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38.5347°N, 105.9989°W
Salida, CO, USA

All across the American West, hillsides are marked with giant letters. Sometimes these letters are obviously markers for the towns they look down upon – the G above Gunnison, Colorado, for example. Other times their meaning is obscure and require a bit of local knowledge. The Y above Provo, Utah comes from the Y in Brigham Young University. The A above Fort Collins finds its origin in the early days of Colorado State University, when it was called Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts and its mascot was the Aggie.

It's up for debate whether these monolithic letters were intended to signal town locations to pilots flying overhead. It's not debatable that many hillside letters have become ingrained in their community's fabric.

Rising above Salida, the triangular peak of Tenderfoot Mountain – affectionately called S Mountain by the locals – stands as both an identifier and a symbol of this mountain community. The giant, white S marks Salida geographically, but also as a place where people strive upward, always working toward something greater. For some that means aspiring to live their best life. For others it's completing a physical endurance test or creating something beautiful, delicious, or poetic. The easiest way to experience S Mountain is make your way up Spiral Drive. The story goes that in the 1920s, residents pooled their resources to build the corkscrewing road that winds around S Mountain, all the way up to the little observation post at the top. The whole drive is beautiful, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape that will take your breath away. During the winter months, strings of lights lead up to a wire-frame star that lends a festive air to the season.

For all the seriousness with which Salida residents take their work and play, there's also a whimsy here that you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Salida is a town where arresting statues cling to the sides of buildings, where kids romp in the rapids while their parents enjoy the afternoon on an overlooking restaurant patio. The confluence of the serious and lighthearted happens at the start of every summer – as it has since 1949 – with the annual FIBArk Festival that commemorates Salida as the First in Boating on the Arkansas River.

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For one weekend each June, Salida's riverfront brings the community together for watersports, food, and music. Carnival games whistle and spin, funnel cakes are poured, and bands take the stage in the park's amphitheater. Every day the river plays host to raft and kayak races, and the surrounding mountain trails rumble during mountain bike races. Some of the races are competitive, others – like the Hooligan Race, where contestants compete in makeshift watercraft that can only nominally be called "boats" – are more tongue in cheek. But it's FIBArk's kickoff race that sets the tone for this exciting weekend.

"There's nothing like the Hill Climb," says one Salida resident who's done it more times than he'd like to admit. "Rocks are tumbling down at you, sometimes you see a snake – people are pushing, jostling, huffing their way up. It's awesome!" Get to talking to just about anybody who calls Salida home and they'll claim they've done the Hill Climb. More often than not, the claims hold water. The event, it seems, is a Salida rite of passage.

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Starting near downtown Salida's main intersection, the annual Hill Climb race sees hundreds of intrepid racers sprinting up the side of S Mountain. Some race for the glory, some race in order to simply say they've done it. Others dress in costumes. From kids to retirees, it's hard to find anyone in Salida who hasn't done the Hill Climb at least once. Looking up at S Mountain, it's hard to imagine anyone getting to the top and back down in one piece, let alone in the 12 minutes they say is often the time it takes for the winner to make it up and back.

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As Airstream travels the country in search of unique Round Trip destinations, we keep our eye out for dedicated craftspeople who are passionate about manufacturing quality products. Like like the hundreds of production associates who hand-make Airstream travel trailers and touring coaches in our Jackson Center, Ohio manufacturing facility, they are committed to their craft – and to living their dreams. These are their stories.

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