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Just Because Someone Wrote It Down, Doesn’t Mean It’s True

In 1991, I was part of a group developing the Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. Our goal was to introduce people to a beautiful part of Colorado and to support the communities along the highway. My part of the effort included interpretive signs and stops along the way, along with writing and publishing a brochure on the natural and cultural history visitors would see on their drive. I learned a lot from this project, including two things that might be helpful to you.

1. There are lots of stories. Figuring out what’s true takes time and energy.

Camel Point stands 3,000 feet above the Unaweep Seep, which is an area of Unaweep Canyon that has constant water seepage feeding the green valley. It is home to Nokomis Fritillary butterfly, found in only two other places on earth.

The first lesson came from a heated discussion among committee members about where Camel Point got its name. Some said it was because the ridge looked like a camel – which the rest of us were having a hard time seeing. Others said it was named after a man who had killed himself jumping off the top of the ridge. Each group gave me something in writing that supported their version. It was my job to figure out the truth.

Two days of digging through documents at the local history museum led to a very old newspaper that described how an outlaw had killed a man and thrown his body off the point to hide his crime. The murderer’s name was Campbell, which over time had blurred into Camel, and thus the name of this striking rock ridge.

2. Sometimes people make mistakes in spite of their best efforts.

We installed interpretive signs to point out interesting places along the Byway, including at Unaweep Seep home of a rare butterfly. I wanted to highlight the Seep because it demonstrated the importance of grazing. The Bureau of Land Management wanted to protect the butterfly by removing cows from their part of the seep. The result – vegetation overwhelmed the tiny flower that was critical to the butterfly. Meanwhile, grazing continued on the other side of the fence, where the flower and the butterfly thrived.

A local artist painted the sign and a local motorcycle club put it up. But they installed it on the wrong side of the road. So the sign that said, “Before you is the Unaweep Seep,” pointed to a dry, sagebrush covered hillside. For as along as the sign stayed there, I hoped that readers would say to themselves, “What the heck?!” and turn around to see the marvel I hoped they’d enjoy.

This Matters Because…

These lessons drive everything I publish at On Pasture. My agreement with you is that, since you’re busy, I’ll do the leg work to make sure you’re getting the best information possible. And I count on you to read things and politely say, “What the heck?!” so that I can do a better job of explaining, or find out more that makes sense.

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Thanks for reading!


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