KIM, Colo. -- Steve Wooten drives his Ford pickup over red dirt roads that wind through his ranch near the Purgatoire River, careful to stay on the same old tracks because tire marks can last for decades in this dry corner of southeastern Colorado.
Near a towering rock outcropping, Wooten and his wife, Joy, point to ancient American Indian drawings of antelope and deer. Up a handmade ladder to a deep pool of snowmelt and rainwater is the name of Western explorer Kit Carson scratched into the rock.
The couple is the fourth generation of the family to raise cattle on this 27,000-acre ranch. Steve Wooten's great-grandfather, an Irish immigrant, once boasted he had more land in New Mexico and Colorado than there was in all of Ireland.
Maybe it wasn't enough: The Wootens and many of their neighbors fear the Army is about to change their lives forever with a sprawling expansion of the Pinon Canyon training site used by troops at Fort Carson.
The post wants to expand Pinon Canyon by as much as 418,000 acres, or 653 square miles, an area about two-thirds the size of Delaware.
The Army says expansion is closely linked to growth at Fort Carson -- 10,000 more troops over the next few years -- and the post will soon be a training site for National Guard units around the West.
Having a big training area better simulates battlefield conditions abroad, said Karen Edge, the Pinon Canyon outreach coordinator at Fort Carson. The terrain and hot conditions in Pinon Canyon are similar to what soldiers face in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.
"It's the land itself that's the cornerstone of live training," she said.
Earlier, larger expansion proposals fueled talk of a government land grab. One military map showing a proposed 2.5 million acre, multiyear expansion was leaked to the news media, but Edge said that proposal is old.
The Army isn't expected to decide on Fort Carson's request to expand until at least the end of the year, and then any move would face a Defense Department review.
Yet there is deep concern about the plan from the homesteads to the tiny general stores in towns that still serve as a touchstone for farmers and ranchers facing another dry year and shrinking profits. There's a fear that their way of life doesn't fit anymore in fast-growing Colorado.
Fort Carson officials haven't detailed which exact parcels they might want, but they have released a map of their "area of interest," a circle that stretches to about 25 miles from Pinon Canyon. The Wootens, among others, are inside that circle.
Home Threatened Home Back at the Wooten home, wedding portraits of the couple's two daughters rest atop a television hutch, flanked by the girls' first pairs of cowboy boots. Arin was married next to the barn on a windy day. Niki was married in the same church as her parents, First Baptist in Kim, population 73. Both daughters are gone -- Arin in Nebraska and Niki in New Mexico, both ranching with their husbands -- but they've been calling home lately for news on Pinon Canyon.
The concern is that lost agricultural land would have a domino effect on businesses and schools that depend heavily on tax dollars.
"Kim, our community, our churches and schools. It could all be history," Joy Wooten said during a chat in their kitchen at the end of a seven-mile-long dirt driveway. "It's beyond sad."
Residents predict some landowners will sell to the Army either because there are no children to work the ranch or because the owners are outsiders who aren't so tied to the land.
Those considering selling keep a low profile. Edge said she had three recent calls from landowners, but all asked her to keep their names secret because they feared being pressured by their neighbors.
Bill Wilkinson, whose ranch borders Army land, said friends have been treating him coolly after he was quoted as saying he'd consider selling if two neighboring properties were bought. Even though he's against the expansion, he said he wonders what will happen if the Army takes over access roads to his ranch.
"Maybe I am public enemy No. 1, but the fact is I'm realistic. If my family becomes surrounded, I would have to say I'd have to consider my options," he said. "Ultimately, the decision to sell or not to sell to the Army, if they don't invoke eminent domain, is going to be a personal thing decided at the kitchen table."
Lon Robertson left home because there wasn't enough income on his dad's ranch to support him, too. He worked in Texas before returning to Colorado, where he has a cattle ranch, runs the Kim Outpost store and has formed a coalition of opponents to the Pinon Canyon plan. He recently organized a meeting at a community hall in Hoehne, pop. 150, which could disappear in the expansion.
"If we don't stop it now, in 10 years it will be some of the rest of you," rancher Mack Louden told the group.
Rancher Lonny Jackson called the plan a grab for land where "we make very little income but it's part of us."
His grandson, he said, was wounded in Iraq and now he might not have a ranch to come home to. "We're fighting in foreign wars because we don't think they're treating their people right, and look what's happening here."
Distrust of the Army dates back to when the Pinon Canyon site was created in the 1980s. The Army acquired about 250,000 acres, about half by eminent domain, and military officials promised never to use live fire during training or swallow up any more ranches, residents say. They say the site is barely used now and the Army has not given a good reason for the expansion.
Mike Heredia, chief of Fort Carson's strategic planning group, said more land is needed so a growing number of soldiers can train using new technology, including unmanned small aircraft, ground systems and updated radios.
Fort Carson is also scheduled to get three heavy brigade combat teams in its upcoming expansion, which include tanks, Bradleys and other heavy equipment. And while live fire of smaller weapons is allowed at Pinon Canyon, Heredia said bigger weapons could be part of an expanded training site.
"The Army has got to be able to fight against anybody anywhere in the world," he said.
Traditional Values A quiet conservatism prevails here, one that values military service, patriotism and personal responsibility but doesn't want government to have a heavy hand or rack up debt.
While Colorado's population and economy exploded in the 1990s, the agriculture-based eastern plains has been steadily losing people. This corner of Colorado, a short drive from the New Mexico line, is struggling through drought and a loss of manufacturing jobs. Some ranchers offer hunting trips to help sustain their bottom line; the Wootens are building a lodge to attract more hunters.
Opponents say a Pinon Canyon expansion of even 418,000 acres would swallow up 172 ranches and farms that generate about $6 million a year and account for 30 percent of the county's agricultural output.
Even if the Army paid the going rate for land in the area -- $250 to $350 an acre -- many ranchers say there wouldn't be any place for them to go where they could replicate what they have. Cattle need a lot of land -- between 30 acres on the flatlands and 75 acres in the rockier canyon land per animal.
Ranchers have had to sell off cattle or send them to out-of-state pastures because there wasn't enough grass to feed them in the lingering drought. The Wootens sold 100 cows in 2001, then moved the rest to Kansas. Today, the farm is only two-thirds stocked.
The last stop on the tour of their ranch is a red rock cave overlooking the Purgatoire River, which legend says got its name because some Spanish settlers were attacked by Indians and died without being able to receive last rites, sending them to purgatory.
Pinon Canyon is just across the next ridge, three-quarters of a mile away with a sliver of Forest Service land in between. Steve Wooten said he doesn't understand how the Army can drive tanks and other heavy equipment on such sensitive land but fears they may take his ranch to gain access to the flatter lands just beyond.
And if it's not this time, he said he fears there could be a third and a fourth round of expansion.
"We'll never spend a day not wondering when that hammer is going to fall," Steve Wooten said. "We will forever be watching our backsides wondering when those guys are coming after us again."