This morning I hopped in my car, with my mic bag riding shotgun, and drove two hours Southeast to La Junta, Colorado. This was the first time I had driven on 50-East in the daylight, and my rear view mirror had never looked so good. The Front Range, Pikes Peak, The Spanish Peaks...the whole gang was there!
I started my day at Bent's Old Fort, where I interviewed Chief of Interpretation and Trails and Rails organizer Rick Wallner. Trails and Rails is a heritage appreciation program: The National Park Service partners with Amtrak to put volunteers on the trains to talk to passengers about what they are seeing out the window-- everything from flora and fauna to Santa Fe Trail history. On a particularly historic ride like the Southwest Chief, this service is wildly loved and appreciated by the passengers, who get to learn about things like Bent's Old Fort and the iconic Hotel Castaneda in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The volunteers also set up what Wallner called a "Mobile Visitors Center" in the Southwest Chief's Lounge Car, which features photographs and touchable buffalo furs and beaver pelts. If the Southwest Chief were rerouted away from Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico, this programming would unfortunately become nonexistent.
|Wallner, in front of Bent's Old Fort's surrounding landscape.|
|Bent's Old Fort. For much of it's history, this was the only major and permanent settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements.|
|The fort is surrounded by all kinds of neat things, like this colorful wagon.|
The second part of my day was spent with La Junta City Manager Rick Klein and La Junta Director of Economic Development Ryan Stevens. Klein and Stevens both emphasized La Junta's identity as a "train community" and a place whose history sits largely on its involvement with railroads. They want the train to stay right where it is, and assuming it does, the city is even planning on building a brand new train station.Both Klein and Stevens seemed more concerned about the cultural losses that La Junta would suffer if the train was rerouted away from the town rather than the economic losses. As Stevens explained, when most people think 'Colorado', they don't think about the tourism and history these smaller Southeastern towns have to offer. The railroad keeps them on the map.
|I met with Economic Director Ryan Stevens in his office at Otero Junior College.|
|Replicas and remnants of La Junta's railroad past are scattered all over town.|
|I took a coffee break in the center of town at a charming diner called the Copper Kitchen. Note sign in top right corner!|
|One of La Junta's many unique shopping destinations.|
|La Junta's Amtrak station was completely empty, and sadly this sign indicated that it would stay that way until 3 pm...|