They say a man's home is his castle, which for most people in Colorado includes a ranch-style house, two-car garage, mortgage, brown picket fence, and a schnauzer named Foo-Foo. However, for Donald "Cano" Espinoza, the saying has more of a traditional meaning. Some people in his hometown of Antonito, Colorado (South of Alamosa, population<1000), might call him a bit of an idler, or at the very least, eccentric. The one thing they can't call him, however, is wasteful.
For the past 30 years, Cano ("like Chicano") has been living off the land, collecting trash, and building a castle out of hub caps, beer cans, unwanted planks, and various other trinkets that have either been donated, pulled from the junk yard next door, or mysteriously appeared on his front lawn (or so he says). Does he do it for the fame, attention, or cash donations he receives from curious onlookers?
If you asked Cano why he built the castle, he would probably tell you that it was inspired by Mary Jane (vitamin M) and God. He might then ramble on about his mother, Margaret Trujillo Espinoza, who told him he needed to clean the trash off his lawn. So he did. On other days, he might refer to the castle as a dedication to his old war buddy, Gilbert "Pancho" Salazar, who died five days before he was scheduled to return home from his Vietnam tour.
Cano is a Vet himself, but he doesn't like to talk about it. In fact, he doesn't like to talk about anything, unless it involves philosophy, finding Jesus, complaining about his dull saw, or riding bareback along side the local train, whooping at the passengers, wearing nothing but a Native American breech-cloth and headband.
Cano's Castle, or "El Castillo," as it's called, began construction in the early 1980s. Cano claims he never made any plans to build it, and has only added to it as he (or God) sees fit. Like the pieces on a chessboard, the towers are called the "King" and "Queen." On either side of the towers are two smaller buildings, referred to as the "Rook" and "Palace."
The entire structure is made up of a series of rooms, each with its own purpose. The tallest tower (The King), is Cano's crowning masterpiece, stretching some 50 feet (five stories) into the sky. The ground floor is the steam room, or "dungeon." The second floor ("El Castillo") is Jesus' Casita. The third floor is the guest room. The fourth floor is the laboratory, and the missile-head shaped top floor ("Jesus Cristo") is the art room.
The exterior is constructed from 100-year old wood planks, plywood, native rock, and aluminum. Each glimmering portion of the towers was created by cans that were cut, fileted, and nailed down, overlapping each other. The ends of the cans are adorned throughout the tower's exterior like the stars on a general's jacket. Crowning the tower is a six armed cross, built entirely from Keystone beercans.
The smaller tower (The Queen), is next to Cano's horse stable. At the very top is a widows walk, named such because of the wives of sailors who would spy over to the docks as the ships came in to see if their husband had returned alive. While there is no sea to overlook in Colorado, the walk offers one hell of an eagle eye's view of the small town of Antonito (not that you'd want to test its structural integrity to see it).
Over on the other side of the stable rests the Palace, which is easily spotted by its pyramid-shaped assortment of hubcaps, "saloon" sign, and two circular, submarine windows. On the opposite end, next to the King's tower, stands the Rook. This is also known as the "Slave Room," as it is where Cano would stay during the coldest months, cutting cans to prepare for the warmer weather. Cano claims he has cut up to 1,000 cans per day.
While the project began in the early 80s, the second story of the King's tower was finished in 1985. After the fall of the Twin Towers (9/11), the project picked up pace, and the Queen's portion was completed in 2010. “Complete,” however, may not be the most appropriate word, as to Cano, the project will never be done; there will always be another bathtub, tire, or hubcap that finds its way to his doorstep, and he'll inevitably have to put it somewhere.
He is currently noodling the idea of building a tie line from his house to the castle, so he can swing across to work on it. However mixed Cano's direction and message may seem, the signs around his property (“Alcohol + Tobacoo is Kills” “Mary Jane is Healing”) suggest this old hippy's musings are not as far off the cracker as you might expect. You can visit El Castillo any time. Just pack a lunch, an open mind, and prepare to be schooled on everything from politics to the end of the world.
10th Ave. and State St, Highway 285
Antonito, Colorado 81120