Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Ephemeral Nature of Things

I was reading Peter Grant's Western novel Rocky Mountain Retribution when a brief mention of Buckskin Joe set of a cascade of memories and thoughts. Buckskin Joe is the name of a former mining town in Colorado, now a ghost town, and that is what the novel references. However, it bequeathed its name to a facility west of Cañon City, Colorado, a  1957 Western movie set turned tourist attraction. The only direct connection between the ghost town and the movie set/tourist attraction was Horace Tabor's general store, moved from the ghost town to the movie set; the rest of the set's buildings were acquired from other locations in Colorado.

The towers of the Royal Gorge Bridge perch on the rim of the Royal Gorge, nearly a thousand feet above the Arkansas River

I encountered Buckskin Joe's in 2009, on a road trip and vacation to Colorado squeezed in between summer and fall quarters at college. I was en-route between Colorado Springs and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and had decided to make a brief stop at the Royal Gorge Bridge to break up the trip. Buckskin Joe's was right along the road up to the bridge, and looked really cool, but I didn't have time for it, or for the associated mini-railroad that ran from Buckskin Joe to an overlook on the rim of the Royal Gorge. I spent a couple hours at the Royal Gorge Bridge and did a few of the attractions, but not all, and I planned to come back some day and leave myself enough time to do more there and to visit Buckskin Joe's.

Portion of a photo taken from Royal Gorge Bridge, 2009. The railroad from Buckskin Joe's to the rim of the gorge runs across the middle of this photo, to the observation area just left of the center of the photo. The views of the bridge from the observation area in the afternoon must have been amazing.

Billionaire William Koch bought Buckskin Joe's lock, stock, and barrel in September 2010 and moved it to his ranch. The old buildings are gone. The railroad is gone. I discovered this when planning a 2011 trip to Colorado. So that departed my itinerary.

Incline Railway from rim to floor of the Royal Gorge

Still, the Royal Gorge Bridge and its related attractions were interesting enough I was considering a visit to them again when I was planning vacation for summer of 2013. Then a wildfire in June 2013 destroyed most of the "far" side of the bridge attractions. Some flames made it over to the "near" side and wreaked havoc, there, as well, destroying the aerial tram, damaging the incline railway, and causing assorted other damage and destruction. Glacier National Park in Montana suddenly seemed better than any thought of another Colorado trip for 2013.

Locomotive and caboose at edge of Royal Gorge Bridge parking lot.
The caboose was destroyed and the locomotive damaged by the June 2013 fire.

Why do I bring all this up? Simply because this all flooded back and reminded me that everything is ephemeral. People, places, things, everything is ephemeral. So carpe diem. Talk to people when you have the chance. Visit places while they're still there to be visited. See things while they're still there to be seen. You never know when a person will move or pass away, a scenic place may be destroyed by rockfall or fire, or an institution close.

Even that which is set in stone may change. In 2003, New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain, the ancient and iconic rock formation that was the state's choice for its quarter, collapsed. Change happens, and sometimes it is destructive change. Make the most you can of whatever comes your way.

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