Monday, October 7, 2019

A Slice of Americana

Madison, Indiana on the Ohio River

A Slice of Americana
memoir
by Gregory E. Larson


“We’ll give you free delivery if you win it.” The man on the street corner pointed to the bright red golf cart with chrome wheels and shiny rubber tires. “Just twenty-five dollars a raffle ticket. The proceeds go to maintaining the river walk.”
“I live in Kansas City and I really don’t need a golf cart.”
“You can opt for $7500 cash.”
The guy was going to have a busy day. It was only 9:00 in the morning but he was in his element. He pointed out to the man in the pick-up truck at the red light. “Hey Jack. I’ll put you down for four tickets. I know you got a hundred dollars cash in your pocket.”
I sat at the outdoor table by the curb, and viewed the surroundings while I ate a homemade apple-cinnamon muffin and washed it down with a big cappuccino. The guy never gave up. He almost had me believing I needed a golf cart. I got up when he wasn’t looking and started walking towards downtown Madison, Indiana, a historic district on the Ohio River. I looked down a side street through the mist toward the Kentucky side. Kentucky mist. Sounds like a good brand of bourbon. The sun and humidity were invading the quaint town in the late September morning while the people filled the sidewalks. It was the annual arts and crafts fair, and there were booths full of handiwork, as well as homemade jam, local honey, and baked goods.
Outdoor market at Madison, Indiana
I wandered over to the outdoor market on Broadway and sat on a bench by the fountain to wait for my son-in-law and granddaughter. Amish boys took turns pulling each other in an old Flyer wagon, as they wound their way through the crowd. A guitarist was twanging and singing at a microphone. I thought the lyrics sounded familiar but the quality of his voice and guitar kept me from remembering the original group or the song title.
Two dogs on their leashes passed each other in the crowd. The small bulldog strained and pawed to get near the little cairn terrier. The terrier glanced at the bulldog as if to say, “Why bother?”
I sat down and thought, this is a happenin’ place. A shapely gal walked by in flip-flops, zoomba pants, and a top that left her midriff bare. Then I noticed a guy with a curly beard so big it made me think of the beards worn by some of the major league baseball players these days.
My son-in-law with the granddaughter in the stroller met up with me. We applied sunscreen and began to look at the arts and crafts booth. There was more than you could imagine: leather goods, blown glass, jewelry, wooden walnut bowls, photo art, bonsai trees, pottery and sculpture, but not much framed art. A woman and her friends walked out of the bonsai booth. “Oh lordy, my cats would never leave those things alone.”
The town folks were working to cash in on a good opportunity. Signs on the lawn at the Christian Church read, “BBQ Lunch $10.” The church volunteers had their propane grills fired up and ready to go. I was thirsty so I stopped at a private home where the owners sat by a table and cooler on the other side of the wrought-iron fence. The homemade sign read: Ice Cold Bottled Water - $1.00.
“How’s it goin’? I’ll take one.”
“Business is brisk.”
The whole town was spruced up for the big weekend. Historic private homes had their mums out, hedges trimmed and fall gourds and decorations strategically placed. Bi-planes and helicopters buzzed overhead. This is a happenin’ place.
Historical homes in Madison, Indiana
Cecilia, the granddaughter, reached her hand out over the stroller and yelled, “Ooo, hey,” while she waved her finger towards a big bounce house for kids. At two years old, she didn’t know what it was, but the colors definitely got her excited.
The food trucks down by the river looked like they had just pulled in from a state fair. Wisconsin Cheese, The German Haus, Funnel Cakes. The aroma and steam from the brats and burgers added to the stifling heat. Step right up and stuff yourself silly.
I loved being in such a vibrant atmosphere, but the heat and humidity kept bearing down. Before walking back to my car, I made a special trip over to a back street where there was a doorway to a townhouse that I used for a watercolor painting I completed a year ago. It spoke to me as an image that summed up the historic town. Every time I go back to a spot that I’ve painted, it feels like a space where I’ve taken root, and that in some special way a piece of my spirit is always there. Today, I experienced another slice of Americana.
Doorway and Steps
2018 watercolor by Gregory E. Larson

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Class of '69




Class of ‘69
Memoir 
by Gregory E. Larson

I turned up the Bob Dylan song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” on my iPod music to keep from getting drowsy on the highway, and yelled out, “Sing it loud and sing it proud!” Slapping my knee with one hand and holding the steering wheel with the other, I began to sing “Once upon a time, you dressed so fine…”
I kept slapping my knee as I looked out across ocean-sized farms that stretched as far as the horizon. I was comfortable inside the air-conditioned car, but it appeared hot and windy outside. The mirage from the late afternoon sun made it look like there was water on the pavement ahead. I had to admit there was a bit of angst in the pit of my stomach as I approached Garden City in Western Kansas. The fifty-year reunion of my graduating high school class of ’69 would be my first one to attend. Would any of my old friends be there? Would anyone recognize me?
I hardly recognized the town since it had tripled in size from the days of school. When I drove to the older parts of the main thoroughfares, I remembered that Garden City was aptly named. It really was a green spot in the bleak stretches of land that made up the surroundings. It was an oasis of culture, a safe place to raise a family and connect with friends, a place of protection from the unceasing winds and the harsh weather.
That first evening at the Eagles Lodge for the meet and greet party, my fears melted away. The friends, the stories and the laughter greeted me as I walked in the door. The memories weren’t so much about what we learned in class, but about life and growing up. High school was the beginning of finding our way in the world. The stories of sports, part-time jobs, first cars, extra-curricular activities and shenanigans – that’s what were etched in our memories and what we shared all evening.
A tour of the old high school building the next morning was bittersweet. So much remodeling had taken place to the building, we had to hunt for something to hang our memories on. Carpet was on the floor instead of tile. Someone said the tiles that made up our mascot (the Buffalo) on the floor were taken to hang on the wall of the new high school. And there were ghostly memories of encounters with the faculty – both good and bad. Those teachers were on a mission to mold us into adults, and in the process, we learned that both teachers and students are human – sometimes right and sometimes wrong.
What touched me most about the reunion was how important every person was that made the effort to come. Somehow, some way. we’d all survived the intervening fifty years and had the stories to tell. The social pecking order of 1969 didn’t exist. We were a big group of peaceful, caring folks. All the greetings and all the shared thoughts were precious. The stories brought fifty years of humanity alive. Births, marriages, divorces, death, years of toil, years of joy. It reminded me of the English teacher from our high school years, Miss Barbee, one of the faculty mainstays. I can still hear her southern accent as she spoke to us, “These classical novels of English literature are filled with life events.” I realized that after fifty years our lives have the richness of novels. Living in the real world can be more fascinating. I truly enjoyed listening to people talk about the past, letting them tell their story.
In those two brief days of the reunion, we experienced somewhat of a time warp and it almost seemed like the '60s. Several of us had lunch at the old dairy shop downtown. The tin ceiling, the long counter and the old menus were all still there, and it reminded me of “the good old days” when we used to drive our cars down Main Street to see and be seen.
This was a rare August day for the reunion – mild temperatures and almost no wind. One of my high school friends and I drove by the houses where we were raised, and that brought back even more memories of coming home late at night, or shooting baskets on a goal that was taken down long ago. The little spruce tree my dad planted was now 60 ft. tall.
The second evening we had dinner at the Knights of Columbus Hall, catching up on lost years with old friends and making sure we didn’t forget to say ‘hi’ to someone and share an old memory. And a group picture was taken with umpteen cell phones pointed at us. It was sad to leave at the end of the evening. Our brief encounters came to an end.
Sunday morning was blanketed with a light fog across hundreds of miles of flatland. I gassed up the car, cleaned the bugs off the windshield and pointed my car to the east, just as I had done when I left Garden City for college. As I drove out over the prairie, I thought about all the stories and memories I’d heard and shared that weekend. Fog enveloped the city behind me, as if a curtain closed all the festivities. I searched for a Beach Boys song, turned up the volume and sang, “Round, round, get around, I get around . . .”

Monday, July 8, 2019

Paris, Etched in Stone


The Louvre Museum - Main Entrance
Paris, Etched in Stone
memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

          During a stopover in Paris on my 2017 trip to the Netherlands, I made a visit to the Louvre Museum. There’s enough to see for several lifetimes and I’ve just scratched the surface.
          My main reason for the visit was a hot ticket that I’d purchased at home to see a special Vermeer exhibit along with period Dutch paintings. Although it was crowded, it was a treat to see the Vermeer paintings first-hand and get close to the brushstrokes of the highlights.

Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre
          I then proceeded to the room with Mona Lisa, an elevator ride to a room full of people. Mona let me down. Was I really hoping to make a connection to this famous painting? They could have replaced the original with a cheap print, and no one would have known. I dodged a mob with selfie sticks. Each person was trying to get a picture with Mona.

Typical exhibit hall at the Louvre
          Oh well, I thought, there must be something else in this vast repository that would pique my interest. The architect in me began to focus on the building details, the sculptures and art that were a part of the building and ceiling. At one of the huge windows I looked out upon the city and the Seine.
          There was natural light ahead, filtering down through a skylight. That's when I saw her. The soft browns and grays reflected off the sculpture of Winged Victory. Oh, I wished she could speak to me, the winged lady.

Winged Victory with base

Looking up at Winged Victory
          I longed to see her face. It wasn’t there, but I felt it’s soft beauty, it’s happiness. The irony of a stone body, set free, with the garments flowing in the wind, awakened my soul. This mother-of-all-hood-ornaments was perched on the prow of a stone boat. Irony multiplied. But all was perfect on that morning in Paris. I forgot the crowds that wandered through the space. It was just me and the lady on the boat. I got on my knees to take a picture of the underside of the stone prow, and looked up at the magnificence. What purity of line and form, unlocked from the ages. Aerodynamic stone. Weightless rock. Humanity unleashed before returning to dust.
          All the museum items beyond Winged Victory seemed to be collecting dust. I left the behemoth to get some fresh air and to walk along the Seine. Pont Neuf caught my eye. It’s arches gracefully crossing the river, an artful work of stone in its own right, beckoned in the Paris atmosphere of gray sky, green water and patches of sunlight.
Memories for the keeping.
Pont Neuf
with the Louvre Museum beyond
2019 Original Watercolor
by
Gregory E. Larson




Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Our Lady of Paris



Notre Dame Cathedral -  Paris 2007
photo by author


Our Lady of Paris
memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

          Shock. Sadness. A sense of loss.
          Multiple emotions flooded over me yesterday as I stood in front of the television, aghast at the scene unfolding at Notre Dame in Paris. A conflagration of epic proportions was out of control at the heart of the cathedral. Where were the pumps? Where were the standpipes with hoses and nozzles at strategic locations?
          I have no answers.
          My thoughts went back to my teenage years of the 1960s in Western Kansas. My interest in architecture had taken root and I adopted Notre Dame as my personal symbol of Western Civilization. At that time, it seemed to me that the cathedral was the perfect building in the perfect city. The edifice was situated at the east end of the Isle de la Cité and appeared to have naturally grown out of the ground on the banks of the river Seine. Yet it seemed light years away from the sparsely populated plains of Kansas. I vowed to make a visit, and pay homage to Our Lady.
          Forty years later, on a Sunday morning in June, I fought off the jet lag while I stood in the verdant park on the east side of Notre Dame. I could hear strains of the organ playing inside the cathedral during an early mass. Our Lady didn’t disappoint me. She looked more elegant in person than in all the photos I had seen. I walked out of the warm, sunny morning and into the dark interior, and was amazed the public was allowed to walk the perimeter of the sanctuary while the morning mass was underway.
          The next day, I was compelled to take the tour of the exterior, which included a climb up the bell towers and a walk along the parapets. The views of the cathedral and the surrounding city made my heart sing. Far below the gargoyles were cars, motor scooters, busses, tour boats, and sidewalk cafés, all full of tourists and locals moving about on a Monday morning. My pilgrimage was complete. No doubt — this was the heart of Paris and my heart was so close to this symbol of Western Civilization. Our Lady held me in her arms.
          Even on the rooftop, the cathedral was chock full of stone carvings, copper statues, and artistic details. Grotesque and mythic creatures leaned from the edges to ward off the evil spirits. An angel stood at the peak of nave’s gable, blowing a horn of stone.
          Just before climbing the countless steps back to the ground, our tour guide let us inside the top of the south belfry to see the large bell that was a key element in Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
          Those memories are significant now that most of what I saw that day is gone.
          Our Lady was more vulnerable than anyone imagined. A tinderbox waiting for a spark. I hope they rebuild her, although it will never be the same.
          Shock. Sadness. A sense of loss.

Author's note: All of the photos shown below are ones that I took during the tour of the bell towers in June 2007.










Sunday, March 3, 2019

Thank You, and announcement of online gallery

by Gregory E. Larson

          What a joyful evening it was at the art exhibit and reception on Friday evening. I was so grateful and humbled to see the large number of people turn out to see the artwork. My goal is to create art that makes people happy, and it was fun to see so many happy people.
          For those of you in the Kansas City area, the exhibit will hang through March and April, so you are welcome to go see it during church hours at:
St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal Church 
6630 Nall Ave., 
Mission, KS 66202
          If my schedule is open, I would be glad to meet you there. Also, I have an online gallery with all of the artwork, and with a few paragraphs that I’ve written for each painting which describe where the scene is located and what struck me as interesting, and what caused me to want to paint it. 
          For those of you who live far away, and those who just want to view the artwork, the online gallery website is:
          I’ll send updates in the future that direct you to new paintings in the online gallery, and some months when I write the typical magazine-style articles, I’ll direct you the website you are on now (www.aroundthebend-greg.blogspot.com). Thanks again for your interest and support for both the blog articles and the artwork. I thank each and every one of you.
          Here’s an example of a couple of the online gallery selections:
Doorway and Steps
2018 watercolor by Gregory E. Larson

DOORWAY AND STEPS - MADISON, 
INDIANA
          This little town along the Ohio River in Indiana has one of the largest historical districts in the U.S. (approximately 1.5 miles long and .5 mile wide).
          I spent three days in town, enough time to get acquainted with it, viewing the architectural styles and details. It was a tough job to visit the coffee shops and diners, but somebody had to do it. 
          One morning I parked the car on a side street and began walking to the main thoroughfare. The stairs and doorway stopped me in my tracks and I took a picture of it.
          Back in the studio, I became intrigued with the wrought iron benches, realizing that this river town had a lot of wealth in the 1850s. Town homes didn’t just have railings on the steps, they had elegant benches.
          The architectural details, down to the bricks pushed me to the limit on my patience while painting. The most difficult part was painting the portion of the black bench that overlapped the black door. I added the flag for some interest and balance, but the focus of this painting is on the steps and doorway.
* * *
Firewood
2018 watercolor by Gregory E. Larson

FIREWOOD
          The three-bushel galvanized tub came from an antique store in Alma, Kansas. I purchased it the moment I saw it on a Sunday afternoon while driving in the Flint Hills. It was the perfect container for keeping firewood dry in the garage before burning the logs in the fireplace on Friday and Saturday nights. 
          Add an oriental rug, kindling wood, and some tan rubber tile and concrete, and the outcome is a mixture of cool and warm browns, greens and grays with some deep shadows.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Greg's Announcement of Upcoming Art Exhibit

MARK YOUR CALENDARS!

ART EXHIBIT: 
VISTAS AROUND THE WORLD
Watercolors by
Gregory E. Larson

Sicilian Fishing Boat
by Gregory E. Larson


MARCH - APRIL
OPENING RECEPTION
MARCH 1, 2019
5:00 - 8:00 PM
SPENCER HALL
Sponsored by Horizon Arts Ministry


ST. MICHAELS AND ALL ANGELS EPISCOPAL CHURCH
6630 NALL AVE.
MISSION, KANSAS 66202



Friends and Readers,

I have been busy creating watercolors and have twenty-four that I will show at the exhibit mentioned above. I welcome you to come and browse, so that I can share the joy and fascination I have in creating them. There is a story behind every painting. Most of them are landscapes of locations that I have visited in Europe and North America.


I look forward to seeing you on March 1st!

Merci,
Greg

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Amongst the Waves at Lac d'Annecy


Catamaran Race on Lac d'Annecy
Amongst the Waves of Lac d’Annecy
travel memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

           The gentle waves of pristine water lapped the dock posts and the shore of Lac d’Annecy at the foot of the French Alps. The afternoon breeze was growing with the temperature in the low 70s, although for two people from Kansas (my friend Mary Anne and I), it seemed to be in the slight breeze category. We stood on shore, watching the white, modern water-taxi slowly jostle its way to the edge of the dock, guided by the young, sandy-haired captain of the boat.

Water Taxi approaching

          In weeks of anticipation of the chartered boat ride, I’d envisioned a sleek wooden boat of golden-brown color with a finish of glossy marine varnish. Although, the white taxi looked very sea-worthy and appeared to have the power to quickly get us around the lake.
           “Allo!” said the young driver of the boat as he stepped up on the dock and looked at me. The eyes of the tourists eating at the lakeside café turned our way to watch us board the taxi. He reached out his hand and spoke with a French accent. “My name is Thibault. And your name?”
          With the exotic setting in the Alps, I was very tempted to say, “Bond . . . James Bond.” But my senses got the better of me. “I’m Greg . . . and this is my friend Mary Anne.”
Author and Mary Anne in the Water Taxi
          Thibault responded, “Oui, I can show you some points of interest around the lake, but tell me if there is something specific you want to see.”
          “I’m an artist. I paint watercolors, and I’d like to photograph a castle, chateau, or church along the shore to use as my inspiration to paint. I’d also like to get some good mountain backgrounds as well.”
Abbaye de Talloires at the foot of the Alps
          “Yes,” said Thibault, “We can do that. Let’s go.” We settled in the boat and pulled away from the resort of Abbaye de Talloires. It was worthy of a movie setting. The deep water reflected colors of turquoise and emerald green. As a backdrop to the old resort, the deciduous trees were just beginning to turn their fall colors. Behind them, upwards on the mountain slopes stood the conifers of deep forest green. Capping the view at the sky were the massive cliffs which seemed to announce to the world: Here we stand guard at the west end of the European Alps! Artistic views appeared at every turn on the lake.
          The artful setting did not go unnoticed by impressionist and cubist painter, Paul Cezanne. In the summer of 1896 he stayed at the Abbaye, which had originally been the home of a group of Benedictine Monks. It was abandoned by the monks after the French Revolution, and in 1862 the portion of the building that was built in 1681 became a hotel.
Paul Cezanne's 1896 painting of Chateau de Duingt on Lac d'Annecy
          Cezanne painted many scenes around Lac d’Annecy in both watercolor and oils. His most famous painting of that summer, Lac d’Annecy, was a view of the Chateau de Duingt, which is the castle located across the lake from the Abbaye. This was a time when Cezanne cultivated his cubist ideas of making geometric forms out of what he saw in his surroundings.
Chateau de Duingt on Lac d'Annecy
          I tend to paint more realistic detail, but I hoped that whatever pixy dust of Paul Cezanne remained in the surroundings, that some of it would fall on me as I searched for subject matter.
          Thibault steered the boat across the small end of the lake to give us a good view of the famous Chateau de Duingt. He slowed the engine and allowed me to snap several pictures.
          “I am told that a family with three children live in the castle. For income they have some of the surrounding buildings set up as a bed and breakfast hotel, and they rent out the grounds for large parties for weddings and family events.”
          We followed the western shore and stopped at spots to view interesting church spires or large chateaus, but I wasn’t pleased with any of the pictures. The mountains were so huge and once I zoomed on the buildings, the peaks were lost. Thibault steered the boat around a peninsula and the large north end of the lake came into view. Voila, a sailboat race of small catamarans was in progress. That’s when my creative juices started to flow.
          I turned and looked at Thibault, then pointed to the boats. “We must go there. I want to take as many sailboat pictures as possible. Try to stop on the south side of the race so the sun will be good for the photos.”

Sailing on Lac d'Annecy
2018 original watercolor by
Gregory E. Larson
          When he turned the water-taxi and accelerated, some of the wave-spray sprinkled our faces, and the whole afternoon came alive. He closed in on the race, cut the engine, and we began to bob like a cork. I jumped like a little kid from one spot in the boat to another to get good views of the moving catamarans as they rounded the race buoys. I focused on composing each picture of sails and mountains, which was difficult while using a zoom lens.
          The sailboats were bobbing in the water and the participants were shouting and laughing at each other in French. Was this catamaran race smack-talk? I couldn’t make out the words, but there were spirited exchanges of shouting between the boats. I guessed they were saying things like, “Get out of the way you waterlogged bucket! We’re coming through!” I felt like I was in a virtual carnival ride, with the wind, water, and the colorful sails moving at a rapid pace.

Focused on sailboats
          Thibault kept following the race and repositioning the boat for me to continue taking photos. My mind was racing along with the boats, trying to find the most colorful groupings and nice backdrops. I’d hit the motherlode in terms of inspiration for watercolors. Les Petits Catamarans! Tears of joy came to my eyes as the boats continued racing.
          I smiled with a thumbs-up to Mary Anne and realized she was taking a picture of me taking pictures of the sailboats. In that moment, I was convinced that the boat ride on the lake had made the entire trip to France worthwhile.
Les Petits Catamarans
2018 original watercolor by
Gregory E. Larson

Friday, August 10, 2018

Mt. Sidney

memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

           The summer morning had a freshness to it, causing one to linger in the breeze above the river . . . though the freshness would not remain in August. The day’s increasing wind from the south ushered in hot air in an attempt to legitimize a Midwest drought.
          My friend and I wandered through the cemetery at Mt. Sidney, which is more of a mound than a mount along the Kansas River in the countryside west of Bonner Springs. We had no specific reason for the visit, no mystery to solve, nor grave to seek. It was just a desire to find a peaceful spot, to drink in the morning before it was lost. The bordering woods sloped to the south where a view through the gaps of the towering cottonwoods revealed reflections from a shrinking channel and sun-bleached sandbars.
          Grass crunched under foot, as the freshness had already given way to dormancy. Stones of different age, size and shape dotted the hillside. Some had tilted or shifted in the sod. We tried to read the words and numbers on the cut stone, but weather and time had worn the surfaces. They were discolored by moss, dirt and erosion. Our fingers traced engravings on the rough surfaces to reveal names of real people given up to the earth in decades and centuries past.
          It was a quiet place in the country, punctuated by sounds of a busy world, of people going about their daily business in northeast Kansas. The freight trains rocked and creaked on the tracks hidden in the woods along the river. Planes overhead pierced the blue sky on journeys of unknown destinations. On rare occasions, clouds of dust billowed from the gravel road as a car or truck passed by.

The large monument and sculpture at Mt. Sidney
          On the highest spot, a prominent stone with a sculptured angel marked Mt. Sidney. The four sides of the marker listed many names of the Elder family. On the side overlooking the river, the engraving revealed:

SIDNEY C.
son of
R & A ELDER
born on
JUNE 30, 1879
died
JAN 20, 1895

 . . . not yet sixteen. I wondered what kind of life he lived. How did he die? Illness? Accident? Who were his friends? How deep was the sorrow of parents and family? On my walk that morning it was a mystery lost to layers of sod and generations.
          Deep in thought, we wandered towards the car. I found comfort knowing that summer’s grasp would soon give way to autumn. The time spent in the cemetery reinforced my joy of life. It made me appreciate all the friends and family close to me. I thought of all the places one can experience on this globe - places that give us joy and strength. At the end of the walk, I felt all the better for having stopped my hustling and bustling to share a moment on the warm hillside.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Lost Plane in Colorado

Al (Stacy) Torres, Jr., standing next to the Torres family's Piper Cherokee, 1969 (Torres family photo).
Lost Plane in Colorado
memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

 Preface:
          Everyone knows that I like an adventure. The most memorable, hair-raising adventure I ever had was when I was eighteen years old. My younger brother and I, along with two friends stumbled upon a plane crash in the remote wilderness of Colorado. The plane had been missing for over seven months.
          Numerous times I have written down memories and thoughts of the events surrounding the tragedy and our discovery. I revisited the crash site in 2009 and eventually made contact with the surviving family in 2014.
          The article below is one that I wrote for the newspaper in La Veta, Colorado, which is the largest town in the area near the crash site. I provided the basic facts around the crash and discovery, but did not go into any detail. I’ve also added some updates at the end of the article.

 1969 plane crash site near Cuchara revisited
by Greg Larson
Special to THE [LA VETA] SIGNATURE – August 13, 2009

           Discovering the crash site of a lost plane is something a person doesn’t forget. I have often thought about the crash I helped discover almost 40 years ago. Something compelled me to return and see what remained at the site.
          The single-engine plane crashed during a snowstorm just north of Trinchera Peak [in southern Colorado] on a ridge line above Bear Lake on October 23, 1969. The flight originated from Belen, New Mexico, with the intended destination of Denver, Colorado. Four persons perished in the crash: Al (Stacy) Torres, Jr., Al Torres, Sr., Lindy Garcia, all three from Belen, NM, and Tom Mayhew of Farmington, NM. Their families had searched the mountains of New Mexico for months, and the First National Bank of Belen had offered $1,000 for information leading to the location of the missing aircraft.
          We discovered the plane crash in May of 1970 on a camping trip with my brother and two friends. At the age of eighteen, I organized the trip along with my younger brother, Tim, who was fourteen. We each had invited a friend from our hometown of Garden City, Kansas, to go camping with us in the Cuchara area. After loading up my ’63 Plymouth, we drove to Bear lake and pitched our tent in the snow, unaware of the missing plane.
          One the morning of May 29, 1970, we discussed where to hike. My brother and I had a strong disagreement on which direction to take. I wanted to hike some of the trails, but Tim wanted to strike out for the ridge. We final agreed to hike to the ridge (12,000 ft. elevation), but I insisted that I would decide when to turn back for camp if we ran into bad weather or started to run out of time.
          The hike through the woods and up to the timberline was difficult; at times we waded through waist-deep snow. After climbing to the top of the basin, Tim and his friend, Craig Letourneau, crossed the ridge first and discovered the crash site on the west side of the mountain. The plane had slammed into the steep, rocky slope about 200 feet below the ridge.
          When my friend, Ron Rupp, and I crossed the ridge, we saw the wreckage; a gruesome scene in the melting snow. It was what I would term a “Twilight Zone” experience. Over the years I’ve tried to blank out what I saw there.
          After recovering the plane’s log book and some identification from one of the bodies, we hurried down the mountain during an afternoon snow squall. Ron and I drove to the general store in Cuchara and contacted the forest ranger.
          Recently [July 2009], I traveled with my wife from Overland Park, Kansas, to revisit the site. When we viewed the basin and ridge high above Bear Lake, I feared we might not be able to find the crash site.
          Three things had to fall into place for a successful revisit: we would need enough physical strength and endurance to climb up to the ridge, my memory would have to direct us to the crash location, and the weather would have to cooperate.
Wife, Gretta, hiking above the clouds and up to the ridge.
          On July 21, 2009, we began an early ascent of the mountain, hiking above the timberline and the clouds and climbing up the steep alpine meadows. We reached the ridge and searched the western slopes for the crash site, but found nothing. As I scanned the slopes one last time, I saw what appeared to be a stake on a cairn below the ridge, and soon realized that it was a metal cross with a rectangular plaque. I carefully climbed down the scree on the steep slope to inspect the memorial.
Greg standing on the ridge at a rock cairn located above the crash site.
          The plaque was inscribed, “IN MEMORY OCTOBER 1969.” The names of the four victims were engraved on the steel, with the birth year next to each name. I was surprised to find only a small amount of debris at the site. Remnants scattered aroundthe memorial included pieces of metal, plastic, and electrical parts.
Memorial cross at the crash site.
          As I looked on the plaque at the birth year of Al (Stacy) Torres, Jr., I was struck by the irony that we were the same age on the date of the crash.
          I’ve had time to reflect upon my revisit to the scene, but questions remain. Why did the victims fly into a snowstorm? What happened to the crash debris? Where was the engine block? What directed us to discover the crash in the vast wilderness? Some questions have no answers. The unforgettable events and experiences surrounding the crash will always be shrouded with some mystery.

Author’s update, July 1, 2018:
          Standing alone at the memorial on the mountainside in 2009 was a deeply moving experience for me. I realized that the family must have built, carried and installed the cross at the crash site. The unanswered questions gnawed at me, so I began a slow search to connect with the Torres family. That search, in itself, was an adventure. In 2014, I received a phone call from Nolbert Torres, the oldest surviving brother. We wept on the phone together as we remembered the past and shared about our families.
          In the Fall of 2014, I traveled to Belen, New Mexico, and spent three days with Nolbert (Nols) and the Torres family, asking questions and swapping family stories. They welcomed me with open arms and treated me as if I were a long-lost family member.
          On the last evening, my brother Tim was able to join me and the Torres family at Nols’ brother’s house (Matt Torres) for a pot-luck dinner and family gathering. We sat out in the cool air of the Rio Grande valley and talked into the night about the stories surrounding the crash. For many younger members of the family, it was the first time they had heard all of the details surrounding the tragedy.
From left to right: Therese Salazar, Bernadette Baca, Matthew Torres, Charlotte Torres - mother of the Torres family, Gerard Torres, Tim Larson, Greg Larson, Nolbert Torres.
           My intention has been to write a detailed book about the Larson and the Torres families and how their lives intersected on a remote ridge in the wilderness, but as we all know, sometimes life’s events create major roadblocks and prevent focus on what seems important.
          My hope now is to finish the project – to provide my perspective from both sides of the tragedy. It is a rich story of two thriving “baby-boomer” families from different areas of the U.S., dealing with and overcoming the horror of death and destruction of the crash, then re-connecting forty years later to give thanks for the lives we have lived. It has definitely been an adventure that continues to this day and beyond.
A timeless view on a serene day at 12,000 ft., in an area of the Sangre de Cristo mountains where severe and unpredictable weather frequently occurs.