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.