Kobe or Not Kobe?

If only Colorado's current Kobe connection would disappear so effectively.

Twelve miles south of Leadville on Highway 24, just before the valley narrows, the words "Kobe, Colo" appear written in stones on a hillside. Below, by the train tracks alongside the Arkansas River, a metal shed bears the word "Kobe."

That's all that's left of Kobe, once a stagecoach stop, then a siding on the now defunct Denver & Rio Grande route that came up from the south through Buena Vista to Leadville and on, yes, to Eagle County, where Kobe Bryant is still scheduled to go on trial August 27.

Has all the local, national, international and galactic interest in Kobe Bryant, L.A. Laker and accused sex offender, increased interest in Kobe, Colorado?

"No," says Kenton Forrest, librarian at the Colorado Railroad Museum, a repository of information both obvious and obscure about all things train-related. In fact, he's stumped by how that particular spot got its name. "A lot of sidings took the name of some prominent rancher or landowner near the town," he explains.

If Kobe Bryant is Colorado's second noteworthy Kobe, though, the first has been lost to history.

"Dr. Colorado is stumped," reports historian Tom Noel, aka Dr. Colorado. "Say it's an old Indian name."

One that could someday translate into "big bucks," given the civil suit just filed in federal court in Denver by the woman who's accused Kobe Bryant of rape.

But back to more vintage railroading...

Other Colorado sidings have names that are much more easily explained. Past Minturn, past Eagle, on the route to Glenwood, for example, there's Dotsero -- named after Dot Zero, a term used by surveyors. And by State Bridge, there's its opposite number: Orestod. "A lot of names have come and gone," Forrest says. "In the old days, they had local trains that would stop everywhere and anywhere."

While no train on the old Leadville line has stopped anywhere (much less Kobe) in years, the route's still referred to as "out of service" -- not abandoned.

The Leadville Chamber of Commerce hasn't capitalized on its Kobe connection. Instead, it talks about the resurrected Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad route that takes tourists through the historic mining town. And the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Mineral Belt Trail. Kobe questions are referred to Leadville's Heritage Museum, which is just as stumped as anyone else on the town's lost past, and to Lake County assessor Howard Tritz.

A fourth-generation Leadville resident, Tritz remembers his grandfather telling him that Kobe was once a stagecoach stop. "I don't think it was a big deal to start with," he says. "It was a town, Kobe, and it was populated." The stone sign on the hillside had to have been made before this state was officially abbreviated as "CO," he points out. And the name appears on Denver & Rio Grande route maps dating to before the 1920s.

Leadville is a town that takes pride in its past, so if the full story of Kobe can't be found there, it's not going to be easy to dig up anywhere else. Kobe's fate was certainly not as dramatic as that of another town near Leadville: Kokomo, where White House strategist Karl Rove lived as a boy. Decades ago, Kokomo disappeared into the pages of history when it was buried under tailings from the Climax molybdenum mine.

Kobe, Colorado, may have been forgotten, but Colorado's going to remember Kobe Bryant for a long, long time. "As another great case," theorizes Noel, "alongside JonBenét Ramsey and Alfred Packer."

Packer, the only man convicted of cannibalism in this country, was later pardoned by Colorado's governor. And he got off entirely a few years ago when Noel and the Colorado History Group restaged his trial at the Tabor Opera House in Leadville.

Kobe Bryant may never get his day in court a few dozen miles up the road in Eagle County, but his case might be the perfect subject for the Colorado History Group's next legal recreation in Leadville. And it just might put Kobe, Colorado, back on the map.

A Helping Handout

During their confab in Denver last month, members of the Meeting Professionals International 2004 World Education Congress professed to be overwhelmed by the changes in this city over the past twenty years -- by the renovations at Red Rocks, where they partied one night; by the new stadiums dedicated to every sport but goldfish-eating; by the entertainment district that's returned LoDo to its historic roots of booze and bad behavior; by the expanded convention center slated to open in December 2004, complete with a giant blue bear that, with any luck, will leave its post peering into the building from 14th Street to go eat those Borofsky dancers for lunch.

In particular, they were impressed by our bums (as this slice of non-society was known back in 1984, when the meeting-planners' group held its last conference here). As evidence, one convention delegate offers this startling report:

She was walking down the 16th Street Mall when she noticed a drunk fellow following her. But rather than asking for a handout, as she anticipated, he surprised her by asking, "Are you here with MPI? Are you looking for the convention center?" And after pointing her in the correct direction to rendezvous with the group, which he knew down to its exact abbreviation, he went on his weaving way.

"He didn't ask for a handout," notes Jill Strunk, spokeswoman for the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, where the story has made the rounds. "He didn't ask for anything."

Bureau boosters had worked hard to prepare hospitality-industry employees for this bunch, since making a good impression on meeting planners could pay off with more meetings planned for Denver. They'd created a handy video to train workers on the proper care and feeding of delegates and staged a pre-convention rally featuring Mayor John Hickenlooper, fresh from his State of the City speech. But they'd left panhandlers -- often considered the scourge of this town's tourism business -- out of the equation. Next time, they might want to set up a special training session at the Denver Rescue Mission.

With all those helpful homeless types, downtown Denver now lacks only two major amenities: public bathrooms on the 16th Street Mall (try the RTD stations and the Denver Pavilions) and gifts for the folks back home that are worth carting through DIA security. But if conventioneers are looking for tacky souvenirs, the mall has shtick to spare in stores with similar-sounding names -- Only in Colorado, Colorado Trading Post, Colorado Collection, Colorado Souvenirs -- and almost identical stock. A busy delegate can pop in any one and pick up a refrigerator magnet, sheriff's badge or rhinestone-studded Broncos pin for his beloved. Also, gold-plated aspen leaves galore, mock license-plate key fobs that say "Hug Dept.," and anything and everything involving bears: carved wooden bears holding toilet paper, bears in snow globes, bears in pencil holders, even a $22.95 University of Colorado teddy bear, complete with certificate of authenticity.

But you don't need a certificate to know that this bear is the real deal. It's wearing a pink sweatshirt with the CU Buffs logo over the word "mom" -- and no pants below. --Calhoun


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