Getting wood in Weirdcliffe

The fireplace in Weirdcliffe, before we installed a Lopi woodstove insert.

When Texas sank back into the Ice Age, I was reminded of the good old days on our wind-scoured rockpile outside Weirdcliffe, Colorado.

There, the power only went out whenever it was inconvenient. And it usually would stay off for an hour or two at minimum, which was the time it took for a utility guy from Cañon City to flip a switch somewhere.

We learned early on that not much works during winter at 8,800 feet in the ass-end of nowhere if you don’t have power. No water, no cooking, and most important, no heat.

I remembered the joys of a heat-free home from my stint in a 9×40 singlewide trailer in Greeley back in 1974. Its oil furnace was forever seizing up in the middle of a winter night, and there’s nothing that clarifies the mind for higher education quite as well as the backsplash from a frozen toilet when you get up at stupid-thirty to offload a sixer of the long-neck Falstaffs you enjoyed for dinner.

Our private road. I went backwards on this stretch in 4WD one evening. I wasn’t scared or nothin’, but somebody shit on my seat. | Photo: Hal Walter

So on our hillside, we kept ourselves prepared. There were canned goods and jerrycans of water in the hall closet, along with a Coleman two-burner and several 1-pound propane bottles for emergency cookery. And we had several candle lanterns and flashlights at the ready because this shit never happens in broad daylight on a weekday.

But the smartest thing we did was have a Lopi woodstove insert installed in our fireplace, along with buying a chainsaw and ax. When you heat with wood, it warms you twice — while you’re cutting it, and while you’re burning it.

And speaking of getting wood, yes, yes, yes, it’s time for the latest episode of Radio Free Dogpatch.

P L A Y    R A D I O    F R E E    D O G P A T C H

• Technical notes: I recorded this one in the Comedy Closet, using a Shure MV7 mic and Zoom H5 Handy Recorder. Editing was in Apple’s GarageBand, with a sonic bump from Auphonic. Music by Infernal Hound Sound; sound effects courtesy of Zapsplat. Special guest appearance by Shel Silverstein.

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12 Responses to “Getting wood in Weirdcliffe”

  1. Pat O’Brien Says:

    That’s so nice. A real story like the Desert Oracle asked for.

    That must have been some home. I would have set up a archery range in the back in those days, and done a lot of hiking. You have lived in the back country!

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Things just happened to work out really well for us. We had sold Mom’s house and had that money burning a hole in our pockets. The bank and the contractor who built the Weirdcliffe house had gotten stuck with it for a couple years, because the guy who ordered it up backed out of the deal. Thus the price was right, and when we saw the view from the deck, we signed on the bottom line.

      The place was the perfect size for us. The acreage could’ve been more useful — most of it stood on end — but there was a small meadow down by the county road that I used to build a short cyclocross course.

      That road was Death, though. I got really tired of having to run/ride that last mile to the house after every workout. And after I slid backward down the sonofabitch in the Tacoma one icy night the writing was on the wall. It was back to Bibleburg for us.

      Me in the meadow

      Me and my meadow. Photo: Herself (click here for a larger image)

  2. Shawn Says:

    Nice place, that Cliff of Weird. I see that High Country News had a story about the goodness of weird.

    https://www.hcn.org/issues/53.2/south-communities-meet-the-gun-toting-tenacious-unicorns-in-rural-colorado

    Although I think advertising that you’ve got guns is a foolish thing to do.

    On an alternate note that has affected us all, NPR has been honoring with music, a few of the many that have been taken by the virus:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/songs-of-remembrance/2021/02/22/970258588/jeff-kopet-74-dire-straits-brothers-in-arms

    Good music, sad memory.

    I wonder if Mons liked John Pryne?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      My operating assumption in Crusty County was that everyone was armed to the teeth, which mostly they were. Shit, even we were.

      Some of us didn’t really need firearms. The Frenchman who cooked for Bear Basin Ranch was an ex-boxer from Marseille who could kick much ass with one hand while preparing a delicious meal with the other. And on a woodstove, too.

      That milestone is a stone bummer. We’ll never know if things might have been less grotesque had the 2016 election not gone so insanely wrong, but I don’t see how they could’ve been much worse. I miss Mons and John Prine.

    • khal spencer Says:

      When everyone is armed, its no big deal to say you are too. KInd of a badge of acceptance. Plus, its a damn dumb thing to do to break into someone’s house when you know the Welcome Wagon welcomes you with #00 buck.

      That article sounded interesting. I’d love to take a trip up to the Tenacious Unicorns Ranch. I’ve had gay, lesbian, and transgendered grad students and a gay brother in law. I don’t see why people get spun up. I get more annoyed with people trying to sell me bad ideas or stupid products.

      So getting to Weirdcliffe. Damned if I was stupid enough to sell the Tacoma 4×4 when we became city folk. I’ve never been entirely comfortable in a city. Wonder if the Subaru could make the trip off of US 160 down into Weirdcliffe on that little dirt road off of La Veta Pass that looks like it goes into Gardner. Patrick?

      I’d bring 5 lbs of fresh roast coffee beans from Fanta Se as a gift and slap on the K-frame 357 Magnum. I’ve found that there is nothing quite like walking into a far right establishment as an overeducated liberal and being able to talk gun tech better than anyone else. Kinda breaks the ice, catches people flat footed, and reminds people that we are all Murrcans under the bullshit and bluster.

      Now, get off my lawn before I slap a magazine into that black rifle….

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        The owner of the gun shop I used to work in long ago often said,”If everyone carried a gun, there would be a lot more killing and a lot less crime.” I think I will take a pass living like that.

        Most of these black rifle guys I have talked to don’t know shit about guns or have any real training in how to use it. I know that is just my opinion based on a random sample in a small town.

        • khal spencer Says:

          I agree. If someone wants to live in a perpetually armed society, I suggest they join the army and spend a few tours in places like Anbar Province. There, they can enjoy the reality of civil strife and the smell of gunpowder and IEDs while trying to keep their legs attached to their torsos.

          I think the whole thing has gotten a bit batshit. Its not the guns, its the gun culture and our increasingly uncivilized politics. Folks have been able to get M1 Garands through the Civilian Marksmanship Program for decades. For some reason the wood stocks never made people stupid. Then we got plastic fantastic rifles and Newt Gingrich et al.

          • Pat O’Brien Says:

            I bought a sporterized 1903A3 model Springfield from the gunsmith in the shop I worked in. He got it from the CMP. It was a 2 groove barrel version made by Remington, I think. Man, that thing would shoot. Minute of angle groups from it on a good day, for me, with a 4 power Weaver scope.

            I know, blast from the past, 1973 to be precise. I also bought a front screw K-38 Target Masterpiece from him.

          • khal spencer Says:

            My stepdad’s first deer rifle was an 03-A3. Nice rifle. I shot it a lot as a kid. He eventually got some other deer guns. Ironically, I think he took all his deer with the shotgun.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        It’s a good-sized, thinly populated rural backwater, is Custer County. 740 square miles and 4,255 souls, as of the 2010 Census. More now, Hal thinks.

        They grow hay and cattle up there, and milk free-range tourists when they can th’ow a loop over ’em. Guns are a part of life in the boondocks, and the place is solidly GOP so you get some Second Amendment fetishism in there too.

        But they used to have a jazz festival — I met Herbie Mann there one year — and there are the usual trophy-home types who jet in from wherever a couple times a year to make use of their second (or third, or fourth) homes. Of the seven properties in Lookout Ridge, where we lived, only a couple of us were full-timers. Two properties hadn’t even been built on.

        Hal thinks the Patagucci Tribe has “discovered” Westcliffe, but what that means is anybody’s guess. You have to bring your own fun with you, because you won’t find ski slopes as in Aspen, mapped and maintained MTB routes as in Fruita, or rafting as in Salida. You have to do a bit of exploring to find out where you can best engage in the recreational activity of your choice, and that can burn up a lot of a weekend visit. Gravel roads? Got ’em. And if you like hiking, fishing, and camping, well, you could do much worse than spend some time in the Sangres.

        K, the road you’re thinking of is Pass Creek Road, and we used to drive it in all manner of vehicles, from a Subaru Legacy Brighton wagon to Ford and GMC pick-’em-up trucks to Toyota rice rockets with them long beds full of bicycles and whatnot. It was always slow going, and there was a big fire in that area some years back that made a mess of things, and the road may be closed from the La Veta side now. Snow frequently closed it even if the authorities did not, as we learned the hard way one year en route to the Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon. I’ve seen some chatter online about there being “ROAD CLOSED” signs up but that they don’t actually block the road.

        There’s an alternative once you’ve gotten off La Veta Pass and a little closer to Walsenburg (520 to 69), but it’s a washboarded bone-rattler and you might wind up with your teefers in your lap by the time you get to Badito. You’re almost better off going Poncha Pass-Salida-Texas Creek-Weirdcliffe, or, if you want something different, La Veta Pass-Walsenburg-Gardner and up that way.

        • khal spencer Says:

          Yep. Pass Creek Rd. I see it whenever we visit our friend outside Boulder if we take US 285 to US 160 to I-25. But the traffic from Bibleburg to Boulder get the best of me so now we usually take US 285 all the way to Denver and scoot up 470 and along the Front Range on Co 93.

          One of my neighbors from Los Alamos, Roy Bates, retired, sold his house in Bombtown, and built a home next to DeWeese Reservoir. Roy had a big diesel 4×4 and said he got to Westcliffe taking 160 to Pass Creek. I’ve always wanted to check in on Roy but never had the urge to overland it on Pass Creek without doing some research. Now its been so many years I doubt we remember we used to be next door neighbors.

  3. SAO' Says:

    Nice of Shel Silverstein to come out of retirement for this one. My 3rd grader has been on a bit of an Uncle Shelby kick lately. I had forgotten how wonderfully weird he was.

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