Dodge City, Deadly Drives, and Penny Arcades: From Kansas to Colorado

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.

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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.

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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:

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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).

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Costumed actors perform for tourists, staging gunfights out front, burlesque shows in the saloon, etc.

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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 Tons of historical documents, guns, photographs, and other antiques are on display (many originally from Dodge City), along with a few unexpected items, like this working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):

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A plaque on the wall states that “the hobbies of the pioneers did not differ greatly from the hobbies of today.”

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The plaque was right next to this bizarre wreath made entirely of human hair:

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Seriously: every single element is woven with human hair. Just like the hobbies of today!

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Leaving town, we saw an awesome classic motel sign – the Thunderbird:

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Our plan was to get to Colorado by late afternoon, so we headed out on US-50:

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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…

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…er, or you can imagine it. Essentially, the enormous depression in the field is the evidence that wagon trains once passed over this land:

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These stick-shaped guys were crawling everywhere:

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In Syracuse, we passed by the Northrup theater, which, unlike the Dodge, has been in continuous operation since 1930.

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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:

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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.

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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…

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…to this:

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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.

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After days and days of endless fields, I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to be surrounded by trees:

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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…

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…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.

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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):

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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.

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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…

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Also, these guys run up to the car and look cute in hopes of food (a yellow-bellied marmot – thanks, readers!):

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It was over 90 degrees on the ground. Near the top, we started seeing snow…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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While most of the tourist shops were closed by our arrival at 10pm, I was excited to find that the arcade was open…

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The Manitou Springs Penny Arcade is really one of a kind:

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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.

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A great old fortune teller:

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A great way to finish our first day in Colorado:

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Manitou Springs is home to a number of great motel signs. The Silver Saddle:

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La Fon (which was unfortunately not lit up). They have refrigerated air!

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However, we went with our guide book’s recommendation and stayed at the El Colorado…

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…where we got to sleep in our own adobe-style hut!

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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?

-SCOUT

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42 comments

  1. You have me thinking about buying an old theater! I looked up The Dodge — sold for 33k.

  2. Your description of the drive up Pikes Peak brought back memories of a trip my family took years ago. I was just a kid and I vividly remember the drive up Pikes Peak. About half way up we encountered fog, and driving up those roads, without guardrails, in the fog, was quite an experience. My father would hug the inside of the road, hoping there wasn’t someone coming down at that particular moment in time. Fortunately the fog cleared by the time we had to head down.

    Really enjoy reading your blog posts.

  3. You went right through Pueblo, my town, and you didn’t stop and say hello!

    Guessing that you’re going north out of Springs and out I-70. My recommendation would be Buffalo Bill’s grave and the museum that’s next to it. It’s only a few miles from the Interstate, albeit almost straight up.

    • I was really disappointed we didn’t have time to stop – I definitely had it written on the map, but ultimately, it came down to either getting to see Pike’s Peak or not (we had to take the Interstate too, something I wasn’t happy about). Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Ok, so was that a squirrel or a groundhog??? LOL I’d say it was a squirrel who’d been fed WAY to often. He makes me look skinny, which is NOT easy to do! LOL

  5. Monica, it is a groundhog. Human hair? Somebody had way too much time on their hands! Love the blog, keep up the good work. If you come through Charlotte on your way back, stop at “The Chicken Coop” for the best fried Chicken in the US!

  6. This is making me so jealous! Can’t wait to do a trip of my own. But if you want a mom-and-pop donut shop, when you get home, come to ‘7th ave. Donuts’ on 7th ave and 8th street in park slope. It’s a greasy spoon diner (and my favorite one), and the donuts are killer.

  7. Scout, you have literally inspired my sister and me to do a road trip of our own!

    That fortune-teller is spectacular.

    When I was in Denver, I kept thinking I was on the verge of a heart-attack the first couple of days, because I felt like I had a weight on my chest that was keeping me from being able to draw a real breath. Finally realized it was the altitude. We flatlanders aren’t prepared for such things!

    • Awesome! Just make sure you give yourselves enough time. Our 2.5 weeks is the bare minimum, but we’re definitely finding ourselves skipping things due to lack of time, which is killing me. In a perfect world, you need 3 – 3.5 weeks or so to really feel like you’ve done it right. Also, pick two destinations at either end of the trip where you’ll have a mini-vacation of a two nights or so in one place, so you don’t go completely nuts from the driving. Good luck!

  8. I really, really want to go to that arcade. It’s so hard to find pinball machines any more.

  9. Yellow Bellied Marmot!!! Thanks for letting us share in your vacation!!

  10. Scout, great post! Love the penny arcade and your observations on Midwest culture (you are so not from here). I’m surprised you didn’t stop outside Garden City in Holcomb, the site of the Clutter family murders that inspired Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

    • Shoot, I meant to post about this. We drove through Holcomb and spent about ten minutes looking for the farmhouse of the murders, but got lost and ran out of time. I’ll have to update.

  11. Glad you had a good time in beautiful Colorado! Drink lots and lots of water to help with the altitude sickness. Keep up with your amazing posts!

  12. You’re about 2.5 hours south! Thanks for the US tour so far and teh wonderful pics!

  13. You might already be past it, but if you’re headed to Colorado Springs to check out the Garden of the Gods (highly recommended), be sure to stop at the Broadmoor Hotel’s Golden Bee pub. It’s an entire 19th-century London pub that was transported all the way to Colorado Springs! I was there on a road trip in 2007, and it’s a very fun piano bar. On tap they have yards of beer…the glass is literally a yard long!

  14. That arcade is SO AWESOME! Now I want to plan a road trip to hit places with old video and pinball games…

  15. I am really enjoying your posts !

  16. Colorado is so beautiful!! Love the pictures of the road going up Pike’s Peak. And all of those hotels have the most awesome signs!

  17. My great-great grandfather won one of the very first Pikes Peak footraces held in the 1880s on the cog railway right away despite his 30 minute handicap. He was an athletic man also famous (or infamous) for his feat of swimming around the island of Manhattan, which would be impossible today because of the currents in the Hudson and the pollution in the East river.

  18. So,are you going to tell us what your fortune was?

    Great blog – I’m sitting at my desk living the dream vicariously through you. Thanks!

  19. My kids and I went to Colorado last summer for a couple of weeks. We took the cog railroad up to the Peak and it was 12 degrees. So windy that it literally took our breath away. We also went to Manitou Springs and hit the arcade. I have a picture of my kids with the fortune teller…what a great trip. Thanks for sharing.

  20. FWIW, if you wanted to avoid I25 (though it’s obviously a bit late now), stick to 50 through Pueblo to 115 which will then take you to 24. That bit of 115 is quite a nice drive, way better than I25 between Pueblo and the Springs.

  21. I drove up Mount Evans in Colorado (if I recall, it’s billed as the highest paved road in North America) in my ’86 Volvo wagon back in 1998 and had much the same experience you did. The car was sluggish (my mechanic back home later told me it’s something about the way the engine uses the air intake in its combustion — or something); the road was narrow, winding and harrowing; and when I got to the top, I was seeing stars. It was amazing, though. And on the drive down, clouds moved in and I had to drive through them. All I could do was follow the lines on the road; I couldn’t see more than maybe 100 feet in front of me. At one point, when the road was straight and the center line was series of dashes, I could barely see the next dash ahead of me.

  22. Hi – Really been enjoying your road trip updates. They make me wish I had a month to jump in the car and explore!

    I think the covered walkway with the shops is called an arcade btw.

    Looking forward to hearing about the rest of the trip!

    Miss M

  23. Tom beat me to it – Garden of the Gods is really quite spectacular, esp if you see it when the sky is a deep blue, like it was when we visited. And I don’t know if its still there, but there was a sign for ‘Garden of the Gods Liquor Store’, and I think it was on a road called Garden of the Gods road. That just made me laugh (tho maybe it was the liquor).

    Stay safe

  24. We drive to Colorado every year from Tennessee and the shock of mountains once you cross the seemingly endless plains of Kansas is my favorite part! Being a TN girl I was used to hills but nothing prepares you to the grandeur of the Rockies, esp if you take the effort to make that drive.

    The fortune teller reminds me of the arcade museum at the wharf in S.F. which was tragically moved from its original home at the Cliffhouse/Sutro Baths (my FAVORITE place in the bay area). The museum is full of creepy/interesting vintage arcade games none of which bear any resemblance to the games of today.
    http://www.museemechanique.org/
    http://www.sutrobaths.com/
    In an odd twist of fate, it was the sutro bath site that led me to your site when they linked your beekman place post, which I still never got to see :(
    Safe travels and thank you!

  25. Hi, you are making a fantastic roadtrip. I love viewing your blog. Recently I read a book about Jack Kerouac’s On the road. The writer travels along the roads Kerouac travelled. Just to see what’s left after so many decades.
    He also visits Central City, CO. There he visits a wonderful, historic theatre: the Opera House. Since you are visiting theatres on your roadtrip aswel, I think a stop in Central City will be perfect for you. I just read you arrived in Colorado. So you do have the opportunity to be impressed by the Opera HOuse.

    Greetings and have a save trip (and please keep on posting lots of pictures),
    Stefan

    Tilburg, The Netherlands

  26. I am so upset you didn’t make it to the Clutter Farm! Apparently, the current owners have it set up as a museum, with as much of the original furniture as possible. I am not sure when they give tours, but WHAT an all-American roadside attraction!

  27. You mentioned the Nicklodeon in Dodge City. When you get to SF, but sure to check out the Musee Micanique, filled with dozens of the same that you can actually play! Very cool automation there. It used to be at North Beach, then got moved to Fisherman’s Wharf, not sure where it is now, but not to be missed

    http://www.museemechanique.org/

  28. Maybe you should have gone for the meth on a stick instead of the iced coffee.

  29. The best place to play old arcade games: Luck JuJu Pinball in Alameda, CA (in the SF Bay Area)
    http://www.ujuju.com/
    $15 gets you in, then its unlimited free play on games (mostly pinballs) that cover a span of easily 50 years. So much fun!

  30. San Francisco also has the Musee Mechanique…for your next road trip.

    I laughed at the ‘hobbies of today’ comment.
    Enjoyable blog…safe travels!

  31. You hit TWO areas of mine… central Illinois (where I grew up) and Colorado (Where I am now!) A thoroughly enjoyable travel journal for me to read! Thank you so much!

  32. The covered walkways are called “arcades”

    Another great arcade filled with pinball machines is in Lyons, CO, just outside of Boulder

  33. While it’s charming to associate the depression in the field with covered wagons, in reality, it’s just a cow trail. Cows walk single file to water, and in the same path, to and from.

  34. When I was a little girl we lived west of Dodge City in a small town called Satanta, KS. My parents and I took frequent trips to Dodge City (mostly for tractor and combine parts) but daddy was always willing to stop in Boot Hill (the OLD Boot HILL) before it pretty much TOTALLY emptied of the fabulous old things they once had (in the 50’s.) The original building had a glass covered “grave” that was supposed to have an Indian buried in it,(I THINK!) a two headed calf, a lot of Indian Tomahawk’s, knives, Bows and Arrows, Guns from the cowboys, etc. It was amazing.. but the last time I went there many years ago all of that was gone – replaced by a “new museum” that quite literally is a waste of time. The old buildings have been rearranged, etc. but the most important thing I wanted to say is that the OLD Boothill did have a talking fortune telling machine, I believe it was a lady – a very spooky old lady!! There was also another museum in Dodge City, out on the South side and it was called the Beeson Museum and we used to stop and talk to those folks, too. I have ALWAYS wondered just where all the “stuff” that was in the Boot Hill Museum and Beeson museum was taken. I am 64 now and just like Ft. Pickens in Florida when they remodeled, the Dodge City memorabilia was taken somewhere and no one ever knows what happened to it!! SAD… But I remember, too bad this new world of youngins didn’t get to see it.

  35. I’m late to the party but some particulars – Daylight Donuts is a chain. A small chain but there are a number of outlets across Kansas. I’m assuming they are a privately owned franchise rather than company owned. The Boot Hill cemetery is the real cemetery, placed on the hill outside (then outside) of town after being moved. Original photographs show this. However, the original Front street was about 200 yards east on the now-Wyatt Earp Blvd. They never would have built businesses next to the cemetery, in any frontier town. The original Front Street (brick and stone buildings) was torn down in 1970. The edge of the main street is about where Front street was located. I’ve been to the museum many times, from the 70s to now, and they change it frequently. I think it is worth a visit, there’s some interesting artifacts there.

  36. My thoughts exactly since I plan a little trip someday using only hotels (oh the bedbugs we will see) local restaurants, etc. I want to see all of America by road.

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