I drove several miles north of Dolores expecting to find side roads leading to the river... but
there weren't any... only private drives. As I drove... finding nowhere to camp near
town... I had to make a decision about what I was going to do. Go back to Cortez
or Mancos or Durango...?? no... there was nothing there for me but bad news. Once
I made the decision to keep going north, I picked up speed.
I really expected the road to begin climbing, but it turned out to be a quite tolerably
easy drive. And it was beautiful. I thought... "why have I been spending so much time in
near desert terrain, when there was scenery like this...?" I even pictured myself writing
it on this blog... about how beautiful this drive north was.
I was heading for Rico... which I had been told had hot springs where you could bathe
and then free camping in town. I remember asking this person telling me this... "is there a
business base there, such as McDonald's or Taco Bell...?" -- "Oh, yeah... it's a decent
size town." -- So... I expected to stay in Rico, or at least stop for lunch and gas."
The gas station was the first business that I saw, and so I stopped. The pumps had plastic
bags on them... and a note... "out of order." I kept driving... through town... which took
two minutes... there was no McDonalds... there was only the one gas station.
I pulled off to the side... to take a walk and gather some information. A thin, but quite fit
man with grey hair had just left the bar with a bag of beer and was walking my way.
He reminded me of the guy I'd met in Mancos... who watched the parade with me
during Mancos Days. (Did I mention this guy...?? He was from Salt Lake City, looking
to buy a house in Mancos... had a computer gaming company... had just finished a
contract for a game based on a Disney movie... cool, huh..) -- so I looked at him with
a bit of surprise... "do I know you...?"
Well... it wasn't the same guy. This guy was named Dave... the other was Tim. But... hey...
we started talking anyway. I asked him some questions about the town of Rico. Dave
worked as an adventure guide in Durango and was taking some time off to do his own
adventure. He'd hitch-hiked to Telluride and stopped in Rico on the way back... and his
two day stay turned into ten days. He was staying at the hostel and invited me to take
a tour of it... as it was a historical house. I said I needed to get oriented about a place
to camp, but that I'd seen the hostel on youtube... that it once was the town's whorehouse...
that the guests now shared things like food. He said... yea, there was always a buffet of
some sort for people to eat.
the hostel in Rico ------ the town of Rico
I went back to my car and headed back to the gas station. I went in to get coffee and to
ask about the gas. When I asked the girl if they even had gas... or were just out... she
replied without smiling... or... you could say it was a frown... they were just out and that
a truck would deliver probably tomorrow. The way she looked at me... was like... I'd
insulted her for inferring that the pumps were broken.
I had gas in my tank, but I didn't want to head north to Telluride without a sure quantity.
I looked on my Forest Service maps and there was supposed to be dispersed camping
right near town. I found out that you have to have an all-terrain vehicle to use those roads.
I went to the bar where Dave had come from... where a group of tall handsome young people
were sitting on the patio outside, talking amongst themselves. There were at least five guys
and just one young woman... all physically fit... athletic even.
When I asked about camping, they referred me to some guy... maybe the owner of the
bar...?? to answer my questions. He didn't know of any "free camping" in town... but
since there were no police, per se, I could pretty much park wherever I liked. But, then
he suggested the town park, and gave me directions.
It was a small playground off an alley... (or... were these Rico's streets...) and I parked and began
to make myself at home... as it seemed secluded... behind the fire station and school...
and no one was at the park. I got out of the van to walk around it and heard a woman's
voice saying... "she's out of her van, now, and walking around." And two dogs came
bounding over to greet me... politely enough.
the park at Rico
So... I had neighbors... and decided to mosey on over to ask a question or two. The woman
was standing in her yard talking on her cell phone, and I called "hello." I asked her about
the little shack... could I park there instead of along the road. She introduced herself as the
manager of the entire area around there... which... included the park. I told her that I was
told it was okay to park overnight there... that I didn't know I had to ask someone for
permission. So... she gave her permission... and asked that I didn't disturb them as her
husband gets up early for work.
I parked behind the fire station, but I had to move when it got dark. There was an electrical
buzz from a generator of some kind... a communications station??? microwave tower???
whatever... I didn't want to be so near to it. Otherwise it was a nice evening.
The next morning I walked the two blocks to the gas station to see if they had gas and
for coffee. I passed a gourmet "organic coffee" shack on the way... and stepped inside
to look. Just as I was entering, the woman was saying, "... and I just want to sell it." The
coffee was too expensive. I asked her if she was selling her shop... and she said she was.
But... she missed that fine opportunity to smile.
Gas had been delivered. I spent some of the morning writing in my van. It had rained
last night, and was still raining off and on. When it cleared, I decided to walk around
town and see the library... grocery... people... The library was closed. Well... the library
is just one room in the town hall building... and that room was locked. I found a room
with the door just a bit ajar... and knocked. I asked the woman about the library... and
she seemed quite impatient... "there's a sign on the door... it's closed today." And, no...
they didn't have free wi-fi access.
Town Hall and Library at Rico
So... I take a walk through town. The little museum is open and there were two women
standing talking outside. I said hello and walked inside to look around. One of the ladies
came inside to be a guide, and pointed me to a book about Rico... "Toxic Dreams" or
something. She began telling me about Rico history... it was a mining town... used
Navajos as slave labor... left a legacy of pollution.
the hostess at the museum in Rico
inside the museum at Rico
This woman made several opinionated comments... which begged for a little feedback...
and so she and I stood there talking for a good half an hour. She told me her husband
was retired Army... having served as a nuclear engineer... having served all over the
world... and they had bought a home outside Rico for $700,000. They also have another
winter home in Arizona.
Now... I tell you... this woman had absorbed every iota of conservative think tank
propaganda that ever there was... if she hadn't thought it up herself in the first place.
She commented on the Vietnam War... environmentalists... black folks... (she grew up
in Alabama and just had to get out of there.) I responded to her comments in a friendly
way... hoping to clear away a bit of the fog in her mind about correct facts. And... we
parted in a friendly way, too... I showed her the peace sign as I waved goodbye.
I'm not sure she knew what just hit her... and I had been so friendly, too.
Any ideas I'd had about spending some time in Rico had now vanished. There was
something about this town that was beginning to make my skin crawl. People were
certainly not very friendly, all in all. I stopped at the grocery, which was owned by a
young couple... he, long haired... she, five pierces in her lips. I said, "I can see that the
woman at the museum is very patriotic... VERY patriotic..." and the girl said, "Of
course. Of course."
I stepped into the post office to inquire about empty houses where I might park my van.
The woman began a conversation with me... guiding me outside during it. I asked
about the water... was there any place that had filtered water for sale. She didn't know,
she drank the water everyone else drank from the tap. In fact, she would drink water
from the stream and not even worry about giardia... and she'd "never gotten sick from
Well... it was decided... I was out of there. No filtered water in a town known for its
era of pollution... strange. In fact... Rico was so strange that it reminded me of those
old sci-fi movies where the aliens land in a small town and everyone becomes zombies.
I thought about this strangeness as I drove northward... wondering what the puzzle
looked like when all the pieces were put together. I concluded with a semi-humorous
certainty... the town was a CIA base. After all... the mineral they produced in Rico was
used to separate uranium from the ore... needing a nuclear engineer as a consultant...
needing tall, fit young people at guard in town... needing unfriendly people to
hurry the curious right on along (especially someone who might be an environmentalist.)
Hmmm... maybe it was not so funny, after all.
I had asked the girl at the grocery who the Indian Chief was in the picture on her wall.
She said, "I don't know." -- Well... it was a very familiar picture of Sitting Bull.
Grocery Store -- almost a museum in itself