Canon City, Colorado: Prisons and Paddling

You know how when you’re driving out in the middle of nowhere, and you see those signs warning you not to pick up hitchhikers because you’re passing a correctional facility?

Because, you know, it totally makes sense to locate prisons in isolated areas. Because, for most towns, being home to a prison isn’t usually a tourism selling point – especially if they’re already touted as a tourist destination for other reasons, like outdoor recreation.

That’s why Cañon City (inexplicably pronounced “Can-yun, despite the nya over the “n”) was such a surprise when I was there last week … researching a story on one of its correctional facilities (there are nine state and four federal). It’s a little-known fact that when I’m not writing for Gadling, I’m doing things like visiting inmates and writing magazine features on agricultural and animal-assisted correctional industries programs.

Located 45 miles southwest of Colorado Springs (which as I type, is on fire…PLEASE DON’T MAKE OPEN FIRES OR TOSS YOUR CIGARETTE BUTTS IF YOU’RE VISITING COLORADO RIGHT NOW, I BEG OF YOU), Cañon City is one of the state’s historic “Gold Belt” towns, which connects Cripple Creek and Victor Mining District, site of the world’s largest gold rush. It’s an isolated, high-desert region of ochre-colored rock, scrub and pines, at once beautiful and forbidding.

So there I was at the East Cañon City Correctional Complex in 105-degree heat, touring its goat and water buffalo dairies for a magazine feature. I’m a big supporter of these programs, but I also find the psychological aspects of criminology fascinating, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts. If mayhem, murder and madness are involved, I’m interested. But I also knew that the region is famed for the Royal Gorge (the “Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River“), which is home to the world’s second highest suspension bridge at 1,053 feet above water level, a scenic railroad and some of the nation’s most epic whitewater.

I’d planned to run the Class IV/V Royal gorge on day two of my visit, but the lack of snowpack has resulted in a less-than-stellar whitewater season, so, with time to kill (that is not a prison pun), I wandered historic downtown Cañon city, and discovered the Museum of Colorado Prisons.

%Gallery-159440%One of the many things I love about Colorado is that it’s not ashamed of its rowdy past. Cañon City is the epicenter of that heritage, as it’s the location of the Colorado Territorial Correctional Center, established in 1871. The Prison Museum, which is housed next door in the former Women’s Correctional Facility, celebrated its Silver Anniversary last week, so what better way to celebrate that fact than by sharing the wonders within with you?

The first thing I noticed upon entering the museum grounds was the gas chamber housed beside the parking lot. I took a lot of photos because it’s soothing, pale mint color is just the shade I’ve been longing to paint my office.

Once in the museum proper, I met Mary LaPerriere, the cheerful curator and a DOC (Department of Corrections) employee for over 20 years. She obligingly took me on a tour (audio tours are available for the general public) and answered my many questions before leaving me to explore on my own. I was touched when she brought me a biography on Alfred Packer, the notorious Colorado cannibal who served time in the penitentiary next door, after I mentioned my interest in him.

Among the displays and artifacts housed in the prison, you’ll find weapons made from all manner of everyday objects (toothbrush shiv, anyone?); photos depicting prison life; clippings and information about famous inmates such as Edna Vanausdoll, falsely accused of murdering her husband in the early 1960s; exhibits dedicated to the region’s K-9 programs; and beautiful saddles and other leatherwork crafted by inmates in correctional industry programs (Explained Mary, “The cowboy, the horse, and the dog have been part of the history of Colorado’s state penitentiary system from 1871 to the present.”). Other oddities, to quote the museum website, include:

  • The hangman’s noose used for the last execution by hanging in Colorado
  • Displays of disciplinary paraphernalia used from 1871 to the present
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons display
  • Inmate Arts and Crafts
  • Gift Shop
  • And much more!

What is not to love? I should add that Mary’s office is also a former cell used to house inmate trustees employed in the kitchen, and still retains the original barred door.

So the next time you find yourself with time on your hands in Colorado (as long as you’re not serving time, yuk yuk), pay a visit to Cañon City. Even if the weather or water levels aren’t cooperating, there’s plenty to see. Visitors should note that there’s a $25 fee to cross the Royal Gorge Bridge. Click here for information and tickets.

Museum of Colorado Prisons, open May 15-Labor day, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; Labor Day-mid-October 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. daily; Mid-October-May 14 10 a.m.- p.m., Weds-Sun.

[Photo credits: Laurel Miller]

A timelapse journey through the American Southwest

While I don’t think anybody would dispute that the American Southwest is beautiful, this timelapse video by Henry Jun Wah Lee of Evosia Studios takes the region to a whole new level of breathtaking. Without using words or special effects, the Los Angeles-based filmmaker brings the landscape to life with dancing fog, vibrant sunrises, detailed rock formations, and curvacious craters that appear to flow like a woman’s skirt. The photographer’s mission in his work is to inspire people who spend their time in cities to get out and re-connect with nature. Through this video, you’ll get to explore the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, North Coyote Buttes, the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, Rattlesnake Canyon, the Eastern Sierras, Vermillion Cliffs, Yosemite National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante, and the December 2011 Lunar Eclipse.

So how did he create such a stunning masterpiece? Jun Wah Lee explains it took, “a little bit of luck, a lot of traveling and sleepless nights, and a lot of practice!”

Video: An ultra high resolution look at the American Southwest

Time lapse photographer and filmmaker Tom Lowe has been working on his new and innovative creation for over two years now. The video is actually a clip of his soon-to-debut film, TimeScapes, which showcases the beauty of the American Southwest using Canon RAW and Epic Red still cameras. Because the movie was filmed and edited at 4K resolution, which is four times greater than regular high definition, the moments and places really come to life on the screen.

Watch sunsets at Salton Sea, coastlines, Redwoods, and waterfalls in Big Sur, and meteor showers at Bristlecone take on a life of their own as firefalls, eclipses, cultural dances, lakes, mountains, starry skys, concerts, and unique landscapes are shown like never before.

To see a stunning preview of what’s to come, as well as hear music by John Stanford, check out this video:

TimeScapes 4K from Tom Lowe on Vimeo.

A Grand Tour of the American West

I could see the end of my road trip, on the other side of the deserts of the American Southwest, the sun-parched stretch of near nothingness that conceals some of the country’s greatest natural wonders. So after leaving Spaceport America in New Mexico, I prepared for a ironman push to the West Coast, my ultimate destination Los Angeles. Along the way, I’d stop at the Four Corners and the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas and probably some dusty, God-forsaken gas station in the middle of a field of rock and scrub and little else. It was going to be a long drive but, weirdly, I was excited.

Traveling the American Road – Road Trip Destiny Made Manifest

I found the Four Corners, the intersection of Arizona and Colorado and New Mexico and Utah, down a short dusty road on Navajo land just outside Teec Nos Pos, Arizona. It is, inarguably, one of the most touristy places I’d seen on the entire trip: There’s next to nothing here but for some trinket stands and a photo op, standing or sitting a paved circular monument to geographic coincidence, the only place in the country where visitors can touch four states at once.

Which isn’t to say people weren’t enjoying it. A group of Italians were riding on each others’ shoulders, getting unique angles for their pictures. A couple was visiting with her parents, each standing in a different state. Young kids were by turns bashful and brash, forced into photos their parents will one day look back on fondly only to be disappointed when the then-teenagers deny any recollection of the time the family went to the Four Corners.

As I walked back to the car, another group of Italians was having a loud conversation when one woman’s cell phone rang. “Pronto?” she asked as she answered, taking a call from the homeland as she photographed her friends standing on the spot we all came to see.

At the Grand Canyon, I worried that I’d find more of the same, a promise of greatness tempered by an ultimately disappointing monument. How wrong I was: Seeing the striated canyon formed by the Colorado river was a multi-layered pleasure, unfolding as I took in the views from the South Rim, stopping at turnouts along the road to take panoramas while standing on the roof of my SUV. One woman asked me to snap a photo for her, as long as I was up there.

The canyon changed not just in space but in time too, as I watched the sunset turn the rocks deeper and deeper hues of orange. As the shadows lengthened, the gorges in the distance turned purple and blue and finally black. Cameras lined the canyon rim, but I was happy to simply enjoy the sunset, trying to mentally catalog all the colors rather than capture them with my SLR. After nine weeks on the road, furiously photographing my trip, it was a luxury to simply enjoy the view.

In the morning, after the haze had burned off, I struck camp and set out for Las Vegas, the final waypoint before the end of my journey. But I was more interested in a nearby sight than any neon magic on The Strip: The Hoover Dam, a man-made wonder from an era of economic uncertainty financed by massive public spending. The art deco masterpiece is less than an hour from the biggest casinos in Las Vegas, but it’s also a four-hour haul through the Arizona desert.

There’s little to see until you speed across the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, when the canyon walls fall away and reveal the concrete monolith. Though walking across the top of the dam is quite pleasant, I prefer the view from the bridge, opened in October 2010 as a traffic bypass. A pedestrian-friendly walkway along its north edge provides a fantastic platform for photography–and contemplation of what extraordinary taxpayer spending and sacrifice can accomplish.

New Mexico Tourism launches Billy the Kid-themed scavenger hunt featuring $10,000 reward

The Land of Enchantment just became the Land of Advancement. “Catch the Kid,” a new summer travel promotion launched by New Mexico Tourism Department, has turned the entire state into a “real life video game,” with the prize being $10,000 in cold, hard cash. “The Kid” in question is one William H. Bonney, aka “Billy the Kid.” Participants (it’s geared toward families) try to track down this most iconic of New Mexico outlaws by finding clues hidden throughout the state.

Now through September 24th, you can register your family online at to create a “posse profile,” as well as gain access to exclusive New Mexico travel deals and weekly vacation giveaways throughout the summer. The reward money is the inflation equivalent of the $500 reward offered by Governor Lew Wallace in 1881 for the Kid’s head.

If you have a smartphone, you can download the “Catch the Kid” smartphone app. Alternatively, you can play by taking pictures or you or your family posing next to clue posters placed throughout New Mexico, and upload them to your profile page. Designated locations around the state will unlock clues that lead to the Kid’s New Mexico hideout. The more clues you collect, the more information you’ll gather on when and how to capture the wily criminal. The first posse to present the Kid with an arrest warrant will win their handsome reward.

Players using a smartphone to play can unlock additional New Mexico travel deals and win prizes, because the app allows players to find Billy’s money bag loot which is virtually placed and hidden in every county in New Mexico. You’ll have the chance to use this loot to buy vacations, deals, or meals online in the general store section of the “Catch the Kid” website. Good luck, pardners.

Watch New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez announce contest details, below