If last night wasn’t romantic enough, this morning proves even more so. We get to watch the sunrise on the water, take a shower together, and drink fresh made coffee. We thought about washing in the lake, but that moment didn’t last long after we dipped our fingertips in. We arrive at Nicodemus National Historic Site early as usual. We were only camped 15 minutes away. The town, or what remains of it, is what we are here to see. This is where African-Americans were able to become pioneers in the States and set up their own community that remains an all-Black town to this day.
And because people still live here there only needs to be the usual buildings available to the public’s eye – Township Hall/visitor center, St. Francis Hotel/Switzer residence, Old First Baptist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the School District Number One. These buildings were starting to be established in 1877 and church services were discontinued in the 1950s and classes stopped being offered in the 1960s when the population of the town diminished.
It might not look like much now, but in the 19th century with some 300 settlers and their horses, the dugouts turned into homes, stores, shops, fraternal organizations, and a bank. The railroad chose a route further south from the town and it began to dwindle – the Great Depression didn’t help either. Today’s population is around thirty people and for anyone that’s ever lived in a small town – you know you can’t do much without everyone else knowing. We had taken the dogs with us on the first walk when we knew everything was closed, but on the second walk to get a better peek at the AME Church a local commented on our love of walking – any faster and one would miss this place.
I sat patiently outside the visitor center waiting on the ranger. She was only five minutes late and showed me where to start the video promptly. It showed the history of the town and the effect it still has on descendants today – this is a great starting point for their freedom – where their family was willing to toil in the difficult earth to farm so that one day their kids could live the American Dream as all citizens had been promised. They still meet annually at the Emancipation/Homecoming Celebration in July to honor family, liberation, history, and food.
We stop in Hill City (where everyone seems to be over the hill) to buy some snacks. Our next stop won’t be for another hour and 45 minutes. We pull over to put our eyes on the largest Van Gogh replica of Three Sunflowers in a Vase and easel in Goodland, Kansas standing tall at 80 feet – the tallest thing for miles, but not as tall as Mount Sunflower at 4,039 feet. Seeing this art is inspirational and I let Caleb have his second time at the wheel so I can write some sunflower inspired poetry while we drive to Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.
Here is an excerpt of my writing: Fields of yellow, Hearts of mellow, The way I felt, When you said hello. Corn and wheat, Words of sweet, Sunflower seeds, In your arms I need. Rays of warmth, Blades of cool, Nature’s weaving, Makes me feel like a fool.
We stop at the Colorado state sign and stand in wonder as to how the stickers way above our heads were placed. Photo opportunity over, it’s time to get on to visiting a sad, but educational park that will let us learn more about our ancestors – or the random ruthless settlers that came before us. There are some simple signs, a barn, and a trailer. We don’t feel we will be here long with the temperature at 94 degrees and the dogs in the car. We are greeted by an older woman who gives us each a brochure.
One of those simple signs are letters written by leaders of U.S. soldiers that refused to kill the innocent Cheyenne and Arapaho people who had evacuated their land when told. This massacre would lead to a series of raids and retaliation, but also to a better understanding of our relationship with Native Americans. This land remains sacred and a place for education and nature preservation. We head inside to learn more and won’t return for 45 minutes. We talked with Ranger Shawn about other parks to see and he recommended getting the stamp from the Trinity Site in New Mexico.
Caleb adds the ranger’s signature to his collection and we go back to the car to collect our melted dogs. We try to walk them to the repatriation site, monument and overlook, but they look like they’re about to die from heat stroke so we put them in the car with the a/c on high and offer some cold water. There is another road that will get us closer so we take that, leave the dogs in the cool car, and walk around the site. It may be sad, but it’s also beautiful. I drive us to Bent’s Old Fort, a happier version of our history with the Natives.
We thought we might get lucky and get in the gate just moments before closing, but this Site closes at 4:00 pm and we are an hour late. We park outside and take the trail at our own risk as we are warned that park animals and hazardous trail conditions may be encountered – it’s flat, dry, and gravel – at least an incident would make for an interesting story on my blog, but there will be no such thing.
The dogs are left at the entrance in the shade as we take to the trail to see this park after hours. There is a large trading post with a wagon and a cannon outside. The ranger doesn’t answer our knock on the thick wooden door so we continue further until we see a teepee. I’m sure I could live there so there would be no problem trading here either. Maybe next time we will arrive at a time when the fort is open so we can see and learn more inside, but as for now the expedition will have to be satisfied with what can be seen from the outside.
We return to a car full of flies and I roll all the windows down trying to get them out. They wouldn’t bother me so much if they didn’t feel the need to buzz in my face. We enter the town of Walsenburg with food on the mind. The temperature is now 103 degrees so we figure we have three minutes before the dogs die. We run into Safeway and before I can ask to cut in line to buy a box of soup in front of the woman with a cart-full the lady at the register is too rude, so I leave the lunch there and hurry back to Sparky and Piggy.
I’ve never had an issue buying one thing in front of anyone. They are always so kind. That town needs to work on its manners. We have alfredo noodles for tonight’s dinner, but it seems tomorrow’s lunch will be imaginary. The Colorado sky is too beautiful to stay mad long. I know we will figure something out. I can barely drive because I am so mesmerized by the clouds and sun and the colorful show they are putting on.
Sometime after 8:30 pm we will arrive to a dark Pinyon Flats campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Just as we think we are getting lost a ranger comes by to let us know that the spot we are in front of is available. I walk the $20 to the fee booth while Caleb sets up. We drove 498 miles today putting us over the 50,000 mile mark on the odometer. This place is supposed to be awesome. I guess we will find out in the morning when we wake up.