We woke up late, finally having the luxury of sleeping in. Our agenda for the day was relatively loose, and we were looking forward to a day of adventure that lay ahead of us. It was another gorgeous morning. We decided to check out our hotel’s buffet for breakfast. We asked to be seated outside, and were given a table that the host thought was completely empty but for a single cup of coffee. No sooner did we sit down did a man show up and tell the host that we were seated at his table. Oops!
We hopped over to the next one over, and tried not to make eye contact with the stranger with whom we had the awkward encounter. We ordered the buffet and were not disappointed. It was a great meal and the view could not be beat. After breakfast, we had one of the staffers take our picture overlooking the veranda since we don’t have views like this back on the east coast.
We then headed back to the room, figuring we should confirm our departure the next day. This was a bigger pain than we had anticipated. Simply calling the automated line to confirm my husband’s reservation yielded a response that he was flying from Colorado Springs to Colorado Springs. This error meant another 30 minutes on hold before he got tired of waiting and hung up.
Next he tried calling his travel agency to see if they could resolve it. Within minutes the agent had a real person on the line, but it took nearly an hour to get everything straightened out. By then, my husband’s blood was boiling with frustration, and even though it was technically taken care of, we had little faith that things would actually work out as promised.
Since we had an early departure, we decided to do some pre-packing, so that we would only have to change out of our day clothes into pajamas, and then change into fresh clothes after our morning shower before leaving for the airport. With that bit of planning done, we took off in search of Cañon City.
We had found the Cañon City’s Royal Gorge Train Ride through the hotel’s web site, which listed other activities that we could do off site. Its web site promised the “Vista Dome” while it took a three hour ride through the gorge and provided meal service as well as craft beer. It sounded like a great way to take lots of pictures from the comfort of an air conditioned train. Cañon City’s web site boasted a historic downtown, which seemed like a neat way to kill the rest of the afternoon.
The drive to Cañon City was definitely an adventure on its own. The desert highway wound itself through some very interesting landscapes, very remote living, but pleasant horizons and landscapes. The nearly hour drive took us to what could be considered civilization when compared to the areas we had just driven through, but was hardly a tourist destination nor what we would later find, a good way to kill the afternoon.
Just outside of Cañon City was a huge Abbey, which shared the lot with a winery. Seeing an opportunity to get some nice photos and indulge in a bit of wine, we pulled into the lot. The historic Abbey loomed over the property and the winery was almost an afterthought in the shadow of it. We counted only a few rows of grapes growing. I snapped a fair amount of quick photos and we headed in to taste some wine.
The folks at the winery were very nice, and as we tasted, suggested we drive to neighboring Florence to check out their weekend music and arts festival rather than spend the day in Cañon City. We bought a bottle of Syrah, which had a lovely peppery finish, and they bubble wrapped the hell out of it for the flight home. Figuring the locals would know better what would be more fun, we followed their advice and drove over to Florence.
The road to Florence was much like the highway, only narrower and with more curves. It wove down through a harsh landscape, which was broken up only by a prison and a large high school. Arriving in the tiny town, we drove the aging downtown until we found the Pour House, the coffee shop owned by a friend of the woman from the winery. We went in to get the story about Florence and get something to drink.
The gentleman at the shop was very pleasant, making small talk, and telling us a bit about the town. We left and walked over to the festival, which was being heavily guarded by what I imagined, was every cop in town. We were told that admission was ten dollars a person, which alone was a bit outrageous, and that our freshly made drinks were not permitted. We walked the perimeter and decided that the tiny street fair was probably not worth it, having overheard the warbling folk singer drone on about the Colorado wildfires.
We decided to head back to the car and take our chances in Cañon City. We drove around a while looking for this “historic downtown district” but didn’t really see anything that jumped out at us. Eventually we happened upon the city’s only brewery, and stopped in for lunch. A young man, maybe 13 or so, opened the door for me, and mistook him for the host.
“Table for two,” I said.
“Oh, I don’t work here,” he replied.
I blinked, a bit confused. By then my husband noticed the sign indicating we could seat ourselves so we grabbed two open seats at the bar. Though it was not particularly busy, it took a while for the bartender to notice us and offer us menus. We decided to try the sampler, which gave us the chance to try all of the beers. None of them were particularly moving, I think because they weren’t quite true to the style they claimed to be. We would find out later that every house beer was made with the same Belgian ale yeast, even the English stout. This explained the off flavor we got from each one.
We ordered our food. My husband ordered a burger, I opted for a hummus plate and French fries. When the order came out though, we weren’t given silverware or even napkins. By then, more tables had filled and the two bartenders were running around like crazy trying to attend to everyone. Eventually one customer went up to the bar and asked for a pitcher of water so he could refill everyone’s glass at his table. After he did that, he went around to the other tables to top them off as well.
As we were finishing our food, a couple sauntered up to the bar. The “gentleman” asked for a PBR, which they did not serve. Rather than try one of the house beers, he classily decided to go with whiskey instead. At 2:30 on a Thursday. A member of the kitchen staff came to clock in near where they were sitting and the bartender made a comment to her that she was out of cigarettes because she quit. PBR guy asked them if they knew how he “quit” and before they could answer plunked a tin of chewing tobacco onto the bar, not realizing that tobacco is tobacco, and chew is way more addictive and damaging than smoking cigarettes, not to mention completely disgusting.
All the while, I tried to ignore this pristine example of asshattery and instead watch the Olympics coverage on the big screen television. It was very difficult as he ordered his third and fourth shots, and began to strut around. He went outside for some reason, then came back, then left and came back again. Eventually, we’d had enough, and decided to take our chances out on the town.
By the time we left, we still had a good two hours left before the train. We decided to walk a bit to see if there was anything interesting to see. By then it was 98 degrees, and even with the desert’s dry heat, it was cumbersome to deal. We made it only a few blocks, and then crossed the street to come back. Along the way, we were passed by a young girl with a very large tarantula in a plastic container. What was most disconcerting was that she was apparently taking the spider into a pet shop, not from it. I began to consider that these types of animals might be rampant, and that she was making a few bucks by somehow trapping them. I decided, no matter what the case, I didn’t want to know the answer.
We got back to our car and decided to go find the train station. Our tickets were available, but we still had plenty of time before the train would arrive. The train station employee indicated that we could cross the bridge and walk down near the river to kill some time. Considering it was now over 100 degrees, I was less than certain I could handle much more walking.
The river seemed shallow enough that people were swimming in it, and I thought I might like to dip my feet in to cool down. As I climbed down the man-made rock structure, I began to realize a certain caliber of human were river dwellers, and that it would be more trouble than it would be worth to climb down among them. I grabbed my sneakers and decided hot and sticky would be far more preferable than getting shivved by Joebob. Just as we were leaving a white trash momma was yelling at her teenage daughter and we were passed by what could only be described as four land manatees harping about some social circle drama as they lugged their inflatable mattress up river.
At that point, we went back to the car. Along the way, three redneck boys decided to throw a football back and forth over our heads, each calling out how awesome they were in high school or junior high or however long they actually made it in school before dropping out. With that, we climbed into the car, and gas prices and environment be damned, we cranked that AC and quickly put NPR on the radio.
Soon, the train arrived in the station and suddenly the parking lot was filled with cars. It was like these people came out of nowhere. We got in line and did a bit of people watching. A young couple I would have sworn was Amish, based on the modest formal wear and telltale bowl cut, surprised me by pulling out an iPad and playing some shooter game on it. A toddler with a full Mohawk teetered by, his Ed Hardy clad father a few feet behind him.
We boarded the train and luckily were seated next two very normal looking people. They were incredibly nice and left the table for most of the ride to go to the outside car for more pictures. We had a lovely ride, but the sun went down too soon and the last hour was spent in darkness with the soft glow of the interior lights destroying any hope of taking any more photographs. By then, our companions returned and we had a very nice time chit-chatting with them. They were retired Nevada detectives and were RVing in Colorado for a few weeks.
As we arrived back at the station, we were exhausted, and still facing the long hour drive back. Our new friends cautioned us about driving the highway at night, letting us know to watch out for animals. They were right, although none were on the road. I saw at least one fox dashing back across the road. The ride back was a challenge because I was so tired, the jet lag finally catching up to me. We hit only one snag, which was some night time construction. By the time we got back to the room, I was totally spent and went right to bed. The next day would be grueling, and we needed our rest.