June 15-18, 2022 | Photo Album
For our return home, I planned to share with Wendy two places I had visited in 2012 before we began dating: Trinidad and Capulin Volcano. I had recalled them as favorite stops on the long journey from Green Country to the mountains of southwest Colorado.
I planned for our trip back home to take four days with overnights at Pagosa Springs, Trinidad, and Woodward so that we wouldn’t be on the road for more than five or six hours in a day. We had enjoyed multiple stays at the Pagosa Springs Inn & Suites in prior years, but I discovered it had been sold and was being redeveloped into micro-apartments. So we landed at the RiverWalk Inn by the San Juan River and enjoyed big slices of pizza at Rosie’s, which was DSP Pizza when we dined there back in 2013.
The next morning we drove the familiar Wolf Creek Pass across the Continental Divide to cross the cattlelands to the New La Veta Pass across the Sangre de Cristo mountains to little Walsenburg.
We had stayed in Walsenburg in 2019, and I looked forward to another lunch at La Plaza, which I will always remember for having a copy of the wild Urantia cult book on its shelves back in 2013. But La Plaza closed after winter storm damage in 2021 and has yet to re-open. We then found out that Tina’s Family Cafe was also closed, so we drove back across town to have lunch at the H&H Cafe, which was the Busy Bee back in 2019. The food was good and prepared us for the short hop south to Trinidad.
In 2012, I drove through Trinidad, admiring how it had maintained its downtown. Trinidad is situated on the banks of the Purgatoire River and the Fishers Peak mesa looms to the east.
The town still has many original buildings and brick paved roads. I hadn’t really considered what Wendy and I would see in Trinidad until I perused TripAdvisor at the RiverWalk Inn in Pagosa Springs and noticed there was a spacious A.R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art in an old storefront downtown.
We parked in a free lot off Convent Street and walked along Main Street to the museum. A.R. Mitchell was born near Trinidad and found success painting over 160 images for many western and weekly magazines during the 1920s through the 1940s.
After his death in 1977, his sister, Ethel Mitchell Erickson, nicknamed “Tot”, was trying to determine where to donate his paintings, western art, and historical memorabilia collection. The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in my hometown of Oklahoma City was interested, but Tot decided to keep the items in Trinidad. So in 1981 the A.R. Mitchell Museum was established in the former Jamieson Department Store building that has graced Main Street since 1906. The museum has some of the original fixtures of the store, used to showcase items, with a unique horseshoe shaped mezzanine and the typical pressed tin ceilings and wood floors.
I enjoyed the accessible work by A.R. Mitchell, which emphasized story. In a 1973 interview at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in OKC, he remarked, “My cover paintings had but a few inches of space and seconds to talk the potential reader into spending his nickels…a good cover, whether on a pulp or a slick, had to talk.”
The museum had some wonderful temporary exhibits. Wendy enjoyed works by Jonathan McAfee and Louis Still Smoking.
Wendy liked Collen Tully‘s Waves Crashing so much that she bought a print and later hung it in her art room at Meador Manor.
She also enjoyed other works by Tully, Jen Starling, and Annie Decamp.
We both admired the vivid colors and sharp designs of Anthony Garcia, Sr.
As well as works by Alexander Richard Wilson and Cyrus Walker.
I particularly enjoyed works by Cody Kuehl.
I laughed so hard at his American Lullaby that I purchased a print of it at the museum and later had it framed and mounted over a bed at Meador Manor.
Happily exiting the museum, we dropped our prints off in the minivan and then walked along Main Street. I liked spotting Fishers Peak between the downtown buildings.
The heat was on, so we tried to get an ice cream and a cool drink at Tutti Scoops on Commercial Street, but they were locked up, so we ended up at I Love Sugar across the street to get our fix. We enjoyed our walk about the little arts district in Trinidad, laughing at a street sign thanking us for not smoking METH and a banner urging folks to re-elect Peach Vigil for county clerk, although she has had some troubles.
We retired to our Family Suite at the La Quinta on the old Santa Fe Trail. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised at our spacious, clean, and comfortable suite.
I had considered returning to Rino’s for dinner after enjoying a quiet lunch there in 2012, but dinner promised the possibility of singing waiters, and we weren’t up to that. Wendy picked out the Sunset Bar & Grille, situated in a Days Inn near our La Quinta on the old Santa Fe Trail. The setting and kitschy signage, which struck me as a timewarp to the 1970s, belied how chef Muthu Pandy offered up a fusion of American dishes with Thai and Indian food. We enjoyed fine food along with a panoramic view of the sunset above the Spanish Peaks.
On our penultimate vacation day, we drove to Capulin Volcano. The extinct cinder cone last erupted about 60,000 years ago, creating 16 square miles of lava flows, and is composed of cinders or lapilli with a diameter of 2-64 millimeters along with larger blocks or bombs.
Wendy was in the restroom at the visitor’s center while I browsed and discovered they had several coffee mugs that perfectly matched the chimenea-shape that Wendy said kept coffee hotter for longer than other mugs. She had been looking for the ones that were made in America, and the producer of the mugs had an interesting history. When I showed her my find, she eagerly selected several of them, which I purchased as her sixth wedding anniversary gift. We had converted a bunch of Nos along our trip into a resounding Yes!
We happily drove up to the rim of the crater. There we parked and hiked along the Crater Rim Trail.
I was struck by how distant clouds made it look like the tips of the branches of a dead tree were smoking.
Far below was the visitor center and the extensive Raton-Clayton volcanic field.
We climbed high enough, despite the heat, to see the crater.
The panorama from atop the volcano was striking.
We turned around, meeting an elderly couple on the trail. They asked how much farther the trail went, with the wife saying she was recovering from a heart attack. We urged them to just go around the next curve where there was a bench, reassuring them that was plenty high for them to see everything, rest, and then come back down.
We then traversed the full length of the Oklahoma Panhandle and drove to Woodward for the night. We had lunch in Clayton, New Mexico. We wound up at a Pizza Hut after other choices had provided the post-pandemic Nos we had grown accustomed to. The Pizza Hut actually had a large seating area with comfortable booths, unlike many of the franchises these days, which often have worn-out booths if they offer seating at all. So that, decent food, and excellent service from a young waitress were most welcome.
Wendy enjoyed driving in the deserted panhandle, so unlike the pressures of city driving. I had booked another La Quinta room, but this time we were less fortunate. The hotel clerk claimed they had tried calling us (there was no record of such attempts) to let us know that our suite was unavailable. The upper floors of the hotel were closed off “for renovations” so we made do with a regular room on the ground floor which was unclean and unwelcoming. We were glad to leave early the next morning to head home.
I noticed how the towns throughout the panhandle and northwest Oklahoma, all the way to Ponca City, were struggling. There were many abandoned service stations and shuttered downtowns. Nearly two-thirds of Oklahoma counties saw their populations decrease over the past decade as part of a migration from rural to urban and suburban communities. Nearly half of all Oklahoma residents now live in just four of its 77 counties: Canadian, Cleveland, Oklahoma, and Tulsa.
J. Tom Mueller, a research assistant professor with the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, has noted that agriculture now is increasingly mechanized, requiring less labor, and the manufacturing boom that rural communities once benefited from began disappearing in the 1980s as companies shifted production outside the United States. Politics also is driving people away as folks seek out people who are more like them and flee areas where liars, grifters, and seditionists prey upon the vulnerable.
But our spirits lifted as we pulled up to the Ponca City airport to dine at Enrique’s. Our friends Carrie and Trish introduced me to that restaurant years ago, and I am very glad it is still serving up puffy chips and other yummy food. It was then just a drive across the Osage Nation to reach Bartlesville, completing our Double Loop.