I’m a Colorado transplant, but in 2009, I will have been here 15 years. Even though I only lived there for five years, plus summers in college, I definitely consider Del Norte my hometown (perhaps now it feels equal to Denver, but only recently so…). Del Norte: It’s a tiny town of about 1,600, nestled in the foothills of the San Juan mountains, across the San Luis Valey from the Sangre de Cristo range. Some say it was once in the running against Denver to be the state capital (at that time it was booming, due to mining in the area), and lost by only a vote or two.
In some ways it is lovely. In other ways it isn’t. For five years it shaped me, but I doubt I’ll ever return the favor, at least not by living here. Sorry, Del Norte.
Anyway, many things change in Del Norte. For example, the high schoolers have painted paw prints from the main street to the high school gym, to notify people that they are entering Tiger Territory (Beware!). That is new. There is a new and exciting hospital just southwest of town. There used to be two grocery stores, and now there is one. People circulate through, some stay. Everyone gets older.
And in some ways it doesn’t change. Here is Del Norte in 1922 (from the Denver Public Library’s Western History and Genealogy Collection):
Those buildings are definitely still there. The well has been moved so it isn’t directly in the middle of the highway. I bet I went to school with some of these people’s progeny.
Also, this is where I attended Middle School (also from the DPL collection):
Outside of this building (shown here c. 1920-1930) I met my first Del Norte friends, Paul and Robbie, just before 8th grade started. It was deemed unsuitable for human occupation at some point in the late 90s, and isn’t used anymore (at least not as the school…).
Coming back is a weird thing. It’s small enough that a trip to the grocery store or gas station almost certainly means running into someone you know. I get half-excited about the prospect of these run-ins, and half-terrified. The terrified part got the best of me today when, in Alamosa (30 miles away, grocery shopping with my mom), I spotted a high school classmate who had not changed one little bit. I dodged her. I am not proud, but we weren’t friends, just classmates, and what would we talk about?
What I find particularly interesting is that it all changes when we run into each other outside of the Valley. I was recently chased down Second Avenue in Cherry Creek by a classmate after I walked past the restaurant he managed. (Incidentally, he teased me relentlessly in high school, mostly because I was not “cool” and he “was”.) Outside of the Valley, we bond over the Valley. In the Valley, we have little in common.
So, anyway. Home again. The mountains are snow-covered, not snow-capped. The air is crisp (okay, totally frozen). It’s nice. Sigh.