There are some days---actually, most days---when the only thing that seems to be moving in Jaroso are the clouds that cast shadows over the high desert plains of southwestern Colorado. Of course, that’s an exaggeration but only a slight exaggeration. A head count today in Jaroso would place it just above ‘ghost town;’ an out of the way hamlet that sits too far out of the way to ever get much traffic. And that works just fine for the handful of locals who call it home.
Jaroso, Spanish for ‘the willows,’ blossomed early last century but only for a moment. It never bore the fruit its early inhabitants envisioned. They might have seen it grow into a town like San Luis, some 25 miles away. But, unlike some Colorado boom towns that drew the raw and rowdy, Jaroso was populated by the proud and pious; a few Mormons, a few Seventh Day Adventists and the Hispanos and Native Americans who first called it home.
Jaroso harbored a dream that the San Luis Southern Railroad would carry its goods---produce and animals---to Santa Fe in the south and Denver to the north. But the Dust Bowl and Great Depression brought a new reality to the region. Little by little, its heartbeat grew faint until it fell nearly silent.
But don’t cry for Jaroso, said artist and, perhaps, the town’s number one booster, Lynn Kircher. The sculptor and former Denver art teacher---he was at the Art Institute for a decade---describes Jaroso in nearly heavenly terms. Ute Peak, Wild Horse Mesa, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, he said, seem almost close enough to touch. The night sky? Something else; almost unimaginable. “It looks like someone took dust and sprinkled it across the sky,” said Kircher. “Here the moon is so bright you can walk outside without need of a flashlight.” So special is the place, he recalled, “one year we even saw the Aurora Borealis,” the northern lights.
Kircher and his wife, Jan, also an artist, have been in Jaroso since buying property in 1986. First, they came on weekends. “On my time off I would spend time working on projects,” he recalled. But the siren song of this off-the-beaten-path and nearly forgotten town grew too loud and they soon left Denver and became full time Jarosans, even buying the hotel that once housed long ago guests.
Unofficially, Jaroso is home to somewhere between 60 and 70 residents, many, like the Kirchers, are also artists. Unlike the Kirchers, some live outside the ‘city limits.’ His artistic colleagues live in nearby Amalia, Costilla and Garcia---‘the suburbs of Jaroso.’ They often meet at the post office to catch up on the latest news across the county.
While the isolation of living in a place like Jaroso might not be for everyone, for the artists who’ve set up studios, it’s just short of paradise, said Kircher. “Silence is your ally,” he said. “I’ve learned to treasure it.” Rather than deafening silence, the quiet allows introspection and inspiration, he said. “Once you dance with the muse, that’s the voice within you,” said the long-ago big city artist. The quality of the air and the golden light that shines on Jaroso reaffirms his decision to abandon big city life.
Though Kircher and his wife live in the hotel, there are no rooms to let. Extra rooms are reserved for friends and family who wander in from out of town. In a couple of weeks, they’ve reserved it for a wedding. A local family will be sharing the space, but just for a weekend.
Once things return to ‘normal,’ said Kircher, he’ll return to his work, and there’s always plenty of work. Kircher is well known and in demand. His art is spread across the country and in a few special places around the world. Perhaps his most famous piece---certainly the piece he’s most proud of---is a bust of Jesus that once occupied a special place in Pope John Paul II residence. You can see it and a collection of Kircher’s art at kirchersculpture.com.
If you visit Jaroso today, there’s a good chance the only thing you’ll hear is the wind as it cuts delicately through the sagebrush and arroyos. Yes. It’s quiet, but just quiet enough to commune with the muse.
On July 6-7, 2019 Jaroso’s past and present residents will join the Costilla-Amalia Community Reunion at the Plaza de Arriba in Costilla, New Mexico.