Some of these Colorado spots served as inspiration for fictional settings; others simply served now-revered authors whiskey and beer. They all have the power to connect you to people and places you may only know through prose.
Central City Opera House | Central City
First, follow Jack Kerouac from the ballfield at Five Points’ Lawson Park to My Brother’s Bar in LoHi, where he racked up tabs with Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (for proof, see the framed letter that mentions the latter’s debt). Then get, ahem, on the road to Central City: In 1947, Kerouac saw Beethoven’s Fidelio at the town’s still-in-use opera house.
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North Cheyenne Cañon Park | Colorado Springs
Once inside this 1,600-acre park, drive to the base of Helen Hunt Falls, named after Helen Hunt Jackson, an area resident and white advocate for the improved treatment of American Indians. Her popular 1884 novel Ramona, about a Native American–Scottish orphan in Southern California and the racial discrimination she suffers, has been reissued more than 300 times.
Vacations to this southwestern Colorado town inspired the setting for the mountain hideaway in novelist Ayn Rand’s 1957 dystopian tale, Atlas Shrugged. Like her Galt’s Gulch, Ouray is surrounded by peaks; traverse the 6.5-mile Ouray Perimeter Trail, whose expansive views of the valley make it easy to imagine it could be populated by disgruntled creatives and intellectuals.
La Raza Park | Denver
In 1981, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales—who wrote 1967’s epic poem I Am Joaquin—and other Chicano leaders clashed with police in this single-block green space, which is under petition to have its name changed from Columbus Park to La Raza Park, as Sunnyside residents have long called it. Picnic in the Aztec pyramidlike kiosko featuring murals by local artist David Ocelotl Garcia.
The Stanley Hotel | Estes Park
This stately resort just outside Rocky Mountain National Park is a far scream from the run-down version one-time Boulder resident and horror master Stephen King visited in 1974 on a spooky fall night. King has widely cited that stay as his muse for 1977’s The Shining, set in the fictional Overlook Hotel. Ask for his room, 217, if you dare.
Strater Hotel | Durango
For more than a decade, starting in 1966, prolific Western novelist Louis L’Amour spent each August with his wife and two children at the Strater Hotel in Durango. He penned much of his series about the Sackett pioneer family in room 222, where you can sleep and sit at the same drop-leaf table L’Amour used.
Thomas Hornsby Ferril House | Denver
The Queen Anne at 2123 Downing Street was home to Colorado’s first poet laureate, Thomas Hornsby Ferril, from 1900 to 1988. His guests included Robert Frost, Jack London, and Dorothy Parker, and it has hosted more contemporary scribes, too, as headquarters for Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop from 2005 to 2011. It’s now a private residence, so snap a picture and then stroll 1.2 miles to the Capitol; Hornsby Ferril’s verses caption the murals on the first-floor rotunda.
Welton Street Cafe Home of Mona’s | Denver
Sadly, all the Colorado eateries mentioned in Denverite Adrian Miller’s James Beard Award-winning Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time have closed since its publication in 2013. But you can visit this Five Points restaurant, one of his current favorites, to get a taste of how Black chefs are honoring the country’s African culinary heritage today.
Woody Creek Tavern | Woody Creek
Belly up to the bar at this cash-only watering hole—a favorite haunt of journalist, activist, and author Hunter S. Thompson, who lived nearby—for a few fingers of Thompson’s favored Wild Turkey bourbon.
Fans of Kent Haruf could visit Salida, where the novelist spent his final years, or downtown Florence, where Jane Fonda and Robert Redford shot a scene for Netflix’s 2017 adaptation of Haruf’s final novel, Our Souls At Night. But to experience the sleepy vibe of Holt, the fictional setting for Haruf’s widely lauded Plainsong, head to this tiny Eastern Plains town, one of several in which Haruf lived as a child.
How a Centennial State author transported a young girl to different geographies—and realities. —By Kasey Cordell
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Central Mississippi is nearly 2,500 miles from my hometown in Oregon. But at 10 years old, I could have drawn you a map of the fictional farmlands where Colorado author Mildred D. Taylor set parts of her renowned children’s series about the Logans, a Black family in the Jim Crow South. At 41 years old, I still can.
I met the Logans when my fifth-grade teacher assigned Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Published in 1976, it’s Taylor’s second novel about the family, set during the Great Depression, and she softens no language nor hides any ugliness in her portrayal of racism in the 1930s South.
I was captivated by Taylor’s depiction of this faraway place and felt a kinship to the narrator, nine-year-old Cassie Logan. We were about the same age. Like Cassie, I was a tomboy who preferred dirt and sticks to dresses and dolls. Unlike Cassie, I was white and living in a predominantly white suburban city. So the burnings and lynchings and painful inequities Taylor so rawly depicts were not only horrifying, but also somewhat alien. I understood racism existed; I’d seen it in my own world, when kids made fun of my friend Johnny’s Filipino last name or chased our Vietnamese neighbor, Nguyen, off the swingset. In those cases, though, we’d get the grown-ups, because the grown-ups would punish the bullies. But in Taylor’s books, the wrongdoers were the grown-ups—a society of adults who allowed hate and harm.
Taylor has said the stories in the Logan series belong to her father, who died just before Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry won a John Newbery Medal for children’s literature. Taylor herself left Mississippi at four months old for Ohio, where she graduated from high school and the University of Toledo. She eventually earned a master’s in journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder; today, the author crafts her stories from a ranch nearby. Yet in her novels, Taylor displays an uncanny ability to capture the essence of somewhere she never really lived.
In January, Taylor published the final book in the Logan series. I haven’t read it yet. I’m re-reading the others first. Part of me hopes Colorado makes an appearance; I want to see it through her lens. Another part of me hopes she stays away from our shared adopted state, so I can again be conveyed through Taylor’s language to a distant place, even if that place—and the hard truths it reveals—isn’t always pretty.
The New Colorado Canon
Fifteen recently published books by Centennial State authors to add to your collection.
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Colorado Black on White (2018) By John Fielder
The 50th book from our state’s unofficial landscape photographer laureate is his first in black and white. You might think Colorado would be unrecognizable without its golden aspens, pink alpenglow, and bluebird skies, but Fielder’s 230 images prove that sans color, the textures of our most beautiful places come into even sharper focus.
Spotted Tail (2019) By David Heska and Wanbli Weiden
This biography of Sicangu Lakota leader Spotted Tail offers middle-grade (ages eight to 12) readers more than an account of his negotiations with the U.S. government in the mid-1800s; it also encourages discussion about issues facing Indigenous people today. (Parents: Weiden, a member of the Sicangu Lakota nation who grew up in Elyria-Swansea, released his first thriller, Winter Counts, in August.)
Friuli Food and Wine (2020) By Meredith Erickson, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, and Bobby Stuckey
This 272-page love letter to the region of Italy that inspires Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine is worth having on your shelf even if you never attempt the 80 recipes and wine pairings therein, thanks to stunning photography and travel notes from chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and sommelier Bobby Stuckey.
Anguish Garden (2020) By R. Alan Brooks
Between gigs as a professor at Regis University, co-host of the podcast Mother F**ker In A Cape, and cartoonist for the Colorado Sun, Brooks self-published the first installment—out this month—of his own graphic novel trilogy. The post-apocalyptic Western’s themes are prescient; a virus and the dehumanization of those infected serve as an allegory for white supremacist movements.
Sabrina & Corina (2019) By Kali Fajardo-Anstine
In her debut short story collection—a 2019 National Book Awards finalist—Denver native Fajardo-Anstine spins poignant tales, mostly centered on Indigenous Latinx characters in Colorado, informed by her Chicanx heritage and the gentrification of her hometown. Her first novel is due to be released next year.
The Glass Forest (2018) By Cynthia Swanson
With 2015’s The Bookseller, her New York Times bestselling debut, set to be adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts, Swanson returned to the 1960s for her second psychological thriller, whose protagonist makes chilling discoveries about her husband’s family while confronting the limitations of being a woman in mid-20th-century society.
Tragedy Plus Time (2018) Bu Adam Cayton-Holland
Best known for his comedy work (nationwide stand-up gigs, TruTV’s Those Who Can’t, a new album titled Semblance of Normalcy), Cayton-Holland will make you laugh and cry with this tribute to his sister and his journey to navigate life after her death by suicide.
National Parks of the U.S.A. (2018) By Kate Siber
Based in Durango, Siber leveraged her outdoor experience and passion for the environment to bring 21 of America’s grandest natural treasures to life in this coffee-table-worthy children’s book. Pair it with her similarly gorgeous, out-this-month 50 Adventures in the 50 States to inspire family excursions near and far.
Finna (2020) By Nate Marshall
South Side Chicago native Marshall, who moved to Colorado Springs a little more than a year ago to teach at Colorado College, may be a somewhat reluctant Centennial State resident (at least, that’s what he recently told the Chicago Tribune). But we’re happy to claim him and his lyrical poetry collection, which explores issues of racial oppression and gendered language while spotlighting the Black vernacular.
The River (2019) By Peter Heller
Unlike Heller’s dystopian bestseller The Dog Stars (2012) and crime novel The Painter (2014), The River is not set in Colorado, where he lives and splits time between Denver and Paonia. Instead, the author depicts a stretch of Canadian wilderness where two men on a canoe trip must contend with a wildfire and a potentially more dangerous human threat.
Turtle Under Ice (2020) By Juleah del Rosario
In her second young adult novel, Boulder librarian del Rosario alternates between the first-person perspectives—impressively written in verse—of two very different sisters as their relationship evolves following their mother’s death.
The Titanic Secret (2019) By Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul
This book starring two of Cussler’s recurring heroes was the last Cussler published before his death at 88 years old this past February. Cussler used his commercial success—100 million copies sold of his 80-plus novels, many with co-writers—to indulge his passions for undersea exploration (he discovered more than 60 shipwrecks) and vintage cars, many of which are in his eponymous Arvada museum.
10 Things I Hate About Pinky (2020) By Sandhya Menon
The latest installment in the young adult series Menon kicked off in 2017 with When Dimple Met Rishi is another rom-com for modern times. With a diverse cast of characters, this classic opposites-attract story delves into hot topics like environmental activism, and while it doesn’t get too racy, rumor has it her first novel for adults—Make Up Break Up, due out in February 2021 under the pen name Lily Menon—will.
Deep Creek (2019) By Pam Houston
From the Creede ranch she bought with the proceeds from her 1992 short story collection, Cowboys Are My Weakness, Houston penned this compendium of essays that detail everything from her escapades caring for livestock to climate-change-fueled threats of wildfire to abuse she experienced as a child.
A Deadly Divide (2019) By Ausma Zehanat Khan
In Zehanat Khan’s fifth book featuring detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty, the duo investigates a mosque shooting in Quebec. Although the author’s background in international human-rights law lends authority to her incorporation of issues like online radicalization and Islamophobia, the depth of her characters carries her crime stories (as well as her four-part fantasy series, the conclusion of which is due out this fall).
Stock Your Shelves
Supporting independent bookstores has never been more important—or easier. Here, a few local shops offering simple, social-distance-friendly ways you can help ensure they withstand the pandemic and Amazon.
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Mutiny Information Cafe | Speer
Why We Love It: Between the new and used volumes and vinyl, pop culture memorabilia, poster-strewn windows, and racks of comic books, this South Broadway gathering place, which has been a bookstore of some kind since the 1980s, is indie incarnate. With its usual open mic nights and metal shows on hold, Mutiny is instead hosting food and clothing drives.
Help From Home: New this spring, Mutiny’s Booty Box subscription ($35 per month) brings its eclectic offerings to your door in the form of locally designed stickers and buttons; books, zines, and comics by area authors; nostalgic treats like MoonPies; local music; and a bag of Mutiny’s new house joe, brewed in partnership with Denver roaster Glass Arrow Coffee.
Book Bar | Berkeley
Why We Love It: Whether we’re there with our kids for Drag Queen Story Time, meeting our co-workers for book club, or by ourselves with a magazine and a glass of wine, we always feel welcome to linger at this chic, nook-filled, seven-year-old shop and cafe. Although the interior had not reopened at press time, you can pick up coffee and preordered books through the curbside window or sip a beer and peruse specially curated shelves on the expansive back patio.
Help From Home: For a $50 annual donation, you can fund the work (including construction of a community literary center in the old Regis 66 gas station) of BookBar’s nonprofit, BookGive, and score perks like invitations to a members-only Facebook group and online sales.
Trident Booksellers & Cafe | Boulder
Why We Love It: This shop has been a staple of Boulder’s Pearl Street for four decades. Pairing its rare books (including avant-garde selections from smaller presses) with its rare loose-leaf teas is even more enjoyable now, since the bookstore spent the mandatory closure renovating its back patio.
Help From Home: In late March, Trident launched a wildly popular mystery book bag program: For $50, you (or your lucky giftee) receive four to six new and used books, selected by staff based on preferences you provide, and a bag of coffee or tea.
West Side Books | West Highland
Why We Love It: For 23 years, West Side, currently open for browsing (for up to six people at a time) has been humbly selling mostly used volumes the old-school way. No digital inventory system, no web store—just friendly, knowledgeable staff ready to help loyal neighborhood shoppers find what they were looking for or something even better that they weren’t.
Help From Home: The pandemic forced West Side to implement online sales for new books, but, for now, the best way to snag used copies is to follow the shop on Instagram, where it features themed and/or newly received batches of previously loved selections in its stories.
Denver Public Library (DPL) had given away, as of late August, through its pandemic-friendly bookmobile program. Normally deployed to schools and older-adult facilities,DPL’s three vans are instead visiting places where families receive services, such as Denver Public Schools’ grab-and-go meal sites. Reading materials for all ages are donated primarily by DPL’s nonprofit arm, the Friends Foundation. Help the group keep spreading the written word by attending Booklovers Online: Bookmarked, a livestream event on October 24 featuring New York Times bestselling author Kwame Alexander reading The Undefeated, his new picture book. Free (donations are encouraged).
Home on the Range
In the e-reader age, South Park’s Rocky Mountain Land Library wants to help people create more visceral connections to the page and to the land.
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Nestled between two ridges in the bucolic South Park basin near Fairplay, Buffalo Peaks Ranch hosts more than 50 head of cattle, a few miles of Gold Medal waters, and a smattering of long-abandoned domestic and agrarian structures. Soon, Jeff Lee and Ann Martin hope, it also will be home to the 50,000-plus tomes—many about the plants, peaks, and people of the West—the couple has amassed over the past three decades.
Lee and Martin began dreaming about creating a residential library to house their collection after a mid-’90s trip to the London Book Fair on behalf of Tattered Cover Book Store (where they met and both worked until a Borgen Family Foundation grant funded full-time Rocky Mountain Land Library positions for them in August). They tacked on a visit to what is now called Gladstone’s Library in Wales; the vision of late 1800s U.K. prime minister William Gladstone, the castlelike destination for authors, scholars, and everyday bookworms has lodging, reading rooms, a restaurant, and a chapel. “We thought, wow, wouldn’t it be great to have—in a state like Colorado, with so many diverse landscapes, from the prairie to the mountains—a place where people could actually stay and use the books and the land for study and inspiration,” Lee says. After a long site search, they learned the city of Aurora was looking for a partner to reanimate the buildings on Buffalo Peaks Ranch (which the municipality had purchased to mitigate public fishing access lost due to a reservoir project).
Attracted to the history of the working ranch, the existing buildings, and the South Park area’s commitment to heritage tourism, the Rocky Mountain Land Library signed a 95-year lease in 2013, and Lee, Martin, and any volunteers they could muster went to work. COVID-19 complications delayed their plans to debut a renovated cookhouse, which will have a communal kitchen, a classroom and dining space, a bathroom, and two bedrooms, until next summer. Future projects include refurbishing the bunkhouse into group-friendly lodging and converting a hayloft into a large library (although books will be scattered in smaller collections throughout the property). Someday, they imagine everyone from scout troops to artists to Western history enthusiasts wandering the grounds—casting for trout in the Middle Fork of the South Platte River, sketching Mt. Silverheels as part of a plein air workshop, and sipping coffee while reading about the area’s Indigenous inhabitants on the maintenance barn’s porch.
Right now, though, the best taste of Lee and Martin’s intentions can be seen in the former scale house, a metal-clad shed they recently outfitted as a children’s library. Colorful covers—stories about birds, bees, and dinosaurs; a steam engine picture book; Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference—are interspersed with animal skull replicas along the walls. By the door, binoculars and magnifying glasses beckon kids to take their exploration outside. “We’ve always loved the idea of trying to break down the walls between the library and the landscape,” Lee says. “The full vision of Buffalo Peaks Ranch is all about that.”
To donate or learn about volunteer opportunities, from painting projects at the ranch to cataloguing books, visit the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s website.