We’ve wrapped up our shooting in Colorado and are moving back into Midwest airspace (and losing altitude by the mile). We spent our time in the Highest State whipsawing between all sorts of moods, altitudes, and environments, met a host of memorable characters, and covered a lot of hard and beautiful territory. In many ways this was the most challenging, exhaustive, and exhausting Dispatch trek yet, and we’ll be staring down a tough edit back in Minnesota. We’re eager, though, to wade back into the torrent of words and pictures (only a tiny fraction of which made it onto the Dispatch tumblr). Thanks for following along, and please consider supporting our travels by pre-ordering the Colorado edition of The LBM Dispatch.
Real events don’t have endings,
Only the stories about them do.
—James Galvin, “The Story of the End of the Story”
South Saint-Mary Cemetery. Walsenburg.
…These are not like graves in town that no one should forget.
These were meant to be forgotten. Some people never stop wanting to
disappear into the mountains.
James Galvin, from “They Haven’t Heard the West is Over”
Stephen. Walmart. Durango.
Stephen is a Cherokee musician and painter who lives in a trailer just outside Durango. He’s 63 years old and grew up in Texas and Tennessee. After years in Nashville, where he says he was “chasing the platinum rainbow,” he chucked everything and moved to Colorado.
“I was looking for peace,” he said. “I was burned out, and over aggressive because of all the anger I was carrying around. Indians have been reeducated by white men and by Hollywood, and forced through absolute hard-nosed brutality to live at odds with who they are and where they come from. And this world always wants to take you in one direction, and the spirit wants to take you in another. I decided to follow the spirit. That happy hunting ground business is romantic bullshit, but I believe in the immortality of the soul, and this is a good place to end it all. This is where I’m going to die.”
Rich. Del Norte.
Doing business as Grande Premium Meats —aka ElkUSA— Rich Forrest raises elk, buffalo, deer, and goats. He also buys and sells antlers, many of which are turned into dog chews that he sells through pet stores and via the internet.
“Dogs have been eating antlers for eons,” he said. “But I guess I can take some credit for commercializing the idea. I’ll admit that it’s kind of a crazy way to make a living.”
We picked up Joseph as he was hitchhiking in the rain outside of Walsenburg. He is 50 years old and has been on the road since he was 19.
“I wanted to see the world and meet people,” he said. “Since I left home in Texas the longest I’ve been in one place is nine months. My family’s all gone —mom, dad, brother, and sister; I’m the last of the Mohicans. I guess I’m what you’d call a drifter. I drift from one place to another. I’m also a survivalist; put me pretty much anywhere and I’ll get by. I don’t drink or use drugs, and I get by doing odd jobs here and there. I’m not looking for a handout. I just spent three weeks shoveling snow in Helena.”
Joseph has gum disease and no insurance, and has been systematically pulling his teeth with a pliers. “I’ve done ten so far,” he said. “You just grab a hold of them, keep wiggling until they’re loose, and then you yank ‘em.”
In his pack he carries a change of clothes, a map, two goose down sleeping bags (“I’m good for 30-below”), his father’s old Gillette razor, and personal hygiene products, including Axe body spray and deodorant.
“You have to be clean,” he said. “And you have to smell good. This stuff works. People pick me up all the time and say, ‘You don’t stink as bad as most hitchhikers.’”
We asked him what he regarded as the most essential item for life on the road.
“Socks,” he said. “Do not get low on socks. Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you.”
Mary. Believers Realty. Pueblo.
Mary has been selling real estate in Colorado since 1975, but in 1986, after God spoke to her, she started Believers.
“So often we hear God’s voice and it sounds like our own voice,” Mary said, “but this was different. I was awake, and in the vision I was in an auditorium, which I was viewing from the stage. I could see a big group of people filing into this auditorium, just coming in from every door, and they were all wearing name tags. Then it was like I was looking through binoculars, and I could see that all of the name tags said ‘Believers Realty.’ God said He was looking for people to spread the word through Believers Realty. I said, ‘My goodness, there aren’t that many realtors in Pueblo,’ and He told me that these people were from all over the United States.”
Mary trademarked the Believers name, as well as the company slogan, “We go by the Book.” She still hopes to expand the business beyond Pueblo.
“This isn’t really about business,” she said. “I deal with people who are mad at the church or have been turned away or what have you, but I’m open to people of any faith or no faith at all. This is about my life, and living the way God intended. I don’t force things on people. I just try to serve as an example.”
Mel “The Dragon Man” Bernstein’s compound. Colorado Springs.
The gravel road leading to the heavily fortified compound of The Dragon Man is strewn with wrecked and overturned cars —most of them heavily pocked with bullet holes— and bloody mannequins. There are signs at these scenes of carnage: “Is there life after death? Trespass here and find out!” “This gang banger was playing his RAP music too loud!” “Don’t piss me off! I am running out of places to bury the bodies!” “This guy was a registered Democrat.” “Robbers welcome! I need the target practice!”
There is another sign near the gate at the end of the driveway: “The owner of this property has the right to shoot to kill all trespassers. ‘Make my day law’.” Nearby, a mannequin with a shovel stands over an empty grave, and yet another sign reads, “This spot could be yours.”
The Dragon Man is a gun dealer who runs a sprawling adventure land —gun range, paintball park, military museum, and dirt bike track—for the Second Amendment crowd. The compound was closed on the day of our visit, and we surmised that it was likely ill advised to encroach any further on the Dragon Man’s property.
Just up the road we encountered a man and two young boys squatting in the dirt lot of a weathered ranch house. The three figures were situated at some distance from one another, and all of them were hacking at the earth. The man was using a hammer; the two boys were wielding screwdrivers.
I walked toward them up a long gravel driveway, but they were intent on their labors and, despite the barking of a dog that was scurrying around the yard, they didn’t seem to note my approach. I walked right up to the man and said hello, but he still didn’t look up or acknowledge my presence. He kept right on pounding with his hammer until a cell phone chirped in his jacket pocket. The man answered the phone, listened intently for a moment, and then said, “Oh, you know how it is. Dazed and confused.” He then stood up and walked away toward a truck at the back of the house.
I tried my luck with one of the boys.
“What are you guys doing?” I asked.
“Attacking ants,” he said. “They attack us, so we’re attacking them.”
I asked the boy if he knew the Dragon Man. He allowed that he occasionally saw the Dragon Man at the Wal-Mart, and then he pointed his screwdriver back down the road. “That’s his place over there,” he said. “He’s a shooter.” And then he went right back to attacking ants.
L.H. “Jug” Lowell. Buffalo Bill’s birthday party. Lookout Mountain.