If you are looking for the essence of the West, you can find it here in Pagosa Country.
You can still locate a “cowboy”(or three), ranchers who continue to make their living off the land and livestock. There’s a rodeo every year and a hike into the backcountry can bring an observant trekker into contact with what was once ground zero of a thriving timber industry.
So, what Pagosa Country exemplifies best is the aspect of Western life that is at the core of the experience.
The truth about life in the American West, and here in Pagosa Country, is that change is the one factor always present – change from one economic base to another, change in terms of economic cycles, change of population, demographic change. Anyone familiar with Colorado history, and in particular with the history of the mountain communities, knows this is the case. Where once ranchers and sheepherders inhabited this part of the country, the scene soon changed and the timber industry took hold. There was mining. All these industries waned, some completely. Commercial communities came and went with them.
All along, there was a certain amount of tourist activity here – people traveling to Pagosa Country to enjoy the spectacular outdoors life, the soothing hot springs. Then, tourism picked up and, concurrently, growth became our industry: people moved here, or bought second homes, condos, timeshares, enticed by the beauty of the place, by the relative solitude, the small-town atmosphere. Subsidiary industries developed: construction, real estate sales, business establishments offering amenities and experiences to a growing population of homeowners and visitors. And now we have seen the industry of growth take a downward turn.
And it won’t cease. At present, this place, for all its beauty, has no base industries of consequence other than tourism and those attendant to growth. People struggle to open the scene to new industries, and efforts are underway to do so with the recently created Community Development Corporation. If such efforts succeed … more change.
In the meantime, however, there are experiences available here that reflect Pagosa Country’s history – events that provide a glimpse into the days gone by as well as into the present. Events worthy of a look by anyone interested in what has made and continues to make the place tick.
One of these events is the Archuleta County Fair, coming up this weekend at the fairgrounds on U.S 84.
The fair is a longtime cornerstone event here and, over the years, its character has altered with shifts in the economy and community. New entertainments have evolved; new contests and exhibitions have been created. Yet, a number of the mainstays are still with us. Go to the fair this weekend and check out the exhibits, many embodying the rural heritage of the area – Open Class exhibits such as field crops, preserved foods, fruits and vegetables, needlework, quilting. Examine the projects completed by our local 4H youth. The program here remains healthy and productive and the youngsters do everything from raising livestock to decorating cakes. Spend some time looking over the Open Class livestock entries as you wander through the livestock display areas. Look at the exhibits of photography, fine arts, crafts, homemade beer, wine and spirits. This is small-town, Western life. If you can, attend the annual Chuckwagon Barbecue Dinner on Saturday, then participate in the 4H livestock auction, either bidding on livestock raised by local kids (some of whom might go on to become food providers in later years) or putting add-ons to bids that enable the youngsters to benefit to a greater degree from their sales. Attend the entertainment competition Friday night, the dance on Saturday, the breakfast (complete with gospel singing) on Sunday morning, the Kids’ and Ranch rodeos, the Lee Sterling Chili Cookoff. All this and more takes place at the fairgrounds. It is a lens through which to view a side of this community as it once was and as it is. And as it will hopefully remain, at least in part, despite the inevitable changes to come. Karl Isberg