Bumping Our Way Into Colorado – Trinidad, CO
Bumpity, bumpity, bumpity, crash…
Bumpity, bumpity, bumpity, crash…
“was that the slide wood paneling?!?”
We’d been driving on this bumpy, grinding, shock-shattering, back-breaking backcountry road for what seemed like an eternity, and there was no end in sight. Nothing but miles of empty, achingly remote landscape with only the barest of features to relax the eye. It was hot, the sun baking on our front windshield and the view was a field of seemingly infinite monotony. At the times the road shimmered and faded into a watery mirage, tricking your mind into thinking you were driving into a lake. Other times it morphed into a hypnotic blur. If it weren’t for the jarring bumps you’d risk falling asleep from sheer tedium.
I used to joke back in the day that I could always tell when I entered California, even with my eyes shut and it was all about the road quality. You’d go from super-smooth Nevada and you’d hit the first pothole. Bang! Welcome to California! Some of the worst roads we’ve driven in the country have been there too. I-5/hwy99 just north of LA comes to mind, the one and only time our TV rattled straight off its hinges. Our other worst ever road was I-10 in the East coming through Louisiana. Whoo whee…rock n’roll.
But this road, this Eastern Colorado po-dunk road was right up there.
We usually love taking 2-lane backroads instead of the main Interstates. Most of the time they’re scenic, traffic-free and soooo much more relaxing without 18-wheelers flying by all the time. Over the past few days we’d been lulled into the pleasant (and most excellent) experience we’d had driving 385 through Nebraska. It was a great road, flat, smooth and thoroughly enjoyable to drive.
All that changed when we entered Eastern Colorado on hwy 71.
The bumps started almost immediately and for close to ~300 miles they didn’t stop except for rare (and frankly psychologically torturous) stretches of smooth asphalt. I guess we could have turned around, but once we committed we were..well committed…and we kept thinking it had to get better, right? Just around 7 hours of earthquake-quality miles later we finally arrived at our destination thoroughly shaken, well-stirred and exhausted. It took 2 hours of rest and hard alcohol before the rig stopped moving.
This was our first time in Eastern Colorado and I can’t imagine we’ll drive this route again. We’ve spent several summers in the mountains of Western Colorado, the area you always imagine in your minds eye when you think of this state -> the beautiful Rockies, stunning 10,000 foot peaks, sweet alpine lakes and luscious forest, that kind of thing. But Middle-Eastern Colorado is very different. It’s a high plains desert, parched from the huge, moisture-sucking mountains to the west, incredibly remote and barren, dry and featureless, and with very, very bumpy backroads. I guess it’s interesting to see…once…but I wouldn’t recommend the drive in a big rig…more than once.
But we made it through and our final destination was going to give us a view, some history, a few brews and 4 blissful, glorious, stationary nights of NOT moving! We’d arrived at Trinidad a historic mining town founded in 1862 in the central southern part of the state. Here the flat plains actually start to rise again and you’re greeted with rolling hills, towering red mesas and green pinyon pine. After the hard, bleak drive down the Eastern side your eyes feast on the myriad of forms and colors, soaking in the greens, marveling at the downtown red brick buildings, reveling in rise of the mountains. Our repose was at Trinidad Lake State Park (review coming) and it was exactly what the doctor ordered. We spent several days just sitting still (i.e. NOT moving) and then drove into town for a short downtown sightsee/walking tour and a few brews.
It’s always interesting to feel the “vibe” of a place, a very wishy-washy feeling that I can’t scientifically describe, but that every place has. Paul and I usually feel it instantly, at the same time, and typically in exactly the same way (which I guess is what makes us such great long-term travel companions). Trinidad is a very visually very appealing town with lots of historic brick buildings and beautiful cathedrals. Walking downtown is a photo and architectural treat, but vibe-wise it just felt a tad…how can I put it…depressed. It’s a town with enormous potential, and it’s got the beginnings of something very interesting happening (a recent Indie Film Festival, art, some cool museums), but it’s just not quite there yet, at least that was how it felt to us.
As we walked the paved sidewalks we wondered where that final spark would come from, and it wasn’t until we went to the local brewery (which is actually ~5 miles north of downtown) that we found it.
Now, regular blog readers will find it no surprise that beer would make us happy, but when I say this was the highlight of our visit here I mean much more than that. Dodgeton Creek Brewing Company is gorgeous little adobe building (it used to be a salsa factory, apparently) that puts out some wonderful beers. They’ve only been around for ~13 months, but they have 10 beers on tap all of which are high quality and that we thoroughly enjoyed. Their IPA’s and stouts were both tasty beers, but our favs were actually the Red Dirty Lil Ale and the Munich Helles, both very flavorful and creative (I recommend trying them all since it’s only $10 for 10 tasters).
What made the experience even better however was that we met one of the owners (Carrie) as well as a couple of locals. Most of these folks come here from other places to seek a different life, away from the humdrum of big cities and traffic, and that reflects in their open and friendly attitude. They invited us warmly in, chatted about the area and their stories, shared brews and enjoyed our company. And that was the very spark we were looking for, the people investing in the local economy and creating vibrant new businesses. Trinidad’s got a long history of boom and bust (like many old Western mining towns), but these folks are infusing the area with new energy and if this brewery is any indication of where the town is going it’s got a bright future ahead!
The welcoming energy was palpable and we felt so comfortable here that we ended up hanging around for several hours. Honestly (and I’m not just saying this because the brewery is the only one within ~85-miles), if you come here you should stop by and say hello to Carrie and the team. You’ll leave with a warm, fuzzy feeling that isn’t just from the beer. Just don’t take Hwy 71 to get here 🙂
NOTE/ Dodgeton Creek Brewing Company is 100% dog-friendly, even indoors!! They also have a lovely outdoor seating area.
That’s it from our quick CO stop. We’re finally entering New Mexico, the first time we’ve been in that state since 2011. On the menu are more beers, green chili and of course, balloons. Land of Enchantment here we come!