Documentary commemorates history and stories of Colorado National Monument
The time has come to honor Colorado National Monument, and several local people are confident a perfect present has been made to commemorate the landmark’s 100th birthday.
For the past 18 months, local filmmaker Greg Mikolai of Rocky Mountain PBS worked with the monument’s Michelle Wheatley and Superintendent Joan Anzelmo, as well as other individuals well-versed in the monument’s history, to research, write and film “The Colorado National Monument: Celebrating 100 Years of John Otto’s Dream.”
In the 60-minute documentary, Mikolai uses historic photos and videos, plus present-day comments from people most familiar with the monument’s earlier days, to delve into who Otto was and why the monument is special, Mikolai said.
During filming, Mikolai hauled his 25-pound high definition camera to remote places so viewers of the documentary could see the monument’s beauty beyond what is visible from Rim Rock Drive.
“I don’t think (even) people who have lived here a long time realize how much there is to Colorado National Monument,” Mikolai said.
Furthermore, Mikolai met with officials and people who previously worked at the monument or were related to former employees, to talk about the historical significance of the monument and changes since Otto lobbied for its preservation more than a century ago.
One of those people interviewed for the documentary was Linda Reed, whose father Monty Fitch was chief ranger at the monument for several years in the 1950s.
During that time, Reed was in elementary school and lived on the monument near a canyon. It was “awesome,” she said.
The historical, geological and biological scope of the documentary, along with the personal stories and historical photos, has Mikolai and National Park Service personnel beyond ecstatic for its release.
“It’s an intimate experience in the monument,” said Wheatley, chief of interpretation and visitor services at the monument.
The documentary will premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, with a free screening at Avalon Theatre, 645 Main St. There also will be a silent auction at the screening for a John Lintott original painting.
The documentary will air at 9 p.m. Thursday on Rocky Mountain PBS. Copies of the documentary on DVD will be available for sale at the Avalon during the premiere.
Additional free screenings of the documentary will be at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday in December at the monument’s visitor center, about 4 miles into the monument from the west entrance.
That drive through the monument, or a hike, picnic or camping outing, are some of the many different ways visitors enjoy the monument, which is why Mikolai spent 18 months working in the monument during both day and night in all four seasons.
He captured images of desert bighorn sheep, croaking toads and clear night skies.
Wheatley worked so closely with Mikolai on the documentary that she spoke with Mikolai at least once a week during those 18 months, she said.
For example, Wheatley and other officials kept Mikolai abreast of changing seasonal conditions on the monument, which allowed him to film a waterfall in No Thoroughfare Canyon. It’s one of the first images to appear in the film, and it is special in that the waterfall and pool appear in the canyon for only a short time in April and May.
In addition to presenting footage of monument landscapes, Mikolai wanted to focus the documentary on the monument’s champion: Otto.
Through historical photos and anecdotes Wheatley shared with Mikolai, the filmmaker was able to piece together the past 100 years, bringing the monument toward its 100th birthday on May 24, 2011.
Part of Otto’s dream was the construction of Rim Rock Drive that would enable “people to drive where only birds could fly,” Anzelmo said, quoting Otto. Anzelmo is spearheading the efforts to make the monument’s centennial year a multiple-day and event celebration, Wheatley said.
Although Anzelmo and Wheatley see the monument and Rim Rock Drive every day when they drive to work, they both said they continue to marvel at its natural wonder and are pleased a documentary was finally made and will be shown to the public.
Mikolai echoed the women’s words and said he was proud of the finished product.
“I hope the people who view it think so, too,” he said.