Category Archives: College Towns

Small Towns



I am a city boy now.  After leaving Fruita to go to college in Boulder, I have mostly lived in cities.  I like the culture, the business, and the amenities that come with the city.  Here I am in the coffee shop right nest to the Denver University campus, with the energy those young people bring.  It helps my writing.

I grew up in a small town, and they still exert a pull on me.  I spent a couple of summers in Keystone, South Dakota peddling turquoise jewelry to the tourists.  I got to know some of the locals during that brief time and enjoyed the Black Hills culture.  I get back to Fruita some, my 55th reunion is coming up, and like rekindling old friendships.

Last weekend I made a quick trip to Grand Junction and Fruita on family business.  There are a lot of memories there, and I enjoyed the feel of a much larger town than it was all those years ago.  Bad news: the pool halls are gone.  Good news:  you don’t have to settle for chicken fried steak in the restaurant.


After my adventure in Rattlesnake Canyon the day before, I decided to take a scenic route back to Denver.  My first stop was Collbran, a town on Plateau Creek I have always liked.  I was looking for the landslide that killed three men last spring, but went up the wrong creek (story of my life).  At the gas station, a local rancher and his son had their rubber boots, so we talked about irrigating for a while.

I went over Grand Mesa and drove through Cedaredge, another favorite small town.  I like Cedaredge for the view of the Uncompahgre Valley, the Uncompahgre Plateau,and the San Juans.  No view last Sunday, the smoke from all the fires in the northwest obscuring everything.  Cedaredge and Eckert right down the road are nice towns, but the highway runs right through town, as it does in Collbran.  The roads are noisy, busy, and sort of split the town.

I had lunch in Paonia, just about my all-time favorite town but for the fact that they usually killed us in football.  My senior year we lost so badly that I even got to play.  Paonia is off the highway and is the home of High Country News, a great magazine about the west.  The West Elk Mountains are just out of town, but the area’s economy is mostly farming and ranching.  They grow peaches, cherries, apples, and lately, wine grapes.  They have a nice mild climate right at the foot of the mountains.

I had a good hamburger in one of the restaurants and drove around a bit (that takes about fifteen minutes).  I was struck by the life in the town.  OnSunday morning families were out walking and kids from age six on up were riding their bikes all over town.  The last town I remember seeing that was Winslow, Arizona.

So, my main criteria for a good small town are no McDonalds, no Walmart, a farming economy, and school age kids on bicycles.  I don’t think I will ever leave the city, but if I do, it will be to a town like Paonia.

College Towns


I have lived in college towns for most of my life.  They tend to be more liberal, have a vibrant cultural life, and steady infusions of young people having some of the best years of their lives.  The energy inspires me.

Grand Junction, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, even Greeley are all good college towns.  Here in Denver we live near the University of Denver.  I drink coffee and write in a coffee shop near the campus.  I write mornings, and the shop has a rush every hour when classes change.

We go to concerts at the Newman Center on the DU campus.  The student productions from the Lamont School of Music are always a lot of fun.  The musicians are excellent, and the operas are good, but the student voices are not always top quality.  I always want to hear Baroque music, and we go to concerts put on by Friends of Chamber Music.

The Newman Center also regularly presents professional artists from most everywhere.  Most notable recently are Cameron Carpenter, a wildly flamboyant and talented organist.  We just saw The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, a post-modern dance group from New York.  I was entranced by the dancers and the music, performed by Lamont students.

I am a little sad because Carol now refuses to ever see The Nutcracker again, and this year she would not go to see Oklahoma!  I just don’t know what is wrong with her.  When we lived on Capitol Hill we went to some productions at The Denver Center of Performing Arts, but the events at DU are less expensive and the Newman Center is one of the best venues anywhere.

I am not much for sporting events, but DU’s Lacrosse team is good and I have seen several games.  It’s a good game, fast, with more scoring than soccer, making it more fun to watch.  The crowds are fun as well, with a lot of youth lacrosse players watching the college boys.  There are always some fans of the other teams as well, because Denver draws people from all over the country.  It is also good that DU dropped football in the1950’s.  I used to watch Colorado College hockey when I lived in Colorado Springs, but haven’t been to a DU game yet.

Denver is a big city with several colleges.  Some of the colleges have neighborhoods that are part of the big city but qualify as college towns.  The area around DU is an example.  The Auraria complex has CU Denver, Metro, and Community College of Denver, with many more students than DU, but the area is a downtown complex, with most of the students commuting.  There is no college town feel there.

Washington Park

Washington Park

Capitol Hill has some of the feel, with a young population and a diverse, eclectic cluster of communities, but no college of any size.  DU, however, has dorms, lots of apartments, rental houses, and fraternities and sororities.  A real resident population, much like Boulder, Greeley, and Fort Collins.  People walk, go to events, party, and hang out in bars,restaurants, and coffee houses.  I didn’t know how much I missed all that until we moved into the neighborhood.  Evans Avenue, University Boulevard, Old South Pearl, Washington Park, and Observatory Park are places that tie the community together, with a fine University at the center.  I lived near Colorado College in Colorado Springs that had much the same feel, just on a smaller scale.

College towns, my favorite urban settings, I want to live in them always.