There is a moving scene in “The Original Coloradans” where Terry Knight, cultural director of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, describes his ancestors’ migration patterns, and how in the mid-1800’s Ute people would return to favorite campsites to find people settled there. So ensued the clash of worldviews that ultimately pushed Colorado’s original inhabitants onto reservations, cut off from their sacred places and hunting and gathering grounds.
The episode is part of “Colorado Experience,” a locally produced Rocky Mountain PBS program that takes viewers to all corners of Colorado to explore the state’s distant and more recent past. The show airs at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on PBS, which is rebroadcast into Summit County by SPRTV, freely available to anyone with an antenna living in sight of the towers on Bald Mountain. Previous episodes are also available online.
Highlights from past seasons include “Ladies of the Mines,” featuring both the hardships and newfound freedom of women who lived in mining camps in the late 1800’s, and “Indulgences of the West” from strychnine-laced liquor and potent patent medicines to opium dens.
The show’s producers were on the road this summer filming for Season 5, which launches October 5 with “Western Art.” Highlights of the upcoming season include Colorado’s Paleo-Indian period, the history of mountain biking, ghost towns, “Galloping Goose” railcars and early Colorado trains, and “Uranium Mania”—the story of Uravan, an abandoned mining town in western Colorado that became a Superfund site.
“Uravan has been a really tricky experience,” said Julie Speer, the show’s executive producer. “The whole town was completely radioactive and it was buried in the 1980’s; now there’s literally nothing there except all the memories of the folks who lived there.” Some of Uravan’s former residents experienced sickness and death from the exposure. Others “love uranium and want it to come back,” she said. “It was the economic driver in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and the government subsidized it because of the Cold War. It’s a crazy time in American history.” The episode airs October 19.
Program topics are selected based on an annual Viewer’s Choice survey, which last year resulted in the production of “Dinosaurs” and this year will be “Aviation.” Runners up end up getting produced too, she said, in addition to topics she herself finds interesting.
“I think ghost towns will have wide appeal,” Speer said in late July, as she and her team were headed for Animas Forks, a ghost town in the San Juans northeast of Silverton. “The highlight for us will be getting to sleep in a cabin at 11,000 feet with no running water in monsoon season.”
That was just one in a series of adventures and misadventures on the road, which included locking themselves out of the car while shooting on a peak near Durango.
“We met tons of people over the two hours we were stranded there,” said Speer, who is a fourth generation Coloradan. “We have fun and make new friends everywhere we go. Coloradans are awesome. I really love Colorado.”
‘Colorado Experience’ on Rocky Mountain PBS // rmpbs.org/coloradoexperience
Photo courtesy of History Colorado and the Denver Public Library Western History Collection