Road Stories

My Kind of Traffic Jam


The weather can be fickle to a photographer. Last week I drove to Alamosa, Colorado, to interview and photograph horseman Blue Allen for an upcoming training story. “This day trip required little packing, no airport security, and I’d be back home by midnight,” I thought as I cruised down Highway 285, over Poncha Pass, and dropped into the San Luis Valley.

A high-desert alpine basin surrounded by mountains, the San Luis Valley is a geological gem and rich in agriculture. At an elevation averaging 7,700 feet above sea level, the region is known for harsh winters, heavy winds and a mild climate conducive to farming in the summer. But as those of us who live in the Rocky Mountains say, “Give it an hour and the weather will change.”

When I arrived at Blue’s training facility it was a sunny 84 degrees with a light breeze. As the afternoon turned to evening, however, storm clouds cloaked the sun and any hope of warm evening light for our photo-shoot was shattered.

Blue and I decided to reschedule our photo-shoot for early the next morning. So much for being back home by midnight. As I drove to a friend’s house where I was bunking for the night, I encountered a traffic jam on a rural, two-lane highway. The congestion wasn’t from motorized vehicles, though, but rather a procession of horse-drawn buggies. As I inched down the highway, I wondered if I’d driven back in time.

I regularly visit the San Luis Valley, but I didn’t realize there was an Amish colony there.

At a crossroads sat a community hall with a gravel parking area lined with horses and buggies. Some of the horses were still hitched to their carts and tied to the fence, while others were turned loose in a corral. The juxtaposition of buggies on one side of the road and automobiles parked on the other made me stop.

Young girls wearing bonnets and dresses with white pinafores held hands in a circle while singing ring-around-the-rosy and jumping on a trampoline. Off to the side, teenaged boys in white blouses and black overalls leaned against a storage trailer and whispered to each other. Inside the building was a smorgasbord of home-cooked food, prepared and served by the women of this Amish community. For a nominal donation, anyone could attend the feast. Hundreds of pies baked for the Amish school fund-raiser sold within an hour, and the largest, ripest, chemical-free tomatoes I’d ever seen sold for $2 a pound.

Many of the horses the Amish use are draft- and Standardbred crosses.

It was a mixing of cultures–the Amish, local farmers and ranchers, and town folk–and everyone was smiling and sharing. I perused the parking lot for an hour, admiring the horses and visiting with their Amish owners. Though the Amish lifestyle is vastly different from mine, horses were our common ground, and for a moment I forgot about my postponed photo-shoot.

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