This week I've been riding my "iron horse" through one of my favorite places on Earth -- Durango, Colorado. Yesterday, hubby and I drove our favorite loop to Silverton then over to Ouray. Pine scented air whipped my face, but the bright sun peaking between cottony puffs floating in a cornflower blue sky, tempered the chill over Molas Pass, leaving me with a red beacon for a nose. Dropping into Silverton, we spied the Durango Silverton narrow gauge train rounding the bend, the smoke trail suspended on the cool air, marking the trek from the canyon into town.
Walking wood plank sidewalks downtown, you're transported to another time when life was richer, harder, and exciting. When visions of striking it rich on the next big vein of ore running through the red mountains, brought dreamers who either saw their daydreams come to fruition or lost it all, some sacrificing their lives in the process.
Regardless of how many times we've rounded the sharp switchback turns of Colorado's Million Dollar Highway over Red Mountain Pass, my breath always catches at the wonder and beauty of the striped red mountains. Peaks of rock washed in streaks of orange, gold, purple, and red, as if God handed a child a paintbrush and a box of water colors and said "paint my mountains." Even the stream beds and waterfalls flow yellow from all the ore in the ground. When shafts of sunlight spread over the cascading water, it transforms to glistening liquid gold.
On the trip back, my muse came alive as I pondered the days when the mining industry sustained the economy of this corner of the world. When men and the women who loved them, gave up everything to follow the dream. A wilder past where rules were made at sunrise and broken by sundown. Preachers who dared to cast lessons of hellfire and brimstone, generally found their congregation taking comfort in the arms of "ladies of the night" or from the neck of a bottle, rather than in "the word of God." Faith and prayer were only used at the end of a pick, chipping away at the mountain walls, or words uttered clumsily or silently when the last shovel of dirt was thrown over a miner who'd cashed in on life and personally conversed with his Maker. Respect would be cast aside on the final amen and a brawl ensue for ownership of the "dearly departed's" claim. Mail order brides arrived with the rations for those holding onto their last thread of decency and desperately needing female companionship for the long winter months ahead...and someone who could cook, sew, mend, and split wood. If she was a hair prettier than the purchaser, all the better.
I smiled as we rounded the haunting silhouettes of wooden mine shafts where a boomtown once stood, because, of course, my hero already started telling the story long before I crested the summit.
Wyatt Miller has spent seven months mining the red mountains with his partner Martin Smith, and is now on his way back to Silverton to surprise his wife by arriving a week earlier than expected. However, his return will be bittersweet. While his arms will be full once again with the young bride he left behind, Martin's wife's will be empty. His boots, tattered hat, and wedding ring will be all that returns to Silverton. Wyatt hopes the bag of gold holding Martin's share of the claim before their vein ran dry, will be enough to soften her pending grief. Wyatt slips into town the back way to keep his arrival secret. One night loving the girl he's pined and dreamed in anguish over the past few months is all he wants. Tomorrow, he'll deal with sadness. Tonight, only joy, and well, lustful satisfaction is what he needs. However, Wyatt isn't the only one full of surprises. Maggie Miller has one of her own.
Check out Muses and Bruises above for my flash fiction short and see whose surprise is best. Oh, and did I mention the gypsy? 'Night all. Tomorrow -- Wolf Creek Pass...