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					        Rocky Mountain Refuge: Constructing “Colorado” in Science Fiction

                                     Carl Abbott
                               Portland State University

        Regional identities emerge from the interaction of imaginative representations and
social and economic conditions. Business boosters, novelists, television producers, song
writers, and a range of other contributors to popular culture start with conditions on the
ground, abstract certain elements, and construct imagined regions whose identities take
on trajectories of their own.

         Some regions strike us as pretty solid, grounded in physical geography,
economics, culture, and history, but even the most reliable may be ambiguous at second
glance.1 We think we know where and what New England is—Puritans, town meetings,
Ivy League universities, BoSox fans—until we realize that it has always been deeply
intertwined with French Canada. The South? It has a core, for sure—South Carolina,
Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi—but what about its edges? Is South Florida part of the
South? Texas? Chesapeake Bay? I wrote an entire book about the regional identity of
Washington, DC, a border city that John F. Kennedy called a place of southern efficiency
and northern charm.2 Sometimes regions are purely the creation of regional boosters,
who have, for example, identified two separate Inland Empires in the West.3 Sometimes
we test out new regional descriptors like Sunbelt or Cascadia that may or may not stand
the test of time.4

        Since the early twentieth century, Americans have constructed Colorado as the
epitome of the mountain West. It has simultaneously been the nation’s most accessible
western adventureland and its refuge from the threats of the future. We find the first
Colorado in such disparate sources as tourist promotion pamphlets, the post-World War
II ski culture, and the songs of John Denver, all of which attempted to erase the state’s
troubled industrial past to allow the creation of a new, ahistorical image. We find the
second in the NORAD complex at Cheyenne Mountain, in proposals to relocate the
national capital to Denver to protect it from foreign invasion, and in many works of
speculative fiction.

        Science fiction writers have drawn on both constructed identities—Colorado as
tabula rasa and Colorado as fortress--to imagine Colorado, and the central Rocky
Mountain region more generally, as a frontier of isolation. This essay, which explores
these imagined Colorados, is part of a project to explore the avenues and forms by which
ideas about American regions find their way into science fiction and thus contribute to
the intellectual history of science fiction by examining the origins of commonly shared
ideas and representations.5

        I’ve picked six texts with which to explore future ―Colorado,‖ all written in the
period from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s. Two are monuments of science fiction:
Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle and Walter Miller, Jr., A Canticle for
Leibowitz, with its continuation and supplemental story in Saint Leibowitz and the Wild

Horse Woman. Two are less frequently read works by important science fiction writers:
Ursula Le Guin, City of Illusions and Leigh Brackett, The Long Tomorrow. Two are
fantasies about the contest between good and evil in mainstream best-sellers: Ayn Rand,
Atlas Shrugged and Stephen King, The Stand.6

1. Why Colorado?

         For many twentieth century Americans, ―Colorado‖ was shorthand for the
mountain West. Apart from California, which has been a world of its own, Colorado has
been the most extensively publicized of the western territories and states from the time of
the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858-59. If you were an easterner like Stephen King, a
southerner like Walter Miller, Jr., a Californian like Ursula Le Guin, Leigh Brackett, and
Phillip K. Dick, or a bi-coastal émigré like Ayn Rand, ―Colorado‖ was the easiest stand-
in for the greater interior region of North America that runs from the Mexican states of
Chihuahua and Sonora to Canada’s Yukon and Northwest territories.

        Western railroads and eastern writers made Colorado a prominent tourist
destination as early as the 1870s, when the blood was scarcely dry from the wars that
drove the Cheyennes and Arapahoes from the plains. Front and center was the instant city
of Colorado Springs, conceived and created from the ground up by the Denver and Rio
Grande Railroad and its founder William Jackson Palmer.7 First laid out in 1871, it was
entertaining 25,000 visitors a year before the decade was over, people who enjoyed
Manitou Springs, Cheyenne Canyon, the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River, the Garden
of the Gods, and Pike’s Peak (whose summit could be reached by a cog railway after
1891). It was a fashionable place that by the 1890s had fine hotels, Broadmoor Casino,
and Cheyenne Mountain Country Club for golf and polo. It was the Saratoga of the West
and ―Little London‖ because of the numbers of English visitors—a place splendidly
separated from its region’s Spanish and Indian histories.

         Building on the success of Colorado Springs, tourism spread through the
Colorado mountains with the West’s most extensive travel promotion literature. Coastal
people might know specific sites in Wyoming (Old Faithful) or Montana (Glacier
National Park) or New Mexico (Santa Fe), but they were not likely to have strong
conceptions of ―Wyoming‖ or ―New Mexico‖ as larger regions and communities. They
did have an image of Colorado built from travel books like Richard Harding Davis, The
West from a Car Window (1892), from promotional brochures like Heart of the Rockies
Illustrated, as Reached by the Rio Grande Western Railway, Scenic Line of the World,
and from the actual experience of the DRG’s ―Around the Circle Tour‖ that put a four-
day, 1000-mile loop through Rocky Mountain scenery within reach of middle class

       Colorado was tabula rasa in these tourism depictions, as historian Thomas
Andrews compellingly argues. The tourist landscape ignored the state’ vast industrial
apparatus of mines, company towns, smelters, and slag heaps. The state’s bloody and
troubled history of labor-management violence at Leadville and Cripple Creek and
Ludlow disappeared, as did its communities of Greek, Italian, and Slavic mine and

factory workers. The travel industry effectively erased the industrial landscape to replace
it with an imagery of unspoiled wilderness. As if they did not represent lives of toil,
mining ghost towns became part of the ―natural‖ picturesque landscape, returning
literally to the land as their buildings decayed.9

         Visitors could also start themselves anew, for Colorado competed with Southern
California as a health resort. The air, said physicians and land developers both, was pure,
exhilarating, stimulating, bracing, elastic. It was perfect for people with tuberculosis and
other diseases of the lungs. The altitude itself was said to quicken the life processes. In
response, ―lungers‖ came to Colorado by the tens of thousands in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries, seeking it out as a ―great and beneficial sanatorium.‖ One’s
body could be made anew. Residence at high altitude, said Dr. F. J. Bancroft, caused ―the
narrow in chest to become broad, the relaxed in muscle to grow strong, the thin in flesh to
gain weight.‖ Governor Fred Pitkin’s claim that ―we can almost bring a dead many back
to life‖ was a little strong, but Dr. Samuel Fisk agreed that ―there is a wealth of life stored
up in the dry, sunny climate of this state.10

        The reimagining of Colorado continued after World War II. The story of Aspen is
well known, transformed from a dying mining town into a combination of cultural center
and ski town and then into one of the most fashionable locations in the country. Squeezed
by the rising prices of ―Aspenization,‖ ski bums helped to repeat the process at Crested
Butte, Telluride, and other recreated communities.11 John Denver captured Colorado’s
connection to personal reinvention in his 1973 hit ―Rocky Mountain High,‖ whose first
stanza is statement of rebirth.

       He was born in the summer of his 27th year
       Comin' home to a place he'd never been before
       He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
       You might say he found a key for every door
       But the Colorado rocky mountain high
       I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
       The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
       Rocky mountain high

        Paradoxically, Colorado in the ski bum and hippie eras of the 1950s and 1960s
was also isolated from the more powerful flows of east-west commerce. Until the
Interstate Highway builders shoved I-70 through the Eisenhower Tunnel in 1979.
Colorado was easy to get to, but not so easy to get through. The Southern Pacific and
Santa Fe railroads detoured south around Colorado. So did the famous Route 66 from
Chicago to Los Angeles. The Union Pacific, the original transcontinental railroad,
paralleled the Oregon Trail north of the Colorado mountains, a route followed in turn by
the Lincoln Highway in the 1920s, then U.S. 50 and I-80.

        Colorado’s isolation also interacted in the early years of the Cold War with a
strong national interest in dispersing people and industry outside crowded city centers to

minimize vulnerability to atomic bombing. The idea operated at different scales—
promotion of suburbanization through freeways and beltways, preferential award of
defense contracts to suburban companies, decentralization of federal offices in the
Washington, DC area, and dispersal of military facilities to interior states such as
Colorado.12 A few people also suggested that the national capital might be relocated from
its exposed coastal location on the Potomac River to Denver, where the continent itself
would protect the government from invaders. The idea of uprooting the federal
government never got very far, but Colorado did get its special Cold War fortress in the
form of the underground Cheyenne Mountain operations center for the North American
Aerospace Defense Command.13

2. Versions of refuge:

        None of the authors with whom I’m dealing had a close association with Colorado
or deep experience of the central Rocky Mountain region. Ursula Le Guin’s mother grew
up in Telluride, Colorado, Stephen King spent one year in Boulder in the early 1970s, and
that’s about it. I therefore argue that they were drawing on a widely shared popular sense
of the area’s physical isolation and social newness to construct fictions that reiterate and
reinforce that very sense of isolation.

        They imagine Colorado in three ways: As a remnant society or location, as an
isolated refuge, and as a place to restart a better social system.

Remnant                  Refuge                  Restart
Rand                     Rand                    Rand
                         Brackett                Brackett
                         Le Guin
Miller                   Miller                  Miller
                         King                    King

         Philip K. Dick was a Californian, not a Coloradoan. His only obvious connection
was that his parents passed through the state, including the town of Canon City, on a road
trip in 1929 when Dick was a babe in arms.14 Nevertheless, Colorado serves as the
counterpose to California. As every science fiction reader knows, The Man in the High
Castle depicts an alternative history in which the Axis powers won World War II. The
Nazis occupy the eastern half of the former United States and are busy expanding its
industrial power under the skilled direction of Nazi master organizer Albert Speer. Japan
controls California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada through the puppet Pacific States
of America. In between are the Rocky Mountain States, nominally independent but
―loosely bonded to the PSA.‖15 The ―Colorado‖ action moves along the Front Range
from Canon City to Denver to Cheyenne, Wyoming (fewer than ten miles north of the
state line and essentially part of the Front Range metropolitan region).

        The Rocky Mountain States are a buffer and backwater. They include Colorado,
Utah, Wyoming, the eastern part of Nevada, the ―open empty desert states‖ and the
―pasture states‖ of the Great Plains. There is nothing there for the young and ambitious,
unlike the ―East Americans‖ who ―like the big time.‖ Juliana Frink, who is stuck in
Canon City, comments to a visitor: ―This is just the sticks to you, the Rockies. Nothing
has happened here since the war. Retired old people, farmers, the stupid, slow, poor …
and all the smart boys have flocked east to New York, crossed the border legally or

        Colorado was the most convenient representative for remnant America because it
could be viewed as generically western and historically unencumbered. It lacked the
social complications that would have ensued had Dick picked Utah with its Mormon
heritage or New Mexico with its Hispano population. Few Americans in the 1950s
remembered the Colorado Indian wars and the Sand Creek Massacre (the state’s past had
no Indians as famous as Sitting Bull, Cochise, or Chief Joseph). The state’s mining
history with its complex ethnic labor force was easy to forget. This ordinariness of
Colorado is a point that Dick makes with intended irony when it turns out the reclusive
author Hawthorne Abendsen lives not in the rumored fortress. ―guns all over the place . . .
charged barbed wire around the place, and it’s set in the mountains‖ but on the outskirts
of Cheyenne in ―a single-story stucco house with many shrubs and a good deal of garden
made up mostly of climbing roses.‖17 The communities along the Front Range, in short,
are remnant America. They are physically marked with the sorts of suburban subdivisions
that would stipple the entire continent in a world in which the Allies won and are thus a
refuge for American values as they are under pressure from occupying powers east and

        In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) Colorado plays its dual role much more
explicitly, first as remnant and then as refuge.

        For the first, the American economy is imploding under the pressures of labor
unions, socialism, and bureaucratic parasitism in the early sections of the sprawling
novel. The collapsing United States refers back to Rand’s personal history, bearing a
strong resemblance to Russia in the early 1920s under the stress of transition to
communism as incompetent workers’ committees and inept government officials try to
supplant the captains of industry.18 Colorado is the potential saving remnant, the last
place where vigorous capitalism survives, perhaps because of its distance from coastal
corruption—a vestige of heroic entrepreneurial America rather than everyday America as
in High Castle. The heroine Dagny Taggart strives to keep alive her family’s vast
transcontinental railroad empire, even as the nation’s industries shut down, by building a
new spur line into Colorado to serve its still growing economy. The line is a success but
the national government soon passes a draconian version of antitrust legislation, the line
is crushed, and even the Colorado economy begins to wither—what Rand in her notes for
the novel and in the book itself called ―the destruction of Colorado.‖19

        Seven hundred pages in, at the transition to the novel’s third section, Colorado
transitions from remnant to refuge. Dagny Taggart stumbles onto—crashes into—the

secret refuge of great men who have been abandoning the nation. She finds the refuge
only by accident when she crashes her small plane because it is a Colorado mountain
valley that is protected by ―refractor rays‖ that project a concealing mirage.20 ―Galt’s
Gulch,‖ a the spectacularly scenic basin deep in the Colorado Rockies, is where the
nation’s best minds—inventors, scientists, artists, entrepreneurs—have gathered to live as
an idyllic, market-based ―community‖ in isolation from the larger society that hobbled
and disrespected them. Under the refractor screen, amidst towering cliffs, crashing
waterfalls, and soaring trees, titans and geniuses live in comfort as self-satisfied refugees
who have gone on strike from the ignorance, greed, and stupidity of the ―looters,‖ the
ordinary people whom they, and Rand, despise.

        The valley itself has made a quick transition from playground to fortress. Banker
Midas Mulligan acquired it originally as a private retreat. He bought it piecemeal ―from
ranchers and cattlemen who didn’t know what they owned,‖ thus enacting the erasure of
the resource production landscape in favor of a leisure landscape that Thomas Andrews
has analyzed. Mulligan continues that ―the valley is not listed on any map‖ (an
extraordinary improbability that would have been laughable in 1950s Colorado if not in
L.A. or New York). He ―cut off all possible avenues of approach, except one road—and
it’s camouflaged beyond anyone’s power to discover. . . . . so that I could live here for the
rest of my life and never have to see the face of a looter.‖21

         Rand modeled Galt’s Gulch on Ouray, Colorado, an old mining town at the head
of the Uncompahgre River. She picked it from a map (as she did many of her settings for
the novel) but visited it in 1949. She raved that she had fallen in love with Colorado as
―the most beautiful part of the country‖ and told a correspondent that she couldn’t wait
―to tell you about the valley we discovered.‖ A decade later she called Ouray ―the most
beautifully dramatic spot in the whole state, and it’s surrounded by a ring of mountains
(though Galt’s Valley would be somewhat larger).‖ 22 There’s no evidence, of course, that
Rand ever did a systematic comparison with other claimants to Colorado’s scenic
crown—Telluride or the Dallas Divide or Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National
Park—but Ouray was indeed spectacular and extremely isolated in 1951.

       The hidden valley is a familiar trope. Everyone on the 1940s knew about Shangri-
La through James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon (1933) and the movie version with Ronald
Colman and Jane Wyatt (1937), especially everyone who, like Rand, had connections
with the film industry. One of her favorite books as a child had been The Mysterious
Valley, a French-language adventure-fantasy for children set deep in the Himalayas.
Written in the well-developed mode of imperial fantasies like H. Rider Haggard’s King
Solomon’s Mines (1885), Rand’s childhood favorite matched the hidden valley with
manly, thinking heroes like the rational capitalisms of Atlas Shrugged.23

        Rand also imagined a special sort of hidden valley—an American West sort of
valley. As Jennifer Burns notes, the powerful individuals who gather there practice
western informality and represent the producer ideology against the corrupt eastern
establishment.24 They thus reflect a long line of western protest against the parasitism of
eastern corporations, although Rand presumably abhorred the cooperative or collectivism

forms that such protest had historically taken in the Granger movement, Populism, and
radical labor organizing through the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial
Workers of the World. It is the West of mythical individualism that makes Colorado the
suitable place for tycoons to take refuge and plot the retaking of America.

         Leigh Brackett, a novelist and Hollywood screenwriter like Rand, anticipated
Galt’s Gulch by two years in The Long Tomorrow (1955). Eighty years after ―the War,‖
the United States has adopted a new constitutional amendment: ―No city, no town, no
community of more than one thousand people or two hundred buildings to the square
mile shall be built or permitted to exist anywhere in the United States of America.‖ With
results that mirror the ultimate decline of Rand’s imagined collectivized America,
technology has reverted to level of the early 1800s, although doddering grandmothers
recall the wonders of the mid-twentieth century. The surviving nation is a set of small
farming settlements and trading towns linked by annual trading fairs and steamboats. It is
a ―wide and cityless land, the green, slow, comfortable agrarian land in which only a few
old folk could remember the awesome cities that had dominated the world before the

        The action revolves around young Len Colter, a name that echoes early explorer
and mountain man John Colter. Len flees the enforced limits of the formally conservative
society. He takes a steam-powered barge down the Ohio, upstream into the Mississippi,
and then into the wide Missouri. Burning cord after cord of wood to breast the current
and navigate the treacherous channels, ―for days they wallowed up the chutes of the Big
Muddy.‖ The country changes from rolling forest to grey-green plain that seems to ―go
on and on over the rim of the world.‖ At the mouth of the Platte River the group switches
to mule-drawn wagons for a trek southwestward across the ―large and lonely prairie.‖ In
the cottonwood groves along the streams are isolated ranches whose residents harvest the
great herds of wild cattle. At a rendezvous along the South Platte (where small fur trading
posts could have been found in the 1830s and 1840s), they meet other wagons that have
come up the Arkansas Valley or eastward over South Pass following other historic
trading routes. Finally their route penetrates through red rock canyons deep into the heart
of the Colorado Rockies.26

         Deep behind the wall of the Front Range is a forward-looking community built on
the past. The ordinary silver-mining town of Fall Creek is cover for Bartorstown, a refuge
where science is kept alive, concealed by indirection rather than gizmo technology from
the knowledge of nomads and farmers. Occasional visitors see only an ordinary mountain
settlement. As one of the residents comments, ―main thing is to look like everybody else,
and then they don’t notice you.‖27 Outsiders don’t know that behind a steel blast door
deep in the old mine shafts the pre-Destruction government had built a secret research
facility, whose original staff of 40 swelled into the hundreds with post-collapse refugees.
For the past decades technicians and scientists have been tending a 1950s-style
supercomputer and trying to find a ways to tame atomic energy and reintroduce advanced
technology that will not lead to war. In the 2030s, Len Colter thus finds a self-conscious
refuge for scientists and engineers of the sort Rand admired, although the community’s

goal is not self-satisfied innovation and entrepreneurship but the technical and social
control of new technology.28

        Ursula Le Guin took her protagonist on a similar transcontinental trek in her
early novel City of Illusions (1967). Far into the future, North America has been nearly
abandoned by humans and there remain scattered, quiet settlements and ruins of older
times. The hero Falk, suffering loss of memory, awakens in the eastern forest and heads
westward in search of the great city of the Shing, the people who have made themselves
the masters of Earth. His journey retraces the route of nineteenth century pioneers–and of
Len Colter–across great rivers and vast prairies and finally reaches the alien city of Es
Toch that soars into the sky on both sides of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River—a
location that curiously, is only forty miles from Ouray as the flying saucer flies.

        Es Toch is isolated in both site and function. To reach it on foot is ―to clamber
over the roof-tree of a continent. Range after range of mountains rose; day after day the
two crept upward into the world of the heights, and still their goal lay farther up and
farther on . . . One great mountain bulwark remained to cross, and for four days they
climbed it, till the air grew thin and icy, the sky dark blue, and the sun of April shone
dazzling on the fleecy backs of clouds that grazed the meadows far beneath their way.‖
Falk finally surmounts the last mountain bulwark where ―the air grew thin and icy, the
sky dark blue‖ to reach first a scattering of shabby suburbs and then ―jutting up over the
shanty roofs, the walls of windowless green towers, bright in the sunlight.‖ The city itself
is spectacular:

       The City of the Lords of Earth was built on the two rims of a canyon, a
       tremendous cleft through the mountains, narrow, fantastic, its black walls striped
       with green plunging terrifically down half a mile to the silver tinsel strip of a river
       in the shadowy depths. On the very edges of the facing cliffs the towers of the city
       jutted up, hardly based on earth at all, linked across the chasm by delicate bridge-
       spans. Towers, roadways and bridges ceased and the wall closed the city off again
       just before a vertiginous bend of the canyon.29

        Es Toch is one of a kind, a center of high culture and technology is a primitive
society. There are no other cities in North America, just then roaming tribes and
rudimentary settlements on the plains and eastern forests in one direction and vast open,
unpeopled territory westward to the Pacific in the other. It is simultaneously a command
post, a mountain-moated fortress, and a place of safety for the Shing. It was not the
reality of the city that was overwhelming [to Falk], but its unreality. This was not a Place
of Men. Es Toch gave no sense of history, of reaching back in time and out in space,
though it had ruled the world for a millennium. . . . Though there were said to be so many
of the Lords, yet on Earth they kept only this one city, held apart . . . Es Toch was self-
contained, self-nourished, rootless. . . . a hollow place. It was the Place of the Lie. Ye it
was wonderful, like a carved jewel fallen in the vast wilderness of the Earth: wonderful,
timeless, alien.30

        Why the Black Canyon? Le Guin stopped there in the 1950s on a vacation trip
after visiting her mother’s home town of Telluride and had a fright when her two very
young children disappeared over the edge of the lookout (they had jumped down safely to
a second ledge). The incident inscribed the canyon in her memory: ―It gave me, you
could say, an uneasy feeling about the canyon. But it was beautiful and strange, and I
began imagining what if you built a city in it.‖31 For Le Guin and her character Falk, the
canyon in the heart of the Colorado mountains was fascinating and awe-inspiring. For Le
Guin and her characters the Shing, it was a place with no past occupants to deal with or
wipe away, where a city could be imagined or built ab ovo. Colorado is the empty planet.

        Walter Miller, Jr., writing one of the canonical books of science fiction, located
multiple remnants and refuges both on the Colorado Piedmont, within the valleys of the
Rockies, and in the intermountain desert on the western slope of the Rockies .A Canticle
for Leibowitz (1959) is one of the most popular and highly regarded science fiction books
of the post-World War II era. Generations after the Flame Deluge destroyed civilization
in nuclear war, the monks of an Abbey dedicated to the Blessed Leibowitz work tirelessly
to salvage books and documents from the old time and carefully copy them by hand. In
so doing, they carry on the legacy of Isaac Leibowitz, a scientist-survivor of the holocaust
who began to save books from angry mobs. Deep within West, the monastery is both a
remnant and a refuge where the monks can hope to carry on their work undisturbed.

        Where exactly is the abbey? The introductory ―Note‖ to the sequel Saint
Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman says that it is in ―the Southwest Desert.‖ A fan
site on Wikipedia with its own map redrawn from the books opts for the vicinity of Green
River or Moab, Utah, a few miles west of the Utah-Colorado border, but the scale is a bit
untrustworthy.32 From the evidence of the books, we can say that the abbey is definitely
west of the mountain rampart formed by the Sangre de Christo Range and Front Range
and north of the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area. Perhaps the most precise location is found in
the sequel Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (1999). The map that posthumous
collaborator Terry Bisson developed at great pains placed it at Abiquiu, New Mexico,
where there is indeed a present-day Benedictine monastery.33 Although technically not
Colorado, those northern counties of New Mexico are culturally continuous with the Sam
Luis Valley of southern Colorado and have long been economically integrated with the
Colorado economy.34

        A second refuge figures prominently in Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse
Woman where the Papacy, expelled from New Rome at the site of the earlier city if St.
Louis, has relocated to Valana, part of the Denver Free State. This is a new city located,
according to Terry Bisson, at the site of Colorado Springs. ―Valana had grown up rapidly
around an ancient hilltop fortress which had in earlier centuries been a bastion of defense
by the mountain people against the more savage Nomads of an earlier age. . . . Before the
exiled papacy had moved here, the city had become a sort of middle kingdom among the
contiguous communities of the populated region, where merchants traded with miners for
silver and pelts, with Nomads for hides and meat, and with farmers for meat and corn‖35

        New Jerusalem is a pure refuge rather than remnant. It is a settlement of gennies
(genetically handicapped) refuges from the Ozarks and other areas under the control of
the Texark Empire. The ―isolation of New Jerusalem . . . . its resources and natural
defenses, made it the largest congregation of genetically dubious persons outside the
Valley, [of the Misborn, in the Watchit-Ol’zarkia region] and most appealing as a
sanctuary for permanent fugitives.‖36 It is located in/over the first ranges of the Rockies,
which would put it somewhere around the margins of the San Luis Valley or the valley of
South Park. They work an old silver mine and keep themselves isolated. To get to New
Jerusalem from Valana requires winding across the mountains to the western side, where
there is rain and flowing streams and orchards of apples, cherries, pears, and peaches.37

        The Abbey is more than a refuge because its efforts to conserve past knowledge
are a starting place for the reinvention of science. The second section, ―Fiat Lux,‖ centers
on the initiation of a new scientific revolution in which both the Abbey’s monks and its
carefully preserved archives play an important role in such fields as the exploration and
development of electricity. It is thus the site for a very explicit rediscovery and restart of
techno-scientific culture and society.38

         In Stephen King’s very hefty horror-suspense novel The Stand (1978), Colorado
is less a refuge than a place for beginning again.39 Accidental release of a continually
mutating influenza from a biological warfare laboratory kills the vast majority of
Americans. A handful of survivors come together from scattered points in the South and
the Northeast, working their way westward from Maine and Texas to a first rendezvous
point at a Nebraska farm, and then to the middle landscape of Boulder, Colorado. Here
they pause to work with other survivors to rebuild a Free Zone and get the electricity
working. There are a few dozen at first, then a few hundred by the time their first
Colorado winter closes in the town, then something like 11,000 by the following April.

         Why Boulder? Think Celestial Seasonings tea, a brand founded in Boulder in
1969 and grown during the 1970s. Think hippie environmentalists and the city’s
pioneering efforts to preserve its character by establishing a greenbelt of open space.
King lived in what outsiders sometimes called the People’s Republic of Boulder in 1974-
75, while he wrote The Shining, at the height of its hipness and attractiveness. That was
just a few years before Boulder would seem a suitable setting for Robin Williams to play
an ET from the planet Ork on Mork and Mindy (1978-82)—a show that would not have
worked as well if set in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. Or as Connie Willis put it in her
social satire Bellwether, ―Boulder’s almost terminally hip. The rest of the state calls it the
People’s Republic of Boulder, and it’s got every possible kind of New Ager abd falafel
stand and street musician.‖40

        Visionary images call The Stand’s survivors to Boulder. So do the dreams of
hundred-year-old Abagail Freemantle, who sees herself going west. ―at first with just a
few people, then a few more, then a few more. West, always going west, until I could see
the Rocky Mountains. … and there would be signs . . . . no, not signs from God but
regular road signs, and everyone one of them saying things like BOULDER, COLORADO,
609 MILES or THIS WAY TO BOULDER.‖41 Mother Abagail’s dreams draw the key band of

pilgrims whom she joins to complete the trek to Boulder. And Boulder, it turns out, is
relatively a blank slate because most of its residents seem to have tidied up and left town
before the plague hit; the corpses are few and the houses habitable

         King sets Boulder in contrast to Las Vegas. Other survivors, attracted by evil
rather than good, pass directly through Colorado on they way to Vegas, that seemingly
most artificial of cities.42 Las Vegas is the center for an alternative empire in the far
western states (there is a shadow of Mordor in the geography, with Las Vegas situated
with the rings of mountain ranges that create the Great Basin of Nevada and adjacent
states). In juxtaposing the two places, King directly inverts the values of Atlas Shrugged.
The bad guys, led by the fantastically powered Randall Flagg, create a place of rigorously
enforced rules and order guided by objective thought. Flagg is, the Boulderites realize,
―the last magician of rational thought, gathering the tools of technology.‖43 Residents of
the Free Zone, in contrast, are open to the tides of emotion and spiritual leadings and
even practice the Randian bête-noire or self-sacrifice and altruism.44

        In Boulder, those who are immune to the call of power buckle down to the nitty-
gritty of reconstituting civil society. The several hundred residents come together at the
Chautauqua Auditorium--a real place located right where the towns gives way to
mountain parks and one that harkens back to earlier American traditions of community.
They restore symbols of community by reaffirming the Declaration of Independence and
the Constitution. They create a steering committee and hold town meetings. They
organize work groups to scavenge for supplies in Denver, to repair the power plant, and
to bury Boulder’s dead. At the end of the novel, the Zoners of Boulder are free to set their
own course–which involves hiving off new settlements before the town grows
dangerously into a city again.

        The Zoners, as mentioned, have tried to create a non-Randian society of
cooperation and community, but they share with the Galt’s Gulchers the opportunity and
necessity to start from scratch. King also echoes a touch of Walter Miller’s pessimism.
Some of the Boulderites at the end of the story have begun to worry about the
establishment of new hierarchies of authority and power, perhaps essential for a growing
community but still deeply disturbing. A Canticle for Leibowitz, of course, shows the
entire cycle of knowledge, hubris, and disaster repeating itself, where King hints
tentatively at the possibility and Brackett offers the concerned scientist as the solution to
controlling the genie that can’t be rebottled.


        This discussion of Colorado as refuge in stories of near and far futures is
implicitly an argument for highlighting place as well as politics and culture as a positive
element in the imaginative process of science fiction. For fiction situated on the future
Earth, places are not simply containers for action. They can also take active roles in the
construction of the future by fixing expectations and bringing popular understandings
into play.45

         I have been making the case that ―Colorado‖ has functioned both as background
and as actor. Its image and identity in popular culture has enabled authors to use the
Colorado setting to evoke shared responses that circle around the ideas of isolation,
safety, and opportunity for rebirth. At the same time, that common understanding allows
the setting itself to shape the responses of the human characters to each other and to their
situation as well as their setting. The refugees in The Stand like Boulder, and they are
motivated to defend their fragile community in part because it is such a nice, John
Denver-like place to reconstruct civil society. Protagonists in The Man in the High Castle
can take risks because they are protected from the daily influence of Japanese and
German authority. The industrialists in Galt’s Gulch and the technocrats in Bartorstown
have chosen to hide in the Colorado mountains because they represent isolation, even
though there are parts of the American West that were and are more remote and
unreachable in fact.

         In these functions, we can juxtapose the relatively simple or straightforward
conceptualization of Colorado to a more complexly imagined California. Most of us
would agree that future San Francisco and future Los Angeles take on active identities
that draw on popular culture images of the two places. San Francisco is a city of
creativity in the work of Pat Murphy and William Gibson and a city with a soul—quite
literally in Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness. In work too numerous to catalog, Los
Angeles is the city of the next thing. Whatever is coming, it’s coming first to Southern
California—social breakdown or technological transformation, defended neighborhoods
or arcologies, Asian invasion or android infiltration.

         This juxtaposition reminds us that the American West can play a variety of roles
in visions of the American future, and that these visions draw on and reinforce
distinctions among our different ―frontier‖ regions. Colorado remains a very nineteenth-
century sort of place in the books I’ve discussed, a frontier where land and landscape will
continue to loom large. California is a frontier not of land but of aspiration, technology,
and extra-continental connections—a place that we imagine will cast off its present with
its past in search of its future.46 The Great Plains represent cultural stasis in Pamela
Sargent’s Venus of Dreams (an extension of the conservative message of Laura Ingalls
Wilder’s ―Little House‖ books). The Southwest, if we accept Leslie Marmon Silko’s
Almanac of the Dead as speculative fiction, is a borderland frontier where cultural
competition and conflict set the regional identity. Historians, geographers, and American
studies scholars have long emphasized the many different ―wests‖ within the West, an
understanding that this essay has tried to deepen and extend from the past and present
into the imagined future.47

1. For standard sources on American regions, see Raymond Gastil, Cultural Regions of

the United States (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975); Wilbur Zelinsky, The

Cultural Geography of the United States (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973);

Joel Garreau, The Nine Nations of North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981);

Edward L. Ayers, Patricia Nelson Limerick, Stephen Nissenbaum, and Peter S. Onuf, All

Over the Map: Rethinking American Regions (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University

Press, 1996), and geographer D. W. Meinig’s magisterial four-volume study The Shaping

of America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986-2004).

2. Carl Abbott, Political Terrain: Washington, D.C. from Tidewater Town to Global

Metropolis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

3. One Inland Empire centers on Riverside and San Bernardino, California and the other

on Spokane, Washington. See Katherine Morrissey, Mental Territories: Mapping the

Inland Empire (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).

4. Carl Abbott, "New South, New West, New Region: The Discovery of the Sunbelt," in

Raymond Mohl, ed., Searching for the Sunbelt (Knoxville: University of Tennessee

Press, 1990) and ―That Long Western Border: Canada, the United States, and a Century

of Economic Change,‖ in John M. Findlay and Ken Coates, eds., Parallel Destinies:

Canadian-American Relations West of the Rockies (Seattle: University of Washington

Press, 2002).

5. Carl Abbott, Frontiers Past and Future: Science Fiction and the American West

(Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006).

6. I have not included Michael Bishop, Unicorn Mountain (New York: William Morrow,

1988) because it is explicitly fantasy rather than science fiction. Nevertheless, it depicts

Colorado as refuge in very explicit terms as a young man dying of AIDS comes to die

and to find spiritual rest on a southern Colorado ranch. The setting is presented with

great, realistic detail, with the town of ―Huerfano‖ standing in for Walsenberg and

―Remuda County‖ for Huerfano County. There are also Ute Indian spirit journeys and

unicorns involved in the processes of sacrifice and healing. Bishop lived in Colorado

Springs from 1968 to 1972, when popular culture was discovering/rediscovering

Colorado. Thanks to Terry Bisson for reminding me about Bishop’s book.

7. Kathleen Brosnan, Uniting Mountain and Plain: Cities, Law, and Environmental

Change along the Front Range (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002),

pp. 91-117; Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, and Thomas J. Noel, Colorado: A History

of the Centennial State (Fourth edition: Boulder: Colorado University Press of Colorado,

2005), pp. 220-239.

8. Richard Harding Davis, The West from a Car Window (New York: Harper and Bros.,

1892), 270; David Wrobel, Promised Lands: Promotion, Memory and the Creation of the

Modern American West (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002), 21-23; Abbott,

Leonard, and Noel, Colorado, pp. 227-28.

9. Thomas G. Andrews, ―’Made by Toile’? Tourism, Labor, and the Construction of the

Colorado Landscape, 1858-1917, Journal of American History, 92 (3):

10. F. J. Bancroft, pamphlet written for Colorado Territorial Board of Immigration,

quoted in Carl Ubbelohde, A Colorado Reader (Boulder; Pruett, 1962); S. A. Fisk,

―Colorado for the Invalid,‖ Popular Science Monthly, 25 (July 1884): 313.

11 Alpine skiing is, of course, a Germanic activity brought to the U.S. by German,

Austrian, and Swiss instructors, and thus one more erasure of the state’s multiethnic past.

See Annie Gilbert Coleman, ―The Unbearable Whiteness of Skiing,‖ Pacific Historical

Review, 65 (Nov. 1996): 583-614; Duke Richey

12 Margaret Pugh O’Mara, Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for

the Next Silicon Valley (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005; Michael

Dudley, ―Sprawl as Strategy: City Planners Face the Bomb,‖ Journal of Planning

Education and Research, 21 (2001): 52-63.

13. NORAD, which dates to the post-Sputnik year 1958, began work on a mile-long

tunnel and blast-hardened chambers in 1961 moved its operations deep into the mountain

in 1966.

14. Greg Rickman, To the High Castle: Philip K. Dick: A Life 1928-1962 (Long Beach,

CA: Fragments West/The Valentine Press, 1989), p. 367.

15. Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1962),


16. Dick, High Castle, pp. 34, 36.

17. Dick, High Castle, pp. 85, 231.

18. Anne C. Heller, Ayn Rand and the World She Made (New York: Doubleday, 2009),

pp. 193-94; Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right

(New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 135.

19. David Harriman, ed., Journals of Ayn Rand (New York: Dutton, 1992), p. 704.

20. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Dutton 1992), p. 704.

21 Rand, Atlas Shrugged, p. 747.

22. Ayn Rand to Pincus Berman, Sept. 10, 1949 and Rand to John Hospers, Aug. 29,

1960, in Michael S. Berliner, ed., Letters of Ayn Rand (New York: Dutton, 1995), pp.

456, 509.

23. Heller, Ayn Rand, pp. 12-14.

24. Burns, Goddess of the Market, pp. 169-70.

25 Leigh Bracket, The Long Tomorrow (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1955), p. 14.
Also see Diana Parkin-Sper, ―Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow: A Quest for the
Future America,‖ Extrapolation, 26 (Summer 1985) and Donna M. DeBlasio, ―Future
Imperfect: Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow,‖ in Carl Yoke, ed., Phoenix from the
Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World (Greenwood, 1987), pp. 97-103.

26. Brackett, Long Tomorrow, pp. 134, 136, 139.

27 . Brackett, Long Tomorrow, p. 152. In case indirection doesn’t work, the town and

facility are also guarded by the equivalent of closed circuit television and hemmed in by

the mountains: ―The cliffs were too steep to climb, the narrow gorge of the stream bed

was too broker and treacherous with falls and rockslides . . . the site had been carefully

picked, and it had not changed in a century. The eyes of Bartorstown watched, the ears

listened, and the hidden death was always ready in the winding lower pass‖ (p. 196).

28 Brackett makes this point in a dialog between Len and Bartorstowners (Long

Tomorrow, p. 177).

       ―Someday atomic power will come back no matter what anybody does to stop it.‖

       ―A thing once known always comes back.‖

       ―And the cities will come back too.‖

       ―In time, inevitably.‖

       ―And it will happen all over again, the cities and the bomb, unless you find tat

way to stop it.‖

       ―Unless men have changed a lot by tomorrow, yes.‖

       ―Them,‖ said Len, still frowning, still somber, ―then I guess you’re trying to do

what out to be done.‖

29.Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels (Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday Inc,

pp 290, 292-93, 294-95.

30. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, pp. 327-28.

31. Ursula Le Guin, personal communication, April 18, 2010.

32. It

is also definitely not in Arizona where another fan site places it.

33. Terry Bisson, personal communication, April 23, 2010 and ―A Canticle for Miller,‖ at

34. Richard Nostrand, The Hispano Homeland (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,

1982); Sarah Deutsch, No Separate Refuge: Culture, Class, and Gender on an Anglo-

Hispanic Frontier in the American Southwest, 1880-1940 (New York: Oxford University

Press, 1987).

35. Walter M. Miller Jr., Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (New York:

Bantam, 1997), pp. 83-84.

36. Miller, Saint Leibowitz, p. 169.

37. Miller’s geography is slightly off here. Colorado’s orchard country is found further

west around Fruita, Paonia, and Grand Junction.

38. The reimagining of early scientific discoveries of the Renaissance and early modern

eras has become a reported topic in the work of Kim Stanley Robinson, particularly in

Years of Rice and Salt and Galileo’s Dreams.

39. The Stand ran over 800 pages as originally published in 1978 and more than 1150

pages in its ―complete and uncut‖ edition of 1978.

40. Connie Willis, Bellwether (New York: Bantam, 1996), p. 54. She also comments that

―lots of fads have come out of Seattle recently . . . Before that, fads usually started in

L.A., and before that, New York. Lately Boulder’s shown signs of becoming the next

trend center‖ (p. 28).

41. Stephen King, The Stand (New York: Gramercy Books, 1978), p. 513.

42 Some of the Vegas-bound travelers find the Eisenhower Tunnel under Loveland Pass

blocked by an eight-mile traffic jam of crashed and crushed vehicles and reference the

John Denver song, which was ubiquitous in the years when King was writing The Stand:

―Colorado Rocky Mountain high, Trashcan Man thought, I’ve seen it raining Chevies in

the sky‖ (p. 607).

43. King, The Stand, p. 919.

44. The strongest of the Free Zone settlers take the up the burden of traveling over the

crest of the mountains and across the desert to confront physical evil with spiritual

strength. The showdown comes in the heart of Vegas in front of the MGM Grand Hotel.

In the end, the snake of evil devours itself when the most crazed of Flagg’s followers

appears with a live atomic bomb that Flagg accidentally detonates. The handful of

Boulderites who have confronted Flagg become a sacrifice as the entire city vanishes in

blast and fire.

45. Science fiction readers and scholars are intimately familiar with the many of the ways

that the structures of everyday life and the concerns of popular culture have framed both

deliberate and the implicit choices of topics and narratives. Science fiction critiqued the

United States as a consumer’s republic long before historians articulated the concept. The

cultural assumptions of postwar domesticity played out as texts and countertexts in the

1950s and 1960s, followed by the changing assumptions of second wave feminism and

post-feminism. We are familiar with the differences between Cold War science fiction

and Vietnam era science fiction. We have science fiction shaped by the shock of the

1970s energy crunch and the long-term fears of global climate change, by the information

technology revolution, and by the globalization of popular culture. These aspects of

social and economic life have entered science fiction as explicit topics, as political

agendas, and as background assumptions that give author and reader common ground. I

propose that we pay equal attention to place.

46. Stan Robinson’s ―Three Californias‖ are an exception, given his deep sense of

Orange County as a place.

47. See David Wrobel and Michael Steiner, eds., Many Wests: Place, Culture, and

Regional Identity (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997).


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