Somewhere, in one of the 6 large boxes of family photographs my camera-totin’-mama has been hauling around for the 50+ years of her marriage and children’s lives – there are pictures from THE family vacation of a lifetime. I’ll have to try to find some next time I go see her.
We didn’t do many big vacations growing up. We might take four days in St Louis to hit 2 Cardinal Baseball games and spend a day at Six Flags over Mid-America, or go see relatives a state or two away. Of course Camp Meeting and Church Camps were annual events. But extravagant travel was not part of my growing up years.
But one year, oh yes, there was this one year…
Let’s go to Colorado!
My Uncle Bill convinced my parents to join him and my Aunt Donnitta and their 6 kids (before number 7 came along) for a camping trip to Colorado.
The whole trip deserves its own blog, as it was a journey that took in the whole of Colorado. We went everywhere from Trail Ridge Road to The Royal Gorge and back again and camped beautiful Colorado that June in 1971. It was an amazing trip. I saw thousands of hippies, bought beaded Indian dolls and giant pencils at little shops filled with cedar boxes, shot glasses and state-spoons, was afraid we’d fall off a mountain cliff as we drove up-up-up and nearly froze in the early morning air – plus threw a few snowballs in the high country in the bright Colorado sunshine.
But the best thing of all?
Buckskin Joe, Colorado!
Oh, I loved Buckskin Joe! It was a tourist-trap-type “ghost town” that was part theme park, part movie set (the actual reason it had been built), part peek-into-the-old-west, part pretend-you’re-in-an-episode-of-Gunsmoke. They had gunfights in the streets and swinging saloon doors and horses clopping down the road and cowboys with chaps and spurs and buildings to tour and trinkets to buy, not to mention – saloon girls!
Since I was regularly found watching the old black and white “Wells Fargo” reruns on Saturday afternoons at home, my mom took me to the “newspaper office” in Buckskin Joe and had a headline printed up for me on an old-fashioned news-form, “Jeanie Moslander holds up Wells Fargo Stage.” It looked so real.
It was originally built (a gathering of buildings from real Colorado ghost towns were relocated) in 1957 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for making movies.
Because westerns were an American staple at that time, Buckskin Joe was a bustling, well-known place. There were people coming and going and we got to observe several “bar brawls” and guns being pulled and fake-fights with cowboys throwing a drunk tumbling down the dirt streets. There was even a train that took you right out to look over The Royal Gorge – scary! Oh, it was imaginative and fun. I really thought I might run in to John Wayne while I was there. I hoped maybe Little Joe Cartwright or Heath Barclay from the Big Valley would show up, marry me and we could do our trading in Buckskin Joe regulalrly. :)
A partial list of movies that were filmed there
Cat Ballou (1965) Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin
True Grit (1969) John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby
Barquero (1970) Lee Van Cleef, Warren Oates, Forrest Tucker
The Cowboys (1972) John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne, Bruce Dern, Slim Pickins
The Brothers O’Toole (1973) John Astin
Mr. Majestyk (1974) Charles Bronson
The Dutchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976) George Segal, Goldie Hawn
The White Buffalo (1977) Charles Bronson, Jack Warden
How the West Was Won (1977 TV mini-series) James Arness, Eva Marie Saint
Comes a Horseman (1978) James Caan, Jane Fonda, Jason Robards
True Grit: A Further Adventure (1978 TV movie) Warren Oates
The Sacketts (1991) two-part television movie, Sam Elliott, Tom Selleck
Conagher (1991) Sam Elliott, Katharine Ross, Ken Curtis, Barry Corbin.
Cannibal! The Musical (1993) Trey Parker
Lightning Jack (1994) Paul Hogan, Cuba Gooding Jr.
I never forgot Buckskin Joe. So when we moved to Colorado, we added a trip to Buckskin Joe to the things we wanted our kids to experience.
Well, let’s just say, that by the mid-to-late 90s, the time we made the family trip, the glory days were past. I bet there weren’t 30 or 40 people in the whole town the day we went. There was hardly any staff. The buildings were primarily empty and just there to observe, as opposed to the 70s when each was interactive and filled with fun activity. There were still train rides and horse rides and some fun old-fashioned carnival style activities, and of course, still cowboy-days artifacts and the old Colorado buildings, but Buckskin wasn’t the same. Buckskin had lost its’ glory. Still I was glad to have taken my kids to a place that lives in vista-colored-infamy in my memories
In my secret heart, I vowed to one day return, buy it and put it on the most-desired-vacation map again!
The next generation
Not long ago I decided it was time to take the grandbebes. My heart palpitated with the thought. We could drive to Canon City on a Friday. I would dress them all like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and we’d hit cowboy-paradise first thing Saturday morning.
B A D News
But alas. It is no more. When I googled to find out prices and hours, *sniff *sniff, I found out it got purchased by a private party. And this person has disassembled Buckskin Joe to move to his own ranch far, far away (Gunnison) – never to be enjoyed by me again. It is his, all his.
Some billionaire (William Koch), who has nothing better to spend his money on than my very heart and soul, is making my dream of taking my grandbebes to Buckskin Joe a dream that will never happen. Sadness. Deep abiding sadness. *sniffles
I’ll never forget you, Buckskin Joe, and the imagination you ignited in me. Happy Trails, old town.
Now – where else could I take the grand-girls-and-boys that dressing like Dale and Roy would be acceptable??? :)