A Dream Fulfilled… for Love, for Wildlife, Forever
“This has been my dream,” Willetta Larson said to her husband, Galen Larson, as she showed him the 360-acre property in Cortez, Colorado, that would become their beloved home for many years. Galen says that he and Willetta were originally looking for about 35 acres, but when Willetta found this property it spoke to her. With no road access, they had to walk half a mile across a field so she could show him the land. As they stood together taking in the view, Galen saw how special the land was and how much it meant to Willetta, and the two embraced, sharing the feeling that this land was exactly where they needed to be. They resolved to make the dream a reality, which meant selling other properties and using all available resources—and doing a little borrowing.
A couple years later, they considered building a house on the land but decided that it just wasn’t necessary for their happiness. “What I want to do is spend time outside,” Galen recalls Willetta telling him, and he felt the same way, so they happily continued living in their doublewide trailer overlooking the canyon. There are, in fact, amazing views in all directions on this property… pinyon and juniper forests, Sleeping Ute Mountain, the San Juan Mountains, and the La Plata Mountains, not to mention close-up views of the birds and chipmunks who come to enjoy the birdseed Galen provides on their deck.
A stream that never runs dry enables wildlife to flourish here year round, while an abundance of native grasses provide food and cover for birds and small mammals. “We’ve also got bears, deer, bobcats, mountain lions, beavers, rabbits,” says Galen, “and there are eagles we’ve been watching for many years.” A veggie garden Galen and Willetta started became a source of interest for some of the wildlife, but they never minded. Galen says he and Willetta felt, “We’ve got enough for ourselves, so we can share.” Recalling a time when raccoons got into their corn, Galen laughs and says, “Well, they just had a big picnic!”
Willetta’s love of the land and wildlife continued to be a special focus throughout her life. Near the end, Galen says, she asked him to promise he would find a way to protect the land for wildlife forever. Honoring Willetta’s request eventually led Galen to the Wildlife Land Trust, which now permanently protects the land as a wildlife sanctuary, but Galen still worries about the future wellbeing of wildlife in the surrounding area.
“It’s going to be a tough struggle here for wildlife,” he says, due to development and to unfriendly attitudes toward wildlife. Aiming to cultivate appreciation for wildlife, he writes opinion pieces for a local independent paper, “The Free Press.” And he invites children’s groups to play and picnic at the sanctuary, so they can experience the blooming cactuses, the beavers in the canyon, the eagles soaring overhead—and all things wild and wonderful—in hopes that they will begin to care about protecting nature for their own children and grandchildren.
Though the foremost reason for preserving the land is to provide safe habitat for wildlife, there are archaeological reasons to save this property, as well. A surface survey, conducted by Hisatsinom Chapter of the Colorado Archaeology Society, uncovered thirty-seven pre-historic sites and over 8,600 artifacts, including some showing that prehistoric people lived on the land at least 12,000 years ago. In addition to prehistoric features such as cists, check dams, vertical stone alignments, middens, rock overhang features, masonry stone walls, rubble mounds, and kilns, they found unusual artifacts, including Paleoindian point bases, Archaric points, a seed jar rim shard, a ceramic effigy, and obsidian bifaces and flakes.
Surely many of the early human inhabitants who created these features and artifacts were moved by many of the same qualities that spoke to Willetta when she fell in love with the land. And now, this important wildlife sanctuary is protected for all generations to come, both human and wild.