I typically become unhappy when parents take students out of school for family vacations. Why can’t they travel during the summer or Christmas break or spring break? I have been heard to ask. Well, last week, I basically did the same thing. My wife and I packed up the camper and headed for the hills. Technically, it was the mountains, the Rockies, to be exact. I want to point out that we just couldn’t squeeze the trip into the summer…but, that would be lying. To be honest, I have always wanted to go camping in Colorado in September.
We took off on a stormy Sunday, the day before Labor Day. We had made reservations for most of the week, but I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to find a private campground spot for that night. I was wrong. The closest to the Front Range we could park for the night was Limon, Colo., which is about an hour east of Colorado Springs. The good news, however, was that we could make our way at a more leisurely pace. We didn’t need to hurry because, quite honestly, there’s not a lot to do in Limon once you’ve toured the two giant truck stops on the west end of town.
Anyhow, we chose to meander a bit, turned right at the Wilson Lake exit, and landed in the Garden of Eden, Lucas edition. Now, if you’ve never been to this unique attraction – and I hadn’t – you owe it to yourself to swing by. It’s less than a half hour off I-70, and it is one of the wackiest tourist traps in Kansas. This guy, S.P. Dinsmore, decided back in 1907 to create a unique home out of concrete. He reckoned it could be a Route 66-style destination. He designed it like a log cabin, and for the next 22 years, the Civil War veteran and populist politician fashioned 113 tons of cement and many tons of limestone into his unique cabin and its surrounding sculptures. Here are some of his historical greatest hits: He married his first wife on horseback in 1870, and, when she died in 1917, he married 20-year-old Emilie Brozek, an immigrant from the old country. I don’t remember which one. At the time, he was 81. He wanted to bury the first Mrs. Dinsmore on his property, but the city of Lucas refused to allow it. So, he went to the graveyard, dug her up and encased her body in concrete in the yard. Eventually, he was also interred on the home place. His corpse can still be viewed today as the coffin, made of concrete, of course, has a glass lid.
While in Lucas, be sure to visit the Bowl Plaza, which won the quirkiest restroom in the 2018 International Toilet Tourism Awards. I believe they were televised on one of the Fox Network channels. Anyhow, the building is shaped like a toilet tank; the entrance is a raised toilet lid; the benches in front are the curved seat; and the sidewalk ends in a giant roll of concrete toilet paper. The inside is also highly decorated in the folk art style of Lucas.
Speaking of folk art, a traveler through Limon should not miss a decorated grain bin on the east end of town. Apparently, Staci Beauford and her girlfriends took it upon themselves to beautify the hometown they love by painting a 60-foot-tall silhouette of a farmer holding his daughter in the air. That should be impressive in itself, but there’s more. The women, who are not artists in the classically trained sense, used a series of stunning colors to create an image inside the silhouette that will knock your chore boots off. In addition, the women have been commissioned to liven up downtown Limon by restoring several murals on the sides of buildings. Hey, you know you are going to stop in this eastern Colorado town to buy gas anyway, so why not check out the work these ladies are doing. As a bonus, if they happen to be out there working, they would love to take a moment to chat with you. We did.
We spent the first two days camping in the mouth of Eleven-Mile Canyon. The road is so bad, you don’t want to haul an RV farther than the first campground, which is about a mile in. On our way up through Colorado Springs and on through to Divide, the traffic was bumper-to-bumper coming down out of the mountains. At least 50 percent of the vehicles were RVs. We were glad we were going the opposite way.
By the second day of our stay in the gorgeous canyon, only three spaces in the campground were occupied, if you don’t count the volunteer host. One gentleman was up from Wichita. He was a retired Spirit worker and self-proclaimed trout-fishing junkie. He was knee deep in the stream one morning when he was nearly walked upon by a herd of nine mule deer. When they finally noticed him, they casually strolled away. Obviously, it was not their first encounter with humans.
From Eleven Mile Canyon, we headed back east to Mueller State Park, one of our favorite spots in all of Colorado. It is located on the backside of Pike’s Peak. On our second day there, the temperature in the early evening was a brisk 39 degrees with a steady rain. We spotted fresh snow on the peak on at least three separate occasions during the week.
The aspens were just beginning to turn yellow. I would guess we missed peak color by about 10 days. We managed a couple of fun hikes, and I took a spin on my mountain bike. The only thing we don’t like about Mueller is the fact that the campground is up on a ridge, and all the trails loop down first. Then you have to make your way back up. I would rather climb first and coast on in at the end.
We heard lots of talk about bears, including a story about one that crawled into the work truck of someone who would like to remain anonymous. It wasn’t his fault that a coworker left the door unlocked. Mind you, the door was closed, and the bear still managed to get inside. He could have done a lot of damage, but he just chose to leave a message and take a bite out of the seat. Unfortunately, we never saw any wild animals besides deer and ground squirrels.
On our way home, we took a route that I don’t believe I have ever attempted. Instead of traveling up on U.S. Highway 24 to Limon, then catching the Interstate, we headed straight east on Colorado 94. For a while, it looked like a genius move. Then the road became hilly, narrow and bumpy, three adjectives one tries to avoid when pulling a travel trailer.
Once we reached Oakley, we reunited with our old friend I-70, where one final adventure awaited us. I had purchased gas at Sharon Springs, just inside the Kansas border, so when I saw Hays on the horizon, I still had about two-thirds of a tank of petrol. We were making good time, so I decided to cruise on past. Then, I further tempted fate by zipping by Russell. In my defense, I was listening to the Chiefs’ game, so I wasn’t fully focused on the gauge. As we came within 50 miles of Salina, I consulted my truck’s estimated distance I should be able to travel on my remaining fuel. As the gas gauge sank toward the red line, everything still looked good. According to the estimate, I would have about 16 miles to spare. The computer failed to realize that, I swear on a Chilton’s manual, the last 20 miles into Salina are all uphill.
What seemed like a comfortable enough margin slipped away to under 10 miles. That’s when I decided to end the experiment and take Exit 244 to the last station before the I-135 turn. I only purchased enough fuel to make it the final eight miles to cheaper gas, however. My daddy didn’t raise me to spend $2.85 per gallon when I could fill up down the road for under $2.60.