Happy Fourth of July!
Though we celebrate nationwide, we tend to think of our nation’s history emanating almost exclusively from the East Coast, the original 13 colonies. Any place west of the Mississippi – well, west of the Appalachians in the late 1700’s – wasn’t a part of the (new) national consciousness until the mid-1800’s. Yet, there were dynamic societies all over the West – living peacefully, clashing, trading, and/or seeking dominance. Drive in any direction from Durango, and in under four hours you will be in a hotbed of historic significance.
Did you know, for instance, that Santa Fe is the nation’s oldest capital city? Pueblo Indians lived in the area from approximately 1050-1400 a.d. Conquistador Don Francisco Vasques de Coronado claimed the region for Spain in 1540, and Santa Fe was “officially” named a city in 1607. In 1610, it became the capital city. The pilgrims wouldn’t arrive in Plymouth, Massachusetts, until 1620.
Today, of course, Santa Fe is renowned not only for its rich, multicultural history, but also art, food, architecture and outdoor pursuits. Santa Fe is a short, four-hour drive from Durango and a perfect weekend getaway.
Just 35 miles west of Durango is another hotbed of historic culture: Mesa Verde National Park. At the heart of one of the greatest anthropological mysteries of all time, the Anasazi Indians built and lived in elaborate cliff dwellings in this dramatic, high desert landscape for hundreds of years. They developed a complex society and even more complex habitations, then – in what seems to be an instant – they disappeared. Theories abound why the Anasazi abandoned the region in the early 1300’s, but none can be stated with certainty.
Over 500 years after the Anasazi left the world with a huge missing puzzle piece, organized societies gave way to lawlessness in the “Old West.” From Durango and north to Silverton, Lake City and (west-ish) to Telluride, the frontier mentality was in full swing. With brothels, mining, and manifest destiny on their minds, people were establishing new towns, breaking with old social mores, and setting a new tone for the culture and vibe of the American West.
So today as we celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the lofty ideals that our forefathers asserted and we still aspire to reach in full, we also celebrate the cultures and history that were happening far away from King George’s reign over the 13 colonies. The anthropological history of the American Southwest is embedded in our cultures today – from desert dwellings to mountain towns. And if Durango is your home base ~ or second home base – it is ripe for exploring.
Happy Independence Day!