We spent the night in Dodge City, Kansas, and ate breakfast at a local donut place, Daylight Donut. Coming from the north-east, where Dunkin’ Donuts has obliterated the concept of mom-and-pop donut shops, I appreciated it when the kid behind the counter said his parents had owned the place since ’78.
The donuts were great, though we got funny stares when we asked for iced coffee (pretty much everywhere we asked for an iced coffee in the midwest, people looked at us like we were from Mars; when we finally broke down and went to McDonalds, they refused to serve it unless we chose an artificial flavoring).
We started off the day in the very amusing Boot Hill Museum and Front Street, an historically inaccurate but nevertheless fun recreation of the Old West harking back to Dodge City’s wilder days of yore.
The museum is essentially a strip of quaint establishments you’d like to imagine existed in cowboy days: a saloon, a barber shop, drug store, etc., all in a convenient row:
Ha, and I gotta admit, when you visit at 9 am before the hordes of kids arrive, it is a lot of fun walking beneath the roofed walkways secretly imagining you’re a cowboy (any attempts to try not to are ultimately futile as your inner child takes over).
Costumed actors perform for tourists, staging gunfights out front, burlesque shows in the saloon, etc.
Most of the interiors are dedicated to historical exhibits on Dodge City’s past, and if you were expecting a tourist trap, you might be surprised with the extent of the offerings. Tons of historical documents, guns, photographs, and other antiques are on display (many originally from Dodge City), along with a few unexpected items, like this working turn-of-the-century Nickelodeon porno called Clean Clara (sort-of out of place in an attraction geared largely at kids):
A plaque on the wall states that “the hobbies of the pioneers did not differ greatly from the hobbies of today.”
The plaque was right next to this bizarre wreath made entirely of human hair:
Seriously: every single element is woven with human hair. Just like the hobbies of today!
Among the many photographs of Dodge City locals is a picture of the town photographer herself. If you look closely, you can see she has oddly hung a bunch of her framed photographs from her dress for a pretty unique self-portrait:
Sadly, mostly all of the cowboy-era buildings in Dodge City were bulldozed long ago. The few actual historic buildings preserved in the Boot Hill museum were nearly torn down to create this lovely stretch of road:
Our roadtrip guide advised us to take a trip to the site of the real Boot Hill, now home to an office building and parking lot. A statue of a cowboy stands at the top, with a plaque reading: “On the ashes of my campfire, this city is built”…which sort of takes on a somewhat mournful meaning if you think about it.
Another great midwest theater: The Dodge. Opened in 1929, the Dodge seated 1,114, and featured a balcony, chandeliers, and red curtains. It premiered the Errol Flynn movie Dodge City in 1939. It was renovated in the 1990′s, then closed. The sign on the left announces that the building was to be sold at auction recently, no matter what the price.
Leaving town, we saw an awesome classic motel sign – the Thunderbird:
Our plan was to get to Colorado by late afternoon, so we headed out on US-50:
US-50 essentially runs along the old Santa Fe Trail, along which thousands of covered wagons once made their way across the country. At one point, you can see tire ruts still remaining…
…er, or you can imagine it. Essentially, the enormous depression in the field is the evidence that wagon trains once passed over this land:
These stick-shaped guys were crawling everywhere:
In Syracuse, we passed by the Northrup theater, which, unlike the Dodge, has been in continuous operation since 1930.
In 1991, it was purchased by the Chamber of Commerce, and with substantial community support, the art deco interior was restored and upgraded. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places:
Can someone tell me what these covered walks are called? It’s one architectural aspect I love about main streets in the west:
We were also surprised at the number of disturbing “Don’t Do Meth” billboards we were seeing as we continued west, which don’t really exist in New York.
Our goal for the day was to drive up Pike’s Peak in Colorado. Pike’s Peak is a mountain in the Rockies with an auto road up to its summit, at an altitude of 14,115 feet (the 31st tallest of the Rockies, and the most visited mountain in North America). For that reason, when we drove through Holcomb, Kansas, where the In Cold Blood murders occurred, we didn’t have any time to go searching for the infamous farm house.
I thought we were making excellent time until I Google-mapped it, and realized we were actually waaaay behind. In fact, unless we went way over the speed limit, we weren’t going to make it by the 6pm last entry. So we gunned it and crossed the Colorado border. Our views quickly changed from this…
As we were driving, I suddenly found myself becoming very light-headed, and at times, felt really dazed…but I brushed it off and continued speeding.
After days and days of endless fields, I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to be surrounded by trees:
We made it to the Pike’s Peak entrance gate about 5 minutes before closing (beating Google Maps’ estimate by a solid 45 minutes!). I was still feeling really weird and light-headed, but we began the ascent…
…and what an ascent it was. The drive up is a twisting road with near vertical drops at just about every turn…and no guard-rails. As my wooziness increased, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the altitude was contributing to my sudden brain lethargy.
A quick internet search confirmed that I was indeed suffering from altitude sickness. Excellent. A few guard rails are stationed at the most dangerous of drops (not to say you wouldn’t die if you happened to veer off where it ends on the left):
Our Hyundai Accent, accustomed to the sensibly-altituded roads of its home state of Pennsylvania, was clearly angry that we were forcing it to travel up 14,000 feet, and refused to go any faster than about 10 mph.
If you’ve never been, Pike’s Peak is well worth the altitude sickness, near-death driving experience, and possible engine damage. You begin to see incredible boulder gardens as you near the summit, with enormous rocks strewn seemingly haphazardly about…
Also, these guys run up to the car and look cute in hopes of food (a yellow-bellied marmot – thanks, readers!):
It was over 90 degrees on the ground. Near the top, we started seeing snow…
Finally, we hit the summit, and the views were glorious. Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write “America The Beautiful” after visiting Pike’s Peak in 1893…and it’s pretty obvious why.
At this point, the altitude was really messing with me, but I resolved to enjoy the sensation, and hope I didn’t pass out on the drive down and kill us both.
Luckily, we did manage to make it down, though I’m still amazed there isn’t a higher death toll on the Pike’s Peak auto road.
We decided to spend the night in Manitou Springs, a cute little resort town once favored by tuberculosis patients at the turn of the century for its clean air and two-dozen natural springs.
While most of the tourist shops were closed by our arrival at 10pm, I was excited to find that the arcade was open…
The Manitou Springs Penny Arcade is really one of a kind:
Filled with pinball machines dating back to the early 1900′s, every single game costs whatever it did when it was made…meaning you can play most for as little as a nickel or dime. The worn hard-wood floors and warm breeze flowing through the open doors make it a pretty special experience.
A great old fortune teller:
A great way to finish our first day in Colorado:
Manitou Springs is home to a number of great motel signs. The Silver Saddle:
La Fon (which was unfortunately not lit up). They have refrigerated air!
However, we went with our guide book’s recommendation and stayed at the El Colorado…
…where we got to sleep in our own adobe-style hut!
Sure, the mattress probably hadn’t been changed since the 1950′s, and an Oreo we left on the desk was swarming with ants when we woke up…but what’s a roadtrip if you only stay at Super 8′s?