Boulder after the Mass Shooting: Rebuilding Our Spirit

My hometown of Boulder, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world. The city is well known for its vistas of the scenic Flatirons; for its hip, new-agey vibe; and for its fit population of cyclers, hikers, and rock climbers. Over the decades, magazines have dubbed Boulder the fittest town in America, the happiest town in the country, an outdoor mecca, brewpub central, and a health-food heaven.

The memorial for the victims of the 2021 shooting at a Boulder King Soopers ©Laurel Kallenbach

Boulder’s aura of positivity took a hit on March 22, 2021, when it joined dozens of American cities that have experienced a gun-related mass murder. Among the dead are 10 people: shoppers, supermarket employees, and the first police officer to arrive at the scene.

In the shooting’s aftermath, Boulder’s most-visited site is now the memorial at the Table Mesa King Soopers supermarket where the fatal shooting occurred. A collection of heartfelt condolences—flowers, candles, cards, posters, Tibetan prayer flags, stuffed animals, balloons, photos—adorns the chain-link fence that surrounds the crime scene, brought by people in our community and by others who have journeyed here to pay their respects.

©Laurel Kallenbach

These memorial gifts are a small comfort to the families and friends of the those who died. The loss of each person has sent ripples of grief through the community—even through those of us who didn’t personally know the shooting victims. To lose 10 at once is a blow—all that energy and potential gone.

We Boulderites excel at joyous displays of athleticism. One of the largest is the Bolder Boulder 10K race held each Memorial Day (except during the pandemic). More than 50,000 participants run, jog or walk while another 70,000-plus spectators cheer them on.

We clap for elite runners from around the globe, and we shout encouragement to eager but sometimes exhausted runners of all ages and abilities, including those who race despite injuries, disabilities, or medical diagnoses. The fastest of all are the wheelchair racers, many of whom are paraplegics or amputees, who know a thing or two about overcoming heartbreak and difficult times. As an annual Bolder Boulder spectator, I love to holler myself hoarse: “You can do it! Keep it up, keep it up!”

Thousands have come to the memorial to pay their respects to the victims of the shooting at the Boulder King Soopers ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Community Grieves

Right now, the thousands of people who gather along Table Mesa Drive in Boulder every day aren’t there to cheer. We’re there to weep, to pay tribute, to honor the bravery of shoppers and grocery-store employees and a police officer. They were all going about daily life and doing their necessary work when they were cut down. Tackling everyday chores, carrying out work duties, and picking up food for dinner are rarely celebrated publically—not even in positive-thinking Boulder. Though maybe they should be.

People gather mostly in silence at the King Soopers memorial to confront the senseless loss of life, the randomness of death. There’s anger and sorrow. At night, the Boulder Star is lit on a mountainside that overlooks our town. It usually shines only during the winter holidays, but right now we need the hope that beacon represents.

In addition to messages of condolence and support for the families of this lost were posters about gun control. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The City of Boulder has invited people all over Colorado to go outside at 8:00 every evening for 10 days and to take 10 slow breaths, followed by 10 minutes of silence. Each minute of breathing honors a shooting victim. 

For the first eight months of the coronavirus pandemic, I howled  nightly at 8:00 from my porch in gratitude for health-care workers and first responders. That ritual lifted my spirits, especially when I heard neighbors clapping, cheering, and barking at the moon.

Now my phone alarm is set again for the Time of Remembrance: 10 minutes to remember the 10 fallen and their family: Denny Stong, Neven Stanisic, Rikki Olds, Tralona Bartkowiak, Suzanne Fountain, Teri Leiker, Kevin Mahoney, Lynn Murray, Jody Waters, Eric Talley. Collective breathing unites us in sorrow.

Connecting with Community

On Sunday, March 29, my husband and I visited the King Soopers Memorial. It was sunny and 55 degrees, but icy gusts ripped down from the mountains. Spring in Colorado is a season of abrupt changes: one day you’re out jogging in shorts, the next day you’re shoveling snow. One day people dash into a local grocery store for milk or bread or to get a COVID vaccine, the next day that supermarket is a crime scene.

Singers at Boulder’s King Soopers memorial ©Laurel Kallenbach

In shock, the perpetually hiking, cycling, yoga-practicing people of Boulder moved slowly around the King Soopers memorial, reading heartfelt notes addressed to the dead or memories written by a loved one.

Some signs plead for gun reform. “How many more?” asks one designed to look like the state flag that shows a toppled-over heart shape with a bullet hole in it. “Let’s hope our push for change lasts longer than these wilting flowers” says another sign surrounded by bouquets of daisies and roses.

When I was at the memorial, a group was singing “Amazing Grace,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and the Beatles song “Let It Be.”

There were posted notices offering contacts for free crisis counseling. Sky, a registered therapy dog, did his part by letting dazed and teary-eyed visitors pet his warm, alive little body.

I stopped to pet Sky, a trained therapy dog. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The winds caused Mylar balloons tethered to the chain-link fence to tug to the east, then the west. Frigid gusts twisted the American flag on its pole so that it flew backwards. I thought about the grief, unyielding as a mountain, that the families of the slain were experiencing.

A Better Future?

I’ve almost given up hoping that gun laws will change, that automatic weapons will be banned, that stricter background checks will be required to buy guns. Boulder outlawed the sale and possession of assault weapons, but two weeks before the mass shooting, a court decided that our city couldn’t enforce the ban because only the state can regulate firearms in Colorado.

I used to believe the only way gun laws would change was if someone started shooting in congressional chambers. The insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, proved me wrong.

So gun violence continues, as do the mass tragedies. What happened in Boulder has occurred in Columbine and Atlanta and Sandy Hook and Charleston and Pittsburgh and Virginia Beach and El Paso and Phoenix and Hamilton and Chattanooga and Roseburg and Aurora and Fort Hood and Thousand Oaks and Seattle and Sutherland Springs and Binghamton and Orlando and Norcross and Minneapolis and Virginia Tech and San Bernadino and Las Vegas and Parkland. A week after the Boulder shooting, Orange, California, was added to the list.

©Laurel Kallenbach

Will these shootings persist until every city and town in the nation has a memorial to the victims of people with guns?

I did take heart in hearing that a local Mennonite church, located just across Broadway from the King Soopers, held a Guns to Garden Tools event on Good Friday. It’s a project of the nonprofit RAWtools, which de-weaponizes donated guns and forges them into tools for planting. In the church parking lot, people got to pound a hammer on a section of a gun barrel over an anvil. 

For now, the time for cheering in Boulder is over. The time of mourning has begun.

While I’m observing my 10 minutes of daily silence for the slain, I touch into my center of calm, and my outlook brightens slightly. Perhaps good things will again be possible. After the meditation, I can believe for a few moments that maybe—just maybe—the “Let It Be” lyrics from the Beatles’s song I heard at the King Soopers memorial on a windy Sunday morning could come true:

And when the broken-hearted people

Living in the world agree,

There will be an answer, let it be.

Laurel Kallenbach, Boulder, Colorado

SOBO is an acronym for South Boulder, the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Sleep in a Sustainable Hotel in Mesa Verde National Park

From our balcony at the Far View Lodge inside Mesa Verde National Park, Ken and I watched wild horses graze around the clusters of rooms at sunset. It made for a memorable ending to a day of exploring the park’s unparalleled Ancestral Puebloan ruins.

Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde. Photo courtesy Mesa Verde National Park

Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde. Photo courtesy Mesa Verde National Park

Far View Lodge was eco-renovated to be energy- and water-efficient and to reduce waste—and its modest but comfy rooms offer glorious views of the park. In true National Park style, there are no nightclubs or in-room TVs, and outdoor lights are kept to a minimum. I’m happy to report that during our stay, we inhaled cool night air spiced by the scent of sagebrush and gazed at the vast universe of stars while serenaded by a coyote chorus in the distance.

Aramark, the concession company that operates Far View Lodge and Mesa Verde’s infrastructure in general (tours, hospitality services, waste disposal, restrooms, and non-Park Service staff), has a fairly comprehensive enviro-plan, which is necessary to deal with the many thousands of visitors who visit the park annually.

Among Aramark’s initiatives are:

  • recycling program (paper, glass, plastic, metals)
  • waste reduction
  • water and energy conservation
  • ecofriendly cleaning supplies
  • landscape-conscious construction (to reduce damage to the fragile ecosystems, to blend into the natural view, and to minimize light and noise pollution)
  • bi-fuel trucks and electric carts
  • integrated pest management (IPM) with a nontoxic approach to dealing with insects and rodents
  • sustainable and organic foods, including shade-grown Fair Trade-certified coffee.

Metate Room Restaurant

The Far View Lodge has a wonderful, though slightly pricey, restaurant on premises called the Metate Room. (A metate is a stone tool used by native peoples to grind corn.)

The panoramic view of Mesa Verde from the Metate Room restaurant. Photo courtesy Mesa Verde

The panoramic view of Mesa Verde from the Metate Room restaurant. Photo courtesy Mesa Verde

Ancient meets contemporary in the menu of this evening dining venue. The chef has created dishes that blend regional, sustainable, and organic fare with Ancestral Puebloan traditions. The result was a sumptuous dinner that started with a crisp and tangy house salad topped with black beans and corn and a chopotle-maple vinaigrette. My husband sampled the Corn-and-Nut-Crusted Rocky Mountain Trout served with Anasazi beans and sautéed veggies from a local farm. I opted for the Elk Tenderloin with local chokecherry demi-glace.

Fine, Native American-inspired dining is available at the Metate Room in Mesa Verde National Park.

The Metate Room offers a lovely atmosphere decorated with Navajo weaving, pottery and baskets. Native flute music played softly in the background. I know it’s kind of clichéd, but the wooden flute just sounds right in a place like Mesa Verde where you know you’re looking out the window at the same vistas that the Ancestral Puebloans beheld.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally published August 2011.

Read more about my travels in America’s national parks and monuments:

Mesa Verde: An Archaeological Pilgrimage

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado ©Laurel Kallenbach.JPG

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park ©Laurel Kallenbach

Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado (near Four Corners) ranked Number 1 on my destination list after I first visited its intriguing, mysterious cliff dwellings at age five. I credit my fascination with archaeology to this park. A love for all things ancient has become one of my lifelong passions.

My childhood sense of adventure was kindled by climbing log ladders to reach Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings—built by the Anasazi people, as they were called when I was a kid. (Today they’re called Ancestral Pueblo people because they were the forebears of the Pueblo tribes that now live in Arizona and New Mexico.) Hearing stories about Anasazi ceremonial, underground, circular rooms, called kivas, sparked my imagination.

Decades later, Mesa Verde continues to enchant me. I’ve take archaeological pilgrimages there four times since my parents first brought me. Over the years, I’ve never tired of hiking southwest Colorado’s desert landscape or pondering the archaeological remnants of the Anasazi culture, which thrived in the area’s canyons and high plateaus from about 600 to 1300 A.D.

Today, the park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings—the most notable and best preserved in the United States. Cliff Palace is the most visited, and it’s exciting because you can see it from a distance before you hike down to explore it.

Park ranger Tim McNeil, Mesa Verde ©Laurel Kallenbach.JPG

Park ranger Tim McNeil explains the history of Mesa Verde. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Ranger Interpretation Adds Dimension

Some of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings are open only when you’re guided by a ranger. You’ll need to buy a reserved ticket up to two days in advance at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center or Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum in the national park, or at the Durango Welcome Center in the nearby city of Durango.

Though it takes some extra effort and cost ($5 per person), it’s well worth it. The rangers who led my husband and I through the beautiful dwellings were fountains of knowledge—and their knowledge of history and archaeology helped bring the ruins to life.

You don’t need to know that little windowed niches tucked under the cliffs were for storing corn and beans to appreciate the sandy geometry of the architecture or the permanence of stone. Still, it’s nice to know the function of towers, “middens” or garbage dumps, or about the spiritual significance of the sipapu, a small hole in the floor of the circular kiva. (The sipapu is the symbol of the Place of Emergence, where humans entered through the earth world from the spirit world according to the beliefs of the Puebloans.)

Ladders lead up the cliff to Balcony House in Mesa Verde. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Ladders lead up the cliff to Balcony House in Mesa Verde. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Climbing to Balcony House

To visit the Balcony House ruin, you climb log ladders up a cliff, scramble through Balcony House’s narrow passageway just as the ancients who lived here a millennia ago did.

Four decades after I first visited as a little kid, Balcony House’s tunnel is a tight squeeze for me—yet Mesa Verde continues to charm me. Ranger Tim McNeil described the Ancestral Puebloan diet, which relied heavily on piñon nuts and “The Three Sisters”: corn, beans and squash, which are not only staples, but grow symbiotically.

Looking at thousand-year-old beams and rooms gives me a different perspective—of how short a time we have to live, and how many wonderful antiquities there are to explore.

For details on Mesa Verde, see Visit Mesa Verde.  For information on the region, visit Mesa Verde Country.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer

First posted in August 2011

Read more about my travels in America’s national parks and monuments:

Denver’s Tuba Christmas: Heavy Metal for the Holidays

I like quirky events—in any part of the world. They highlight lesser-known facets of our culture, reminding me that there’s so much diversity in any given country, state, or city.

A tuba player gets in the spirit of the season during downtown Denver’s annual Tuba Christmas concert. About 250 tubas participated in this year’s event. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Denver, for example, isn’t just a Broncos-watching, ski-crazy, cowboy-hat-wearing Western metropolis. It’s got plenty of arts and culture: a symphony, opera and ballet companies, jazz clubs, a theatre complex, art galleries.

And then there are the tubas.

Yes, every December, literally hundreds of tubas and their variants serenade downtown Denver with Christmas carols played in the surprisingly mellow tones of these unwieldy low-brass instruments.

In an orchestra, tubas are tucked in the back of the ensemble because, really, no one could see the conductor if the tuba sat farther forward. So it’s satisfying when the tuba get its moment in the spotlight at the annual Tuba Christmas. (Full disclosure: I play bassoon, another orchestral bass instrument, so I have an affinity for tubas. We rarely get showy solos, but a symphony wouldn’t sound the same without us!)

Imagine the delight of the masses this year when a choir of 250 tubas gathered in their Santa hats to play harmonious renditions of “Joy to the World,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Feliz Navidad,” and “Silent Night.”

Trust me, your Christmas is not complete without the bass, baritone, and tenor tones of tubas.

A pair of euphoniums were introduced at the annual Tuba Christmas concert. ©Ken Aikin

In 2018, Denver’s annual Tuba Christmas concert takes place on December 16 at the Denver Performing Arts Complex in downtown. Featuring tuba players from all over the region—and a few from other states, including New York—Tuba Christmas is one of the most celebrated and longest-running holiday festivities in Colorado.

When we went a few years ago, my husband (who plays trumpet, the highest voice of the brass section) and I elbowed our way through a crowd of around 500 people to get closer to the low-brass ensemble, many of whom wore Tuba Christmas stocking caps and decked out their instrument with seasonal décor. (There is nothing bah-humbug about these tubas!)

The Biggest Concert of the Year

Tuba Christmas was founded by the Harvey Phillips Foundation, which focuses on developing, expanding, and preserving the musical arts—with special attention given to instruments not ordinarily the “object of other support.” (Ahem…this means that despite their size, tubas get overlooked.) The first Tuba Christmas was held in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink in 1974. Today, concerts take place across the globe.

In addition to conducting merry carols—many of us crowd members sang along— retired music professor Bill Clark introduced the metallic musicians with the assistance of Jeanie Schroder, the tuba player in indie-pop group DeVotchka. Playing with 2014’s Tuba Christmas were tuba players from schools and colleges all over the state. They ranged from age 7 to 90, and quite a few multigenerational families performed. Clearly, tuba players enjoy longevity and musical genes.

In addition, we audience members learned that tubas come in all shapes and sizes. There were traditional bass tubas that consist of 18 feet of tubing. There were flashy sousaphones—the ones seen in marching bands with the huge bells that usually spell out the name of a high school mascot. There were euphoniums, sometimes called “tenor tubas,” which look like mini-tubas. A few double-belled euphoniums were present; the joke is they can play duets with themselves.

I believe it’s impossible to listen to a multitude of tubas playing Christmas carols without smiling, singing, and even dancing around. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself! Tuba Christmas always takes place in Denver on the third Sunday of December—snow or shine.

Let heaven and tubas sing!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Denver’s 2014 Tuba Christmas concert attracted tuba, euphonium, and sousaphone players of all ages from all over the country. Onlookers enjoyed singing along.  ©Laurel Kallenbach