Day Ten A collage of my United States of America
We stopped in Silver Plume a couple weeks ago on a plein air excursion. We felt we had been transported back in a time-travel adventure, having driven there from Conifer, Colorado for a day of outdoor painting. Of course we had been aware of this tiny mountain hamlet because it is just up the road from its big sister Georgetown, but we had never wandered its dirt road Main Street or explored its character with any depth.
We decided to go back., and we are so delighted that we did.
Silver Plume enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame in the years from 1864 to approximately 1893, when unfortunately the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed, the USA abandoned the silver standard and the price of silver drastically declined. Until that historic defining event the mountains around Silver Plume were being mined as if there were no tomorrow for plentiful high grade ore, primarily from the precarious heights of 13,587′ Mount McClellan, where the locals would tell you that the silver veins were so rich that silver flakes broke from the rock in feather-like patterns giving the town its name.
During its heyday Silver Plume was transformed from a dirt road lined with temporary ramshackle miner’s huts into a bustling town of 2000 people, where miners, businessmen, tradesmen, shop owners and working class families from as far away as Wales, Ireland and Italy settled, believing they would make their fortunes in silver. It is easy to imagine the activity along that strand – music coming from the saloon, ladies watching the street action from open second-story windows above, probably some horses tied in front of the shops and miners, when they got a day off from their 10 hour shift, $2.50 a day, highly dangerous jobs. Mules were required to carry men and supplies up the mountain to the mines; cooks, laundrymen, doctors and hardware salesmen were probably in short supply. There was a fine Opera House, a saloon and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church….until 1884 when a fire swept the eastern end of town stopping just short of that church…. a true blessing that the entire town was not up in flames.
The public school, red-bricked and rather grand, constructed in 1874 at the opposite side of town, was spared from the fire. The interior rooms reveal authentic, just as they were, classrooms and desks. The school quickly became a hub of activity and a source of comfort and assistance in the community when there were mining deaths in families and widows and children needed help and emotional support. The school has since become a museum, and the ladies who guide the tours are more than happy to share with you the history and the legends of that time and that place. Of course the school is haunted – strange things still do happen from time to time.
Silver Plume is a quaint and funky village – Main Street is still lazy and unpaved sending clouds of dry dusty dirt into the air when occasional vehicles drive by. Kids ride bikes down the middle, lazy dogs bark once in a while and everybody says hello to everybody else. People want to know, in a friendly way, where you are from and why you came to visit there. Gurgling Clear Creek runs along the perimeter of town on its way down to Coors brewery in Golden, where it is indeed the clean, clear water used in that famous beer. Houses are painted in purples, pinks, teals and yellows, with wildly contrasting trims of Victorian style. There is a local bar, in a weather-worn white-ish clapboard building with the word BREAD painted on the front.
I do think you must visit Silver Plume. See this 2 room jail which I did manage to paint in watercolor! There are more pictures on FB and Instagram.
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I had an experience last weekend that sent chills down my entire body for almost 48 hours straight….and then left me with a life-long memory of a spectacular cultural event that stirred my artistic soul like few others I have ever experienced. You see, I love Native Americans; I am fascinated and moved by everything to do with Indians. I have read many books, collected picture books, taken photos myself, purchased rugs and jewelry and baskets as evidenced in my home where it all combines quite well with my own contemporary abstract paintings and my African collection. I am a mix and match, ecclectic decorator.
My generous daughter booked us for the Native American Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque for the weekend, then an extra night in Santa Fe before we each flew out to our respective homes – she to Vancouver and I to Denver. I was thrilled, to put it mildly. I had been to several small pow wows through the years but nothing approaching this magnitude. Nothing with the pageantry of this.
During the opening ceremony, 2800 Indian men and women representing dozens of tribal nations in full dress filed into the arena to an almost deafening beating of drums and singing coming from several points on the arena floor. It was thunderous – it was chilling – it was visually stunning! The variety of regalia was magnificent! The fine artistry of it all was evident in the feathers, the fancy beaded garments and moccasins, the jewelry, the headdresses, the belts and accessories – all were fascinating and endless in their variations. My first photo above was the very beginning of just one row of Indians – they came from all corners of the arena, marching down the stairs between the seats to the floor below. I had never before seen such a huge gathering of tribes – Navajo, Cree, Seminole, Crow…the list went on and on. There were Indian names I had never heard. The energy was palpable; the history was right there before us and the language lives. I was told by a Navajo gentleman sitting next to me that the secret parts of tribal dances are never performed in public; they are kept only for private ceremonies in their own communities. But there was enough revealed in both song and dance to keep us enthralled for hours on end.
For the next two full days and evenings, then well into the wee hours of Sunday morning the dancing and the chanting and the drumming continued. There are many dances! The rain dance, the grizzly bear dance, the fancy dancers, the jingle dancers, the chicken dancers, the southern dancers, the summer dances and the grass dance – it goes on and on. The toddler dances, the under 5 dances, the teenage girl and boy dances – then the young maiden dances and the Indian Princess dances followed by the bachelor dances. Prizes were awarded to the winners in all ages, from under five years to elders over seventy in all categories. Traditional gifts of thanks in the form of blankets, quilts, baskets and such are given to the extended family and supporters of the contest winners, as is the Indian custom. Winners are given gifts also, and cash prizes, and the great honor of being recognized by their peers.
I am filled with wonder and gratitude that I was given this experience. But then, if you knew my daughter you would not be surprised. She is extraordinarily insightful and generous; a believer in the priceless value of incomparable experiences, a world traveler, a fine travel photographer and a graphic artist. Her name is Kelly K. Heapy. Follow her blog at http://www.compassandcamera.com and here on WordPress and you will certainly see her professional photographs of the Pow Wow event.You can also find her photography on Instagram and Twitter, as is mine which pales by comparison…..
Jo Ann Brown-Scott, artist and author
We were on our way back to Denver from a long weekend at the International Pastel Society Conference in Albuquerque, taking the winding and picturesque way home along the back roads of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, stopping for a night in Santa Fe, then headed north, when we came upon the ongoing repair of this iconic church in Taos. San Francisco de Asis is a lovely, clean-lined contemporary church despite its age, made of the clay, sand, dirt, straw and water stucco mixture authentic to the area. It was a hot morning, but the community was out in force helping the men who applied the mud to the walls as if they were icing a cake with super stiff milk chocolate frosting. This mud stucco is highly prized for its historic significance and its strong insulation from the heat but requires constant maintenance against the ravages of wind and rain.
At first, upon our arrival we were disappointed to find that cranes and other scaffolding were “ruining” our pictures of the stunning church, but of course we soon realized how fortunate we were to witness this centuries-old process happening to a very very old church. The sky was immaculate; what I like to call Santa Fe blue in all of its glory. The stark white of the crosses and the slightly rose-brown of the stucco were a gorgeous contrast, but what struck me most was the dedication and joy of the people who were there to help.
There were many other examples of Americana and Spanish influence along our drive which will follow in days to come. A road trip such as this, which brings you right down to the ground, literally and figuratively, from aloof and sterile air travel is a great and powerful way to know your country and your fellow man, while teaching you also about yourself and what kinds of things you hold dear. I recommend it; I eat it up and I relish every bend in the road wondering what is next.