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Our View: Historic Cortez Coloring Book delightful look at heritage

It may seem out of the ordinary for Colorado Public Radio to feature a story about a coloring book. And we can’t say we’ve ever opined about one. But the 2024 Historic Cortez Coloring Book is exceptional, curated to capture the character and atmosphere of the city, as well as the Four Corners region.

Each page offers unmistakable images that illuminate stories. This new look at history is put together beautifully.

There are the obvious landmarks, including Sleeping Ute Mountain and Mesa Verde, and fauna – a bald eagle, bobcat and collared lizard – and flora – yarrow, prickly pear cactus and scrubby viewscapes. Indigenous people and experiences are prevalent in illustrations, of course.

Also, buildings on the city’s historic preservation registry, such as the Calkins Building, the Sunflower Theatre and the Ertel Funeral Home, made it into the book.

Have you ever seen a funeral home in a coloring book? Us neither.

Yet, the Spanish-style stucco mortuary, in business since 1921, fits right in. This fixture, along with midcentury outposts of longstanding businesses, such as the Burger Boy Drive-In and Fiesta Theatre, and other iconic landmarks – the Cortez Milling Company and Cortez Livestock Auction – showcase the community’s heritage. Then and now.

Alongside rooted community members, thumbing through pages brings up memories made in these very places. The book effectively does what we hope from art, which is to be transformed, mesmerized.

Gets us thinking about all that the Four Corners has been, along with its undercurrent of change. How the area is subtly, steadily shifting. Growing.

More than 70 submissions were received from 30 local artists, including a 6-year-old. Thirty-two were selected for the print edition with the digital version including more artwork.

The project was a partnership among the city of Cortez; the LOR Foundation; Cortez Retail Enhancement Association; the city of Cortez Public Arts Advisory Committee; and Historic Preservation Board. LOR’s funding helped compensate artists and cover the final printing of 1,500 books. Books were then donated to the Cortez Cultural Center and the Montezuma Heritage Museum, where they can be purchased for $5. A free downloadable version allows teachers to use the books in their classrooms, adding more color to history.

In case you’re not aware of the historic night in August 1959, when some locals thought a Martian might have arrived, a U-2 spy plane made an emergency landing at the Cortez Municipal Airport. This event made it into the coloring book, too.

Hsichun Mike Hua, a pilot for the Republic of China Air Force, was training with the U.S. Air Force on the super-secret U-2 reconnaissance aircraft on a night mission. Before the days of GPS, he was navigating with a sextant, taking star sights like a long-ago mariner, when the plane’s engine flamed out and died.

By lucky chance, he made his way to the Cortez runway. The landing gear didn’t hold and the aircraft scraped its belly on the pavement. Its left wing tip hit the runway’s shoulder, sending the U-2 into a ground loop, before skidding to a stop.

Hua exited the aircraft in his pressure suit and headed to the only lighted building, where he found the airport manager and a radio operator. Can you imagine their faces as Hua explained the accident in Chinese-accented English? The U-2 would not become a household name until nine months later.

Hua wrote about the emergency land in the August 1989 issue of Air & Space Forces magazine: “Think of the coincidences: The U-2 breaks out of the clouds in a valley, flying in the proper direction; within this valley lies the Cortez airfield, with no others around for 100 miles; the Cortez City Council, against its better judgment, decides to leave the airfield lights on at night; and I had just the right altitude – no more, no less – required to land on such a short runway.

“For me, the conclusion to be drawn from all these ‘coincidences’ is inescapable. My prayer was answered.”

From that evening on, Cortez was a blessed place for Hua. It’s just one more tale to be told from this delightful coloring book.