Thorn’s Musical Journey

I continued to drive east towards Colorado Springs and entered the town of Woodland Park where Darren actually resides and I can understand why he would choose to live there. The size, layout, scenery, businesses and activities all screamed ‘live here Sher.’ As were driving through town I saw a sign for the farmer’s market that day and pulled over and headed over to it. If there is one good place to meet people and find out about an area it’s a local market. I was fortunate to meet some like-minded folks from the Harvest Center. I was impressed by the work they have accomplished in Woodland Park to help bring about a sustainable living area. The video below contains scenes from the farmer’s market and an interview with Lee Willoughby from the Harvest Center.

Woodland Park Farmer’s Market & The Harvest Center

The Harvest Center

The next stop was Manitou Springs and if it had not been 100 degrees outside I might have spent more time exploring the area. It reminded me of Eureka Springs, Arkansas and I suspect it’s a popular day spot for Colorado Springs residents. I took some video here and spoke with a young lady who divulged to me off camera that she had a poor experience living in Fort Collins owing to the meth problem in the city. This would not prevent me from moving there since it appears from all the billboards of meth stained teeth throughout Colorado that communities are working hard to remove this drug problem. Here is the clip. I also had the good fortune to eat some of the best falafel ever in a restaurant called the Heart of Jerusalem Cafe. It’s on the video. Take a look:

Manitou Springs

The last video I filmed in Cripple Creek outside our cabin and it’s my goodbye and thank you to all the amazing people I encountered in my travels. Seeing the people, walking the streets, driving around aimlessly exploring potential cities and towns has given me a foothold and confidence to relocate to these areas that I would not have had if I’d stayed in Texas all summer. I was especially attracted to the Flathead Valley in Montana, but then I liked nearly all the valleys I visited ~ the Skagit and the Rogue~ and would feel fortunate to live in an area where sustainability is at the forefront of community development. If we met, please watch the video to allow my sincerest of thanks in person.

Sher says goodbye from Cripple Creek, CO

Montana— Big Sky Country

July 8th, 2010 2 Comments »

The state of Montana always elicits a sort of dreamy-eyed wildness when mentioned. Montana has a low population, vast undisturbed wilderness and fosters independence in all who reside there. My trek through Montana was in western Montana, as I had seen eastern Montana and knew I would prefer being closer to the mountains.
I had also met someone from Kalispell last spring (my Farmer’s Insurance agent) and she encouraged me to check it out and so I did. First, let me say all of the Flathead Valley was lovely and though I liked the Skagit Valley in WA and the Rogue Valley in OR, I finally had the kick in the head moment I’d been waiting for all this time. I could see myself there and was sad to leave it.
My first video of the area is from an unlikely place, but it caught my eye and I just could not rest until I got to see it and make a movie about it. It was called the Humane Society of Northwest Montana which is located on the northern end of Kalispell. A nice young man named Dennis was my tour guide and I was very impressed with this facility especially since it highlights the possibilities for a community and for people who may have the option to leave something special that benefits people and animals.

Northwest Humane Society & a tour with Dennis

My friend Barry Dopp who lives in Challis, Idaho told me I had to visit a little town near Glacier National Park called Polebridge. He said they had an incredible bakery & a funky July 4th Parade that while he had never seen, he’d heard was a blast. Astra and I were staying just north of Kalispell, camping, freezing and having a decent time besides that. So the morning of July 4th rolled around and we were still on Pacific time and woke late and hit breakfast late, too. I struggled to find the time the parade started on line and when I did locate it, we had to scramble to get there by noon.
Polebridge is not on many maps as it’s tiny and situated around Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest. We were headed through the park but I could not find any road signs directing me to use that road so I stopped at a gas station outside the park and a young woman explained to me that I should take a short cut due to the traffic and delays. She wrote them down and they sounded like a wild goose chase over dirt roads with turns and twists, but they worked!! We arrived 10 minutes before the parade and I am so glad we made the trip. Take a look at this— the 4th will never be the same.

July 4th, 2010 Parade in Polebridge, MT~ 22 miles south of the Canadian Border near Glacier National Park

On my travels through Kalispell I was looking for folks to interview and I met two nice young people (I know that sounds I am their grandmother, but I am due to hit 40 soon) and they were trying to help me find something to video. After a few minutes discussion I finally decided that it was them I should interview. They were both exceptionally friendly and articulate and were great examples for their community.

Tierney & Josh~ Kalispell Montana

We stayed in Kalispell over the July 4th weekend and I stayed in a KOA between Kalispell and Whitefish. My KOA experience was great and if you are reluctant to camp, give them a try. It’s a great introduction and I always meet fantastic people. I spent the 4th celebrating with Canadians mostly from Alberta and though it was not their national holiday, they had a great time shooting off fireworks & kicking back! Our neighbors to the North are a jovial, easy going nation. Love ’em.

Below are two videos from this time. One is an interview with Walter, one of the owners and the other is from Astra sharing her experiences about camping and the trip. She overcame a hurdle this summer and proved that her tenacity will be a life long trait. Both videos contain the same footage at the end, but I felt obliged to include it in Walter’s interview for the KOA since it will likely get more hits on YouTube.

Kalispell KOA Independent Website

Kalispell KOA

Astra’s Update and the Wild Petting Zoo

I left Kalispell and headed south down to Missoula, a cool town I’ve always liked that mushroomed over the last ten years and left me in shock, as I suppose even college towns are not insulated from urban sprawl. I didn’t video it because along the way I spotted a sign for the National Bison Range and I turned off the main highway decided to check it out. If you hear me say on video that we are going to ‘check it out’ and that sounds contrived to you, just know that it almost always happened that way. Some footage was planned, but normally I saw a place or event that caught my eye and stopped. I would get this feeling like someone was poking me and I knew I had to stop.

The National Bison range is administered by the Department of the Interior, the same branch that handles the National Park Service, The BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service and many other agencies. The Forest Service actually falls under the USDA. This place is blessed with vistas that brought me to tears. The wildlife was intriguing and caused much excitement for everyone, but all I could think was that the Flathead Valley was the mythical Eden. The video includes some great shots of calves with their mothers. However there were some people trying to walk up to these bison which to me were much less acclimated to humans than the bison in Yellowstone. A female became very agitated while we and other folks were near the calves (in our cars except for a few idiots). She snorted, stomped her hooves and fixed me with a glare that sent a chill down my spine. It was the animal equivalent of you are about to cross a line– back off now. I pulled forward a bit and Astra videoed a special shot of a mother and calf nursing. It makes me sad that there is no real open range anymore. Even this area was fenced off though the deer and antelope can probably go where they like.

The National Bison Range: Flathead Valley

Astra made her own movie one day and wanted everyone to know that she was on the trip too and working just as hard as me to find a new place to live so we agreed she would video one day. I am proud of this movie. Astra is only 9 years old and she did a great job with her movie.

Astra’s Mini Movie: Idaho and Montana

Occasionally I would receive suggestions from people I met along the way. When I was in Kalispell one rainy morning Astra and I chanced by a park and pulled over to walk around the medium sized pond that had many geese. I met a young guy and we chatted a bit and he’d had good experiences in Darby and recommended I see it. I knew I would pass through Darby on my way to Idaho and decided to stop and see if I could find someone to talk with me. I met a remarkable young woman named Becka who had developed a nice life for herself and I was very surprised that at such a young age she seemed so grounded. Her interview and scenes from Darby and the luscious candy shop where she worked are in this video:

Darby, Montana & Becka Marshall

This video was actually filmed in Idaho and since I don’t have an Idaho section, I am placing it here because it occurred around the same time period. Everyone I met and videoed was a stranger with the exceptions of Jen and my friends the Kublers with whom I evacuated Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Jen Purvine has been my friend for about 15 years. We met in Idaho City, ID when we had both been working on the Boise National Forest and have remained close ever since. Jen has Renaissance qualities; she is good at so many things and lives her life fully, always learning more and her enthusiasm never seems to waiver. She is one of the few people in my life that I can turn to for an unfettered opinion. Jen and I also share a strong sense of duty and equanimity towards all living things. She leads by example and the least significant of creatures does not go uncared for on her farm. I think her unique qualities should not be hidden away in the middle of Idaho and more people should know her and what she does. During her interview, I did prompt her to reveal the overall cost for caring for these animals to make a point that asking folks to take on rescued animals implies a permanent financial responsibility for the life of the animal. I think people often neglect this fact when trying find homes for unwanted pets.

Jen lives in Challis, Idaho which is geographically isolated in either direction on the highway, 60 miles north or south of any other city. It sits in a valley through which the Salmon River flows.

Challis Idaho Local Webpage

Rescue Farm