I suppose you might call it my last great project. It’s been hanging around for over 20 years in fact to be precise, since 18th February, 1994. I can be so precise because I keep a diary and the experience that started the whole thing is right there. On that day in 1994 I wrote:
We got up with the intention of driving out of Durango and maybe heading back to Albuquerque but then things changed, we found a part of Durango unseen yesterday – we had breakfast in this brilliant little place surrounded by men with pony tails and cowboy hats talking about their sexual being – we loved it and decided to stay. Walked along the street, took the camera to be repaired then walked past the window of a realty office, saw some land for sale out by Lake Vallecito and decided on impulse to go and have a look –beautiful drive through the mountains and forest covered in recently fallen snow – a magical place.
Lake Vallecito where my epiphany happened is about 20 miles or so north east of Durango in South West Colorado. We first visited Durango in 1979 on the road trip I mentioned in my last post on this site. It made little impact on us at that time unlike Silverton, a few miles north and a world away, still was the last time we looked. We stayed the night at The Grand Imperial Hotel (built in 1882 according the postcard we bought at the time), it’s probably a chain now. Even then, I thought I like this part of America. Up to then we had been firmly fixed on the North East and North West but right here the seed of the American South West was sown. Ably supported incidentally by the marvellous Tony Hillerman novels. One of these days I will write about our trip to Shiprock, New Mexico, but not this time.
We returned to Durango in 1994 of the above diary entry and again nearly missed the good bit. But we turned right onto Main Street and found our British idea of the perfect cowboy town and a little more up-market than Silverton, including the marvellous little diner above. While strolling down Main Street we passed the realty agents office and, as is my predilection, I started looking at properties and dreaming. The dream started to firm up when I looked at the price of land that was for sale. Now in the UK land is almost unobtainable – small country, lots of people scenario so hence very restricted land for building on. But right here was my first experience of one part of the American dream – land for sale and ridiculously cheap by our standards. So we went to look at the land up at Lake Vallecito. In the winter getting over Wolf Pass (about 10,000’ if I recall correctly) required some effort. We hired a rent a wreck 4 wheel drive and set off in the kind of snowy conditions we definitely weren’t used to. We never found the piece of land but I did find tranquillity. The lake or more properly the reservoir was frozen and covered in snow as were the surrounding mountains. A wonderland.
To cut a long story reasonably short we didn’t buy any land at that time. We went back to the UK but the idea would not go away. If you think you have found the answer to your ‘looking for perfection and finding it’ quest, the ‘you know I could be really happy here’, vision, you’re not going to give it up easily. So a couple of months later having obtained the addresses from the phone book, can’t quite remember how I got hold of the Durango phone book I guess it’s in my diary if I cared to search it out, anyway I did. I wrote – yes, wrote with a pen and paper – to about 15 realty agents in the Durango area asking if they had any land for sale. One person replied, a guy named Bob who we got to know quite well over a period of time. He said he had 3 lots of 3 acres for sale at a place called Tween Lakes. This on the phone you have to remember no internet, no emails, just phone calls and faxes, no Skype. So we asked Bob which of the three lots was the best one and trusted him not to sell us the least desirable lot so he could get rid of it.