Archive for February, 2009
While much of the world seems stuck
in a delay mode waiting out the global economic crisis, Panama on March 3 will
announce the winning bid for a new $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal.
Building the third lane of the
canal, with two new locks at both ends, will nearly double the canal’s capacity
and allow it to handle the larger super-tanker vessels from all nations.
Completion is set for 2015.
The waterway between the Atlantic
and Pacific oceans, which employs some 9,000 workers, is considered one of the
greatest engineering feats in history, with builders digging through nine miles
of mountains at the Continental Divide. Naturally, the popular Miraflores Locks
and visitor center was my first stop as I visited the country for 12 days this
Arriving in Panama City, one gasps
at the number of high-rise projects. I counted at least a dozen cranes topping
both office and condo projects. Already mired in snarled traffic and density
problems, you have to ask if this is Panama in a recession, how much more will
it explode when the economy improves?
Two years ago, Panama passed its
Law 41, offering incentives to multinational companies to develop regional
headquarters there. As a result, commercial real estate climbed 25 percent last
year, and right behind it has come residential sales.
This was my first trip to Central
America, and I’d heard the days of real estate deals in places like Costa Rica
were already over. Get to Panama, friends said, before the next “gringo”
invasion storms in.
Talking to travelers from Nova
Scotia, Iceland and, of course, California, as well as the energetic British
couple who camped in their Ford van along the entire Interamerican Highway from
Alaska to Panama, it became clear that “Se Vende,” for sale, is now a national
theme. Huge billboards tout “Lo Ultimo en Lotes!” and block the views of
Panama’s lush green mountainsides. Even larger signs and flags for this year’s
presidential election interrupt beachside condo ads.
With a rental car, we traveled west
from Panama City toward David, a winter escape to the white sand Pacific
beaches of Santa Clara and black sand at Santa Catalina, a tiny town adored by
surfers and backpackers arriving on the daily buses. Just outside of town,
however, a new small airport is being built.
Mike and Michele Shogren, an
enterprising American couple from Alaska with comfortable cabanas at La Buena
Vida, just shake their heads and wonder how Santa Catalina will handle more
tourists. That day high winds had blown off part of their kitchen’s roof and
knocked out power … again, closing the only three or so restaurants in town. We
grabbed a streetside dinner of fried chicken and plantains from some of the
locals who we had hired to take us out fishing earlier that morning.
Although we skipped the Caribbean
side and the popular Bocas del Tora area on this trip, no place probably
epitomizes the land rush more than the mountain town of Boquete, famous for its
delicious coffee and oranges but now home to a real-estate rush of American and
European retirees attracted by its cooler mountain weather.
Wander into the Amigos bar off the
town’s plaza, and conversations of constructions fees, land prices and broker
commissions fill the air. Colorado in the ‘70s?
One project, Valle Escondido,
helped kick off the boom after snapping up 125 acres of coffee-growing land.
Now, with coffee prices in a slump, the Panama Post reports the country’s
coffee acreage has dropped nearly 60 percent, with producers selling out for
Some resorts around the country,
primarily operations offering birding, rafting or hikes in the tropical
forests, do seem to be getting the word out on the value of eco-tourism, and
Panama itself has watched how nature friendly tourism boosted Costa Rica.
Jim Omer, a Coloradan with a home
in Ridgway, runs Boquete Outdoor Adventures, specializing in rafting and
whitewater trips but also building more saltwater fishing trips into the Golfo
de Chiriqui below David.
With this unusual “dry season” storm
stuck on nearby Volcán Barú, Panama’s highest peak at 3,475 meters, Jim was
trying to keep up with bookings without cell phone or Internet access for days.
Just part of business in Panama, he said, as he set us up on a day trip to a
tiny Gilligan’s Island for snorkeling, beach lunch and hammock napping.
Crazy taxi driving in the bigger
cities aside, I loved Panama and recommend seeing it now. I’d like to get over
to the Caribbean, maybe even to the remote San Blas islands dotting the Kuna
Get yourself a Moon or Lonely
Planet handbook, and map out your own Panama adventure. It’s not much more to
fly there than Mexico, and once you’re out of Panama City, prices for smaller
hotels and delicious seafood dinners are still a bargain.
I recently got back from a 12-trip to Panama, my first trip to this Central American country.
I’d heard that it was time to check out Panama, since the gringo invasion has pretty much bought up all the good deals in Costa Rica.
I traveled primarily along the Pacific coast and up into the mountains at Baquete and another small mountain town of Santa Fe, and my opinion is that yes, pretty much everything is “Se Vende,” for sale in Panama.
This skyline shot of Panama City shows you how many new high rises are going up. I’m going to write a little more about this trip and will add to my blog soon.
Photos courtesy Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection
It’s high noon in Wallstreet,
Colo., and on this cool November day, the sun is just now cresting over the
steep Colorado Spruce-filled hillsides west of Boulder.
around in this old mining town, it’s hard to imagine that at its height, some
300 people lived here, many with dreams of striking it rich.
Just past the historic James F.
Bailey Assay office, now a museum open in the summer, the “do not trespass”
signs protect the stone tower at the old mill site of the Wallstreet Gold
ore from several veins in the area was processed here when it was built in
1902. The “tower” is actually the storage bin where finely crushed ore cooled
after it was roasted, oxidizing the gold-bearing minerals, and allowing the
gold to be extracted.
150 years after gold was discovered just north of here in Gold Hill, Boulder’s
fortunes lie more in the high-tech sectors of software, data storage, biotech
and new Internet ventures. Real riches, millions more than early prospectors
could ever imagine, continue to be made by tech-savvy entrepreneurs.
Small grubstakes, lent perhaps on
just a rumor of a lost gold mine being rediscovered, have been replaced with
multimillion-dollar venture capital investments.
city’s heralded business spirit, however, has deep roots in long-forgotten
industries, according to Boulder author Bill Reich, who recently published
“Colorado Industries of the Past.”
of those early companies actually sprung up to serve the Fifty-Niners and those
after them who came West looking for gold: flour mills, ice houses, sawmills,
makers of saddles and spurs, and, of course, the essentials: breweries and
Crockett Spur and Bit Co. became one of the nation’s “largest suppliers of
spurs, bits and cowboy belt buckles in the world by 1948,” Reich writes.
Most of the early gold seekers that
Reich describes never struck it rich. But driving today on the winding dirt and
gravel roads through Wallstreet, Sunset and Gold Hill, where mine dumps line
hillsides, old mines sit boarded up and rusty ore cart tracks empty into small
creeks, it’s easy to imagine the miners’ hopes and dreams.
Up Four Mile Canyon, you’ll pass
the remnants of the Black Swan Mill of the Black Swan Gold Mining and Milling
Co., built in 1902.
Small mine operations, with names
like Smuggler, Orphan Boy, Free Coinage and Black Swan, were worked by the
“hard rockers,” described by Boulder author and historian Silvia Pettem in her
first book, “Red Rocks to Riches.” The most ambitious prospectors eventually
became day laborers, making $2.50 a day by 1860, or $1.50 per day if boarded,
of us today make a living pounding keyboards, but early miners pounded into the
rock hillsides with picks, shovels and drills, using dynamite or black powder
to explore a vein.
was grueling, tedious work.
was all hard work, but my dad was very good with a hammer and a drill,”
remembers Charles Hornback, whose oral history is preserved in the Maria Rogers
Oral History Program of Boulder’s Carnegie Branch Library. His father and a
partner would hike up to a small claim in 1934 to 1935, by snowshoes and
handmade skis in the winter, spending the week up there. “A typical day’s work
would be to drive 2-foot holes in the granite and load them with dynamite.”
after they had about 500 pounds of ore and got it to the larger Gold Cycle Mill
in Colorado Springs, Hornback says, “They got around $1,000, which was a lot in
S. Cobb came to the town of Sunset above Wallstreet in early 1933, looking to
reopen an older mine. “There were a lot of stories floating around,” he
remembers in his recorded oral history.
he continued to make a living as a miner, eventually living in Boulder and
driving up to work at small mines. He remembers some of the mines around
Wallstreet – Wood Mountain, Doss and Great Britain. Wood Mountain had about 10
men working it, but most were worked by just two to four, he says.
felt right at home underground,” he says. “Underground it’s always good
weather,” about 44 to 45 degrees. Working with carbine lamps and tied in with
leather belts strapped by a rope to a nearby timber in case the rock floor gave
out under him, Cobb would dig out an old shaft, adding new timbers and even
laying tracks for mine carts.
tough to try to count just how many gold and silver mines were in the area.
A quick count of recorded mining
claims in Boulder County from 1859 to 1933 revealed some 2,225 claims of which
approximately 165 gold mines were
how much wealth did that gold rush of 150 years ago yield?
quoting Colorado State Bureau of Mines data, says “an impressive $27.2 million
worth of gold, $330,000 of silver, and $40,000 of copper were taken from the
Pikes Peak gold region in the years prior to 1870.”
I moved to Boulder from my home
town of Louisville, Kentucky in the summer of 1973, one year out of college and
restless to see the West. For some, 35 years here makes me an “old-timer,” but
for others who’ve experienced much more of Boulder’s 150 years of history, I
guess I’m still just a young “whipper snapper.
Boulder has packed in a lot in 150
years, starting with a group of Nebraska prospectors, led by Captain Thomas
Aikins in late 1858. His party was headed to Cherry Creek but viewing the
mountains near what is now Boulder, he said, “The mountains look right for
gold, and the valleys look good for grazing.”
Their men set up camp in the red
sandstone cliffs at the mouth of Boulder Canyon, as the story is told in “Red
Rocks to Riches” by Boulder historian Silvia Pettem. They called their camp Red
Rocks. Today, you can still hike and climb through that scenic formation, with
a great view of the city below. North of them was a camp of the Arapahoes, Boulder’s
Among Aikins’ men, who built
several small cabins to hold over for the winter, was Alfred A.
Brookfield. It wasn’t long until
Brookfield and a group of 56 shareholders established the Boulder City Town
Company on Feb. 10, 1859, laying out more than 4,000 city lots priced at $1,000
each, a price that later was reduced.
When I volunteered to help the
Boulder Sesquicentennial Celebration Committee, I didn’t realize how much I
would enjoy learning more about the city’s history.
I picked up several books, like
“Western Yesterdays” by Forest Crossen and “The Boulder Story” by Maurice
Frink, in local used bookstores. I ordered the out-of-print mining history by
Pettem from Amazon and bought her newest book packed with now and then photos,
“Boulder, Evolution of a City.”
When the Business Report asked me
to write an introduction for this Sesquicentennial special issue, I knew I
couldn’t even scrape the surface of stories of early stagecoach stops in the
canyon, the dreams and heartbreaks of early gold and silver miners, not to
mention the University of Colorado’s colorful history here since it accepted
its first students in 1877 and Boulder’s post-World War II history of business
growth, spurred by the 1954
opening of the National Bureau of Standards (now National Institute of
Standards and Technology.)
We’re fortunate in Boulder because
so much of the city’s history still surrounds us, including the stately homes
in the Mapleton neighborhood (1019 Spruce St. is considered the city’s oldest
house.) If you’ve never attended
the annual home tours by Historic Boulder, you’re missing some great
architecture. On a sunny afternoon, consider a weekend bike ride or drive
through the historic mining town of Wall Street up Four Mile Canyon. In the summer,
you can visit the historic James F. Baily Assay Office museum there.
Recently, Peter Pollock, former
Boulder city planner who’s now planning events for the Sesquicentennial, lent
me his collection of hundreds of vintage Boulder post cards.
As I looked through the folders
holding them, I realized much of Boulder’s history, and especially its
well-known landmarks, was captured in these color and black and white cards.
Some had been mailed to relatives back home with notes like a 1951 card showing
“Boulder Cañon”: “I really like it here. I guess am going here this fall, too.”
Each card is a 3 ½” by 5 ½” inch piece of the city’s timeline.
Many of the cards show places that
no doubt you take family or visitors. Boulder Falls, the Flatiron formations,
the panoramic “birds-eye” view of the city from Flagstaff Mountain. Like early
residents who enjoyed the scenery and hiking, too, there was the annual public
hike sponsored by the Chamber to Arapaho Peak and Glacier.
The early post cards of Chautauqua
are striking. The Chautauqua, now a national historic landmark, opened on July
4, 1898 for its first summer season, with the auditorium and dining hall the
first buildings; those traveling to the Chautauqua, some from as far away as
Texas, stayed in 100 tents on the grounds before cottages were built.
Today, the dining hall is a
year-round favorite of locals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, especially the
seats on the wrap-around porch. A full season of concerts, silent films and
sing-alongs pack the nearby auditorium. Colorado Chautauqua today is one of
only three remaining chautauquas in the U.S.
One post card shows a paved highway
coming in from the east, with the view of the snow-covered Indian Peaks and
Longs Peak above the foothills. It’s views like these, and the easy access to
wilderness areas and Rocky Mountain National Park, that have made Chief Niwot’s
words, or curse as some say, so real. “People seeing the beauty of this valley
will want to stay.”
Old post cards offer glimpses of
early downtown Boulder and many of its historic buildings. There’s a night
scene of the Boulderado with a full moon, and another showing a large sign with
the hotel’s name on the top floor of the southeast corner. Post cards have
artists’ drawings of the original Victorian-style Boulder County Courthouse,
built in 1882 but destroyed in a fire in 1932.
Its walls were torn down to make
way for a new Art Deco-style courthouse, built in 1933. Today it presides over
the Pearl Street Mall, its lawn a gathering spot where drummers play on summer
afternoons for tourists. The Art Deco-style Boulder Theater, which opened in
1936 and is home to concerts and Boulder’s Etown radio show, was inspired by the courthouse
I enjoy taking friends to Boulder’s
downtown pedestrian mall, completed in 1977, to watch street buskers vying for
attention on summer evenings, so I enjoyed the cards of early downtown Pearl
Street scenes and businesses. Model T’s parked in front of stores, with
American flags flying from downtown rooftops.
The University of Colorado, of
course, is home to so much Boulder history, from its first female professor,
Mary Rippon, in 1878, to its first Nobel Prize winner, Tom Cech, who shared the
prize for chemistry in 1989.
One post card shows the ornate
Macky Auditorium, completed in 1922 after 13 years of construction, with the
flatirons in the backdrop. Now
we’re entertained there by the Boulder Philharmonic, the travel film series and
numerous events and performances. I briefly taught a class at Macky in the
mid-‘80s when the journalism school was housed there.
The post cards, of course, show
many of Boulder’s historic churches downtown – First Congregational, First
Presbyterian, First Methodist, First Baptist and Sacred Heart. Until I looked
over the cards, I hadn’t really thought about how important it is to be
There are other “firsts” I’ll
always associate with Boulder history, particularly in my years here. The first
Red Zinger bike race in 1975; the Danish Plan in 1976, one of the first cities
to actually limit growth; the first Bolder Boulder in 1979; Boulder was the
first city in Colorado to enact a smoking ban in 1996; and all of us pet owners
became the first pet “guardians” in 2000. I remember 1980, when Newsweek
published “Boulder: Where the Hip Meet to Trip.”
Boulder’s Sesquicentennial gives
all of us an opportunity for a yearlong history lesson, and schools will be
adding special lessons on the city’s past. Information and a calendar of 2009
events, including the July 4 Sesquicentennial Stroll, are online at www.Boulder150.com.
You can even purchase Boulder 150 merchandise, everything from t-shirts to
Frisbees and an informative 2009 calendar with past and present photos of
downtown landmarks, from the Web site.