Surfing the web recently, I happened to visit a site about 4X4 trails in Ouray County. One sentence in particular jumped off the page: “Ouray is a quiet place that wealthy celebrities and their kind haven't contaminated yet.” That’s a half-truth at best – the half about Ouray being a quiet place. Quiet is nice, but the absence of noise pollution is not why we admire Ouray.
My hometown in South Dakota is quiet, but nobody ever goes there for its scenic pleasures. Come to think of it, nobody goes there anymore, period. That’s sadly true of a lot of once-thriving small towns littering the landscape of rural America like so many discarded pieces of a forgotten past.
But it’s not true of small towns around here, towns like Ouray, Ridgway and Silverton. And it’s not true of Telluride, that “wealthy celebrity” magnet next door, either.
Ouray is a charming town in a literally gorgeous location – literally, because it happens to be the gateway to a spectacular gorge. The gorge in question, of course, is the one experienced by countless intrepid travelers who negotiate the white-knuckle Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton every year. Just don’t do it if you suffer from acrophobia.
So, yes, quiet is very nice, indeed; but Ouray is all about other things, from off-road adventures to ice-climbing and the natural beauty that makes camping and hiking in the surrounding San Juan Mountains irresistible and unforgettable.
Ridgway also has fantastic scenery in all directions. True, the alpine mountains don’t hold Ridgway in the same tight embrace as they do in Ouray, but Ridgway has something Ouray doesn’t have: the afterglow of Dennis Weaver and all the local lore and legends that go with it.
Talk to anybody who has lived in Ridgway long enough to remember the Hollywood actor who had a supporting role in “True Grit” and made his mark as Chester in the long-running TV series “Gunsmoke” and they have stories – nice stories – and memories – fond memories – of Dennis Weaver. I’d forgotten the full name of Weaver’s character in “Gunsmoke” was Chester Goode. In real life, the man behind the character was, in a word, good – a good friend, neighbor and citizen.
And maybe “wealthy celebrities” have not settled in Ouray as they have in, say, Telluride, but this writer, for one, doesn’t see how “their kind” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) has “contaminated” Telluride. Far as I can tell, Telluride isn’t contaminated at all. Las Vegas is contaminated. Branson, Mo., is contaminated. The Wisconsin Dells…you guessed it…contaminated.
Telluride: not contaminated.
Like Ouray, Telluride is situated smack dab in the heart of a gorgeous hunk of geography. And the town itself is a good place to hang out, window shop and eat. It’s not difficult to see what has attracted celebrity residents like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Jerry Seinfeld, not to mention multiple multimillionaire non-celebrities. And what attracts lots of “ordinary” people summer and winter to music and film festivals, ski slopes, cycling events and a plethora of other pursuits open to adventurers of all stripes.
No place is perfect. Telluride is expensive. Ridgway and Ouray have both been hit hard by the lingering recession and the seasonal ebb and flow of business. People who spend summers here and go somewhere else the rest of the year don’t realize how tough it is for “locals” to make a decent living.
Big businesses in big trouble get big rescue packages. Small businesses get no bailouts and no tax breaks from Washington. That’s a measure of how far we’ve gone down the wrong path and how far we have to go to get back onto the right one.
City folks often don’t realize that something big happens in small towns every day – the “little” things people do for each other, things that mold a collection of individuals into a caring community. And every once in a while a single big thing happens – a “True Grit” comes to a Ridgway.
As a kid one my the biggest thrills was to see Roy Rogers and Dale Evans at “the world’s only Corn Palace” in Mitchell, S. Dak. (Trigger could count to 10!) After the show, Roy and Dale went to Scotland (a little town 20 miles from my bedroom window) where they spent the night at the home of Ed Pillar – a well-known local county fair horse showman. From that point on, the sign at the entrance to the town announced: “Roy Rogers slept here.”
Roy and Dale didn’t stay long enough to “contaminate” the town. Or save it.
Tom Magstadt writes and cooks in the log cabin of his dreams. He lives on a mountain in Ouray County and frequents Colorado Boy almost enough to qualify as a regular Visit Tom’s blog at http://open.salon.com/blog/dakotaki.