Lionshead rock has crumbled, but locals renew efforts to preserve Minturn’s rich history
April 8, 2014
While Minturn has received a facelift in recent decades, undergoing some serious reconstructive surgery that replaced weathered clapboards with condominiums, mountain hideaways and greenhouses that raise families rather than plants, none was more radical than that of the leonine sphinx overlooking the former railroad town. And there's no doubt that rock — with rugged features and resolute aloofness intact as it looked down indifferently on life's vagaries, whether subtle or seismic — was a wonder, even if not of the world, then to successive generations of the town's youth. Egypt had its sphinx, and Minturn had Lionshead.
The impervious stance and stare seemed omniscient and immortal. At least to a child growing up within its shadow — and, as it turned out, a stone's throw away. Childhood beliefs in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny dissipate quickly, well before the onset of adolescence. However, other childhood certainties stubbornly linger. Such was the reason behind the sense and speed of disbelief that the seemingly iconic incarnation of permanence in a life riddled with change and temporality had indeed shared an Achilles heel.
Sure I knew Lionshead was a rock, composed of terrestrial elements (ashes to ashes, dust to dust and the like), but I never surrendered the faith nor an almost sacred certainty that rock could withstand the apocalypse. It was not of this earth. The only thing sedimentary about Lionshead was its ability to stay put indefinitely — wait, that term is sedentary. Metaphorical juxtapositions and alliterations rocket through my mind — celestial and carnal, secular and sacred, temporal and timeless, earthy and eternal. You get the idea. I'm shocked and confused. It's as if an unassailable truth has crumbled down the mountain and fallen flat at the feet of a trusting child.
After a pinch, I'm forced to accept reality — pieces of the venerable Lionshead, like many of Minturn's residents and residences, have either relocated or been replaced.
Minturn has truly changed. The latest relocation is a tad more dramatic than the exit of most longtime locals. Even if the broken pieces and certainties were enshrined within town limits as a makeshift museum, the purpose would serve more as a memoriam to childhood naivety and optimism. The hunks of rock — and truisms — pried loose by time, wear and tear are just an inconvenient truth, to borrow Al Gore's oft-repeated phrase. Ludwig von Bertanlanffy's Open Systems theory in academia describes an assortment of interrelated and interdependent pieces to compose a whole. Loosely applied in this sentiment, the fallen chunks of rock are not Lionshead. They contributed to the whole, but do not represent the whole. Simply put, the loose boulder at the base of the mountain has scant power to recall either the lion or its legend. Separated from the whole, it is a mere slivers (albeit a substantial sliver) of a fallen icon once held aloft over Minturn by a mountain and the affections of generations of town residents. The last vestiges and expectations of immorality leftover from childhood came tumbling to earth.
It's the people
Dabbling in nostalgia and grief may be cathartic, but this column serves a purpose other than a native's liturgical litany of Lionshead's attributes. Lionshead's fall from grace (or into grace if you believe in an afterlife) coincides with and reinforces an idea to preserve the past beyond summaries, generalizations and footnotes. Jacque Rivera Cavillo, also a Minturn native, created a Facebook page, "If You Grew Up in Minturn," devoted to the town's locals, their memories, their photos and their muses. The page has a sundry membership of all demographics. However, the common denomination is a shared history and passion with and for Minturn.
With other 200 members — and growing — the Facebook page inspired another idea. Actually, Cavillo suggested it. "A town is just a town; it's the people that make it come alive," Cavillo responded in an electronic message following a request to jot down the motivations behind her idea. "Wayne and I are planning on writing a book on the town that we both loved so much, we want to share with others the history of Minturn … and the community that brought us together as a whole."
Minturn has appeared in previous published histories. Former Vail Trail editor Allen Best assisted Bill Burnett with one; decades ago, Robert Gallegos spearheaded another. Both are valuable contributions. Then, you may wonder, why another? The overriding aspiration is to give a face to not only iconic images like Lionshead but also to the everyday people that stood sentry over the town. An important aspiration is to populate the town with and through a continuum of disparate living, breathing, communicating and interacting flesh and blood. Just as a piece (or two) of fallen rock cannot replicate or represent Lionshead, neither can a few people replicate or represent Minturn. On a personal note, I would like open the doors and offer a tour and insight into two structures in Minturn — the home where my grandmother died and the garage where my grandfather passed away. There are tears, laughter and lives behind that real estate.
Lionshead lives on
Cavillo envisions the book's scope as a compendium of the town's familial, economic and cultural components, a lot of it focused on a passing presence in Minturn — the Hispanic influence. "The book will also contain information on the history of the Latino people, traditions, jobs and the growth of the Vail Valley and how it eventually brought new hope for many families after the closing of the Gilman mine," she wrote.
A particular goal is to integrate the project somehow into my graduate school practicum in the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Since communication is — and was — key to threading a community into a cohesive whole, the assistance of my professors, among the preeminent communication scholars and researchers on the planet, could enhance efforts to give a face and voice to the people that made Lionshead a king and Minturn their home. Perhaps most challenging is solidifying subjects both transitory and evanescent.
In the meantime, while Lionshead is part of both a recent and distant past, it lives on as a symbol and an artifact. Yep, I'm ambivalent about a place of preservation for the wayward pieces of rock. Reviving the past is not simply resurrecting dead memories and pieces from a grave or a museum. It's infusing life, soul and details for the present and future. And if a younger generation, perhaps even the descendents of the book's subjects, can appreciate and connect with the whole, then a rock, a town and a population will never crumble. Perhaps all the king's horses and all the king's men can put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
Wayne Trujillo is a Minturn native and Battle Mountain High School graduate. His family moved to Eagle County nearly a century ago. His uncle, Oscar Meyer, was the Eagle County sheriff gunned down by James Sherbondy on Tennessee Pass in 1937, and his Aunt Ollie Meyer was Eagle County superintendent of schools. His grandparents, Irene and Ralph Meyer, moved to Minturn in the 1940s and owned and operated Meyer's Garage. He currently lives in Denver.