Moving to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and my thoughts while driving through Northwest Texas, New Mexico and Southern Colorado

Mountains at the Garden of the Gods

Waking up at 5 a.m. wasn’t easy. The alarm felt like the intrusion of someone ringing the doorbell when you thought you had an afternoon to yourself after a long day’s work. I snoozed it, twice.

It also didn’t help that ahead of me was a 12-hour drive directly through Northwest Texas and New Mexico to get to where I was going — Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Nervously, I pulled myself off the couch, the place I had fallen asleep the night prior, and loaded up my bags into the car. I’d harbored excitement regarding the summer move, but it didn’t feel real until my life completely fit in three suitcases and two duffle bags in the back of my Mazda that has taken me hundreds of miles across the Midwest.

“This is it,” I thought as my dad stood there to say goodbye.

He leaned over and prayed for me. In his prayer, he sought safety and security, and excellence in my three-month endeavor in Colorado Springs. His tone was comforting, and for a moment I felt like I was an 8-year-old kid hearing the assurance of a father he’s only seen as superman, not a fallible human. The sense of nostalgia was euphoric, and my heart’s nervous beat slowed enough for me to catch my breath.

“Amen!” he said. “You’ll do just fine.”

“I hope,” I said back, in between his firm, and fatherly, pats on the back. That was all I expected, but surprisingly, his affection didn’t stop there.

My dad isn’t a hugging man. He’s calm, collected, logical and pragmatic, but before I turned to get in the car, he hugged me. My eyes welled with tears.

Unlike my father, I am more emotional. I cry because of movies, TV shows, music, books and lately, leaving family and friends. This time was no different.

“I’m proud of you,” he whispered in my ear.

“Thanks, Dad,” I retorted in between sniffles, desperately trying to fight the tears that were ready to gush.

I took one more look at our house. It was the place that’s kept my niece, he, and I, and occasionally my mom and my sister, safe for the better part of two and a half years. It was home. It was known. Colorado, well, that wasn’t. Who knew if it was safe? Who knew if it would feel like home? The one sure thing was I would be a long way from my family. The people that love me unconditionally.

I let out a sigh of a final goodbye and got in the car, ready for the journey ahead, knowing that after this summer, I’ll undoubtedly be forever changed.

Unceremoniously, I pulled out of the driveway and sped off into the future — or so I thought.

Frisco, Texas, bon voyage.

My drive towards the future quickly became a trip into places, and people, stuck in time, in the past, as my car hummed through the dreary doldrums of Texas.

Between windfarms, oil fields, shanty towns and dilapidated vehicles, the barrenness of the land far west of Dallas struck me for its complacency and neglect. I’d seen small towns before. My mom lives in one. I grew up in one. What I hadn’t seen, were places forgotten by time, built up by the rail or oil boom of the late 19th and mid 20th centuries, and forgotten by manufacturers once the places were no longer profitable.

It broke my heart.

The first town that caught my attention was a quaint place known as Chillicothe, Texas.

As I drove past the city border, I asked my partner to look up a bit of the town’s history. She kindly obliged. From her online research, I learned the city was established in 1883 and grew rapidly during the railroad boom of the 1880s in Texas. But in 1891, as the town’s economy expanded because of the newly minted railroad line, which finished in 1887, a fire destroyed everything.

Upon doing some more digging, I found out the fire started early in the morning on Aug. 28, 1891, according to Jones J. Paul’s thesis on the history of Hardeman County. And the engulfing flames were written about during the following days in the Quanah Tribune.

The journalist in the Quanah Tribune wrote that there “was no use and no effort made to save the buildings.”

The town was decimated, and those that stayed, once the embers cooled, chose to rebuild it from scratch. They rebuilt the town to the south of the rail line instead of the north. Maybe it was in hopes of stopping another fire — no one really knows. The people of Chillicothe also replaced all the material of the burned down buildings with more lasting material to prevent another fire from happing in the future, according to Paul’s thesis.

What remains remarkable, nonetheless, is how the small village bounced back from tragedy and near extinction. By 1950, the town’s population had risen to over 1,400 residents, according to Chillicothetx.com. Yet, that was as good as it got for the village located U.S. Highway 287, State Highway 91, Farm Road 2006, and the Fort Worth and Denver and Sante Fe railroads east of Hardeman County.

Chillicothe’s population slowly started to dwindle after its peak year in 1950. By 1980, the town’s population hovered around 1,000 people, according to Chillicothetx.com. In 1990 that number again dropped to roughly 800 people. After the 2010 census, Chillicothe’s once relatively sizable population stood at 707 people. And currently, the town is estimated to harbor 673 residents.

Chillicothe survived a devastating fire. What it couldn’t survive were the changing times.

As I drove through the heart of this small city, my mind wondered about the people who live there permanently.

I thought to myself, “how many people just pass through and never think twice of the souls lost in time?”

I know I am guilty.

I hold these assumptions about people in small towns based on my own experiences growing up. However, assumptions are rarely accurate.

What is it about places like Chillicothe that hold people hostage? And maybe they aren’t held hostage at all, it’s just what they know — where they are comfortable. It’s where they have always been and where they will always be. It’s where their families are buried, and the skeletons lay at rest.

So, there they remain, lost to time and seemingly unaware of it. Is it blissful ignorance or the byproduct of a system that doesn’t benefit the rural soul trapped between flirting with poverty and the American dream?

Maybe, it’s a bit of both.

Not much farther down the highway, I noticed another small town — Quanah, Texas. This town, also located in Hardeman County, was built on a semi-grid pattern, and its downtown had forgettable storefronts for businesses that closed long ago.

I, again, asked my partner to research the town for me. She, again, kindly obliged. What I found out next was chilling.

Quanah’s claim to fame is that it was the home city where Judy Buenoano, a serial killer who murdered her husband and son and boyfriend, was born, according to flmd.uscourts.gov.

The story goes that her husband, James Goodyear, returned from a three-month tour in Vietnam and quickly became ill. He was admitted to the United States Naval Hospital in Orlando, Florida, with mysterious symptoms the doctors couldn’t figure out, according to flmd.uscourts.gov.

He then died not long after he arrived at the hospital. Judy, upon his death, quickly collected the benefits from various life insurance policies on Goodyear.

By 1972, Judy was ready to strike again. She moved to Colorado — eerie — with her new boyfriend Bobby Joe Morris. Then in 1978, Morris became violently ill, exhibiting the same symptoms as Judy’s previous husband, and died. Judy then collected three separate life insurance policies taken out on Morris’ life, according to uscourts.gov.

Finally, in 1979, Buenoano’s son, Michael, became ill and was diagnosed with arsenic poisoning. The effects of the poison left his upper and lower limbs relatively immobile. So, the hospital fitted his legs with heavy metal braces and sent him home into the care of his mother.

Not long after, Judy and Michael were canoeing, on a river known as the East River, when the small boat capsized, and Michael drowned. She claimed $20,000 from Michael’s life insurance policy.

She didn’t stop there. After Michael’s death, she began dating someone named John Gentry. She convinced him to take out a life insurance policy of upwards of $500,000. Gentry eventually got sick and was checked into a hospital for treatment. He recovered and was sent home. However, to the hospital’s surprise, he was brought back with injuries after his car exploded, according to uscourts.gov.

Judy was soon discovered to be the one responsible. She earned the moniker “Black Widow” and became the first woman to be executed in Florida since 1848, according to uscourts.gov.

Yeah, her life started in Quanah, Texas, in the 1940s.

She too was making her way to Colorado at one point. I wonder if she drove the same roads. Stopped at the same gas stations. Looked at the same storefronts, albeit in her day downtown must have been busy.

Much like Chillicothe, Quanah’s population is dwindling. At one point, the city boasted over 4,500 residents in the mid-20th century. Now, it’s estimated to only have around 2,400.

It too couldn’t survive the brutal nature of time and the way it moves forward.

It too remains a bump in the road. A pit stop. A place to travel through, but never stay too long.

“Do people care about the souls who reside in Quanah?” I thought to myself.

Who gets to pick and choose who is pushed forward by time and who is forgotten? When politicians in Washington, D.C., make laws, do they think about the forgotten people in nowhere Northwest Texas, who feel disconnected and shunned by a government that no longer — overwhelmingly — looks like them? Do the people of Quanah, who are 84% white, ever think about people like me?

I wanted to stop. I wanted to spend a day there. I wanted to eat with these people and drink with them and share stories about life and humanity and the good that exists within our mysterious cosmos. But I didn’t think they’d want to eat and drink and talk with me. Moreover, a part of me also feared stopping because of my assumptions — ones that aren’t completely ill-found.

The media always talks about two Americas. That is a partial truth. There are two Americas, yes, but there is also far more. America, as a nationality, is complex because its history is messy. Texas was stolen. Natives were forced from their lands. Reservations were built to justify blatant theft. Slavery existed at large, after which, Jim Crow took over. Lynchings happened. The Ku Klux Klan happened. Brutalizations and murders happened. Dehumanization happened. Already, that is more than just two Americas.

And already, that was enough justification, in my mind, to keep driving.

The least interesting part of my drive to Colorado Springs, Colorado, came in the stretch following Hardeman County. In Texas, the only notable stop left was Amarillo, which was forgettable.

New Mexico was beautifully vast and unquestionably boring.

The two-lane, desolate and deserted, road made for quick travel. The lack of infrastructure made for terrible cell service.

Then, I got into the mountains on the Colorado and New Mexico border. There, the sky burned orange and ash rained in black and white flakes mimicking the December weather in Northern Ohio. It was a Christmas morning in hell.

“What is all this,” I said to my partner, as I pointed outside to the smog and orange dust clouds. “Is the mountain burning?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “It looks like the apocalypse.”

She was right. For long stretches up and down the winding mountain road, I thought I was in the movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s book, The Road.

I wondered what would happen if America burned, and I mean really burned. For many of us not on the West Coast, the forest fires and wildfires of California feel far off. Those things happen to them over there and not us over here — in the heartland of America. Subconsciously, the crisis of an overheating planet is put off as a future problem. The same way we all put off folding our laundry or doing the dishes. In my mind, excuses like “that won’t affect me personally” or “that’s a future generation's problem to deal with” always take precedent over immediate action. The irony in my situation was, that I was now driving into the effects of the overheating planet, and I was guilty by proxy.

I was breathing in the smoke and smog; I was seeing the ashes fall unrelentingly; I was sweating under the sweltering heat; I learned what it meant for the world around me to burn.

In the orange haze of a burning mountainside, I saw houses and people around. I saw an old man getting gas and a young child riding a bike.

“People live out here?’ I thought to myself. “How can they breathe? What do they do? This can’t be their world.”

I felt guilty. The problems I held off as issues of tomorrow — in my world — were issues of today for other people — those whose lives and towns are forgotten in time by the progressing world eager to erase their humanity. The present suffering of people in the barren wasteland of the mountains in middle America is often seen as non-existent to many of us living in our crowded cities, with our on-demand food, in our comfortable apartments and houses, our cushy jobs and our on-demand life.

How selfish. Shouldn’t we all be doing more?

Colorado Springs is beautiful.

When driving into the city from the south, you are greeted with the landscape of ever-rising mountains. There is still snow on the peaks. Imagine how many have scaled those summits. Imagine how many have died trying.

The air is dry, and the sunshine is boundless. You can get lost in the Garden of the Gods, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Believe me, I’ve already done it.

I sometimes can’t believe I will get to call this place home for the next three months. It still feels surreal. And it still feels scary. There is so much I don’t know. But thanks to the drive, there is so much that I now do.

Leaving Frisco, Texas, initially, I knew I was going to change and grow while away. I just didn’t think so much of that growth and understanding of the world around me would happen on the 12-hour drive to my new home.

Greetings, Colorado Springs.

Ian at the Garden of the Gods

Some citations for your reading pleasure.

1.) Quanah Tribune, September 3, 1891, p. 1.

2.) Jones, J. Paul. The History of Hardeman County, Texas, thesis, August 1949; Denton, Texas. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc699591/m1/78/?q=Chillicothe%20fire: accessed May 14, 2022), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu

3.) Florida courts: https://www.flmd.uscourts.gov/black-widow

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Ian Kayanja

Ian Kayanja

To the world I write about sports. Here I write about other things. Things that speak to the lower frequencies of humanity. Things that remind us we are loved.