Grazing the gritty, northern tip of Denver. I followed highway 6 onto the high plains. After a week at 7000 feet, I could finally see the horizon; it was finally sunny; it was finally warm.
After overdosing for months on the overwhelming sugar candy of desert and mountain, the flat, unexciting prairie was like meat and potatoes. Late that afternoon, I pulled into the Brush! (pop. 5000) city campground. (Tip: small city or county campgrounds are hidden gems. They seldom advertise, and they aren’t heavy on the amenities, but they’re usually inexpensive and are located in small towns that are true American pie.) This campground was a little primitive, but the town was vintage prairie cowboy. The Fourth of July open rodeo is the biggest in the country. Wish I could be there.
You might wish to overlook this important aspect of Brush!’s economy, but you won’t be able to. The rich, organic smell of livestock hangs heavy in the air, rain or shine. Until 1897, Brush! was a stop on the great Texas to Montana cattle drive and later became an important railhead. According to the old timers, the streets became “so choked with livestock that children couldn’t walk to school.” The town still has large and active cattle auctions, thus the lingering scent of manure.
At first, I was puzzled by the exclamation point at the end of the town’s name. Even the police have that jarring grammatical fillip on their cars. Brush! Makes you feel like someone goosed you. Apparently, this was the bright idea of some consultant who thought it added pizzazz to the otherwise stolid name. I have reason to believe that it just makes the police crabby.
Brush! is also home to the Eben Ezer (for Stone of Help) Care Center. Now over 100 years old, the complex has evolved over the decades as it responded to the changing needs of the community. From a TB sanatarium begun by the Danish Lutheran pastor, Jens Madsen, it became a community hospital until 1971 and is now a continuum of care facilty for the elderly. It is also one of the few institutions that follow the Eden Alternative philosophy of care. It’s a clean, bright, happy place—words not usually applied to nursing homes.
You won’t find a Spartan, a Lion, a Tiger or any other exotic here. The town mascot in Brush! are the Beetdiggers. Apparently, sugar beets are a staple crop. And, as with the fields in Michigan’s thumb, the Volga-Deutsch (Germans from Russia) were the original immigrant field workers, giving way eventually to Hispanics. For years, their children were educated in the beautiful two-room Knearl School on the south (read: wrong) side of the tracks.
South of Brush! are the Prairie Ponds. They don’t look particularly spectacular, but the birds that inhabit the place are. I saw white pelicans, blue-winged teal, grebes, coots, various ducks, yellow-headed blackbirds, and tons of the red-winged variety. Great blue herons awked their raspy call as they rose laboriously from the reeds. Meadowlarks sang from fence posts. (Could anyone tire of that melody?) I flushed a pheasant nesting in the grass.
(You’ll have to click on a picture to see the gallery clearly.)