Tony Vagneur: A sleepy town with a lively pulse
One of my strongest memories is standing on the early morning sidewalk, ready to cross Main, and in the distance, about 150 yards away, a pickup truck is coming, very slowly. It’s the only vehicle moving, either way, and I decide to wait, just to enjoy the emptiness of the street.
The night before, the clerk behind the desk, with metal on her face, tattooed fingers and arms, I mean, she’s solidly very good looking underneath it all, says the restaurant she recommends is about ½ mile down Main, or there’s the bowling alley, just across the street. “I’d walk you down there, but they’ll both be closed by the time I get off.” Thanks, anyway.
First thing the next morning I decide to take the half-mile walk to the only open breakfast joint in town. It’s like a dream, time travel back to 1950s Aspen. Or maybe even the 30s. Main extends out in front of me, seemingly forever, with a slight rise off in the distance, and only two parked vehicles can be seen. There’s a filling station, one of those that sells snacks, too, and it has the only visible action in town, one delivering gas, the other a pickup needing diesel. No one can be seen walking my way, so with an adventuresome spirit, I cross to the other side. No one there, either.
There’s the movie house, the sign, the old-fashioned kind that movie houses everywhere had, red and white, jutting upwards toward the sky, is in disrepair, the marquee advertising the Antlers Inn, and it’s clear it hasn’t shown movies for years. Along the sidewalk, there’s no life to speak of, most windows are either boarded or clouded over so you can’t exactly tell what’s inside, and I begin to wonder if it will be possible to even know when I’ve reached my destination. And I’m falling in love with this place.
The night before, I opted for one of the best cheeseburgers of the year at the bowling alley. Six lanes, empty, a couple at a table in front of me drinking beer, looks like a first date, and off to my left, 6 or 8 older people having a great time with a lot of laughter. I figure ‘em to be locals and as they leave, I say, in my wise-guy way, “Come back and visit us again.” The reply, not what I expected, is “Thank you. This was our first visit, but you can be sure we’ll be back again. We had a great time.”
Getting there is a pleasurable chore, with miles and miles of driving through wide-open landscapes, populated on both sides with scattered, fat cattle herds and huge hay fields, flood irrigated with plentiful water. This is the land of yesteryear, not one obnoxious sprinkler or a line of white gated pipes in sight, managed and operated like it has been for over 130 years.
But don’t be misled. With a nickname like “The Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado”, it makes one curious as to exactly what the North Park area contains besides the town of Walden.
How about the redundantly-labeled State Forest State Park to the North for starters, the Roosevelt National Forest to the east, the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest to the west, and the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge to the south. Wildlife – the Cheyenne and Utes hunted North Park for eons before 1879. If you get up high, you can see the Never Summer Mountains, so named for their storm-tossed peaks. Winter is sounding better and better in that country. Speaking of never summer, my mother used to say that Aspen had two seasons – winter and July.
In addition, and in a different vein, North Park has the North Sand Hills Recreation Area, which according to the BLM, is a huge attractant to OHV and other motorized toys. Don’t forget your first aid kit.
In all fairness, I was there the week before Memorial Day, which was in the heart of off-season for the small town. No one seemed too exited about the upcoming tourist weekend, nothing big was expected, or as one business person opined, “If it happens, it happens.” Summer does appear to be the busy season for Walden, with foot and bike races, even the Never Summer Rodeo, so I’m looking for an excuse to go back.
The motel clerk said the Walden/North Park Supers Grocery store was just outside of town, to the north. It was the meeting spot for those of us on a BLM North Park field trip. Two or three miles isn’t very far up that way, apparently, but who cares when the other most recent grocery store was 44 miles distant. If I’d missed the stop, I would have soon been in Wyoming, not an unpleasant thought, either.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.