Takeaway

Living La Veta

Shikha Tripathi | Updated on February 14, 2020 Published on February 13, 2020

Spanish scramble: La Veta was named after a mineral deposit nearby   -  IMAGES: SHIKHA TRIPATHI

Hidden in South Colorado’s Cuchara Valley, the erstwhile Spanish village of La Veta is ideal for the traveller who loves an easy vacation

In the middle of an exasperating highway jam in the dead of winter, the radio announces an approaching snowstorm. I pray for us to get home before it accosts us. I’m already two local flights and a long drive down, and can’t wait to reach La Veta, the obscure Colorado village I never even knew existed. We make it just in time for some warm bread and hot pumpkin soup that Beth has prepared for Jonathan, her husband, who came to pick me up at Colorado Springs, his friend Ken and me. I am grateful for the warmth the intimate house and my hosts — whom I had first met in a village in Uttarakhand — exude, but it isn’t until the next morning that I wake up to the marvel of living in a snow globe.

Hidden in South Colorado’s Cuchara Valley, La Veta was originally part of New Mexico, where Spanish “conquistadors” or “soldiers and explorers” arrived in the 1500s. The twin mountains that sit independent in the centre, and can be seen for miles, came to be known as the Spanish Peaks. Native Americans, who believed the peaks to be the source of life and nourishment, named them Wahatoya, the ‘breasts of the Earth’. In 1862, the land became part of a grant for farmers and ranchers; and in 1871, the settlement was also named Spanish Peaks and had its own post office. The arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande narrow-gauge railroad, the highest in the continent at the time, brought in new settlers. The town was named La Veta, meaning ‘mineral vein’ in Spanish, after a mineral deposit nearby. More than two centuries later, it still has its share of historic buildings including the Fort Francisco Museum, the La Veta Inn, cosy eateries and small festivals, but travellers to this town remain few and far between.

After a lazy morning with the in-house pets — a cat and three dogs — I put on my down jacket and boots and step out for a walk. The light of the crisp blue winter skies hits the snow on the ground and coats everything with gloss. The silence of the surroundings is interrupted only by the creaking of the picket gate I close behind me. I walk all the way to the Mountain View Baptist Church, past winsome stores with pretty windows and a stopover at the Ryus Avenue Bakery from where Beth and I had earlier picked up oven-fresh almond croissants.

Typical of small-town living, the bakery is open on alternate days. The community of 800-odd people also has a group of artists working in various disciplines, but what has drawn me most to Beth and Jonathan’s work is the unique story of batik. The nearly 2,000-year-old art that was born and perfected in Indonesia is used to dye cloth using a resist, usually hot wax. The love for batik also brought the duo together — they found each other through e-mail while looking for other enthusiasts in the US. They then travelled to, and lived in India for 15 years to create a compilation of Himalayan landscapes and portraits. When it was time to find a new home, they picked La Veta for its quietude, reminiscent of their mountain village life in India. They continue to recreate their lifelong travels and beloved old Himayalan life through their work displayed and sold at Shalawalla, their batik gallery and Asian handicrafts store outside their home. I find myself exclaiming with delight at familiar faces and scenes from the ridge back home in Binsar, Uttarakhand. It is satisfying to see these immortalised in an ambiguous settlement in the Rockies.

I spend the next few days driving around Cuchara with Beth and Jonathan, taking the dogs to play at the semi-frozen Wahatoya Lake and, on the last day, to mingle with more dogs at an abandoned airstrip that is now a snow field. We head back home quickly, with icy winds slapping our cheeks. I also have an early start; Jonathan will be dropping me back to Colorado Springs the following day. Ken has, once again, offered to drive us, and it is his biting humour that wakes me up more than the coffee. A known blues pianist, Ken [Saydak] moved to La Veta after living in Chicago for many years. It’s tough being a musician in a hamlet, he says, but life here is irreplaceable. I nod in agreement, and turn to look at the surreal moon that refuses to leave the sky of the dawn. This is how I am going to remember La Veta — a dream that doesn’t exist unless you are in it.

Shikha Tripathi is a writer and photographer based in Binsar

Travel log

Getting there

The nearest airport for La Veta is Colorado Springs, to which you can fly via Denver. La Veta is a two-hour drive from ‘Col Springs’. Alternatively, you can hop into a Greyhound bus from Denver to Pueblo, which is under an hour’s drive from La Veta.

Stay

There are a handful of cosy bed-and-breakfasts in town, but the historic La Veta Inn is particularly charming (lavetainn.co). If you fancy more isolation, hire a cabin in the wilderness of the Cuchara Valley further up, which is also marked with multiple hiking trails.

BLink Tip

A walk down the main road will show you the few eateries, art shops and souvenir stores you can choose to stop by, but don’t forget a morning trip to Ryus Avenue Bakery for artisanal bread and coffee (ryusavenuebakery.com). You can also have lunch here.

Pick-me-up: Afree library post in the village of 800-odd residents

 

Beth and Jonathan’s store is a short walk away (shalawalla.com), where they will be happy to not only show you their products but also tell you more about the batik art form. In between the two places, you can stop at the Little Free Library post, where you can borrow a book and replace it with one of yours.

Published on February 13, 2020
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.