It’s been too long since last I traveled. The last trip I took was to Chicago in 2018. Now that COVID-19 has become more nuisance than threat, I am breaking my travel-fast with a trip to Historic Colorado.
I love the history of places. And I have family history in Colorado. My Great Great Grandfather, J.J. Carpenter, built a hunting and fishing lodge in Cebolla in 1906. My Great Grandmother lived there, after marrying one of J.J.’s sons in Gunnison in 1907. My grandmother was born there, and spent her teen years in Cebolla, Gunnison, Steamboat Springs and Sapinero. My mother spent the first two years of her life at the family hunting lodge and a family boarding house in town.
I had already spent several weeks digitizing family photos, combing through Colorado newspaper archives, and compiling diaries from my mother and grandmother for a family history project. I remembered a cardboard box in my closet, containing the remains of my great grandmother’s wedding dress. And I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to walk where the matriarchs of my family had once walked, wearing bits of a dress that last saw Gunnison over a century ago?
I started planning this trip over a weekend at McMenamin’s, a 1930s school, converted into a hotel in Bothel, WA. Kate and I sat down with hard ciders under the shade of the lovely trees in the center courtyard; me with a road map spread over the table, and Kate with Google on her tablet, the two of us drafting a route that would take me by train from Seattle to Gunnison, by rental car along a lovely little back road to Silverton, by narrow gauge train to Durango, through Creede to the Red Sand Dunes, before flying home from Alamosa. Kate suggested that I rent a convertible. I would start booking cars, trains and hotels the following week.
Google can be wrong…
Amtrak doesn’t appear to serve Gunnison in spite of an Amtrak station being listed there. There are significant limitations in Colorado’s public transit infrastructure, with a 2.5 hour trip by car taking 11-15 hours via a series of buses, trams and taxis. I can’t drop off a rental car in some places. So I book the Amtrak Zephyr to Grand Junction, and rent a car there for the majority of this trip.
Maps can be deceiving…
My original itinerary is immediately thwarted by a geographical divide known as The Rockies. Had I actually studied the map in detail, I would have learned that the meandering back road between Silverton and Gunnison is the Alpine Loop – a moderately challenging historic byway that requires a 4WD to navigate the 63 miles of switchbacks on a road that rises to 12,000 feet. I’m not convinced I can rise to the physical challenge, so I give a pass to the Cinnamon Pass, and go back to my map and start again.
Always Do Your Research Before Leaving Home!
After several more revisions over the next several days, I settle on a route which keeps me West of the Rockies. I add a stop in Montrose. I abandon the Red Sands that remind me of Morocco, and convince myself that I’m passing it up for for lack of camels. I start making reservations, and have waited just long enough that I scoop up the last of things… the last seat on an 1880a parlor car on the narrow gauge steam train, the last rooms in 4 of the 5 historic hotels. I comment to friends that logistics are easier in Spain and Turkiye than they are in Colorado. I finally lock things in, and start collecting the components for my 1908 promenade and traveling clothes.
Travel planning is half the fun, even when it’s a little frustrating at times.
Traveling the path once tread by your foremothers? Absolutely priceless….