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Check out this post to see the first part of our two week cross-country road trip!
We knew we wanted to head next to Durango, Colorado to pick up where Karl’s dad went on his road trip, but there was no way in heck that we could drive that distance in one day. Looking at the map we realized the mid-point between St. Louis and Durango was pretty much smack dab in the middle of the United States. We looked at what cities and towns were located along our route and Dodge City, Kansas came up.
Driving to Dodge City was an experience Karl and I were both looking forward to. Karl did a similar road trip with his dad back when he was in high school, but it was farther north. Any time I went farther west than Ohio, it was by plane. We found it awesome to drive through such flat land, so very different from the East Coast. It was a gorgeous day with a bright blue sky and we could go over an hour without seeing another car or any sign of life. Right when we needed a gas station and restroom we saw an Oasis – a gas station and convenience store named Oasis right in the middle of nowhere. Talk about a perfect name for a business!
Dodge City, Kansas
We drove through Kinsley, Kansas which is the town that lays claim to being the center of the United States with equal distance to each coast, and Spearville which is the land of windmills. While I’ve seen wind farms before, it was surreal and alien-like to see miles and miles of hundreds and hundreds of them glowing in the setting sun. Just as our tummies started rumbling, we reached Dodge City.
I didn’t book a hotel in advance, but TripAdvisor said the La Quinta in town was pretty nice. We got their last double queen room. It was nice, but the TV didn’t work. The front desk immediately moved us to a double queen suite across the hall for no additional cost. We asked where to eat and they suggested the Bad Habit, which we drove to and found was a standard bar and grill we could find back home. We were pleasantly surprised by the delicious food, and the waitresses were sweethearts. In fact every person we encountered in Dodge City was super nice and friendly.
There was the most spectacular moon that night but after filling our bellies we were DONE. We went back to the hotel and Emerson fell asleep before we finished that night’s chapter of The Secret Garden. I woke up early the next morning and used the hotel gym (eh, it was fine, it got the job done and wasn’t dirty) and had breakfast (free with our stay). My family got up, ate, and we packed up to get back on the road for another long drive.
Getting in the car the tire pressure light went on. We drove to two different gas stations and both had their air machines broken. Karl had brought a small air compressor with us thank goodness so we inflated the front left tire which was a hair low. We couldn’t find the reason for the issue, so we crossed our fingers and went on.
Further down Wyatt Earp Boulevard is the historic part of Dodge City including Boot Hill Museum. Unfortunately none of it was open at 8am, however that doesn’t mean there weren’t any people.
Parking in a lot to check out the replica frontier town (behind gates), we met two men who were in the Navy (and took our family photo), and a gentleman from Bethesda, Maryland! Historic Dodge City was so cute, we wished we had more time to check it out. Maybe on another trip!
We got to the Kansas/Colorado border and got out to take a family photo at the sign. We were so glad we were wearing our Maryland shirts from The HomeT. Emerson was freaked out by all the grasshoppers jumping on our ankles, and I must say Kia ate a bunch of them in her grill. It was sunny, warm, and windy and felt like we finally had left the familiar and truly got into our road trip.
The Drive From Dodge City to Durango
The drive from Dodge City to Durango was one of the most memorable from the entire trip. Going from completely flat plains to mountains and seeing everything in between was spectacular. We started the day hot and without a cloud in the sky, experienced humidity, clouds, sun again, rain, intense hail, and then a light drizzle in weather so cool we donned light jackets. We went from miles and miles of nothing but grain coops and fields to large ranches with the occasional cattle to small towns, suburbs, national forests, and historic towns.
We drove through towns that were almost completely boarded up. It was sad to see what must have been a bustling community now a ghost town. Gas stations, fabric stores, bars, markets, hardware stores and more boarded up, glass broken, some buildings literally crumbling to the ground. Even sadder were the towns that had the main street boarded up like this yet there were still people living in the houses around them. This led to a really great conversation with Emerson about how not every part of the United States has access to jobs, healthy food, and opportunities like we have. I think it’s very important for kids (and adults) to understand the disparity in the United States, especially with the election right around the corner.
image via ColoradoSprings.com
We stopped in Kim, Colorado for gas. With a population of around 100, the Kim Outpost is the hub of the community with a single gas pump and a building that is the community center, restaurant, grocery store, auto body shop, library, video rental store, and business center for the town. We asked the the wife of the couple who own Kim's Outpost about the signs on the highway saying, “This Land is Not for Sale to the US Army.” She told us how for almost a decade they fought the Army to keep their land and not have them expand the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. When living in the cities or suburbs, news like this is a blip on the TV or deep in the pages of the paper. However to these folks, it was their life, their history, their livelihood, and their future at stake and they dedicated their life to this fight and won… at least for now.
Soon, the land became more mountainous, and we saw more developed and thriving communities. We had options for gas and food. We drove through adorable towns like Pagosa Springs (if I win the lottery don’t be surprised if we move there!), and through the Rio Grande National Forest. The view driving down the mountain in Rio Grande National Forest was utterly spectacular and we all agreed we MUST return and camp there, hike there, soak up the beauty.
We ended up in standstill traffic in the San Juan National Forest. For almost an hour we sat in the same exact place, couldn’t get any radio stations, Waze wasn’t working, and we had no idea what was going on. Finally the traffic started moving again. Driving down the mountain we saw the reason for the standstill – a tractor trailer had fallen off the curvy road and was wedged on a cliff! We assumed since we saw no emergency vehicles the driver was safe and the truck was secured, but we made haste when driving past it just in case.
Once out of the forest, a truck going in the opposite direction bounced a rock up from the road and it hit our windshield, leaving a major chip. When we stopped for gas, Emerson hugged Kia and that's the photo used in the title images for this series. By this time, our 2011 Kia Soul was the fourth member of our family and we were sad it was getting “injured” with the slow leak in the tire and the cracked windshield (when we unpacked we saw the hail also did some damage to our cargo box).
Though this was the longest drive of the trip (and made longer due to traffic, rain, and hail), we arrived in Durango energized. I had reached out to a few hotels and the tourism department for Durango before our trip and was offered a reduced rate at the Leland House and Rochester Hotel.
The Leland House is across the street from the Rochester Hotel but they are owned and run by the same mother-son duo and work in tandem. In 1993, they purchased The Pittman Apartments, built in 1927, from Leland and Lola Hill. The building was renamed The Leland House in honor of that family who owned the property since 1947.
A year after restoring the Leland House, they began restoring the rundown Rochester Hotel. Built in 1892, it is one of the oldest hotels in Durango. The former 33-room boarding house is now 15 king and double queen rooms with private baths.
All the rooms in the Rochester have a Western movie theme based on the movies that have been filmed in the area; movie posters framed in marquee lights line the hallways, along with film histories and photos from these movies.
Each room in the Leland House is named after an historic Durango figure and the interior décor is accented with local memorabilia, biographies, and photos of these figures. We stayed in the “Balsey” Kern Suite, a queen suite with a spacious living room with a gas fireplace designed to look like a wood stove (obviously not used this time of year) and sofa bed, a full kitchen and breakfast nook, a charming bedroom with super comfy king-size bed and a charming yet modern bathroom with shower.
The bathroom had Aveda shampoo, conditioner, and body wash and handmade glycerin soaps. We were on the main floor and right outside our room was a door to a balcony and stairs down to the hotel's “secret garden” and where our car was parked. After four nights in traditional hotels, it was so nice to rest somewhere more homey. I already regretted not staying in Durango more than one night.
While Emerson and I got unpacked, Karl got a lay of the land.
The hotel recommended we go to Steamworks for dinner, but there was a crowd outside and just inside with a 45 minute wait for dinner. They also recommended Eno which looked fantastic but not an Emerson-friendly menu. On Instagram, McKristie recommended Olde Tymers Cafe so we headed there and it was exactly what we needed after such an long day on the road. A quirky yet cozy atmosphere with random tchotchkes on the walls, a large bar, tables and booths snuggled up to one another, and a very friendly relaxed staff. Olde Tymers Cafe is known for their burgers but Karl and I have cut out red meat this year so we each got salads that were generous, creative, and delicious. It went from a light drizzle to actual rain while in there and it was so comforting to be in there in the amber light, so Karl and I decided to have another drink and stay a bit (and I passed Emerson my phone, which had a few Toca Boca games on it to keep her entertained).
Karl said he saw an ice cream shop when exploring the town so when the rain stopped we headed to Cream Bean Berry. This is not your typical ice cream shop, Cream Bean Berry makes artisan ice cream with only a few flavors each day. They had a flavor that was a bit like cookies and cream (Emerson's favorite flavor) with Nutella in it, so Em got a small cone. After two bites she was done. It was past her bedtime and started raining again but I couldn't believe she was refusing ice cream. I took a bite and knew why – it was so rich, so decadent, so multi-facteted. Two bites was enough for a little girl without too large of sweet tooth. I have been cutting down on dairy but I had two bites as well and it was a little bit of heaven.
We headed back to the hotel where Emerson passed out almost immediately but Karl and I stayed up and had some adult quiet time thanks to separate bedrooms, feeling as though we were able to relax for the first time since we got on the road. Again we wished we were staying in Durango longer than one night and from the small bit of the state we saw and its people, we agreed we were in love and HAD to return.
The next morning we walked across the street to the Rochester Hotel for the breakfast included with our stay. The breakfast was incredible! They had homemade granola, fruit, and homemade pastries, but they also offered a cooked dish that changes every day. On our day, it was a basil and feta scramble and potato cake served with toast.
There's seating inside but also a charming courtyard where one could sit and dine in the morning, relax in the afternoon, or have a cocktail in the evening.
Leaving the courtyard I saw the hotel had bikes to borrow, and each had a tag on the bag with its name. Trigger, Silver, they were all named after horses! Again, we were wishing we could stay longer to really explore Durango and experience all that the Leland House and Rochester Hotel had to offer. But we had places to go and sights to see so we packed up and got back on the road. When checking out I bought one of their coffee mugs so I can remember this experience even when home. We hope to see you again soon, Colorado!
What We Learned from This Part of the Trip
- Take advantage of every bathroom and every gas station. While in some parts of the country there will be signs saying last gas station for X miles, don’t assume they’re all out there. We never got to the point where we were sweating bullets over our fuel tank or having bladders ready to bust, but that was because we never let the tank get below half full. Don’t risk it, top it off and make the kids try to use the restroom even if they say they don’t need to.
- Fuel up just before you get to your destination. It’s way nicer to hop in the car the next morning and get on the road than have to stop and get gas. Also, if you use the bathroom before you get to your hotel, you’re not as antsy checking in and unpacking. An empty bladder makes for a calmer mind. We did this before Durango and made it a habit afterwards and it just made things more pleasant.
- Have a car emergency kit. Sure, you may have flares or jumper cables, but what will you do when you’re in the middle of nowhere with no car to see that flare or offer a battery to jump? We brought this tire air inflator and a portable power unit like this one. While we never needed the portable power I have used it in the past to jump my battery and when at home it’s a great way to run the vacuum for the car or charge a cell phone when tailgating.
- Listen to local radio. When we were in the Flint Hills area, Karl saw a sign to turn on AM 1680. We did and for 15 minutes heard a gentleman read history about the area. It was interesting and a nice change from music. After this, we made it a habit to listen to local radio to hear what music was popular, events in the area, the accents, and to learn more about that community.
- Don't rely on your phone for navigation. There's a lot of this US of A that doesn't have good cell reception. We had Karl's dad's old Garmin GPS as well as recent paper road atlases and had a general idea of the route we were taking before we get on the road. Have a backup to your backup, better safe than stuck in the middle of nowhere!
- Don't be afraid to look like a tourist. The HomeT sent us each one of their Maryland tees and thanks to them we met so many nice people in Dodge City and it made for great photos at landmarks. We wore them again on our trip and again saw that they made people smile and want to help and talk to us.
Stay tuned as we leave Durango, Colorado for Winslow, Arizona!