Days 19, 20 and 21, WLBT

Denver and Colorado Springs, CO

by David Runkle

Figuring that the 4th of July was not a big day to schedule a reading and rejecting the opportunity to pay a $150 stocking fee at Denver’s best known independent book store, the Tour engaged in tourist activities for the most part.

From the ridiculous Casa Bonita restaurant in suburban Denver to the sublime Pikes’ Peak and the Avenue of the Gods, we experienced more of Colorado. Marsh has never forgotten Casa Bonita in the 40 years since he was exposed to it on a trip West as a 12-year-old with our Harrisburg neighbors, Steve and Geri Male, and their daughter Alisa to visit Geri’s parents and siblings in Utah. “You won’t believe it, Dad. You won’t believe it,” our 53-year-old said.

The restaurant has neither changed nor undergone a thorough cleaning since Marsh and the Males were there, but we hope Marsh’s values have. The food’s pretty awful. “You don’t come here for the food,” we were told by a local who was waiting in line with us with her Milwaukee sister and family.  We opted for nachos and a taco salad which were okay if you love Cheese Whiz and tired iceberg lettuce.  The entertainment included a shoot-out between two young cowgirls, an indoor 30-foot dive into a pool fed by a stream and a gorilla making advances on the same two cowgirls who apparently were trained to scream into the microphone, making it impossible to understand what they were saying. There were also lots of trinkets to buy, a western photo gallery and many semi-bored children.  We turned down the hour’s wait to have a replica made with us of the aging faded picture taken of Alisa and Marsh.

Our Denver trip also included a tour of the state Capitol (they also seemed to be alike) and overnight with Steve’s brother Richard and his wife Evelyn. They are still glowing from the recent marriage of their eldest son Abraham to a fellow US Marine Captain in Connecticut.  The bride is on active duty, while Abe is in the reserves.  They are on their way to serve in DC.

Our other stop was in Colorado Springs, heart of the state’s conservatives and to our dismay there was no 4th of July parade.  We drove by the park where the symphony was due to play in the evening before fireworks, but with neither chairs, a blanket nor a picnic and wary of big dark clouds in the sky, we opted out.  Instead we had drinks at the five-star Broadmoor Hotel, dinner at a terrific Italian restaurant in the Old Town and retired to our room in the World’s Most Over-Decorated Bed and Breakfast (WMODBNB) to watch the fireworks in DC.   No political commentary there.

Other places we have reserved for our next trip to Colorado Springs are the Miners’ Museum, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, the Figure Skating Hall of Fame and Museum and the Focus on Family Center.

A brief comment on the Broadmoor, one of America’s grand hotel resorts opened June29, 1918:  It is beautiful and the drinks were good.  We learned that it was started by Spencer Penrose, who made a fortune in mining at the end of the 1800s.  His statue is in a prominent place.  Penrose is a Philadelphia name and the only statue on the Capitol grounds in Harrisburg is of Boise Penrose, who is either Stewart’s uncle or his illegitimate father.  Boise Penrose occupies an important place in American politics and history.  He invented the $100-a-plate political dinner (quaint these days) and is a major reason why the country adopted the 17th amendment to the Constitution in 1913 providing for the direct election of US senators, replacing election of senators by state legislatures. 

In Harrisburg, they tell the story of Penrose’s last election.  The legislature was tied, leading the Pennsylvania Railroad, one of Penrose’s corporate supporters, to run a one-car train from Philadelphia to the Capitol 100 miles away carrying a very sick Penrose legislator.  He arrived, was carried onto the floor on a litter, cast his vote and died on the floor of the House while the Penrose crowd celebrated.  The stink from this, along with the corrupt influence by special interests in a number of other states, led to the reform in senatorial elections. 

Earlier on the 4th, we drove through the Avenue of the Gods, a remarkable outbreak and uplift of red rocks of all different shapes and sizes. It’s the kind of terrain dinosaurs must have traveled. Reportedly one of the first Europeans to stumble across the rocks thought it would be a great place for a beer garden.  But other views prevailed and it is now a city park with many paths for walking and one lane for viewers from cars.

Another day we took the 19-mile road trip to the top of Pike’s Peak which left us literally breathless.  We spent as little time as possible at the 14,000-foot summit and slowly drove back down.  We were impressed that the Forestry Department stops all vehicles about half way down to check brakes, waving some to the side to cool down. Lucky for us, we discovered that our Fusion has a special gear for going uphill and downhill.  We were waved on.

Our one bookselling experience occurred at the inn where we stayed.  Other guests included a Minneapolis couple nearing retirement and wrestling with what to do next and where to live. Their daughter in Colorado Springs is pushing for them to move here and buy or open an inn. They love the Pacific Northwest, as well as Minnesota, however.  Lisa, the wife, is particularly taken with innkeeping.  We had breakfast with them two days and a long discussion on the porch one day. Lisa bought a book and says she’ll be in contact.  We’ll see.

The inn, recently named the best in Colorado Springs, is Victorian or Edwardian (or both).  Every wall is covered with fanciful wallpaper and innumerable knick-knacks.  Lamps sport a one-of-a-kind, handmade silk and fringe lampshade.  Our room had dark tan lace curtains with dark green silk puffy valences. 

The owner, a presidential appointee as the USDA’s state representative for rural development,  is a former El Paso county commissioner and president of the National Association of Counties.   The tour volunteered our previous Washington, DC, work as spokespersons for Peace Corps, the Justice Department and the House Banking Committee.  “Ah, PIO (public information officer) types,” it was noted. Politics was not discussed, but we narrowly missed an opportunity to help unload the groceries.

With Colorado about to be in our rearview, we departed for a week in Kansas with stops in Salina, home of niece Stephanie Cease; Wichita where our Ashland friend Leigh Hood is from; and Kansas City, where former Harrisburg pal John Swanson now lives and the hometown of OSF executive director Cynthia Ryder.

Along the way, we learned of two unsettling developments – the death of our long-time Charles Village friend, Narindar Kelly, at age 80 and ongoing health challenges for Ann Frame, with whom we stayed in Jackson, WY.  Our prayers go out for them.