Trip Date: July 17, 2013
DAY 8: WALSENBURG
Hot Air Balloons
My day began with another delicious lemon bar from Higher Grounds in Pagosa Springs, with Wendy enjoying her own treats on the ironing board table I rigged up in the hotel room. Happily the curtains were drawn aside, allowing us to unexpectedly witness the launch of two hot air balloons across the street.
On our way out of town we took Princess the Camry through a car wash to remove remaining bits of Piedra Road and then ascended Wolf Creek Pass. Wendy noticed her bag of Doritos was swelling as we went up over 10,800 feet. Hours later she found it considerably more squeezable when we had descended from the San Juan Mountains over 6,000 feet to the broad flat plain of the San Luis Valley.
Just when the valley drive was really getting boring, we threaded our way up and over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range to arrive at the old coal mining town of Walsenburg for lunch.
The Urantia Book at La Plaza Inn’s Library Café
Thankfully TripAdvisor led us to the La Plaza Inn for lunch in their Library Café. Jeff and Karen Wilson opened this bed & breakfast in 2010, in a building which has been a hotel since 1907. It turns out that Walsenburg was originally called La Plaza de los Leones, after the Leon family. But in 1870 Fred Walsen settled nearby and opened up a large mercantile, making the town an attractive location for German settlers. When it was incorporated, it bore his name. In 1876, Walsen also opened the area’s first coal mine, and the development of the town was influenced for a century by coal mining in the region. Reportedly an estimated 500 million tons of coal was mined until a combination of corporate mergers, environmental regulations, and enforcement of mine safety regulations led to the closure of virtually all mining in the area. But the little town of 3,100 is working hard to revitalize its downtown.
Wendy knew I would love the Inn’s Library Café when she saw all of the books on the walls beside the tables. Once seated, I spotted and reached over to grab the hilariously wacky The Urantia Book, a huge cult tome I heard of some years back through the marvelous and much-missed Martin Gardner, who wrote about this weird book of religious revelations supposedly from numerous celestial beings. According to these supermortal beings, Earth is the 606th planet in Satania, which is in Norlatiadek, which is in Nebadon, which is in Orvonton, which revolves around Havona, all of which revolves around the center of infinity where some sort of god dwells. Gardner concluded the tome was originally the Bible of a separatist group of Adventists, based on the subconscious ramblings of Wilfred Kellogg and edited by William Sadler, a Chicago psychiatrist who got his start working for kooky Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the Adventist surgeon, health and diet author, and brother of cornflake king William Keith Kellogg.
I showed Wendy some of the Urantia book’s craziness and then followed that up by grabbing Maximized Manhood off the shelf beside me. That turned out to be a preacher’s take on pornography, adultery, television addiction, and immaturity. I must say I enjoyed my food more than my taste of that book. Barbara Long is the café cook, so I presume she prepared the wonderful French Dip along with my La Plaza custard pie, which was something like crème brûlée. Wendy admired the caramelized crust of her peach cobbler.
On my trip to the restroom, I walked through the hotel’s romantic Bistro restaurant, where Chef Gordon Lucero prepares the evening meals. If only we had a café and restaurant like this back home!
Walsenburg Junk & Antique Stores
Just up the street from the La Plaza Inn was April’s Attic, which advertised itself as a “Huge Shopping Emporium” of over 8,000 square feet. We found that irresistible. Wendy perused room after room of…things. It was rather eclectic. I purchased a couple of old science fiction paperbacks for 25¢ each, including Secret of the Sunless World, the story of “Gondal, most feared of all creatures in the universe”. Hmm…perhaps celestial beings were channeling layers of arcane knowledge through author Carroll M. Capps. Or maybe not!
We looked through a couple more nearby stores, where there were some paintings which made me comment to Wendy, “That paint was worth more in the tube than on that canvas.”
American in Prairie
We now faced 280 miles, or almost five hours, of sheer boredom to make it to Dodge City, KS for the night. Wendy spotted “walking windmills” where the gentle slope of the land made their rotating blades look like appendages transporting them across the prairie. We sped through the stench of the occasional feedlot, with the journey lightened by a wonderful piano version of Gershwin’s American in Paris which she had on her iPod, as played on a modern Yamaha Disklavier player piano using piano rolls prepared by Gershwin himself. Paris inspired Gershwin to compose a wonderful tone poem, but I wonder what an American in Prairie would have sounded like. Instead of the rhythms of walking down a busy French boulevard, a galloping gait across an endless empty expanse? Instead of horns, moos? We shall never know.
Dinner was at Applebee’s in Garden City, KS. The stench of a feedlot permeated the parking lot, but inside we found a cheerful waiter who sounded like he was from New Jersey and served us delicious Three Cheese Penne Pasta and Fiesta Lime Chicken. For some reason, we did not want to eat beef.
Refreshed, it was only another hour’s drive to the fun cow-themed Best Western Plus Country Inn & Suites in Dodge. The décor of the lobby and rooms were indeed “Plus”, but Wendy was less than impressed by the “Complimentary Guest Towel”, a napkin-like piece of paper which directed us, “Take this towel with you on your travels and use it however you like.” Well, continuing with the books theme of this post, while The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy highly recommends having a towel, I don’t think this is what they had in mind.
We were pooped in more ways than one from our travels through the feedlot-infested prairies, but ready to rise on the morrow for a gunfight in front of the Long Branch Saloon in good old Dodge City.