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In the fall of 1976, Roberta Price found herself facing a truly Western dilemma: be inhospitable to strangers or serve the two cowboys suddenly standing at her door the THC-laced doughnuts cooling on the table. The Manhattan-raised Vassar girl chose wisely: She gave them each a doughnut and sent them on their way, deciding a light buzz was a lesser offense than poor manners.

By that time, Price and her husband, David, had lived in the Libre hippie commune deep in the Huerfano Valley of Southeastern Colorado for six years and were well aware of the codes of the West: Live and let live, and always keep a pot of coffee on. But the lessons hadn't been easy, and the Sangre de Cristo mountains were brutal schoolmasters.

Price spent her first winter in fifty-below nights with only two-by-twelves and some roofing paper as a barrier to the blowing snow and wind. There was no electricity and no running water in the home, which someday would be an eight-sided structure surrounding a five-ton boulder high up on a ridge. This pioneer life was a far cry from the East Coast intellectualism of Vassar and Yale, David's alma mater. But the two had moved out here in 1970 after spending a summer photographing communes throughout the West. When they came upon Libre, they knew they'd found their new American dream, and they began hatching plans to make the permanent transition. When they arrived in their 1947 Chevy, only six other couples were there; Libre would eventually grow to comprise more than 300 individuals, including frequent guest Larry Laszlo (he lived in the sixty-foot "Red Rocker" geodesic dome in the neighboring valley), now a prominent Denver photographer, and local theater impresario and former Westword writer John Ashton.

Nearly three decades after she left what she considered heaven on Earth, Price has penned her story of that time, Huerfano: A Memoir in the Life of the Counterculture. "One of the reasons I wrote Huerfano is because I was so dissatisfied with how that era had been ridiculed and marginalized," Price says. "Certainly there was a lot to laugh about and ridiculousness, but there was also something that I felt wasn't reflected in the coverage of that time, especially in the mainstream media. I'd like people to re-evaluate the countercultural movement in some way and think about that, for all its foils and problems, a lot of the young people were thinking not about starting their 401(k) program or what model BMW they wanted to buy; we were trying to live in a way of thinking about other things and thinking about the consequences."

Price will discuss those consequences on Thursday, January 20, at the LoDo Tattered Cover. She'll also show slides and read snippets from the book. Perhaps the vignette about finally kicking Allen Ginsberg -- one of her and her fellow Librens' icons -- out of her home because she was sick of having to cook and clean for scads of people every night. Or maybe the tale of trying to dynamite post holes for the house while completely stoned. Or possibly the saga of the peach run to Paonia. Or the story of how the new, rich hippies with their hundred-dollar boots invading the valley near the end helped her realize the dream was over.

Price still goes back to Libre occasionally, and though most everyone has left, there are still a few stalwarts holding down the commune, including her now-ex-husband, David. Still, the Huerfano Valley has never left her.

"We learned harsh lessons in the Huerfano, about selfishness, limits and lunacy, about follies and visions that couldn't mesh," Price writes. "We learned so many practicalities the hard way. Yet unbridled possibilities are what we saw in the Huerfano, and what we took away. It was so American of us, after all."

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Amy Haimerl

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