I had some readings lined up in support of my new book, so the feller and I took to the road, driving our first four hours from Louisville to St. Louis, where we met some friends at Planter’s House for some circus-themed cocktails and olives.
St. Louis has been on my list of places to go for a while now because of the World Chess Hall of Fame. We played a game on the patio before heading in to check out the museum and gift shop, where we got a regulation board, weighted pieces, and the custom tote bag for under $40—the board rolls up and slides into the bottom, so it’s easy to bike with. There’s a chess-themed diner right across the road from the museum, should you want some coffee or food.
My first reading was in Kansas City at KCAI Crossroads Gallery. We got on the road by 11 a.m. for the ~3 ½ hour drive so we’d have time to explore.
Upon arrival, we stopped in the legendary Arthur Bryant’s BBQ. Perry had a combo plate with burnt ends and pulled pork, and I got onion rings and unsweetened tea (the large comes in a souvenir cup). If you go here, expect a line—happily, the line moves quickly.
We decided to check out Boulevard Brewery next, a veritable beer compound. We opted to visit the beer hall rather than to do a tour of the brewery. I got the seasonal beer flight, Leaf Peepin, inspired by shades of brown, this being fall. Perry tried two IPAs.
The beer hall has a little photo trailer, too, so of course we got our pictures made.
We planned to meet a friend for a snack and drinks at Mission Taco at 5, so checked out Double Shift Brewing Co. across the street since we arrived a little early. Pet dogs are in for a treat at this brewery, too—there are house-made dog biscuits for sale in a 25-cent machine. We split a Tessellation Mosaic IPA, the brewery’s most popular beer—we get why it’s so popular.
Mission Taco’s menu is great. I got a Chofu taco (made with soy chorizo) and the special, a vegan taco made with Impossible Burger chunks and Daiya cheese—and a Paloma. Perry asked the server to pick two of her favorites for him, and she picked two different meat tacos, both of which he liked.
After the reading, we drove 45 minutes to Lawrence, KS, and stayed with a friend and host of Sunday’s reading at the Taproom.
We started the day with brunch at the Levee Café. The special was pupusas, a Salvadoran dish I first tasted at a Santa Monica farmer’s market in the early 2000s—a food memory that stays with me because the flavors were that good. The spicy cabbage slaw was particularly tasty (both times). Perry got a BELT (a BLT with egg) and a cup of tomato bisque. We loved this place and the local fresh flowers on the tables, too.
After, we drove to Massachusetts St., parked, and wandered in and out of shops, including Wonder Fair, an arts and craft store, and Anomaly, a novelty store.
Our host recommended the Bourgeois Pig, so we went there for mimosas. I got a pomegranate mimosa ($6), and Perry got a grapefruit mimosa ($6). The bar is charming and compact. Sunday papers were scattered all around for perusal.
The Antique Mall was open by the time we finished our drinks, and I found a donkey planter, which I purchased, and many other stand-out objects, which I did not purchase.
Our host recommended Free State Brewing Co., so we stopped in for a beer while I finalized my pieces for the reading that evening. This place has great upstairs seating with great views of the space and lively street.
Massachusetts St. is a sweet place to stroll. We checked out the book selection in the Dusty Bookshelf before meeting up with my fellow readers at Merchants—a restaurant in an old bank—before the reading. This place has won best happy hour several times, and we now know why. I like a Sunday happy hour! We ordered fries ($4) and Bee Stings (Manchego cheese with honey and black salt, $6) off the snack menu, and the cocktail special, a Gin Rickey ($5). Bonus: the bathroom is in the old safe.
The reading took place in the basement of the Taproom. There’s a bar downstairs, and the red lighting and low ceilings make for good ambiance.
We decided to get on the road after the reading to knock some time off of our drive to Buena Vista, CO. We drove for about 3 ½ hours and stayed the night at a surprisingly nice Days Inn for $50 in Hays, KS, 6 ½ hours away from Buena Vista.
Perry wanted a full day in Buena Vista and managed to coax me out of bed at 5 a.m. Vacation Kristi is much better at early mornings than Home Kristi, so it wasn’t that hard for him.
On the drive, we saw the golden aspens—mustard yellow will now forever be known as aspen yellow in my world. If you can be in Colorado during aspen season, be in Colorado during aspen season.
We stopped in Fairplay, CO, for a South Park photo op and to split a flight of beers at South Park Brewing. We already planned to eat in Buena Vista; otherwise, we would have eaten at the brewery. The small menu included tofu tacos and burritos alongside meat options.
We arrived in Buena (pronounced biew—as in “view”—nuh) Vista in time for lunch at the Lariat. I had a veggie burger and fries ($10), and Perry has chicken tenders and fries ($11). The Lariat is not only a restaurant and bar, but also a music venue (though there was no music this night).
It was a perfect cool day for a trip to the Cottonwood Hot Springs. We got a day pass ($20) and changed into swimsuits in the changing rooms. We packed our own towels, but there are also towels available to rent for a small charge if you forget yours (under $5).
We moved among the three pools and got an eyeful of golden aspen from each.
There’s complimentary water to keep you hydrated, too.
After soaking for a while, we headed to Eddyline Brewery Taproom for a Crank Yanker IPA (winner of the 2014 World Beer Championship) and a few hands of Rummy.
When we travel, we tend toward one-drink stops and small plates so we can try out several places.
We decided to try out Wesley & Rose, the restaurant and bar in the Surf Hotel, before heading to our campsite. We ordered W&R Bread (with honey & black salt butter, herb & pink salt butter, roasted garlic & smoked salt, and olive oil, $8), which came with two types of bread, and cocktails: the Quiver ($12) for Perry—the bar’s play on an Old Fashioned—and the Chateau Standard ($10) for me, a Four Roses bourbon drink. The place has a great view of the water, too (thus the name).
We bought firewood (3 bundles for $15) and headed to set up camp at Turtle Rock Campground, a free site.
From the campsite, we could see the galactic core of the Milky Way—that made it well worth camping in 40-degree weather that dipped to 30-degree weather by morning.
In the morning we could see the Fourteeners that had been obscured by fog the day before.
Before getting on the road to drive 30 minutes to Salida, we stopped into the Buena Vista Roastery for coffee. There’s a great breakfast special here, too: breakfast burrito and coffee for $6. I left two of my books in the little library outside the coffee shop.
We got Perry’s mountain bike chain tightened at Absolute Bikes, then headed for Crested Butte (an hour and 45 minutes away), where Perry hoped to bike the 401.
(Spoiler alert: an early October snow the night before covered the trail, so trail conditions were not in his favor.) The drive up to the trail was stunning—mountains and lakes and a drive through Gothic, home of Rocky Mountain Laboratories.
There’s a cute shop at the top of the Monarch Pass where we picked up Fourteener playing cards and a BLT for Perry.
Perry regularly mountain bikes in CO, and it was fun to get to see the places he’s always telling me about—both in nature and in town. I had lunch at Sherpa Café, where I had Veggie Thupka ($12), a Tibetan spicy noodle soup with vegetables, and Samosas ($6), which may have been the best samosas I’ve ever had—light, perfectly browned shell and well-seasoned, savory filling, sometimes not accomplished with potatoes.
Then we got a beer at Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub, which has a great beer selection—I had a rotating Ginger Sour.
We drove 30-minutes back to Gunnison and set up camp at a cool site at Hartman Rocks (free, too). The Hartman Rocks Recreation Area has mountain biking trails and places to climb and hike. Our site looked especially pretty with a dusting of snow in the morning.
Perry has an old water bottle from Double Shot Cyclery (a coffee shop and bike shop) so I wanted to see the place. We got espressos and a “Hartman Rocks is for Lovers” tee-shirt. You can get water bottles already filled with cold water here, which is how Perry came to have one.
We carted our new chess mat (er, board) to High Alpine Brewing Co. and played a game of chess while we shared a flight of beer: Curecanti Chile Beer, Green Gate IPA, Slash Turn Hazy IPA, Old Crank Barleywine, and Sol’s Espresso Stout.
We got dinner from the indoor food truck at the Dive. Perry had the special: steak tacos.
Then we headed to the campsite for a fire. A light rain turned into sleet so we got into our tent and listened as the sleet quieted to snow.
We ate breakfast at the Back Country Cafe, “Gunnison’s original breakfast bar.” The ski-themed restaurant has an appropriately named Powder Room—I like a good pun—and some strangely gendered morning cocktails (the “Man-mosa,” a 16 oz. mimosa that Perry and I ended up splitting).
We watched the blustery snow through the window as we at our breakfast: oatmeal and fresh fruit ($5.90) for me and a Southwest Skillet ($11.95) for Perry, then made the decision to drive back to Salida by way of the Monarch Pass—a questionable decision given the unexpected snow.
Thankfully, very, very slowly, we made our way up and down the mountain.
By the time we arrived in Salida, we felt we’d earned a drink, so went into Vino Salida for a wine tasting ($5). We opted for the run of reds and ended up buying a bottle of Cuvee Rouge; the $5 wine tasting cost was put toward the purchase.
There’s also a merlot named the Tenderfoot Stomp for which the community stomps grapes each September.
In an effort to help Perry practice chess, we took the board into Elevation Beer Co. and shared a flight while we played a game. This place has some excellent artisan stools and great beers. The Lil’ Mo porter was my favorite.
We headed over to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for a 3-hour soak next. Like at Cottonwood Hot Springs, the day pass is $20 (and you can rent towels if you forget your own). The changing rooms are nice, and there’s even a hairdryer in the women’s changing room. Lockers are available to rent, but I just left my stuff on a changing bench because it wasn’t crowded. You can walk out of the bathhouse through a door that leads you directly into one of the big pools, but we spent most of our time in the shallow pools by the creek, where the water from the hot springs mixes with some of the cooler water from the creek, creating an endurable temperature.
There’s a restaurant, bar, lodging, and a small market on site.
After the long soak, we went to admire the Chalk Cliffs then went back into Buena Vista to check out the Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar.
This bar is cool, and the bathroom even has etchings preserved from its jailhouse days. I loved my beer, too—Scratch, a turmeric sour.
We ended our time in BV with dinner at Los Girasoles, where, lucky for us, it was 2-for-1 margaritas. Perry loved his Steak al Chipotle ($13.75), which came with flour or corn tortillas.
We drove 40 minutes to stay the night in the Fairplay Valiton Hotel, a historic haunted hotel and saloon in Fairplay, CO.
We booked through Airbnb and got an amazing room with a king-size bed for $50 (a last-minute deal, it seems, as our room typically goes for $79, according to the website). What a deal!
The hotel also has a saloon with nice pool tables, a jukebox, and cheap drinks.
Perry woke up at 4 a.m. to noise on the second floor that we’re gonna say was the resident ghost, Julia, for whom the saloon is named.
I wanted to see the Tara Donovan “Fieldwork” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, which opened at noon.
First, breakfast, though: we went to the Brown Burro Café by our hotel and had delicious and filling food. For me, hash browns ($3.50) smothered in vegetarian green chile sauce ($2.75); for Perry, a breakfast burrito ($9.45) smothered in regular green chile sauce ($2.25). These hash browns were maybe the best hash browns I’ve ever had. Somehow they managed to stay crisp even under all the chile sauce. I fell in love with the burro on the coffee mug, so ended up buying the cup I was drinking out of, and it’s become my go-to mug at home. Between Santorini and Fairplay, donkeys are the theme of 2018.
We drove two hours from Fairplay to Denver, and parked near the MCA. Tickets are $8 for adults, but teachers, students, and military get in for $5, so we just paid $13.
I first saw Tara Donovan’s eerily organic work at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati in the early 2000s. It’s the kind of work that doesn’t leave your mind once it lodges there, so it was exciting to see her new work and one of my favorite older pieces, “Haze,” made of plastic straws, a piece that makes a wall look like its got hives, minus the redness.
We hung out with some dear friends before my reading at the Death Horse Series at Bar Max.
We ended the night with a new and old friends at Three Lions, a pub with fried artichoke on the menu and a lively soccer crowd, because Taco Tequila Whiskey was too packed. Oh, well—next time!
Day 8 was our long driving day: 1,111 miles between Denver and Louisville—we left Denver at 9:30 a.m. and got to our house in Louisville around 3 a.m. Obviously, driving in stages is preferable, but we were happy to be back home after a week on the road. What’s your favorite road trip route in the States?