Colorado small town stories

I've logged thousands of Rocky Mountain miles over the last five years, searching for ordinary people and places with extraordinary stories. These are a few of my favorites.

KUSA - Colorado is a pretty big state. It's roughly 104,000 square miles in size. While most news stories tend to focus on the state's bigger cities (Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins) – we want to take some time to focus on Colorado's smaller towns. After all, some of the biggest characters you'll ever meet happen to come from tiny towns.

In our "Storytellers: Small Town Stories" special, we're going to take you around Colorado to introduce you to some ordinary people and places with extraordinary stories.

STORYTELLERS: See some other moving stories

'Politicians who really give a crap'

The election brought in more than $12,000

Of all the elections we've ever covered, none have been as bizarre as the one we covered in the town of Divide. Folks who live in the tiny Teller County town don't give a hoot for typical politicians. So when it came time to elect someone as their next mayor, they wanted someone who really gave a crap.

At least, that's what the slogan for this year's election was: "Candidates who really give a crap."

It makes perfect sense, seeing as how each candidate was an animal.

"Most of them say, 'Are you kidding?' And we say, 'No. We're not kidding,'" joked Janet Smith, a Divide resident.

Some of the candidates were dogs, others were cats. There was a wolf running and even a hedgehog.

"Anyone of them would be a good mayor," said Marti Benson, a local veterinarian.

The election was actually a fundraiser. It was held by the Teller County Regional Animal Shelter. It's the only no-kill shelter in Teller County.

"To us, it is survival," said Nancy Adams, fundraising coordinator at TCRAS.

Each vote cost a dollar and every dollar went to the shelter.

"The last election we made about $8,800," said Adams.

UPDATE: Overall, the election brought in more than $12,000. Pa Kettle the bloodhound was eventually named "Mayor of Divide."

PREVIOUS STORY: Dog elected mayor in town of Divide

The Tank

Rangley gets the attention of musicians worldwide

An old watering tank in northwest Colorado is getting a lot of attention from national and international musicians.

Rangely is located about five hours away from Denver. When you drive in to town you are immediately greeted by a "Welcome to Rangely" sign, followed by:

"A good place to live," Barbara Wade said, finishing off the last line of the sign. "Then the next thing you see is the cemetery. I think it's kind of cool. You're just dying to come!" she joked.

All jokes aside, Rangely isn't really all that bland. It's full of wonderful people!

"Lots of good neighbors! Lots of nosey people," Wade continued to joke.

For 54 years, Wade has called Rangely home. And for 30 of those years, she's helped watch over her neighbor, "The Tank."

"Yeah, I keep the keys," she said.

On top of a dusty hill, just across the street is her neighbor: The Tank.

The Tank has become a popular destination for vocal and sound artists. When you enter through its capsule, which is known as 'the portal,' you enter a different realm.

"They say the acoustics is unbelievable. No one can compete with it," Wade said.

The tank's condition had been deteriorating over the decades and there was concern it may have to close. That's when its followers decided to start a KickStarter campaign to raise $42,000 to save it. Within three weeks, they ended up raising $43,000.

Repairs and additions will be built on to the tank in the future. For now, it continues to produce amazing sounds and songs.

For more information, visit http://www.tanksounds.org/.

UPDATE: Since our story first aired, Rio Blanco County Commissioners approved a proposal to change the use of the tank from a water storage area into a meeting hall. There's still a lot to be done.

PREVIOUS STORY: Magical music produced inside 'The Tank'

Not forgotten

Cole's memorial

No matter how much time has passed, the memories of someone you've lost will never fade away.

It's been nearly three years since Cole Rhodes passed away. The teen from northeast Colorado was killed on Jan. 4, 2012 while driving to Caliche High School, just outside of Sterling.

"I think when you lose a child, a big thing is you're kind of afraid that people will forget him. I just think this will help. [It will] help me know he won't be forgotten for a long time," said Cole's mother Terri Rhodes.

Terri is referring to the memorial building that now has her son's name. It sits atop a hill right near Caliche's High School football field.

"[Cole's brother] Jace said, 'We're not going to do a scholarship in memory of him, because he didn't like school that well,'" laughed Terri. "So we did a sports building."

Cole was a superstar at Caliche High School. Not only did he play basketball, but he also played football. Cole loved football more than any other sport.

"He would have been a stud out there. He was a superstar athlete. On the field, he was amazing," said Brenda Zink, who was watching Caliche's homecoming game.

The homecoming game was held on Friday, Sept. 27. Cole would have been a senior playing alongside his cousin and his friends.

"It's hard. I haven't watched a lot of the football game, because he'd be a senior. So, he'd be out there playing," said Terri, as she held back her tears.

Cole's memorial is a labor of love, Terri explained.

The entire Caliche community, along with complete strangers, helped raise close to $70,000 to build it.

The memorial facility features a concession stand, a meeting room for the players and restrooms for men and women.

Prior to its existence, an old, rundown barn stood in its place. Players and spectators would have to run up to the high school to use the bathroom.

"It used to be a 1, and now it's a 10," Zink said.

Small towns are full of wonderful people. They're the sort of people who come together in times of tragedy.

"A lot of people think, you know, small towns - They know everybody's business. But, when it comes to something like this, there's nothing that compares to a small town," Terri said.

PREVIOUS STORY: New memorial facility honors teen killed in crash

The mystery of Soldierstone

Hidden away, deep in a forest

The Mountains of the Rio Grande National Forest conceal mystery. The sort of mystery that fills a field as it fills a void.

Hidden away in the 1.8-million-acre forest is a treasure few people are aware of. It was created nearly 20 years ago by a man who devoted the remaining years of his life to honoring soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.

"He was really enchanted with it. It was his only goal in life for the last 30 years," Phyllis Beckley Roy said.

Roy is referring to her brother, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Allen Beckley. Beckley fought in Vietnam from 1962 through 1973. After the war, Roy said her brother was deeply impacted by Vietnam and wanted to do something for his fellow soldiers – as well as the other countries affected by the war.

"He just couldn't believe that people could not know what was going on, and he decided he would take any penny he could scrape together to build a memorial to honor the people who were not honored," Roy said.

Beckley's idea to build a stone memorial on national forest land was initially denied. But when the forest supervisor for the Rio Grande National Forest, Jim Webb (now retired), discovered Beckley was dying of cancer, he changed his mind.

Beckley's last mission in life was to establish a lasting tribute in memory of the soldiers of Vietnam and Laos. His dream eventually became reality. By the mid-90s, SOLDIERSTONE had been built.

"He designed it, and he bought everything that went into it," Roy said.

Beckley didn't have many connections to Colorado. He chose the Rio Grande National Forest because of its proximity to the Continental Divide – and because it was a large forest that could easily hide his memorial.

According to Roy, Beckley didn't want many people to know about it. He never intended for large crowds to visit it and to take pictures of it.

"The idea was he wanted it to be secluded. He didn't want people to vandalize it," Roy said.

According to Roy, Beckley figured veterans would hear about it and spread word to their fellow soldiers who were impacted by the Vietnam War.

"He only wanted people to find it who deserved to find it. It was about them," Roy said.

On a recent summer day, a man named William Dooley found himself trekking through a large field with his wife by his side. Dooley had served in the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry. After Vietnam, Dooley found himself living in Montana. But on this particular day, SOLDIERSTONE brought him home.

"The fact someone went through this much trouble to put it up means quite a bit. And it means quite a bit to everyone who knows about it," Dooley said.

Dooley heard about the memorial in a Veteran's newsletter. He and his wife made the trip from Montana just to try and find it.

"It brings back a flood of memories," Dooley said as he glanced over at the stone.

Nestled along the base of the memorial is a box that contains a notepad. The notepad serves as a log for any soldier who stumbles upon it.

A recent submission came from David Wendl, who also served in Vietnam. Wendl had been to SOLDIERSTONE before. The first time he visited it, he marveled in its glory.

The main memorial is surrounded by several stones with quotes engraved in them. Each stone is written in a different language. One, which is written in Vietnamese reads, "Although we have at times been strong, at times weak, we have at no time lacked heroes".

For many, Lt. Col. Beckley is a hero for building the memorial.

In a pamphlet provided by the Forest Service, one paragraph explained, "[SOLDIERSTONE] is a realization of one man's dream to honor fallen soldiers in a quiet, natural setting."

According to the Forest Service, a letter written by Beckley stated "my name is not to appear anywhere on the monument's grounds… it's 'for them', not 'for us.' Everyone who works on SOLDIERSTONE should do so out of respect and humility ... our job is to get it done and leave it to nature."

On Nov. 5, 1995, Lt. Col. Beckley passed away. His legacy lives on, hidden in the woods of the Rio Grande National Forest.

Reporter's note: While producing this story, Photojournalist Chris Hansen and I made every effort to respect Lt. Col. Beckley's wishes to keep the location of SOLDIERSTONE a secret. That's why it is not mentioned in our story on-air and in this article. Beckley's sister, Phyllis Beckley Roy is currently writing a book about her brother and SOLDIERSTONE.

PREVIOUS STORY: The mystery of Soldierstone

The Solid Muldoon

'The missing link'

Some stories are just too good to be true. That's what I learned when traveling two and a half hours south of Denver to the tiny Pueblo County town of Beulah.

If you travel about 20 miles southwest of Pueblo along Highway 78, you'll eventually stumble upon an old historical site near mile marker 16.

The site is dedicated to the history of the civil war as well as the old town of Goodpasture. But there's also a worn out old tomb stone tucked away near some trees on the site. It's the grave of the 'Solid Muldoon.'

"It was kind of popular at that time," said Kris Allen, a teacher who lives in Beaulah. "These were like the X-Files of the day!"

The Solid Muldoon was a large stone-like structure of a man discovered on a hillside outside of town in 1877. The Solid Muldoon was 7.5-feet tall and weighed more than 900 pounds.

The Solid Muldoon was dubbed the 'Missing Link'. For years, millions of people believed it was real.

"They carved out of stone a big likeness of a human being," Allen said.

But alas, some stories aren't always true. Such is the case with this one. Turned out a group of hoaxsters, including circus legend P.T. Barnum made the whole thing up. All it was, was a money making scheme.

"I think it was like two bits at the time to go see it in a tent," Allen explained.

Regardless, people bought into it and cherished the statue even after they discovered it was a fake. Years later though, the statue disappeared! No one knows what happened to it.

A replica of the Solid Muldoon is currently buried near a historical site just off of Highway 78 right outside of Beulah. It reads, "Here lies the Solid Muldoon. A great man was he, may his spirit roam free. Long live our Solid Muldoon".

UPDATE: After our initial story aired, a 9NEWS viewer contacted us to let us know about a similar statue known as the 'Cardiff Giant.' The Cardiff Giant is currently on display at the Farmers' Museum in Upstate New York.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Legend of the Solid Muldoon

--------

Reporter's Note: In the last five years I've traveled to every corner of Colorado, spending time in some of its tiniest towns. If you have a story idea for me, feel free to e-mail directly at kevin.torres@9news.com. Regardless of how far away your town is, I'd be more than happy to visit it and tell your extraordinary story!

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment
Chapters