by Nancy Christofferson
CUCHARA- Health and recreation were the features that drew early travelers to the little resort village begun by George Alfred Mayes in 1908. And, he advised, this was no luxury resort, but a place for those of moderate means.
I’ll say. Cuchara Camps was first designed for campers, with a few accommodations in “the big house” for roomers. Costs were minimal for rentals, even full Sunday meals in the café were about 25¢, including dessert and a beverage.
The tiny shacks Mayes built to sell, creatively called cottages, cost around $200 to buy. Each came complete with a family of skunks underneath, for these cottages had no foundations. The outdoor facilities were tastefully located, presumably, but were often situated right next to the creek or river. Refrigeration could be had at no cost if you had that creek or river in your backyard, just find an old metal milk crate, load up your perishables in it and set it in the water. Entertainment came cheaply, too. Most was free, though the weekend dances could set you back a dime so you could enjoy the music of an orchestra imported from as far away as Pueblo or Trinidad.
Community campfires also were free, but you had to bring your own burgers or hot dogs. The conviviality was gratis.
Much of the entertainment for young people revolved around physical activity. In early days the young, now called teenagers, usually had smaller siblings in tow, and were determined, in the way of teenagers, to so tire out the tots that they’d go to extraordinary lengths, such as walking for miles. Hikes along the old dirt road to the Forks and the picnic grounds above were common, and generally did the trick. Once the little ones fell asleep, the teenagers could giggle and gossip and flirt to their hearts’ content.
A favorite hike for all ages was up to the so-called Haunted House. This was an old homesteader’s house, a rather grand two-story frame home from the 1800s, situated up the Spring Creek road. It was said to have been built by William Culler, La Veta barber, soft drink purveyor and occasional merchant, who evidently abandoned it and moved to town. Anyway, the house burned down in the 1940s but the site and its titillating reputation continued to draw folks to its scenic spot along a small rill up in a high meadow.
Obviously, another favorite was the climb up the Rock Wall, otherwise, there would not be a K, T, and O painted up there. This was a popular spot for breakfast, with young people from very small to very large carrying, gently, iron skillets, bacon, bread and eggs up the mountainside. Yes, they set fires to cook the meal, in a sheltered spot up among the rocks. One memorable trip had a mature eight-year-old reprimanding his little sister about her manners. She replied, “You were child when you were young.” Showed him.
Many of the young saw the mountains as challenges, and many climbed the same mountains each year. Trinchera and the West Spanish Peak were often scaled, and many harrowing adventures came out of these trips when the weather changed suddenly and lightning bolts and hail rained down on the mountaineers. Some climbers were very unlucky indeed, and died. Others saw these misadventures as excellent fodder for the campfire exchange of “I can top that”.
Kids used to go up the Rock Wall regularly, at least once a week, and sometimes as often as twice a day. The forest trail was the favorite way to ascend, while the steeper and unmaintained Boy Scout trail, which basically went straight down (and up), was the way to go home. In the 1950s, a primitive road was graded to gain access to the future site of a uranium mine, and this too could be followed. K-T was only one destination. Evening hikes were undertaken to visit the bat cave, Indian cave and High Point. Many of the rocks were named – Bear Claw, for instance. Does anyone still go to these places?
During the 1930s and ‘40s, teens enjoyed scavenger and treasure hunts. They deployed all over the Camps to knock on doors to ask for odd items as proscribed by the hunt’s innovator. Privacy was of no concern for these intrepid hunters, and they woke up many cabin dwellers to ask for, say, a blue tiddly-wink. Hide and seek in the dark was another standby, and no doubt a few hiders were discovered cowering in the backyard facilities by residents with a late night urge.
In the late 1950s, the de rigueur night walk of the week was hiking to the dump. While this sounds slightly non-scenic and less than hygenic, it was highly favored, and groups of 10 and up to 20 teens would undertake it. Along the way, the boys hid in the bushes and made their best bear noises to scare the girls, the girls screamed, and the boys were happy. Such is the way of teenagers. Once at the dump, so smelly as to draw every bear from miles around, ghost stories would be told. Soon enough, the tell tale twang of the surrounding barbed wire fence warned the kids a bear was indeed in the vicinity, and it took no time at all to run back down the road.
The ultimate walk of the ‘60s was to La Veta. Back in the ‘30s, if a teen wanted to go to La Veta, he or she walked down the dirt road, and once completing one’s errand in town, walked home. In the ‘60s, some of the girls liked the walk, but only one way – down. The trip usually took place in August after the city girls had built up their leg muscles. The first five or six miles near Cuchara were on a dirt road, and pavement was struck at Spoon Ranch. The group then followed the yellow line to town, and looked for a patsy to drive them back to Cuchara.
It probably was likely a teen of the early days may have covered five or 10 miles every day, on foot. Activity, any activity, was the only way to burn off all the energy accumulated in the high, clean mountain air. Besides, they had to build up an appetite for the fried chicken or chicken fried steak and homemade pies that called to them from the old Chuck Wagon.