Sunday, June 2, 2013

To Denver and Back

People keep telling me to stop and smell the roses.  So we decided to drive instead of fly from Santa Fe to Denver, 6 hours if you just keep going.  Actually, there is not much difference if you count in the getting to the airport and then sitting around waiting for the plane etc.  Well, I didn’t find any roses on our road trip but we did make some interesting stops along the way.

The first was for lunch in Springer, New Mexico.  It was named after Frank Springer.  He was a successful lawyer, rancher and scientist.  In 1870 when as a young man he helped sell the Maxwell Land Grant to the Dutch East Indies Company he was given a 320 acre tract of land that became the town of Springer.

This is a town that has seen better times, as was the case in many places we visited.  The mines were closing or closed, the train no longer stopped there and many of the residences had lost their tenants.  The town is a ghost of it’s former self with a total population around 1,300.  There is one industry left in Springer and that is ranching.  As you can imagine there weren’t a whole lot of places to pick from for lunch and we went to what seemed like one of the more important buildings in town, Brown’s Hotel.

It was like taking a step or two back in history.  They had even made a bit of a museum out of it with objects of yesteryear in a vitrine under the reception desk and photos of some of the ranchers on the walls.  It didn’t stop there when we went into the dining room there was a family sitting in the corner, the father and young son wearing their cowboy hats.  How could we know, were they tourists too?  A few minutes later 4 men walked in with not only their cowboy hats but also their spurs clanging on the floor. They were for real and we realized that the foreman was taking his boys out for lunch.

We had told friends that we wanted to stop in Raton, New Mexico.  Without prompting they said, you want to go shopping at Solano’s, the family owned Boots and Western Wear store.  We had stopped on our way down a decade ago and bought some great duds such as a leather bomber jacket so we went back and my wife found a bunch of things.

We stayed overnight across the border in Trinidad, Colorado.  This was a bustling town in comparison with Springer having a population of about 9,000.  The red bricks that cover many of the streets with every other one saying “Trinidad” on it help in setting a western atmosphere.  We stayed in a  mansion by the architects Rapp and Rapp, who built much of the town in solid stone structures, that had been purchased by a couple to  turn into an inn. There were cats everywhere, being allergic, I was continuously closing our room door!  Penelope picked the inn because it was Isaac Rapp who built the Mansion later came down to New Mexico and played a part in forming the Santa Fe Style as the architect for the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Trinidad Mansion by architects Rapp & Rapp

In the Trinidad history museum Penelope found her “Uncle Dick”.  We cannot determine the exact relationship, but Wootton was her maternal grandmother’s maiden name and she was born in 1902 in Denver.)  “Uncle Dick” Wootton, as he was known to all, was born in Virginia and moved to Denver.  He was a guide, a rancher, and a shopkeeper and when he moved to Trinidad he built a toll road over the Raton Pass.  He opened the Pass in April of 1865, the same month in which President Lincoln was assassinated, and within 13 years the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad offered him $50,000 but he refused instead making a deal for groceries and free train travel for his wife. Wootton died 15 years after making the deal but the annuity lasted for his widow for 42 years.

On the way back from Denver we stopped both in Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, the latter nestled at the foot of Pike’s Peak.  It is absolutely like a small Swiss village with the same kinds of shops and a luxury resort out of the 19th century, called Cliff House, which I can highly recommend.  There is, of course, the mandatory snow mountain ascent which you can do on foot, by car, if you are a dare devil, but usually reached by the one hour ride up to 14,114 feet on the Swiss made cog railway.  People always seem to forget that when you go that high and you can see snow it can easily be a 50 degree drop in temperature so they do a brisk business in sweat shirts!  But it is worth the view when the railway stops and it seems that you may drop off the face of the earth.

Our final great view was at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, home of the Air force Academy.  In 1858 the gold rush hit the area and thousands of prospectors arrived in the area.  General William Jackson Palmer who started the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad founded Colorado Springs in 1871.  He built his home just north of the Garden of the Gods and wished these 480 acres to be left to the people of Colorado Springs for their pleasure.  He never made his desire a formal one but his 6 children designated the land as such in 1909.

If you would say it’s a heavenly spot it would be the perfect description.


Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

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