By Joshua Berman
This article was first published in The Denver Post on May 5, 2019
LA VETA — My wife and daughters were in the zone, painting their cotton, wax-splashed canvases with bright splashes of primary colors. We’d signed up for a family batik workshop at Shalawalla Gallery and Gift Shop, in the small town of La Veta, Huerfano County. The cozy room smelled of paraffin and beeswax; it was the working studio of Jonathan and Beth Evans, an artist duo who spends part of the year in northern India, and the rest running this creative setup in southeastern Colorado. They are batik artists whose remarkably detailed and realistic batik paintings were on display in their converted train car gallery.
Shalawalla was the first stop on our exploration of Highway 12, “The Highway of Legends,” on a weekend roadtrip. Departing Interstate-25 in Walsenburg, we’d fired up the “Highway of Legends Scenic Byway” audio tour that I’d downloaded from TravelStorys, an app that geo-tracks your car’s location to tell you about natural and historical features as you drive past them. It turned our car into a classroom as soon as the Spanish Peaks appeared, two snow-capped mountains around which Highway 12 travels (finishing back on I-25 in Trinidad).
The Ute, we learned from our deep-voiced narrator, called these mountains huajatolla, or “breasts of the Earth,” and the Spanish called them dos hermanos. They dominated the landscape, rising out of nowhere and serving as “a landmark for all the people who passed through here: Native Americans, soldiers, trappers, traders, settlers, and gold seekers. The peaks are part of the gigantic Southern Colorado volcanic field, which began forming 40 million years ago.”
Then we’d arrived in La Veta (pronounced “la vee-dah”), whose 850 year-round residents reside at about 7,000-feet elevation. Some of these folks are artists who have set up galleries, workshops, and studios—there are also quilting workshops, jewelry making, and painting classes in La Veta. I loved seeing my family painting, content, and concentrated, inspired by working.
After class, we checked into a comfy, rustic room at La Veta Inn, a restored hotel on Ryus Ave., across from a park and railroad tracks. The hotel and its 17 rooms have warm, historic touches, like arched hallways, murals by local artists, and stories from the hotel’s creaking-wood past. For dinner, we drove ten minutes up Highway 12 to Cuchara for steak and wine at Timbers Restaurant (23 Cuchara Ave. East). As we were returning to La Veta, the girls spotted a fox running across the road in the moonlight.
In the morning, we were off again, twisting into the forest, skirting igneous dikes that radiated outward from the Spanish Peaks like giant rock fins. The narrator continued, “In the early 20th century, yarn-spinning Louis Sporleder … wrote long legends that he claimed to have heard from Native Americans. These were tales of mischievous demons, evil priests, talking panthers, and beautiful princesses.”
These were the tales that accompanied us as we topped 9,938-foot Cuchara Pass and continued down the road.
IF YOU GO:
Shalawalla Gallery and Gift Shop: 107 W. Ryus Ave., La Veta, 719-742-3453.
Check the La Veta Cuchara Chamber Calendar for a multitude of art exhibits, festivals, and community yard sales. A few to watch out for: In La Veta, look for Art in the Park on July 6-7, Spanish Peaks Music Festival on July 5-6, and monthly Art Walks to the town’s various galleries every fourth Friday in June, July, and August. For three-classes-in-one, consider Try Art-Fecta, three dates when you can do batik, jewelry, and ceramics classes, all in one day (July 24, August 21, and September 25).
La Veta Inn (https://lavetainn.co, 103 W. Ryus Ave., 719-742-5566, from $109/night), Warehouse Suites (http://thewarehousesuite.com, 102 W Ryus Ave, La Veta, 719-742-5278), or the Inn at the Spanish Peaks B&B (http://www.innatthespanishpeaks.com, 310 E Francisco St, La Veta, 719-742-5313).