It’s late September – and the town of Dolores, CO is celebrating with a little sweetness.
The tantalizing smell of fry-bread mingles with the scents of dusty gravel streets and freshly trimmed grass.
A small dog barks and dives at the end of his leash. Children run past, laughing merrily.
Swing-style jazz is played by a large brass band gathered near the center of the activities. The music is live, a local group that comes complete with horns, clarinets, and a real happenin’ drummer. Some of the players are gray-haired and stooped with age, some are young and bright.
Providing a sweet counterpoint to all the commotion coming from the brand is the sound of cheerful voices in happy conversation.
Spirit of Small-Town America
Walking through the Sweet Festival in this tiny town is just a little bit like taking a free ride on a time machine.
The majestic, green-wooded slopes of the Rockies rise all around, and the sun shines warmly down through rustling evergreen branches. It’s under the shade of the old pine trees in Flanders Park that the vendors have spread out their taste treats.
If it weren’t for the blue jeans on women, the cars pulled up to the curb, and the presence of a helmet on the mounted policeman, you could almost believe that you were visiting a bit of the 1850s.
Dolores’s notable businesses are all represented – and in a town of 972 residents – that’s pretty much every single business.
Meeting the Vendors
At one edge of the gathering the ladies from the local beauty salon have set up a fry-bread table.
A cast-iron pot, full of boiling oil, hangs over an open fire. An efficient lady in a blue apron rolls the dough out, and the ladies take turns tossing the tortilla shaped rounds of dough into the smoking fume.
A few moments later out comes crispy fry-bread, too hot to touch, way too tasty to leave alone.
At the next table an elderly couple – the wife in a wheelchair – sits at a metal picnic table, pouring local honey over their steaming treat.
Next to the fry bread is a display of preserves. The glass jars catch the late afternoon sunlight and glow like jewels; golden peach, crimson apple, royal-purple berry flavors.
Then there’s a stand with beautiful, fall-themed cupcakes set out in an elegant Halloween-style display.
The temptation to buy something is strong, but so is the lure of the other tables.
On down the line is a lady with homemade ice cream for sale. Just like they might have when Dolores was first established. Except we have fudge sauce. Yum.
An elderly man sits watching the festivities around the ice cream table. Next to him sits a dog with the look of a coyote. If you ask, the man will tell you that the dog’s breed is a “Diné Special,” a lost stray off the Navajo Reservation he once took pity on.
The devotion between man and beast is clear to see.
Several tables have items besides sweets for sale. These stands include the local art gallery, the cyclery repair shop, the local Nature Preserve, and the yoga studio.
Circling the edge of the makeshift bandstand is a display with its wares wrapped in cellophane. Closer inspection reveals homemade bread, pies, and even a few cakes.
Towards the final end of the small fair are a few charities, including a sweet-treat display from church ladies.
Bonds of Community
To most eyes, Dolores, Colorado is a small town.
It’s in the foothills of the Rockies, it has two paved streets – and if you’re into the mountains it’s quaint and a little touristy.
But take a moment to see this small gathering through fresh eyes.
These are friends and neighbors, gathered together to celebrate everything that’s good and wholesome about life; family, children, small businesses working together, good food, and fun music.
There’s a feeling of peace that is almost as tangible as the smell of baked goodies, a friendliness that reminds people of all that’s sweet and festive in the world.