History, Department of


Date of this Version

January 2006


Published in New Mexico Historical Review 81:1 (Winter 2006), pp. 68-95. Copyright © 2006 by the University of New Mexico Board of Regents. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
To purchase a copy of the article or the issue in which it appears, visit the NMHR homepage: http://www.unm.edu/~nmhr/


Twenty-five miles south of Pueblo, Colorado, where the southern plains meet the foothills, sits the community of Colorado City. Situated in the shadow of the southern Rockies' Wet Mountains, the Greater Greenhorn Valley is currently home to five thousand people, fifteen hundred of whom live in Colorado City proper. Here, at exit 74 on Interstate 25, stands the pride of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the $2.7 million dollar Cuerno Verde Rest Area. The design and landscaping of this rest area set it apart from other such facilities; for example, the Plains Indian-inspired design elements that the architects incorporated into the facility, and the flag proclaiming "Comanche Nation Lords of the Southern Plains" that accompanies the Colorado State flag and the Stars and Stripes.

What at first might seem to be merely an odd combination of appropriated history and modern convenience, upon closer study reveals a sterling manifestation of public memory making in the late-twentieth-century American West. During the planning phase, the rest area's visual design and its historical markers became the topic of fierce debate between historians, designers, and highway officials. The complex negotiation between these groups is represented in the final draft of the facility's historical markers and serves as a cautionary tale of the pitfalls inherent in interpreting the past for the public. Although local interests, like those of the Greenhorn Valley Chamber of Commerce, are often the primary impetus behind the development of public memory activities, public officials and designers in control of the memory-making process usually look to historians and other experts to validate their perspective on the past. Ultimately, the Cuerno Verde Rest Area is more than just a place to pull off the highway to use the restroom or stretch your legs. Those involved in designing, constructing, and dedicating the facility shaped public memory by weaving fluid moments from the region's past, present, and future into a static new story told in concrete, fiberglass, and steel.

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