QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” ~Yogi Berra (We’re doing our best!)
On Thursday, September 28, MW started the morning with a last hike in Dinosaur National Monument on the Desert Voices trail before heading out. By 10 AM we were on the road heading east on US-40. It was a gorgeous day for a drive, and we made our way through high desert, rolling hills, and open ranch land. At Craig, Colorado, we scoped out a laundromat for the coming chore, then found an Italian place for lunch with easy street parking. As we were walking through the alley, there was a delivery truck unloading, and I asked the guy standing there if that was the rear of the Italian place. Turned out he was the owner, but they were not open. Denied! Bummer! We tried a couple of other places, before ending up at J. W. Snacks’s. (More about that later.) After lunch, we finished the last short leg to Hayden, Colorado, and the Routt County Fairgrounds.
RANT WARNING…SKIP IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT: J. W. Snack’s was the #3 restaurant in Craig on TripAdvisor and got 4-1/2 stars with hundreds of reviews. Wow…so wrong on our visit! When we walked in the door, there were about 5-6 customers in the place, but not an employee in sight. With no sign about seating yourself, we stood up front waiting for someone for a couple of minutes, then just picked a spot. MW went to the bathroom and returned without a waitress showing up at our table or even in the room. I excused myself, and by the time I returned, she had finally been there, taken drink orders, and delivered menus. She brought the drinks just as I was sitting back down and asked for our order. I asked her to give me a minute to look at the menu. We didn’t see her again for probably 8-10 minutes. There were two waitresses and the bartender who was working orders on the stools (2 people). One waitress was working her tail off. Unfortunately, she wasn’t ours. Ours and the bartender were both up at the side of the bar scrolling on their phones. MW finally got her attention by waving, and she came to take the orders. The food didn’t take too long, but once she dropped it off, we didn’t see her again. She didn’t check to see how the food was, she didn’t refill our drinks, nothing. My food was bad…seriously overcooked, dry fish (except for one small piece), shrimp cooked until hard (even the boiled/steamed portion), and hushpuppies that actually had charred bits on the outside that tasted burned. I ate what I could, all the while keeping an eye out to flag her down. She didn’t even come back into the dining room. Full disclosure, she did have one or two tables out on the patio, but that is not an excuse for disappearing completely. I did catch sight of her a couple of times standing just inside the kitchen door scrolling on her phone, though. The next time we saw her was when she showed up to drop off the check. I told her about the food, even showing her the burned bits. Her response: “That’s funny. Someone just told me that the hushpuppies are the best they’ve ever had.” Wow! MW and I responded in unison, “They weren’t from this batch, then!” I also said it would have been returned, but we had not seen her since the food was delivered. She said she was just “really busy with tables out on the patio”. Okay, I lost my cool. I said that we could see both her and the bartender regularly surfing on their cell phones from where we sat, and she would be less busy if she put her danged phone away. I asked for the manager, but she nor the owner were there. You know, I’m usually very polite and understanding with servers. There are have been plenty of times when places were understaffed and the servers, overworked. Once the only waitress working had been called in because no one else showed up. That poor girl was working her tail off ON HER BIRTHDAY! No worries!! But this server was lazy, rude, and unapologetic. If that is your attitude, you need to be in a different job. OKAY, END OF RANT.
RANT-SKIPPERS START HERE…BUMPER STICKERS: Seen on the back of a truck in Craig, Colorado: “Covid is the flu with a better publicist.” On the wall in a pizza joint in Hayden, Colorado: “You can’t make everyone happy. You’re not pizza.” On the back of a truck in Colorado: “Save an Elk. Shoot a Land Developer.”
Friday was just chores…laundry, writing, and a grocery run, all back in Craig. On the way, though, I did see three pairs of sandhill cranes. These birds are just beautiful! It’s hard to see in the pics, but they stand 3-4′ tall and have wing spans from 5-1/2′ to 7-1/2′. No kidding! They have a loud call, especially when you get too close to their nesting area, and the mated pairs will actually sing together on purpose. This time of year they migrate south for the winter. Once they arrive at their wintering grounds, they will form flocks that can be over 10,000 strong. If you want to take a gander at that, head down to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Albuquerque during the winter months. They even have a festival for them there.
Saturday we headed over to check out Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The drive was gorgeous, with the leaves changing colors. Our first stop was for lunch at the Back Door Grill, which is a small, Colorado chain. The service and food were excellent…Big Blue burger for MW and Chicken Club for me. Afterwards we walked around town, checking out the shops including F. M. Light and Sons, which we had been seeing ads about for miles. The town is surrounded by mountains, some with ski runs and jumps. While there were quite a few people in town, you can tell that winter is the big season in this village along the Yampa River. This time of year, there is a lot of bike riding, dining, and shopping. The surroundings are beautiful and the fall colors added to it. After checking it all out, we returned to Hayden and visited the Yampa Valley Brewing Company before heading back to Petunia.
Sunday we headed out for services at the Central Baptist Church in Hayden, Colorado. The small congregation was very welcoming, and the sermon by Pastor Eric Ross on the functions of Christians in the world, up-lifting. Afterwards we headed over to the Creek View Grill in town for lunch. (Driest chicken sandwich I’ve ever eaten.) Except for a bit of writing, that was pretty much it for the day.
Routt County Fairgrounds in Hayden, Colorado, is not a bad place to park for a few days. An easy drive to Steamboat Springs, it is a nice place to stay out of the crowds. The facility has all kinds of typical fairgrounds stuff…arenas, exhibition halls, etc…but unless something is going on, all is quiet. The campground consists of 9 paved, back-in sites, some electric only and some full-hook-up. There is also a dump station and a clean bathhouse/restroom. The latter is open 24/7 and is near the entrance, so you’ll occasionally see cars pull up to use the services. Unless the fairground is in use, this is a pretty peaceful place. It is near a large playground area for children, too. It is a bit on the expensive side, though. On this visit in September 2023, we paid $224.45 for 4 nights.
On Monday we got up and out a little later than the planned 9 AM. I was thankful, because I had one of those “awake too much” nights. We again headed east on US-40, then turned south on CR-27 over to Oak Creek, where we caught CO-131 south. It was a gorgeous day for a drive, and passing through the rolling hills and mountains bathed in fall color was spectacular. Near Toponas we rounded a bend and found something you just don’t see in many areas of the country…traffic stopped in both directions for cowboys…herding cattle…with dogs! Too cool! We had to wait for a few minutes for them to get past us, which was totally worth it. At Toponas, we turned east on CO-134, where we crossed Gore Pass (9,527′) and began our descent out of the Rocky Mountains. Next we turned south on US-40 and stopped at the Grand Old West in Kremmling, Colorado, for lunch. (After the disappointing quesadilla a few weeks ago, the one here was great!) They had the oddest bathroom setup I’ve seen, though. It was one big room with two toilets separated by a dresser and one sink in the corner. Sorry, but that just wouldn’t work for me except when the Boogers were little. LOL.
Back on the road, we continued south on US-40 to I-70 east for the last leg, crossing our highest point for the day at 11,140′ before the Johnson Tunnel. After that it was a steady descent down into the flats and our home for the next few nights, Bear Creek Lake Park in Lakewood, Colorado.
Tuesday found us running errands and getting some chores done before getting together with nearby family on Wednesday. Jim and Cathy Shelton have a house in the mountains in Evergreen, Colorado, where they have been for 30 years. If you have a REALLY good memory and have read ALL of this blog, you may remember that we met them in Moab, Utah in 2018 on our way back across country. They travel a good deal, and you know what our lives are like, so it was nice to plan to be in the same place. Their home is in a mountainside community with terrific views and lots of wildlife. I’m not just talking about deer and turkey here. Cathy has a trail camera out by their little pond, and below are a couple of the visitors in the last few weeks. When we arrived, there was a female deer resting out back. She didn’t seem to mind the humans, either.
After visiting a bit, we headed over to Flying J Jefferson County Park for a picnic and hike. I’d been struggling for several days with some shortness of breath and a little stomach upset, which I was attributing to the altitude. Jim and Cathy had only been back from Seattle for a couple of days, and she was having the same issues. She confirmed that it always happens to her for several days after being away for a while, which made me feel better. I had previously told MW my symptoms in case I suddenly couldn’t breathe at all and emergency assistance was needed. LOL. The boys quickly left us behind heading up the hill, and Cathy and I made it a little ways before deciding to head back down. There was a conveniently placed bench in the sunshine, so we enjoyed chatting there. We also visited with the most adorable whippet who was taking her person for a good walk. That fueled the “I want a dog” fever for me, which makes MW nervous. The boys were back at the car and ready when we showed back up. On the way back to the house, we stopped to see one of the local resident’s assortment of animals…yaks, fallow deer, buffalo, elk. That’s my kind of ranch! We also passed by the home of Keith Van Horn, a former NBA player. MW pointed out the house, which was fabulous. Then Cathy said, “That’s the barn. You can’t see the house.” Wow!
At their house we climbed up to the back of their property, which had me panting pretty good. They had a couple of chairs up there to enjoy the view, and we sat for a bit, visiting. MW and I were on a wooden loveseat that did not particularly like both of us sitting on it. It gave way a few minutes in, not collapsing completely, but trying to dump us out. Jim said it had been up there for years, but that didn’t make us feel any better. Honestly, I blame MW. He has gained weight in the last few years. I’m certain it had NOTHING to do with the size of my butt! Back at the house we visited for a while, then enjoyed a terrific dinner of pork roast, squash casserole, caprese salad, and rhubarb crisp with ice cream. The latter was cultivated by Jim. The rhubarb, not the ice cream. That was cultivated by Blue Bell. I had never had rhubarb pie before and really enjoyed the sweet and sour taste. It was finally time to say goodbye, but we did provide a little final entertainment for them. They watched from the deck while MW worked on getting the truck turned around in their smallish parking area. I think they enjoyed it more than he did. I kept an eye out for that mountain lion on the way out, but no dice. I’d love to get a glimpse of one…from a good distance, of course.
Bear Creek Lake Park is on Corps of Engineers land, but is operated by the City of Lakewood. We’ve often seen state-operated Corps parks, but this is the first one operated by a town. It is an amazing place, though, which really surprised us since it is right in the Denver metro mess. Amenities include an archery range; horse stables and equestrian arena; miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding; a swim beach; paddle board, kayak, canoe, and pedal boat rentals; lots of areas for picnicking; rental pavilions; an amphitheater; a boat ramp and marina; and a playground. Additional activities include water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing on Little Soda Lake; boating on Big Soda Lake and Bear Creek Reservoir; and fishing in Bear Creek Reservoir. There is also a golf course nearby. Lodging opportunities include rental cabins, rental yurts, and the campground. The latter was divided into a group camping loop and the main, seasonal campground, which has a playground, bathhouse, water fill station, dump station, and multiple bathrooms. The roads were paved roads, and the wide, level, graveled sites have picnic tables, and fire rings. There are 16 20/30 amp sites and 31 that have 20/30/50-amp. The 2,600 acre park is beautiful, and there are lots of opportunities for bird and animal watching. Plus, you hear coyote song almost every night! This is truly an amazing park. The facilities were very clean and well-kept, and we were amazed that, being right along the highway, it was pretty quiet. This could be a destination park to enjoy all of the amenities or visit in the Denver area. We would definitely stay again. Plus, it is dirt cheap for what it offers. For this stay in October, 2023, we paid $105 for 3 nights.
Thursday it was time to continue east. We hit the road around 8 AM, leaving the last of the mountains behind us pretty fast on US-85 followed by CO-86 east. Before long we were out in rolling cattle country, and we saw herds of pronghorns grazing. In Limon, Colorado, we stopped for fuel, and I was entertained by a little black bird. The faucet was dripping into a puddle, and he decided it was bath time. He would walk under the shower, then shimmy his whole body down into the puddle and repeat. It went on for the entire time MW was pumping gas. By then it was lunchtime, and we found South Side Food and Drink in town. (Coolest thing on their menu: Tater Barrels…like tater tots, but with onion, cheese, and bacon mixed in!! Let’s just say MW was a FAN!) Afterwards we hopped on I-70 again just for a bit, then took US-287 south through Kit Carson and Eads down to US-50. After leaving Limon, we began to see oil wells and storage tanks for the first time in quite a while. We also zig-zagged across two of our previous paths, and the final hop over to John Martin Reservoir State Park was stale road, too.
After setting up, we relaxed for a bit outside. It would have been totally peaceful if they weren’t working on something in the vicinity of the dam that required a jackhammer. It wasn’t close enough to be terribly loud, though, and they knocked off before too long. Later we took a walk around the lake (about 1-1/2 miles). The other interesting thing that night was the coyotes. They made their first ruckus just after we turned in, and it was evident that there were several packs spread across the plain. I heard them a couple more times overnight, once really close. A little after 5 AM when MW headed out to the bathhouse, he heard them again. Thankfully, they were further away that time.
Friday I headed into Lamar, Colorado, about 30 minutes away to get the laundry done. The campground had a laundry, but there were only two washers, and one of those was broken. Options in town were scarce, and I wasn’t sure what I would find. It turned out okay, though, and I was able to knock it out in a couple of hours. Then I headed over to Taco John to get some work and writing done. (The October 15 extended tax deadline was approaching, and I had returns to take care of.)
Saturday I still had work to do, so MW headed over to to check out Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. In 1833, brothers William and Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain built a trading fort on the Santa Fe Trail along the border of the U. S. and Mexican claimed territories. Situated on the northern bank of the Kansas River, Fort William, as it was originally called, opened up trade with a variety of people and cultures. Their primary customers were the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, but there were also other Indians, traders and travelers on the popular route. At the fort they could find help with repairs, get horses shoed, supplies, ammunition, a nice meal, and protection within the walls. From that location, Bent, St. Vrain & Company expanded their empire north, south, and west. When the Mexican-American War began in 1846, the fort was used as a staging area for the “Army of the West”. Fire and disease eventually caused it to be abandoned in 1849, but not before securing a place in the history of the American West. The fort today contains an amazing example of an 1840s trading post. Using original sketches, diaries, and archeological excavations, the facility was meticulously built as close to the original as possible. There is a film and self-guided or Ranger-guided tours. MW saw the film and went on the guided tour, too. He thought the whole fort was really good, saying that the reconstruction was well-researched and accomplished using period materials. They also had lots of donated and acquired equipment and other supplies to make you feel like it was still an active trading post. The hide press in the center of the courtyard was cool, too. They stacked the folded hides into the box, then the top bar is turned to compress them for wrapping in 100 pound bundles. MW gave the overall experience two thumbs up!
Sunday we headed out for 11.00 AM services at the First Southern Baptist Church of Lamar, Colorado. Despite their website advertising the time, the place was empty. Hmmmm. As we were walking out, a man said that, after losing their pastor, they had switched to a streaming format and now held services at 9 AM. He recommended the Lamar Missionary Baptist Church right down the street, but said they might be holding services out at the fairgrounds. Guess he was right, because there was no one at the church at 10:52 AM. We couldn’t make it to the fairgrounds in time, so I looked for one last option and found the High Plains Fellowship a few blocks away. We made it there on time and were greeted by someone passing out bulletins at the door. Finally! We had to work for this service! Turns out it was the place for us to be. Everyone was very nice, and Pastor Paul, a transplant from Mississippi, taught a very good sermon from Acts about the promises from Jesus. Afterwards we visited for a bit afterwards and met the Brookshires, with whom we had quite a bit in common. Mrs. Brookshire was born in Huntsville, Alabama, like MW, and they shared many old haunts. Mr. Brookshire was in the Navy AND retired from the Federal Aviation Administration on the maintenance side. He was at our training facility in Oklahoma City at the same time as my Uncle Tommy. Alice, another of the sweet congregants, said all that was reason enough for us to move our base of operations to Lamar!! (My Mom said absolutely not!) It was a wonderful experience, and I just love meeting new people. Afterwards we headed over to the Happy Garden Chinese restaurant for lunch. On the way back to the park, we took a look at the Star School. It is a one-room, stone schoolhouse that was built in 1899 by homesteaders. It served as both school and church until 1907 and remained the former until 1952.
John Martin Reservoir State Park is about 30 minutes from Lamar, Colorado, but feels even more remote. Situated on the second largest body of water in Colorado, it is a Mecca for boating, jet skiing, swimming, and fishing, both from shore and boats. Other activities include biking, geocaching thanks to a bunch of local Boy Scouts, bird watching, star gazing, horseback riding, The park offers a store/office, two boat ramps, a disc golf course, bathhouse, laundry, conference rooms, fishing pier, picnic areas, an enclosed pavilion, and several miles of trails. Camping is divided into two campgrounds, a primitive one on the main reservoir and one on Lake Hasty, below the dam, with 20/30/50 amp at each site. There is nearby water available year-round, but the bathhouse and laundry are seasonal. This park was well laid out with terrific site spacing and plenty of shade trees. Facilities were clean and well-maintained, and there was a change machine to get coins for the laundry and shower. It was very peaceful, and we would definitely visit again. I particularly enjoyed listening to the coyotes at night. Honestly, there must have been 50 or so in several different packs! For this stay in October 2023, we paid $152.00 for 4 nights, which included a $10 per day park fee.
Time is flying and that’s another week gone on our trek east. Next up…lots of Kansas. See you on the path!
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