A swirl of patriotic enthusiasm, revelry, and Americana paraded through Rico Friday during the traditional Fourth of July festivities.
The annual event is put on by the Rico Fire department and the Rico Women's Club and has a decades-old history. It typically attracts several hundred fans from area towns, and this year was no different.
"People from all over come to Rico on the Fourth to get away and have fun in the mountains," says volunteer firefighter Dennis Swank. "I've been here 30 years, and it was happening before my time."
A well-organized parade began with an inspiring color-guard performance. The valley fell silent, and even the children momentarily stood still, as the American anthem and patriotic ballads were played, trumpets reverberating under sunny skies.
"The fight for independence is what I like about today," says Celia Bueno, an astute 12-year-old from Cortez on a nearby camping trip with her family. "My favorite part was the veterans marching."
World War II veterans led the parade in an old Army jeep, saluting to the crowds, drawing huge applause and furious flag waving.
Rico's trademark casual attitude is never far from the surface during the event. There is no requirement to enter the parade, said local organizer Jenny Nunley.
"Everyone shows up at church and decides what to do," she said. "The Woman's Club does a great job and are good at recruiting the next generation to take over the event, and appreciate the importance of a tight-knit community."
Darwin Culver traveled to Rico from Dolores to enjoy the festivities for the first time.
"It is a great fun," he says. "There is a lot of history here. My grandfather worked in the mines back when the winters were so big each home had a tunnel to it."
Firetrucks, private vehicles, dumptrucks, ATVs and horses were all decked out in the only required theme of red, white and blue.
A float roughly in the shape of a shark stood out, and a pirate ship built by students was well designed. The Four Corners Community band played the classics with gusto while riding on a make-shift stage. Grinning children riding on top of firetrucks happily threw candy to their scrambling peers in the street.
For the adults, a modified VW bus serving up draft beer quickly became a hit, attracting a line of 30-something fathers who seconds before were dutifully having a family moment with wife and kids, but briefly abandoned their post to partake in surprise diversion of free brew.
After the parade, the line for free Navajo tacos at the fire station stretched down the street, but nobody minded, and the crowds were serenaded by a fine performance by the Four Corners Community Band.
"They are supposed to play an original they wrote," Nunley said.
Rico elder Sue Eleison, who plays the bell lyre in the band, explained the history of the parade tradition in Rico.
"It was decided that we needed more action on the Fourth of July," she says. "The grade-school students were assigned to build the floats. I'll never forget the Noah's Ark float the year in rained and rained during the parade."
Shelley Jones came up from Grand Junction to visit her childhood town.
"I love the people, a lot has changed, but a lot is still the same, too," she says. "People remember me here, and that is a good feeling."
After two hours, the crowd dispersed, and parties could be heard gearing up in nearby neighborhoods.
Cars passing through Rico continued to stop to contribute donations into the fireman's boot.
But serious duty suddenly called for rescue workers, as they responded to a one-car rollover with injuries at mile marker 33, rolling to the scene with fire-engines and ambulances still decked out with American flags.