Sure, the holidays come but once a year, and yes, the season 'tis upon us. This year, try corralling Colorado-made items into your shopping basket; it's an interesting and easy way to make the giver feel good and the givee feel loved. Best of all, it beats going to a big-box store and picking something out that inevitably was made by anonymous factory workers in China. Our state's full of amazing artisans, talented crafters and ingenious vintners and musicians -- take advantage! The following are just a few of the Colorado products we think deserve attention.
-- Kara Luger
Give a big basket of awesome to everybody you adore. Get said basket at one of Ranch Food Direct's three locations, where you can mix and match and pick from a mighty selection of natural meats, small-production cheeses, condiments and other goodies. Does your mom love beef? Fill the basket with beef! Know someone who really likes mustard? Fill that sucker with mustard! The possibilities are only limited to your imagination and the physical thresholds of the basket. -- Aaron Retka
Ranch Foods Direct Natural Meat Market
2901 N. El Paso St.
Ranch Foods Direct Market and Deli
9475 Briar Village Point Drive, Suite 150
Ranch Steakhouse and Market
575 W. Garden of the Gods Road
Do yourself and your planet a favor and pick up some holiday edibles from James Ranch. Located outside Durango, the ranch houses four families who raise cows and pigs, grow organic produce and trees, and make artisan cheeses. The entire ranch is "beyond organic," meaning that everything is produced sustainably, holistically and with the delicacy of the ecosystem in mind. This holiday season, James Ranch products -- until now available only in the Four Corners area -- will be available in gift packages, which includes their awesome and fairly unique raw milk Belford cheese. -- Aaron Retka
33304 Highway 550, Durango
For one week every month over a three-year period, John B. Weller, a world-class nature photographer living in Boulder, packed his equipment and explored Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado, looking for line and shadow and exploring the effects of the seasons on one of America's most mysterious and austere landscapes. The result is this book, an exquisite collection of photos and essays organized by month to chronicle the progress of the seasons across the dunes. In what looks like a moonscape, a single sunflower stands amid ridges of wavy sand. Elk tracks form hieroglyphic patterns. A snowstorm at sunset above the dunes turns the sky butter yellow. These are images that visitors to the dunes might have briefly imagined, now captured and pulled together in one magical place. -- Kathryn Eastburn
Great Sand Dunes National Park: Between Light and Shadow
Text and photos by John B. Weller
Westcliffe Publishers, $19.95/paperback
The three handsome young bucks of Leer43 produce straightforward rock 'n roll, and their latest effort, pine trees never change, is their third and strongest recording to date. Leer43 count Better Than Ezra, Ryan Adams and Travis as influences, though we swear we hear Queen and Slipknot in there as well. Then again, it might be the bourbon talking. "On Your Own" rocks rather appropriately, while "Death of a Genius" keens with ambition. They're already venue favorites, with plenty of giggly, wiggly girls pining after them, so snag the CD and pretend they're playing just for you. -- Kara Luger
pine trees never change
Artificial Intelligence Entertainment
Independent Records, $7.98
Four locations in town, beindependent.com
You know the drill: You're whiling away an afternoon in Manitou, gaping at the jugglers and Wiccans, blowing change at the arcade, when you see an enormous sign reading "FUDGE." Fast-forward 10 minutes and you're laden with 16 pounds of candy, more than you can carry, let alone eat. This is when the concept of gift-giving occurs to you, because who doesn't like candy for Christmas? (Communists, that's who.) I suggest you visit Goldminers, where they've got a huge array of house-made and adventurously flavored fudge, bins of candy beans, decidedly retro confections like horehound and nonpareils, and piles of sweet, sweet sweets, all of it good for the givin'. -- Aaron Retka
Goldminers Nuts and Candy
110 Cañon Ave., Suite B, Manitou Springs
Since we're talking food, why not help get food into the hands of those who really need it? Make a donation for yourself or in the name of someone on your list by contacting Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. As far as nonprofits go, Care and Share is remarkably streamlined, turning over 93 cents of every donated dollar to the people it serves. You can make a contribution in the form of time, money or food, or even shop online for food items to donate with the soon-to-be-launched "virtual food drive." Check out the Web site or give them a call to figure out how you can to help. Even the holidays' barrage of bleeping and blooping gadgets won't drown out the fact that you did some good this year. -- Aaron Retka
Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado
2520 Aviation Way, Suite 130
While you're checking out Terra Verde's fabulous new expanded digs, make sure to take a look-see at pottery by Mark Wong. Working out of his home in Manitou, Wong creates gorgeous, hand-thrown raku platters, vases and bowls. The man even has developed clays and glazes specific to his throwing style. Wong Wares pottery blazes with color, and best of all, it's functional as well as pretty. All this and more for $25 and up. -- Kara Luger
Mark Wong's Wong Wares
Terra Verde, 208 N. Tejon St.
We can't all be wizards, you know. Comfort the Muggle within with all manners of Harry Potter regalia, courtesy of Elope, a local hat and costumery company. One of the first manufacturers to get the green light for Harry Potter products, Elope thus churns out a dazzling array of scarves, glasses, Quidditch goggles and a whole lotta hats. Particularly exciting is the Sorting Hat, which also can be used as a puppet. Thankfully, "local" doesn't mean "expensive": Hats run about $19.99-$24.99, and glasses a mere $6-$7. And Elope's not pigeonholed into Potter -- check out its catalog for anything from crowns and disco sunglasses to puppet and creature hats, and very cool backpacks. -- Kara Luger
Harry Potter gear
Little Richard's Toy Store, 324 N. Tejon St.
Two Southwest studies professors at Fort Lewis College have combed the museums, libraries and historical society archives of the state to compile this entertaining and elucidating pictorial history of the Centennial State. Fur trappers, miners, mountain guides and explorers populate the first pages, alongside shots of early Colorado towns and images of the formidable building of railroads through the mountains. Depression-era photos show Hoovervilles in Pueblo, dust storms burying wagons, and thousands of dead rabbits, hunted and lined up on a city street to feed the hungry and save the crops. Less charming but equally interesting are the contemporary photos, many of which celebrate Colorado as a sports capital. Some of the photography is superb, like the pastoral 1980s shot of protesters holding hands and encircling the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. -- Kathryn Eastburn
Colorado: A History in Photographs
By Richard N. Ellis and Duane A. Smith
University Press of Colorado, $29.95/paperback
Let's face it: Colorado hasn't had the most celebrated oenological history. In the past, showing up to a Christmas party with a bottle of Colorado wine was tantamount to getting drunk and trying to snog your boss's wife. The good news is that things are looking up, especially in the case of Pinot Noirs, which are being made more and more throughout the state with increasing success. Two vintners in particular, S. Rhodes and Emes, are making great -- if, ahem, not strictly Burgundy-style -- Pinots grown and pressed in-state. Both of these are carried at Wines of Colorado, where you also can find lovely grapey gifts for every wine-nerd on your list. -- Aaron Retka
Wines of Colorado
8045 W. Highway 24, Cascade
It's all about the thrust, ladies and gentlemen. Mix holiday madness with mad science with one of the plentiful Estes Rockets kits from downtown's Compleat Games and Hobbies. Produced in fair Penrose, the kits cover all skill levels, from no-work-needed "ready to fly" models to the big ol' "E" series rockets standing over 3 feet tall. It'll be fun to put together, fun to yell the 3-2-1! countdown, and definitely fun to watch the bugger blast off. At least the little 'uns will be learning something this year. I mean, it's not rocket science. Well, maybe a little. -- Kara Luger
326 N. Tejon St.
Susan Tweit lives in the high desert of south central Colorado, just above the San Luis Valley. A field ecologist with eight books on natural places, Tweit brings a scientist's eye to her lyrical nonfiction, drawing the reader into the natural history, beauty, remoteness and quirkiness of the valley and its inhabitants. Glenn Oakley's haunting photographs, many of them skyscapes featuring formations of migrating sandhill cranes, are a lovely accompaniment to Tweit's text. This small, beautifully printed volume is part of University of Arizona Press' "Desert Places" series, which includes Grand Canyon: Little Things in a Big Place, a title forthcoming from Springs author Ann Zwinger. For more, visit
uapress.arizona.edu <>. -- Kathryn Eastburn
The San Luis Valley: Sand Dunes and Sandhill Cranes
Text by Susan J. Tweit, photos by Glenn Oakley
University of Arizona Press, $14.95/paperback
Whine, bitch, moan. Frankly, sometimes the music scene can become so saturated with a genre that it's all a music reviewer can do not to poke her eyes out with boredom. Not so with Colorado Springs quintet Harrison Bergeron. Sure, they may be screamo/emo at times, but their sense of melody is far too advanced to dismiss them as yet another pack of moody boys in tight shirts. Their recently self-titled CD is chock-full of surprises, from the surprisingly able jazz intro to their blend of tighter-than-tight punk/hardcore/experimental music. And with songs like "Dude, you have no idea how bad I want to work out right now," it's going to be a very merry Christmas indeed. -- Kara Luger
Independent Records, $13ish
Four locations in town, beindependent.com
When you're a kid, the simplest things become toys: a cardboard box is a house, or a spaceship. A tree becomes a secret fort. Heck, my younger sister used marbles as "students" in a pretend classroom. All that's well and good, but if you're going to get the real thing, buy something that's going to last through all the fake battles and rowdiness. Denver's Little Colorado makes its own handcrafted children's furniture and toys. Though it generally deals in wee-sized beds, toy boxes and table sets, there's also plenty of wooden rocking horses, cradles, playhouses and a cute little kitchen set. Little Colorado's products can be found in many catalogs, but check out the Web site and outlet store as well. -- Kara Luger
Little Colorado (Factory Seconds Outlet)
Denver, 4450 Lipan St.
It's time to get knitty with it! Cold weather is encroaching, and it's best that all tiny heads are covered, preferably with a warm, crazy-cute hat, lovingly made by Colorado Springs textile queen Claudia Bttiger. Colorful and fun, in super-soft fuzzy wool, the conical caps are made in different sizes, from infants to 2-year-olds, and run about $38. It's a bit pricey, sure, but this is quality, folks. That, and it's great to support local artisans. -- Kara Luger
Knitted children's winter hats
315 N. Tejon St.