I walked into a little shop filled with local crafts and Aspen wood art. The shop owner, a woman with kind eyes and a sparkling smile greeted me with a big “HI! Welcome to mah store!” Her name was Lupita. Was it creepy that I already knew her name? Yes. Abnormal for Ridgway, Colorado? No. We got into some small talk, and I said to her “Yea, I’m here visiting my stepsister! Do you know Lenny?” Lupita’s eyes lit up, “Of course I know Lenny! You must be from the East Coast, then! The New York area, was it?”
Surprise, surprise. She knew my whole life story.
For a moment, I felt like I was back in a Spanish pueblo. Except everyone speaks English, grills beef instead of pork, drinks craft beers instead of Cruzcampo, and listens to country music instead of Spanish rock.
The culture might be completely different, sure. But I caught myself saying “this reminds me so much of Spanish pueblo life!” at least 8 times throughout my 5-day trip.
Where is this quaint little place in Colorado, you ask?
Put your glasses on if you’re looking at a map! About 6 hours by car southwest of Denver (the capital of Colorado), lie two tiny hidden towns of Ridgway (970 people) and Ouray (1,030 people). The two picturesque towns sit next to each other, in a valley surrounded by the majestic San Juan Mountains. Historically mining towns, it looks like somebody took the set of an old Wild West movie, froze it in time and brought it back to life in 2017.
OK, so these two Colorado towns are small and rural, just like Spanish pueblos. But what times them together beyond the obvious?
To start, they are both built around community.
Let me preface by saying the American culture is definitely not built around community like it is in Spain. It’s built around individualism. My car, my house, my money, blah blah blah. I’ve traveled high and low, to bustling metropolises and tiny towns around the US, and I’ve never felt that sense of community that you feel in a Spanish pueblo…until Ridgway! Everybody knows each other and even watches out for each other. And then there are those town parties…
And boy, do they both love a good party.
As my dear readers will know, Spanish pueblos love to party. One weekend it’s a cumple, the next weekend it’s the town romería, then carnival, then some fiesta I have no idea what we’re celebrating but everyone’s celebrating it. Well, pueblecitos de España, I think you’ve met your American match. The weekend I was in Ridgway, there was the big “Grateful Party” going on in the center of town. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Everyone gathers together on the town lawn with some good live music, brews and grilled weenies to celebrate what they are grateful for. Then, of course there’s the famous Rodeo party, the town water-fight in Ouray, then the Summer Concert Series…the list goes on. Can I get a YEEHAW?!
And then there’s the “my beer is your beer” / “mi cerveza es su cerveza” mentality.
I was with my dad, standing on the porch of our rental house. We were admiring the gorgeous view, when all of a sudden we hear a voice from down below “HEY! Ya’ll want a cold beer?” It was our jolly neighbors. This has never happened to me anywhere else in the USA (unless we’re talking about college). In the little Spanish pueblo I lived in, this was a regular occurrence. Walking down the street minding your own business? If you saw someone you knew drinking a beer, suddenly you were drinking a beer too.
Everybody knows each other (or is related to each other).
In Ridgway, John is brothers with Jim and his wife is the teacher of little Bobby who is the grandchild of the mayor. In a Spanish pueblo, María is dating Juan who is the son of Javi, whose sister is Marta, who is married to the town dentist. See what I mean? My advice? Don’t do anything you’re gonna regret.
And when in doubt, BBQ it out.
We had a big ol’ family get together in Colorado. What did we do? Well, we had a BBQ of course! As I was eating my burger and staring out into the mountains, I got that same tingly “meat n’ mountains” feeling that I used to get in Spain. Ahhh, yes, it brought me right back to those BBQs in the Spanish campo. The lesson here, kids, is that all good things in life lead back to a grill.
Then, there’s that landscape. It’s just downright gorgeous.
Pictures do this one more justice.
And finally…they both have heart.
When a place has heart, you can just feel it. It’s not really a tangible thing that you can describe. Of course, so much of it has to do with the people and beautiful setting. However, it’s something even deeper. It’s when a place has a special charm, or character. It’s when the people reflect this character and bring it to life in a unique way, making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Dear Ridgway, Fregenal, Ouray, Jimena de la Frontera and all you other heart-filled pueblos in Spain and the USA…never lose that heart.
Where else have you been in the USA that’s got “pueblo” heart? Have you ever experienced small town life in Colorado?