As I travel the backroads of the west and explore the past of the old roads, the stories take me to other stories and yet other stories. The first time I traveled Imogene Pass out of Telluride, Colorado I found such a story. The Pass itself is magnificent. The road is a sight, and to know how it was driven more than 100 years ago makes it an even more humbling experience.
Near the top of Imogene is Old Tomboy Mine. An old mine that at one time supported a town with a YWCA, a school and a bowling alley. The remnants are not in the best shape compared to many of the old mines around, but I found an autobiography that made this adventure one of the best. Harriet Fish Backus recorded her time at Tomboy Mine with her husband, an assayor, in her book, Tomboy Bride. She and George Backus travelled Imogene to Tomboy Mine in 1906. There, she and her husband braved avalanches, packrats, isolation from deep snow, death, and the dangers of mining. She writes about birthing and raising children at 11,000 feet in the winter, and maintaining a household with constant snowfall that left them buried in 20 feet deep.
She writes as though it was yet another day, challenges like I face raising my son, caring for my husband and making an evening meal. As I stand in Tomboy Basin, after driving up Imogene Pass, somehow I cannot bring myself to her moment. She describes such happiness, amongst the fury of the snow, horses and men falling to their death from the road, a friend being shot, whooping cough, flu and meningitis. She finds such joy in her home, while its interior is four feet deep in snow. She was a truly courageous woman, thick skinned, loving and amazing in her hearty-iness.
She describes pink eye, colic, and teeth infections. Not so different from any mother’s worry, and yet in such harsh condition. I admire her so. Standing in the basin surrounded by summer wildflowers I think that her strength and beauty to endure among the jagged ridge of the basin summit is something from women past. And I hope somewhere being up here, I can capture bits of it to carry on.