Last known location: London, England

Route 50: Get the heck out of Dodge!

G: After our night out in Monte Vista we were up and on the road early on Friday. We stopped for breakfast in tiny Villa Grove, at a sweet little cafe run by very nice aging hippies. The organic, locally sourced ingredients for what was essentially a fry up really hit the spot. About 10 miles out of Villa Grove we finally made it back onto Route 50 after a two day diversion through the mountains. However, a few minutes later we left the road again, this time only for a short while, to visit the town of Salida, on the Arkansas river.

We’d chosen a good day to check it out because there was the annual FIBArk race on so the town had a carnival feel. FIBArk stands for First In Boating the Arkansas and started in the 1950’s hosting 26 mile boat races on the river. We parked up and wandered around the various stalls and rides on offer, ending up at the bridge to get a look at the racers. They seemed to be in several types of vessel, from canoes to kayaks, and most were doing a good job of staying above the water. Unfortunately it began to rain after a few minutes so we sought cover in the nearest available shelter; The Boathouse. As it was after 12 Dan and David decided to crack onto the beers. There were lots of local brews to try so much excitement was had by all!

Unluckily for me this lunchtime male boozing meant I was left to drive the rest of the way to Cañon City. Which wouldn’t really have been a problem had it not been for the Skyline Drive road we decided to take just outside town. Our book says the road is “as close to riding a roller coaster as you’re ever likely to get while inside a passenger car.” We thought it sounded fun and headed on in. Perhaps the 15 mph warning and NARROW ROAD sign should have given us warning but it was too late; by the time we realised quite how narrow the road was and how steep and high the drops on either side were there was no turning back. It’s a good job Dan had drunk all those beers at lunchtime otherwise I’m not sure he’d have stayed in the car at all. David was very calmly telling me I was “fine on my side, Gem” but his grip on the door handle suggested he felt anything but calm. The video below, filmed on a motorbike, gives you some idea of how it was to drive it (skip to 2 minutes in for the best bit!). 3 miles, 3 near heart attacks and a somewhat shaky hill start later and we were on the other side. Relief!

Our next challenge of the day was finding a place to stay in Cañon City. One of the last remaining Wild West towns in the US, Cañon City is in the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains. It’s Main Street is lined with saddle shops, gun shops and saloons. Although a few tourists visit, the local economy prospers mainly from prisons. There are 14 in all, including the state’s newest maximum security penitentiary, nicknamed “Supermax”, and the oldest, the Territorial Prison. This place housed Alfred Packer, a miner and Wild West gunslinger convicted of cannibalism, amongst othe crimes. This was not our primary concern, however, as it seemed that for the first time there mightn’t be a room in town for us to stay in. The first three places were full, something we’d never come across before. When we did eventually find a motel with availability the owner suggested people in nearby towns may have been evacuated because of the nearby forest fires. So, happily ensconced in the Colorado Inn, we relaxed with a bottle of wine before venturing out to explore the apparently thriving saloon scene.

After getting dinner at a local Italian restaurant called Diritos, we started a mini bar crawl. The first stop was McClures, a low key place where we played a few games of pool and managed to avoid joining in with the karaoke. After that we walked to Rumor’s down the street, which had live music. The band were rockers a few years past their prime and, on first glance, seemed to include The Edge from U2. On closer inspection it wasn’t actually him, just someone trying very hard to look like him! We settled down with some drinks and enjoyed the varying music – The Who to American country music. Much fun. As time passed I became more and more distracted by the locals. We had a shirtless guy wandering in and out, stopping occasionally to dirty dance with some of the ladies. He later came back on a little scooter to wheel about on. Then there was the denim cut off clad chap who was very popular with the girls, despite looking about 3 times their age. And my favourite, Talitha, the lady in red who was quite a dancer. She cornered me in the loo and told me that, at 32 (I wasn’t altogether convinced by this number) she was on husband number 3 but her first marriage had lasted 12 years….Interesting. I tease, but we had a really fun time in the bar and were made to feel more than welcome.

On the way home we decided to make one last stop. For some reason it was a smoking bar, despite public smoking being banned in Colorado. I tried to ask a local why everyone was smoking and ended up spending the rest of the night counselling the only gay in the village, who was making his big break to San Francisco in September. Apparently there are slim pickings for a man like him in Cañon City. Bless! The boys fared a bit better with their questioning and found out that the bar also operated as a specialist cigarette shop which is why they could get away with the smoking thing. Before we knew it it was 2am and time to get to sleep. Lots of driving tomorrow!

D: We started the next day at Ed’s Diner in Cañon City, where we had a very American breakfast of eggs over easy and huge pancakes – just what was called for at the time! Then we were back on the road and headed east for Kansas. We still had quite a few miles of Colorado to cover, as we went downhill all the way from the foothills of the Rockies to the Great Plains. After passing through the steel city of Pueblo we took a slight detour to explore Bent’s Old Fort, which is a restored adobe trading post originally built in the 1830’s. Just a mile from the then Mexican border, the fort was the most western outpost of American civilisation at the time. We had a quick look around the rooms and towers, as well as at the peacocks and horses wandering around, and were on our way.

We’d planned to stop in a town called Lamar on the Eastern edge of Colorado, but on arrival it seemed to offer little more than all the usual chain motels. Since it was only early afternoon we thought it was a bit of waste to stop so soon with nothing to do – we might have been swayed by an outdoor pool given the sweltering temperatures, but none was to be found, so we hit the road. Shortly afterwards we crossed into Kansas, and couldn’t resist stopping to have our picture taken with the sign! We drove on as far as Garden City, which is surrounded by huge cattle farms and meat processing factories which gave it a pleasant odour! After touring the town looking for somewhere to stay we eventually found a motel and then headed out for dinner. Ribs seem to be everywhere so we thought it was time to give them a try – David and I managed to finish off a whole rack each! We’d had a busy few days and some late nights and thought it was time to get some sleep, so after dinner it was straight home for an early night.

The next morning we drove another hour or so into Kansas, through endless wheat fields and tiny towns, all of which seemed to have enormous wheat processing plants! After an hour we arrived in Dodge City, which in it’s day was one of the most notorious towns on the Wild West frontier – known as ‘Hell on the Plains’ in the 1870s due to the gunfights and general lawlessness which Wyatt Earp and others tried to keep under control. Nowadays not much remains from those times, but there is a very touristy museum modelled on a Wild West town.

The only places to stay seemed to be the chain motels strung along Wyatt Earp Boulevard out of town, so we picked the nearest one to downtown and checked in. While we were doing so we met a Little League baseball coach and his son who’d travelled across the state to take part in a tournament, and we decided we’d go along to see what was happening. We found the baseball fields at the edge of town and settled in to one of the little grandstands with a Chilli Dog. There was a lot of enthusiasm from the players and a few rowdy fans, but a distinct lack of home runs. The temperature that day was a whopping 41°C, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising!

We got back to the motel mid afternoon and thought if would be nice to have a few cold beers on the balcony. However, at the garage across the road Gem was approached by a helpful local man whilst she was eyeing up the beer and informed that it was illegal to by alcohol anywhere in the county on Sundays! This was something of a blow, but after he made a few phone calls we established that this didn’t apply to restaurants. Newly enlightened we went back to the balcony and polished off the last of the wine from Grand Junction!

Later on we walked into town, had yet more steak, and then got to the aforementioned Boot Hill Museum just in time for a noisy but slightly lacklustre gun fight on the main street of the mock town. After that was the main event at the Longbranch saloon, where we watched a song and dance show featuring Miss Kitty and her can-can girls. Beforehand David took the opportunity to purchase a souvenir garter from one of the girls, and then nearly fell asleep during the show! It was all quite family-oriented, and not as racy as it sounds, but entertaining enough.

It was David’s last night with us, so we thought we should celebrate, but we hadn’t seen any fun looking saloons, and since it was a Sunday we thought the huge resort casino on the edge of town might be a safe bet. We caught the shuttle bus out there and stayed for a few drinks and a bit of Roulette and Blackjack. Gem and I made a profit of $50 on the roulette, and then promptly lost half of it demonstrating to David how to play! Afterwards we were sat at the bar, and as the casino wasn’t the most exciting place we thought we’d try and find an alternative. We got talking to the Filipino barmaid who revealed that Sunday was the night to party for all the Mexican farm workers in the town. She gave us a few recommendations and we jumped into a taxi.

After a few false alarms we found somewhere busy, but were then told we could only come in if we were members – I think to be a member you just had to look Mexican. We managed to talk our way in however, and even though the barmaid initially refused to serve us, we were soon talking to the owner over a Corona! We’d also been befriended by Antonio, who’d helped us get in, and as a black guy from Tennessee he fitted in with the Mexicans about as well as we did! It was a slightly intimidating atmosphere at first, but we soon settled in, and David challenged some of the locals to an England vs. Mexico pool competition. We cracked slightly under pressure and were thrashed, but we’d made friends enough for the head honcho to give us a lift back to the motel – with one of the under-21s driving.

The following morning David had to make his way back to Denver to catch his flight home. After a lot of research it seemed that a 1 hour flight from Dodge City to Denver with Great Lakes Airlines was the most straightforward option. We arrived at the airport on the edge of town, which consisted of a hangar and a few outbuildings. We went into the tiny terminal and found that David was to be the only passenger on the little 19 seat plane! A hefty gale was blowing across the plains from an approaching storm that had caused the cancellation of two earlier flights, but we were assured that this one would definitely take off! We left David looking slightly nervous and headed back out onto Route 50 to continue eastwards into the flat plains of Kansas. It had been great having an extra person along for a week, and we’d had a really fun time, but it was definitely time for a few days of detox!

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