The Mysteries of Jarosa Canyon
©2011 Brian G. Angevine
Jarosa Canyon in southern Colorado, specifically, in Huerfano County west of Aguilar, holds secrets. Aguilar is a tiny community just off Interstate 25 and it is a nice little place with a grocery store and a couple of other businesses. Right around town the countryside is not all that beautiful, but not bad either. Just kind of plain. The four-lane highway doesn’t help business much. The speed limit is seventy-five and most people whiz right past a gas station that sits there. There is a small railroad yard that collects stuff for shipping. Nothing big, you understand, just stuff. Therefore Aguilar attracts little notice.
Just west of town as the road follows the Apishapa River, or creek, more aptly, the scenery changes quickly. Apishapa has the questionable distinction of meaning “stinking water” in the local Native American dialect of the past. Doesn’t sound like much of an advertisement for a good place to live, does it? The hills rise abruptly in places and gently in others, as is typical of a former volcanic landscape. The Twin Peaks variously known as Spanish Peaks, or Guatollah, or Wahatoya, and other spellings, dominate the scene. They stand apart from the Culebra range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and are so large that they generate their own weather. It is not unusual to see a bank of clouds formed over the peaks where no other clouds are visible. As a matter of fact the Native name, Wahatoya, means Breasts of the World. The Natives believed that the mountains’ ability to generate life giving rain made them worthy of such stature.
The most unique feature of this area is over 300 volcanic dikes radiating out from the Twin Peaks. Some of them are little ridges of rock while others tower hundreds of feet straight up. Several dramatic walls attract shutterbugs from all over as the rock butts up against Highway 12, the Highway of Legends, near LaVeta and Cuchara. They are impressive with what appears to be loose rock jammed into holes in the walls. Will those rocks fall on the highway someday? Probably, but for now they provide a unique photo opportunity.
One ranch partway up the Apishapa Valley has a rock fortress seemingly to protect it from any invaders from the East. It is a beautiful ranch in a magnificent setting. A little ways out of town west of Aguilar sits a modern earth ship home, a series of domed buildings joined to make a single structure. The white domes rise on top of a hill and the people must have a great view of the Twin Peaks and the valley. It is by far the most unique structure made by man in this particular area. Very different from most of the other buildings in Jarosa Canyon.
Several beautiful stone buildings exist along the way, but most of them are empty now. One wonders why someone doesn’t fix them up and live in them. That seems preferable to living in a doublewide modular home with low ceilings. But to each his own, as they say. Who is they, anyway?
Many of the buildings are dilapidated and the residents seem to have little pride as evidenced by the piles of junk in some yards. A house sits up a few feet from the road but is only a couple of yards from the passing vehicles. The steep yard is filled with children’s toys and several vehicles slant in the driveway.
At this time many heavy trucks and white pickups ply all the roads around here searching for places to drill gas wells and serving all the hundreds of wells already drilled. So Jarosa Canyon is certainly not wilderness nor unexplored. Yet the Canyon holds secrets.
Bishop Farralon Hermana paused on Highway 25 at Colorado City, a handy rest stop between Pueblo and Trinidad. Pueblo seemed like a madhouse and Bishop waited to get gasoline until it was absolutely necessary. And now it was necessary. Also necessary was a bathroom break. Seven hours of driving left one drawn, glassy eyed, disheveled and tired. When boots hit the pavement and fresh air was drawn into the lungs, Bishop felt renewed. Bishop--a strange name indeed. Her mother had secrets she never told Bishop, but the name itself said a lot. Hermana was not her mother’s last name and one had to wonder why she chose Hermana--sister--and Bishop. Bishop never had a chance to ask her mother since she committed suicide when the girl was very young.
How many taboos had her mother broken? Catholic girls were not supposed to have children out of wedlock. Why name her child “Bishop?” Bishop thought she knew but decided to not think about it too much. She could have changed her name, but in some ways the name helped open doors for her. Now she couldn’t think of herself as anything but “Bishop.”
Bishop’s education ran the gamut and she seemed to be good at everything. Boys didn’t figure too much in her life since they all made fun of her name. She found it easier to just ignore them and get on with her life. College was interesting and she found solace in Anthropology and Geology. The geeks in those departments rarely thought of the opposite sex and she thrived in her studies at Colorado State University. It was a wonderful place to be and a great place to learn. The varied geography of Colorado was all around her and nearby. Many weekends and summers were spent outdoors exploring Rocky Mountain National Park and other mountainous wonders. For her the exposed rock was like reading a history book and she soon made a name for herself with published works. Her appetite for discovery was voracious.
She had to chuckle now as she stretched her legs and gazed at Greenhorn Peak so close she could almost touch it. When the letter came to her it was addressed to: Bishop Hermana, and began--”The Reverend Bishop Hermana.” They thought her name was her title. She didn’t correct the mistake and answered the summons to meet the Huerfano County Sheriff in Walsenburg. They needed her expertise in a case that had come up. She chuckled again and wondered what kind of expression the sheriff would have when he met her.
She clambered back up into her battered Jeep and closed the suspect latch that held the tiny wing door closed, most of the time. She had the canvas top on right now but the side screens were open. The spring air was cool but not cold and the open sides were okay, despite the incredible road noise. Her Jeep barely kept up 65 miles per hour and everyone roared past her on the Interstate like she was a turtle. No matter, she would get there, just not quickly. After all, her favored mode of transportation, the venerable horse, would have taken several days for her to get from Fort Collins to Walsenburg. She cranked the engine and it stuttered and died. She tried again with the same result. Okay, she muttered, “I guess you liked the rest a little too much. Now you’re going to give me trouble after all these miles?”
She got out and took an empty pop bottle to the restroom where she filled it with water. When she poured it on the fuel line near the fuel pump the water sizzled and wafted away as steam. She did that several times before the line was cooled off. “There, that should release the vacuum.” Vapor locks like this used to happen all the time to older cars. Modern cars with fuel injection and other advancements rendered the vapor locks a thing of the past. This time the engine started and she pointed the old Jeep south again.
Bishop stopped at the top of the big hill leading down to Walsenburg. She stared at the Twin Peaks looming into the sky. In her mind she could visualize a single cone of a massive volcano rising maybe 30,000 feet into the air in some ancient time. Rather than twin peaks it was one enormous volcano spewing lava in every direction. As the explosions continued the cone collapsed on itself leaving two peaks on either side. The enormous caldera filled with lava melted on the North and South sides and sagged downward. Over many centuries the volcano cooled and died while the Twin Peaks stood tall and separate from the mountain range just a few miles to the West. The westernmost peak stands at 13,626 feet above sea level. The eastern peak is slightly lower at 12,683 feet. The saddle between the peaks still rises to 10,000 feet. Bishop had to admit her scenario might be off. Perhaps the two peaks were both volcanic, but it was possible to imagine a single peak.
She shook her head at the aspect of enormity that might have existed. Even now the peaks were impressive and dominating. She got out her binoculars and scanned some of the extruded walls that fanned out from the base of the mountains. “Beautiful,” she whispered. “Just beautiful.”
The fourteen thousand foot Culebra Peak stands southwest of the Spanish Peaks in quiet dignity as the monarch of the range. Its flanks are joined with Red Mountain, Purgatoire Peak and many others that are almost as tall. The fact that Wahatoya stands alone makes them more significant somehow.
Back in the Jeep she joined the stream of traffic and turned off into Walsenburg. The Sheriff’s office was easy to find and she parked her rusty Jeep in the lot. She leaned back in her seat and took a deep breath. “Well, here goes,” she said as she opened the door and slipped her boots to the pavement.
She was greeted by a receptionist as she closed the bright sunlight outdoors.
“May I help you?” the person asked.
“I’m here to see the sheriff.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
Bishop took out the letter and handed it to the woman. “I was asked to come right away, so here I am.”
The woman read the salutation and looked up at Bishop. She seemed to not understand and read it again. “Are you the Bishop?”
Bishop laughed and said, “Not the Bishop, but I am Bishop.”
“I don’t understand,” the clerk said wrinkling her brows.
“My name is Bishop Hermana. There is no official called Bishop Hermana.”
“But this clearly is addressed to the Reverend Bishop Hermana.”
“Will you please notify the sheriff that I have arrived and wish to see him?”