By Ericka Kastner
If you know me, you know New Mexico is my happy place. I realize that’s an unlikely lead for a column in Colorado Central Magazine. But my love of New Mexico means that I’m passing through southern central Colorado on a fairly regular basis; it also means that every time I head towards Taos, Santa Fe or Madrid, I’m still discovering spots between Salida and the Colorado/New Mexico border that fascinate and surprise me. Six miles north of the state border, Antonito is one of those towns that tugs at my heart. It’s rich with authentic Mexican restaurants; is adorned with phenomenal murals displaying the town’s cultural heritage; and incredible mountains stretch far in the distance, allowing Antonito to offer up the vast, blue Colorado sky.
Not too long ago, I was traveling south on U.S. Hwy. 285 just before sunset, en route to Ojo Caliente. I’m typically looking towards the border as I pass through the San Luis Valley and Antonito, my sights fixed on San Antonio Mountain to the south; it signals my imminent arrival in New Mexico. But this time I happened to glance to my left; when I did, I was immediately mesmerized by a bright glint of light bouncing off something a few blocks to the east. Grateful that I was “off the clock,” I took the next left turn in an attempt to satiate my curiosity.
As soon as I turned off Main Street and onto 8th Street, it became apparent that the sun sinking in the west had been illuminating two towers that I’d never noticed before. I crossed the railroad tracks and turned left on State Street; it was then that Cano’s Castle came clearly into view.
Right away I noted that the “castle,” and its accompanying double spires, were made primarily of concrete and cans; the rest of the structure was apparently crafted from a mix of hubcaps, glass bottles, old windows, rock and some lengths of chain. Struck by the amount of time it must have taken to gather the materials and then create such a feat, I parked my car and stepped out to explore further, glancing around to be sure I wasn’t overstepping my bounds. Inwardly, I harbored hope that I’d find the creator wandering around his or her property so I could strike up a conversation; unfortunately, I had no such luck.
I roamed around at a respectful distance – noting the way the late day sun cast light on cobalt blue bottles and shiny metal hubcaps attached to the edifice – and captured photos, grateful that I’d thought to bring my camera. I smiled as I noted the artist’s admonishment on the castle gate that “alcohol and tobacco kills” and “Mary Jane is healing,” and drove away even more intrigued and determined to learn the story behind the work of art.
On a subsequent trip I made a point of rolling into Antonito early on a Sunday morning, in the hopes of catching Dominic “Cano” Espinoza at home; the artist lives off-grid adjacent to the castle, making a scheduled interview out of the question. Upon arrival, I learned from neighbors that he was off to Alamosa for the day. Back on Main Street I tracked down three local men who smiled when I asked about Cano (pronounced kaw-no), and referred to him fondly as paisano or brother. They shared with me that Antonito native Espinoza is a Vietnam Veteran who built the castle out of “spite” due to his “anti-government” stance. They confirmed he does live in the castle’s annex and said he started the project 15-20 years ago, adding that he is “always building.”
While in town, take a drive by the home filmed in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, at 502 Front Street. Another example of how Antonito continues to bewilder me.
Getting there: Head south out of Alamosa on U.S. 285 for 30 miles. Once in Antonito (U.S. 285 is the town’s Main Street), turn left onto East 10th Avenue and drive two blocks. The Castle sits on the northwest corner of East 10th and State Street.
Logophile and Places Columnist Ericka Kastner believes she is extraordinarily lucky to be paid to write about adventures because she’d be having them regardless. If you have a Place in Central Colorado she needs to explore for Cozine, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more of her work online at erickakastner.com.