ESSAY: A Cold Awakening, Part One

In July of 1991, out of the blue, my wife asked me an interesting question:

“Do you remember that little Colorado town we drove through that had only one stoplight?”

“No.” I shrugged.

“Well, we’re moving there.”

And with that little exchange we started planning a trip to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Perhaps this sleepy little mountain town would make a good home? At least according to Jaye’s research.

My wife, Jaye, circa 1991.

Six months earlier we had moved back to chilly Santa Fe from tropical Maui where we rented a small house. We had loved living in Hawaii and were heartbroken that we would be leaving the Islands after only one year, but our beloved seventeen-year-old son Tait had become ill. Tait was autistic with congenital kidney problems and was extremely hyperactive. He had been living at the Los Lunas Hospital and Training School (a New Mexico State facility) for three years. We had left him in good hands as the caretakers and supervisors were wonderful, compassionate people.

Celebrating Christmas with our son, Tait, in New Mexico.

Tait was loved by all and seemed to be content – but Jaye and I were not.

In life, timing is everything.

One fine morning – without a care in the world – Jaye and I drove north out of Santa Fe and took HWY 285 all the way to Alamosa, CO. We headed west on HWY 160 enjoying the spectacular mountain scenery along the way to our Promised Land. We had taken this circuitous route so we could enter Pagosa Country from the infamous Wolf Creek Pass.

Atop the pass, I downshifted and proceeded cautiously down the steep, winding road through ancient, craggy canyons; and around every turn our hearts seemed to beat a little quicker. Finally the vertical, sky-scraping canyons gave way to a magnificent, expansive view. We had died and gone to heaven! My first impression of Pagosa Country was indelibly etched on my mind. It was like falling hopelessly in love with a mysterious, sultry siren who had bewitched me with her beauty and charm. It was love at first sight.

As we headed into Pagosa Springs Jaye and I felt very hopeful. The downtown business facades were charming and harked back to older times when rugged pioneer folk had first settled here on the banks of the frigid San Juan River. Suddenly Jaye looked at me with disgust as she cranked down her window. No, the pungent odor was not emanating from inside our SUV, but from the Great Pagosa Hot Springs on the other side of the river. Sulfur! Fire and brimstone, the Devil’s bathtub. We hoped this was not an omen.

We passed through the downtown area and started climbing the hill to the west. We spotted a little motel called Sky View and pulled in. As it turned out, a lovely young couple owned the place. Ray and Shellie Tressler and their two boys welcomed us and we hit it off in no time. The Tresslers had left Alaska to find greener pastures in Colorado and wound up in Pagosa Country. Jaye and I asked a lot of questions about the town and it’s inhabitants, real estate, cost of living, nightlife and music venues (I am a professional musician), on and on. They answered everything we threw at them and commented on other aspects that we hadn’t really thought about: such as winter in snow country. Ray was relieved we had a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. Hmmm…

Bright and early the next morning, Jaye and I got up and enjoyed a hearty breakfast downtown. Afterward we took off exploring the surrounding countryside. Of course we wanted to live outside of the town limits where we could “be as one with nature.”

We ventured up Piedra Road and in minutes found ourselves in God’s Country.

The winding road took us higher and higher with amazing views to the west. Finally we crested over the hill and the asphalt straightened out, heading directly to the Continental Divide. At the four mile marker the view opened up to reveal Pagosa Peak and her sisters peering over a thick blanket of low lying fog. The early morning sun was starting to burn off the ethereal mist in front of Coyote Hill and majestic Lake Hatcher. I pulled into a gravel drive heading east, stopped the the car and killed the engine. We were parked at the edge of the swirling mist, quietly admiring the incredible mountain vistas.

In a few minutes, to our astonishment, a phantom coyote wandered out of the fog and slowly approached us. He never removed his gaze from us. We sat frozen in awe. The beast was twenty feet away when he stopped and boldly stared holes in us. And then the mystical creature slowly turned and headed back into his ghostly shroud.

Jaye and I agreed that this spiritual moment was a sign of some sort. We decided then and there to backtrack to the real estate office we had noticed on the corner of Piedra Road and 160 (now home of the Giant gas station). We were ready to get down to business.

A senior real estate agent led us into his office and asked how he could help us. Jaye and I announced that we were looking for acreage in the county with a fixer-upper and that we needed great views. Then we related the strange story of the mystical coyote up Piedra Road. He grinned as he pulled out a file. He said he had a fishing buddy from New Mexico who was thinking about selling his eight acre parcel with a trailer that had been remodeled nicely. And it’s exactly four miles up Piedra Road!

Jaye and I looked at one another and shook our heads.

In minutes we were turning into the driveway at the four-mile marker. To our amazement, the three of us were admiring the breathtaking views only a quarter mile shy of where we had seen the coyote. Some people claim that there is no such thing as coincidence, that everything happens for a reason. Well, I don’t believe in preordained happenings but this development sure got me wondering. All I can say is that these consecutive events verged on being paranormal.

The realtor contacted his fishing buddy and told him that he had a couple of live ones on the line and to get out the net. A price had been set and the seller said he would “owner finance.” We had a lot to think about.

We hurried back to the Sky View and let Ray and Shellie know that we had found our new home. They were amazed at our story and could hardly believe that we had gone directly to the vicinity of the ideal piece of property – without even checking out others.

“If we moved up here, would you guys be our friends?” I asked. They both hugged us and said “Of course!”

Read Part Two…


DC Duncan

DC has been a frustrated musician for over forty years, and now has decided to become a frustrated writer. Learn more at He’ll keep you posted.