Friday, July 30, 2021

From New Mexico to Montana, 10 cities in 10 days

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From New Mexico to Montana, 10 cities in 10 days

10 Cities, 10 Days: Features Editor Katy Ruth Camp's Journey West, Post 10, Final Post

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As I sit at my desk at the Marietta Daily Journal, I still have Jason Isbell songs stuck in my head, I keep sneezing and I miss the Silver Fox who was my constant companion for 1,500 miles. It feels as though the past ten days were but a dream, but it is good to be home.

Many friends and family members as well as people I met during my journey through the West have asked me why I decided to take this trip. There is no one reason, really, although I don’t believe there ever has to be a reason to travel and experience new sights and places. For several months, I have longed to travel more and I didn’t see any reason in waiting or wanting to have a companion when there was nothing stopping me to do this myself. I have always dreamed of going West and I can count on one hand the number of times during those ten days that I felt a bit lonely. I actually quite liked traveling alone.

I could visit what I wanted to, eat where I wanted to, hike where I wanted to and take as much time as I liked for all of it. I am an extreme extrovert but I enjoyed the freedom I had to just be in the moment and not worry about whether another person was happy in that moment as well. This trip truly changed my life and I know it would not have had the same effect on me had I had company along the way. It was the right time in my life, and the right place in this world.

Reflecting back on the trip from Albuquerque to Bozeman, here are some things that I learned:

  • Sometimes you just need to put the phone or camera away. Whether it’s a concert or a pretty view, the moment can have so much more impact when seen through your eyes rather than through your lens.
  • A good cry is not something to be ashamed of. Sometimes, it’s the most liberating and satisfying thing you can do.
  • If you feel scared or vulnerable to something dark in the distance, keep moving forward. Instead of something evil, it could just be a cow.
  • Always take the scenic route.
  • Take time to watch the sun set and rise. It reminds you of how amazing and beautiful our world truly is and is a great start and end to your day.
  • Coffee is so much better with honey in it.
  • When in New Mexico, always ask your server, “Red or green?” as some chiles are mild and some are SO NOT MILD.
  • Red Rocks Amphitheatre is without a doubt the best place on Earth to see a concert.
  • Treat the world and others with kindness because it is the right thing to do and not because you want something in return. If something does happen in return, it only makes the gesture or moment that much more moving.
  • Colorado still uses $2 bills.
  • The absolute best way to do a road trip is in a convertible, in September, in the West.
  • Expensive hiking boots are well worth their cost.
  • When in Montana, go for the steak.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think. If it makes you smile, do it. Or buy it. Unless it’s $1,555. (I’m still a little sad over that jacket.)
  • Like bruised fruit, everything in this world has some good and some use within it. Don’t overlook potential and worth by seeking only perfection.
  • You CAN get sunburnt in Colorado in the fall. Pack sunscreen and head gear or you'll be hurting.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask and learn about other people’s stories. They are often willing to tell you and there is so much you can learn from others.
  • Westerners love a good, Southern accent.
  • The perfect song can absolutely make a moment happen.
  • Wyoming whiskey is delicious.
  • Sometimes you have to cross the line and sit at the edge of the mountain. It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.
  • Go for the front row. Just go for it.
  • “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter is a great karaoke tune.
  • God can be found everywhere, sometimes we just have to take the time to look.
  • Be kind to your suitcase. If you break the handle, you will suffer.
  • “Hole” is the Western version of “hollow.”
  • Take time out for yourself. Giving yourself to others and your work can be good and necessary, but if you don’t put yourself first, everything else is worse off because of it.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I hope you had as many laughs and “wow” moments as I did and maybe it has even inspired someone else to put the top down, turn the radio up, smile and just go for it.


Katy Ruth 

Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park erupting around 3 p.m. on Saturday.

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Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park erupting around 3 p.m. on Saturday.

10 Cities, 10 Days: Features Editor Katy Ruth Camp's Journey West, Post 9: Jackson Hole to Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Bozeman, Montana

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If I don’t make it back to Georgia on Monday, just know that Bozeman, Montana has kidnapped me and I’m OK with it.

Before I espouse my love for Bozeman, though, I have to talk about my trek through two of our national parks. After I packed up the car in Jackson Hole, I filled up my gas tank at the nearby “gas station” (which ended up being possibly the best decision I’ve made this trip as there was not another one for almost 150 miles) and made the five-minute drive to Grand Tetons National Park. When the ranger at the window told me it would be $50 to visit the Tetons and Yellowstone, I thought for a second about finding a different route to Bozeman but I've taken a chance on almost everything else this trip so I paid her and drove on through. I would likely regret being a little over an hour from Yellowstone National Park and not visiting it, especially since it was on my way to Montana.

The Grand Tetons were even prettier through that route than when I was on the top of Rendezvous Mountain, which is saying something. As one of my friends who has visited the park said, it’s as if they’re these giant rocks that have just jumped right out of the ground.

I have enjoyed all of the signs throughout my journey that say “Be bear aware” or “Moose crossing next two miles” or road signs with elk on them to signal a high-traffic wildlife area. I suppose the closest thing we have to that back home is deer or horses. I think I would keel over and die from shock if I spied a moose in Marietta! But here, it’s just the norm.

While in the Grand Tetons park, I made a visit to Jenny Lake, which is a gorgeous lake set at the base of the Grand Tetons. It was a beautiful day – my convertible weather was stellar once again – and the lake looked so peaceful as it sat beneath the giant mountains. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer then set my sights for Yellowstone.

Our nation’s oldest national park was less than an hour from the Grand Tetons and it was a pretty though relatively uneventful drive. As I came into Yellowstone, I expected to have to wait in line as it was close to noon on a Saturday, but there were only a few cars in front of me. When I drove through, I thought I would be met with one landmark after another but it felt as though I was driving forever! I was hungry and feeling a little lost so, when I saw signs for a restaurant on the Yellowstone Lake, I made a beeline for food and rest.

I ate a quick salad and studied the map to decide where I would go next and noticed that Old Faithful and other geysers were only about 17 miles away and on the route to West Yellowstone, which would take me into Bozeman. I spied a few giant ravens along the way to Old Faithful – one of which I thought was going to fly right into my windshield – but otherwise, my drive so far was wildlife-free.

After I parked at the Old Faithful guest area, I walked into the welcome center and could see the geyser with heat billowing out of it through the wall of windows on the back of the center. There were also several people lined up along the walkway in front of it, many speaking in different languages. I saw a sign that Old Faithful was expected to erupt around 2:42, only about 45 minutes away, so I walked through some of the gift shops and the museum to kill some time. I hadn’t expected to see it erupt but this was a pleasant surprise!

It didn’t actually fully erupt until close to 3 p.m., although it would spurt and tease the tourists from time to time, leading the man next to me to call it “Unfaithful.” Once it did erupt, though, it was beautiful and surprisingly quiet. The rest of my drive into Bozeman was met with spies of elk, buffalo and several birds. It was a peaceful drive and a great entry into Bozeman.

The downtown area of Bozeman reminded me a lot of Athens, Georgia as I approached it, with its historic buildings filled with shops, restaurants, hotels, theaters and bars. My hotel, The Lark, is right in the middle of downtown and it was the coolest! It was an old motel that was renovated and the décor reminded me a lot of my loft in Ponce City Market: white walls, pops of orange and teal, subway tiles in the bathroom and I even had my own balcony with views of the city surrounding it. If you ever come to Bozeman, I highly recommend staying at The Lark.

My only complaint about Bozeman, which I suppose really isn’t its fault, is that no one was carrying the UGA/Missouri game! Luckily, Dad kept me posted on the score as I got ready for dinner out on the town.

I asked the front desk receptionist for recommendations on the best steak in Bozeman and he insisted I go to Montana Ale Works. I would assume it’s against the law to visit Montana and not order a steak. I made the 10-minute walk through downtown and found myself at the posh but casual restaurant.

While sitting at the bar and awaiting my ribeye, I sparked up a conversation with the men to my left, an older gentleman named George and Evan, who seemed to be about my age. George works at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody and lives about three hours away and Evan was soon to be leaving his position as assistant curator of the Museum of the Plains Indians for a job at Colorado State University (where former UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is currently the head coach).  They were craving some college football so they made the drive into Bozeman to watch Montana State University play. It was refreshing to share a love of college football with Westerners, although I did have to defend the SEC to these non-Southerners.

As we talked about Wyoming, I told them about my speeding ticket and Evan said, “Oh, yes. I had a friend who got two speeding tickets in one day in Wyoming. They will get you!” George explained that the police had to gain money somehow, as there are only 500,000 people living in Wyoming. I told him Cobb County has 800,000 people in it alone – I couldn’t believe Cobb had almost twice as many people as the entire state of Wyoming! George also talked about how he and his wife own a bed and breakfast and that they enjoy having “millennials” stay with them as they are so positive and friendly.

“I don’t know why the millennial generation gets such a bad rap,” he said. “We will spend hours on the front porch talking to them and it gives me such hope for the future of our country.”

After hearing so many complaints about the millennial generation, that was music to my ears.

After I left dinner, I walked past a few bars and eventually found a wine bar that seemed crowded but not too packed. I sat at the bar and had a glass of wine as I talked to a few of the guests sitting next to me then walked home as today was going to be the last day of my journey before my red-eye flight to Atlanta tonight.

I am currently sitting at Dave’s Sushi in downtown Bozeman and enjoying a delicious tuna-cilantro-jalapeno-other things roll. I plan to do some final shopping and exploring before I have to drop the Silver Fox off at the rental car company at 6. Do you think anyone will notice if I just drive it back to Atlanta? Saying goodbye to this beloved convertible might be my next cry of the trip.

The handle to my suitcase is broken, my scalp is still sunburnt, I need to do laundry, I’m running out of room in my luggage for all of my treasures, I need a pedicure and massage after all of the hiking I’ve done, I'm pretty sure I'm broke and I miss my friends and family and dogs. But I am going to savor these last few hours on the trip that changed my life.

Listened to: the only radio stations I could find, since I had no service!

Next stop: Home

Views from the top of Rendezvous Mountain in Teton Village, elevation 10,450 feet.

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Views from the top of Rendezvous Mountain in Teton Village, elevation 10,450 feet.

10 Cities, 10 Days: Features Editor Katy Ruth Camp's Journey West, Post 8: Jackson, Wyoming and Teton Village

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Pack your bags, book a flight and get yourself to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Trust me!

After finishing breakfast at RNO Café, I put on my hiking boots and flannel and decided I would find the hiking trails around me in Teton Village. Once I found a trails map, I studied it then turned around to see the tram coming into its station.

The Jackson Hole Aerial Tram takes riders from the bottom of Teton Village up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, which sits 10,450 feet above sea level. I noticed on the map that there were some hiking trails around the top of that mountain so I approached the window to get a ticket. The tickets weren’t cheap - $37 for adults – so I asked the tram teller where I could get a press pass. I haven’t pulled the press card nearly as much as I probably should have this trip but I would be writing about the tram so he directed me to the marketing office in a small, white building a few buildings away.

Once I got inside, I found the marketing office and walked through its glass door. There was no secretary or front desk person, so I walked through the office until I found someone. I told him about “10 Cities, 10 Days” and asked if I could get a press pass for the lift. He looked me over in my hiking boots and flannel then said, “Yeah, sure, wait over there and I’ll print one off.” Thirty seconds later, tram ticket in-hand, I set out to ride it to the top.

The ride itself takes nine minutes to get to the top and the views became more and more impressive the higher it took us. Once we reached the top, I noticed the climb to very highest point was a few feet away so I climbed up to there and just gazed in amazement over the mountains and Grand Tetons surrounding me on all sides. It was about 11 a.m. and the sun was beginning to pour over crevasses of the mountains and on the village and Snake River below. I walked around a bit, taking in the heights, and Facetimed some family members and friends.

One of those friends was Beth Keener, an actress in Atlanta who has been one of my closest friends since we were in high school together. Her mother wrote on one of the photos I posted of the mountains that she would be taking Beth and the family to Teton Village and the very place where I was standing this winter. I Facetimed Beth as I sat at the edge of the mountain so she could see the view when it wasn’t filled with snow.

“Have you had any good cry moments yet?” she asked at one point. I laughed because I have had so many! I cried standing on top of a volcano in Albuquerque as I watched the sun rise. I cried standing on top a hill in Santa Fe behind a giant cross as I watched the sun set. I cried as Jason Isbell closed his show at Red Rocks to “Children of Children.” I cried before my plane even departed Atlanta as I thought of my mother sitting in the empty seat beside me.

And I cried that day, 10,450 feet above the world, as I sat on an isolated part on the edge of the mountain and thought of my sweet Mamacita, grandfathers and other loved ones who are in Heaven, which could have easily been right where I was sitting. I said a prayer of thanks to God for the beauty He has shown me over the past seven days because it has been markedly beautiful in so many ways.

After a few hours on top of the mountain, I took the tram back down and showered up to go into the town of Jackson for some shopping. The weather was in the mid-50s but the sun warmed up the town nicely and the downtown area was picturesque, with its saloons and shops set between mountains.

When I hit the town, I had envisioned finding a pretty, long dress with long sleeves. I didn’t know if I would find it but I really wanted to find one and possibly a good, black leather jacket.

When I walked into Earthbound Trading Co., I immediately spotted a long dress with flowy sleeves in a subtle red and black print. I pulled a size small off the rack and it looked like it might fit me – oh, how I hoped that it would! I pulled a few other things off the rack and headed for the dressing room. The dress fit beautifully! Score! I also snagged a pretty, high-low skirt that I can make dressy or casual depending on the top. And the jewelry. I got so much jewelry! It was all unique and bohemian, and affordable. I was in love with that store.

As I spoke to Steve, the store manager, he told me he had actually just moved to Jackson from Atlanta four weeks ago. “I wanted colder weather,” he said. I suppose I’ll always be a Southerner because I would rather have to deal with 102-degree weather than the frigid, icy cold. He told me there are actually two Earthbound stores in the Atlanta area, which might be bad news for my wallet but great news for my closet!

I also popped into Lee’s Tees to find my Dad and brother a t-shirt and hat, respectively. After a pretty funny exchange of pictures and comments on some of the shirts I had given them as choices, I found them and myself a few treasures. I asked the cashier where the best leather store was in Jackson, my sights still set on a black leather jacket, and was directed to Beaver Creek Hats & Leather a few shops down.

When I walked in, the smell of expensive leather hit my senses immediately. It was lovely. I walked to the left, where I saw the women’s section, and thumbed through the unique jackets hanging up behind the leather boots. There seemed to be no two alike, no multiple sizes. You just had to hope that the one you liked was your size. I saw this beautiful, soft black lambskin jacket in a size small and grabbed it off of the rack. It had silver studs on the inside of the lapels, which you could overlap each other and snap at the collarbone areas to close it and give a turtleneck feel. The entire back and end of the sleeves was covered in intricate but delicate studwork.

As I put it on, it “melted like butter” onto my body, as my friend Leigh Ann Putman puts it. Oh, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was heavy so it would keep me warm, but it wasn’t too heavy. I had seen the prices on some of the other jackets and the cost was something I wouldn’t normally swallow but this jacket was just heavenly so I considered purchasing it if it was in the same price range as the others.

I couldn’t find the price tag so I took it off and eventually found it in the pocket of the jacket. $1,555. Oh, the heartbreak! I honestly almost teared up as I had to hang it back up on the rack. A different kind of cry, ha! “Things I Never Needed” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals just came on my Pandora. I hear ya, Grace, but oh how I needed that jacket!

After I pondered the thought of going into my savings or pulling out the credit card, I sighed and said my goodbyes to the jacket. I got back into the convertible and made the 20-minute drive back to Teton Village to get changed and ready for dinner. My new dress fit even better with my heeled wedges and, after getting dolled up, it was back to Jackson I went. I was told by a few people that the Silver Dollar Bar & Grill had the best buffalo burger in the world, so figured I couldn’t pass that up. The bar was packed as soon as I walked in but I spied an open barstool between two couples so I was happy to have a seat. A live, country band was playing and some couples were doing some impressive dancing out on the floor. There were cowboy hats as far as you could see and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Who wants to learn how to dance like that with me when I get home?

After finishing half of what I will say was an amazing buffalo burger – it was very large so I couldn’t finish it all, though I my eyes were trying to play tricks on my stomach – I left to find the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. When I walked in, it looked like a movie set. More cowboy hats, more live music, more  dancing, Western décor everywhere. I eventually found a seat at the bar, which was a small, leather, saddle. As I tried to get onto it I found I was a bit short so I had to put my purse on the counter and “hoist” myself up. I had a giggle to myself, having just hoisted myself into the saddle while dressed in a long dress and heels.

I ordered a Wyoming Whiskey on the rocks. It was to be my only drink of the night so I was going to make it a good and appropriate one, and it was! As I sat there, watching couples dance and other people mingling in the massive crowd, I felt a bit lonely for the first time on this trip. I wished my friends and family were there with me to enjoy the ambience and provide me with some company. I love meeting new people, but nothing can really replace your own friends.

After I finished my whiskey, I thanked the bartender then headed back to the Teton Village. Today is going to be a fairly long one so I wanted to rest up for my last full day of exploration. My suitcase is a bit more packed than it has been due to my shopping spree but it’s still missing that jacket! And so am I.

Listened to: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals’ “Colors,” “The Best of Van Morrison” album

Next stop: Yellowstone National Park and Big Sky, Montana today; Bozeman, Montana tonight 

A ranch at sunset near Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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A ranch at sunset near Jackson Hole, Wyoming

10 Cities, 10 Days: Features Editor Katy Ruth Camp's Journey West, Post 7: Morrison, Colorado to Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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I suppose with any long trip you’re bound to hit a bump or two in the road, and I hit mine yesterday. But if this adventure through our beautiful country has taught me anything, it’s to understand what is really important and beautiful in this world and to focus on that.

As I was uploading my story yesterday, I sat in the front room of the main lodge and enjoyed a big cup of coffee and an omelet made by one of the lodge owners in the nearby kitchen as she sang to the baby on her hip. It was a sweet moment, and a great way to start the day.

As I walked out, I saw the same cat who followed me into my room the day before sleeping peacefully on the lobby sofa. So he does belong here! If you have been following my photos on Instagram or Facebook, you will know who this dashing cat is.

This was going to be a haul of a trip – eight hours to Jackson Hole – and I had originally thought about breaking it up by making a stop in Wyoming but everyone who had been to Jackson Hole advised me to set my sights there, so I did. The drive itself was beautiful with amazing, diverse mountains at every turn so it was a nice setting for a long drive.

About four hours into my trip, which wasn’t met by many other drivers thus far, I noticed a lone driver in my review mirror creeping up on me. Then I noticed it was a police officer. I checked my speed and realized I was going a little bit over the speed limit, but the highway was so flat and desolate, I confess had been more focused on The Wailin’ Jennys playing through my speakers than if I was going the speed limit.

Then his lights kicked on. Ugh! Long story short, he was nice, I was nice, I got a speeding ticket for going 10 over some three miles back. If anyone knows the police department in middle-of-nowhere-Wyoming, help a sister out.

After pulling back onto the interstate, I was so mad at myself. The trip had been more than perfect before that point. But I decided that I wouldn’t let it ruin my trip and it did help me to be more cognizant of my speed for the next four hours. It happened, I couldn’t control it after the fact, and there are worse things that could have happened so I chose to look on the bright side of the situation and prepare myself for the beauty of Jackson Hole that was awaiting me.

I have done an excellent job, I will say, of booking good rooms and stays during my trip. When I was researching where to stay in Jackson Hole, most of the hotels were so expensive so I was afraid I might have to stay somewhere outside of town. Luckily, I found a place in Teton Village right next to the Jackson Hole Resort and the Four Seasons that had a king bed room for a little over $100 a night. I was to stay in Jackson Hole for two nights so I couldn’t afford to splurge on a nice room as I had in a few of the other cities I’ve visited. The reviews on the hotel were good and it was in a great location so I booked it.

After I checked in at sunset, Connor, the front desk employee, advised me that I was staying on the fourth floor and directed me to the stairs, as there was no elevator. Having packed 10 days worth of clothes, shoes and everything else into one suitcase, lugging that up four flights of stairs was going to be work! Again, I tried to look on the bright side and I needed the exercise after being in the car for eight hours anyway, so up the stairs I went. But God surely was testing my positivity that day!

Once I breathlessly made it to my room, I opened the door and I’m pretty sure I audibly said, “Oh, no.” It’s a barren, no-frills room with no television, not much décor, not much of anything, really. Dad called me in that moment and after explaining my current situation, he asked if I could find another room, but I had already paid for two nights so I told him I was just going to make the best of it. It’s not as if I planned to stay in my room all day, anyway.

Once I got settled in, I opened up the giant map of Jackson Hole Connor had given me and realized that I was actually nestled in a great part of Jackson Hole, and that a famous bar/restaurant called The Mangy Moose was right next door. I looked the restaurant up online and saw there was a bluegrass band playing so I thought would be a perfect little bit of home to comfort me and end my night.

I sat at the bar and ate while the band played and struck up a conversation with the bartender, Romo. I asked him to explain to me the difference between Jackson the city and Jackson Hole, as I had heard it referred to as both several times. He said Jackson Hole refers to the “hole” between the mountains, where we were situated. Jackson itself is a city but the area is a hole. I, in turn, taught him something in explaining that, in Georgia, that’s called a hollow. So we then referred to Jackson Hole as Jackson Hollow the rest of the night and had a good laugh at our inside joke.

A few minutes later, Connor came and sat next to me at the bar and told me that members of the band were close friends of his. I said I was excited to hear bluegrass and he kindly said, “Oh, it isn’t bluegrass. This is mountain grass.” There’s a banjo and they’re playing “Man of Constant Sorrow.” At least to me, this is bluegrass, ha!

After the band finished, a large crowd came into the lounge and it turns out they were wrapping a film that was being filmed in Jackson Hole. I spoke with a few of them then headed back to my room to go to sleep.

The room actually slept great last night and, after waking up this morning, I walked next door to RMO Breakfast Café for breakfast and to write, where I am now. When I asked for suggestions last night of what to do today, Connor had mentioned a place where you could do a short hike and jump off a small cliff into the lake below. With the temperature currently at 43 degrees, though, I think I might just stick with exploring the city!

Listened to: The Wailin' Jennys, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, local radio

Up next: Jackson Hole, Wyoming today and tonight

For more pictures from the trip, follow Katy Ruth on Instagram at @katyruthc.   

10 Cities, 10 Days: Features Editor Katy Ruth Camp's Journey West, Post 6: Colorado Springs to Denver/Morrison/Red Rocks Amphitheatre

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I wish you could have been there.

Last night, I saw one of the best artists of our time play in arguably the best venue of all time. It was an experience you can’t quite put into words, but I suppose I’ll try.

But first, to where we left off. After I packed my bags at The Broadmoor and said goodbye to that beautiful hotel, I loaded up the convertible and noticed the weather was warm and sunny. It was convertible weather again! This made me so happy. I put that top down, cranked up “The Life You Chose” by Jason Isbell in anticipation for his show later that night and hit the highway for Denver.

“Are you living the life you chose?

Are you living the life that chose you?”

The weather was absolutely perfect so I looked up the best casual spots with a patio in Denver and found a spot called Vine Street Pub & Brewery. It was an easy drive there, a little over an hour, and I loved looking at the cute homes lining the street as I drove through Denver, imagining the people and stories that might have inhabited them.

As I walked into Vine Street, I spied their version of Creative Loafing and picked it up for some reading to go along with my patio lunch. The waitress called me “honey” and I almost wanted to hug her for that little bit of home in Denver. She said they were known for their hamburgers and specialty brews. I’ve been pretty good with my eating this trip (save the enchiladas in Albuquerque but I have no shame in having eaten those) so I allowed myself to get a burger with diced jalapeños and green chiles, cajun seasoning, pepper jack cheese and bacon and I do not regret that decision – it was delicious!

After I finished, I asked her where I could do some good shopping near there and she directed me to 13th and Pearl streets where there were some good thrift shops. I’m all about a great thrift shop and needed to kill some time before I could check into my lodge in Morrison anyway so I took her advice and came away with some amazing, colorful, 70s-esque heels that I’m in love with. They’re a little “loud” but I will pair them with some skinny jeans and a simple dress tee and be good to go.

Morrison is only about 20 minutes from Denver so, a little after 4 p.m., I drove into a tiny little city and my phone directed me to the Cliff House Lodge but it was off a side street and I couldn’t find it for what felt like the longest. I did, however, come upon two deer chewing on some grass to my right. In Georgia, if you are in your car and come upon deer who are two feet away from your car, they scurry away. In Morrison, however, they apparently just stare at you as if you’re the odd one out.

I eventually found the historic lodges, tucked away a block off of the downtown area (I say “downtown” loosely, as one of the lodge workers pointed his hand right and said, “Here’s where downtown ends” and then pointed his hand left at a restaurant and said, “And here’s where it starts. Enjoy!”). I have my own mini lodge with my own patio area and hot tub. Another lodge worker told me to be careful with the hot tub as someone’s bathing suit bottoms were once sucked up through the filter. I passed on using the hot tub!

The main lodge has a large front porch so I had a glass of wine there as I waited for the lodge shuttle, which was to take those of us going to Red Rocks Amphitheatre up the hill around 6:30 to the Jason Isbell and Lucero show. I Facetimed my brother and friends Lauren and Kevin then put on my jacket as the mini school bus was cranked to take a crowd of about 15 to Red Rocks.

I met a few locals from Morrison on the bus who were friends with the hotel owners as well as some fellow passers-through from South Dakota. The drive into the venue is beautiful in itself, as you pass through these beautiful, red rock formations.

Once we got to the top and unloaded from the bus, some of the locals I befriended on the bus invited me to follow them as they showed me where the best restrooms, merchandise and concession stands were. I watched the Lucero show with them as the sun went down but then told them I was going to try to get closer to the front for the Jason Isbell show and said my goodbyes.

The front row area, except for two rows by the stage and a middle section, were general admission but it was still bleacher seating so many people had put down sweaters or purses to mark their spots. I figured I would go for gold and went to the front row and spied what seemed to be an open seat. I asked the two guys next to an open area marked with two sweaters if they had friends who were sitting next to them and they said there were two guys there but I could probably squeeze in. I sat there for a bit until the two guys came back from the restroom and asked if there was room for me. They were about my age and one of them, Jeff, just laughed and said, “Of course! It’s not like you’ll take up much room!”

I was on the front row for Jason Isbell at Red Rocks. This bucket list item was enormously checked! Jeff and his friend, John, were very nice and had great senses of humor, and John said he was from Nashville so we talked about my brother living there. But, as soon as Isbell hit the stage, I was glued to the show. He opened with “The Life You Chose” – the very song I put on as I headed out of Colorado Springs.

The stage is set at the bottom of a giant hill and on each side are these huge, red rocks with lights positioned below them to showcase their red glow. The sound was incredible from my seat and Isbell put on the best show I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because his songs have become so special to me, or because my brother and I share a love of them, or that they were being sung in this amazing venue, or all of those things combined, but it was an unforgettable and enormously moving experience. He played all of the songs I had hoped he would, including "24 Frames" which started my trip, and he ended with “Children of Children,” which would make a grown man cry and I dare say likely did.

Once the show ended, Jeff and John said they needed to get back the downtown area to catch an uber back to Denver and I had to walk down the road to downtown anyway as the shuttle was only to take people to the concert, so we followed the masses down the two-laned road. After about a half of a mile of walking downhill along the paved road, we realized traffic was extremely backed up but no one was coming up the other side of the road where we were walking, so that gave us some room. Eventually, though, it seemed this walk was going to take longer than my lodge friends had told me it would but, at this point, we would just have to walk on through.

Suddenly, I heard a voice behind me as a woman and her husband pulled up beside us, driving down the wrong side of the road, where we were walking. “Do y’all need a ride to the bottom?”

Saviors! I said yes, and me, Jeff and John piled into the SUV and Vivian continued to drive down the wrong lane, bypassing the many cars waiting in line to get to the bottom. The three of us could not stop laughing at her brevity and once we got to the bottom, we got out and thanked her profusely for saving us. We walked into downtown and were about to part when we spotted her and her husband in the town bar so we had to pop in and give her a proper hug. It turned out it was karaoke night at the bar so I had a beer with them, sang Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” on the tiny karaoke stage then said my goodbyes and went back to my lodge.

I am currently sitting on my bed and listening to a playlist of music I have made of memorable songs from my trip. I only have four true days of exploration left on this trip and I can’t believe it’s almost over, but I’m so grateful for everything it has done for me thus far. Today is a long travel day as I trek the eight hours through Colorado and Wyoming to Jackson, Wyoming. Everyone has said some wonderful things about the town so I am excited that I will have two nights there.

“Traveling Alone” by Isbell just came on and made me smile. I have to confess, though, I’m not tired of traveling alone just yet, nor have I yet to feel alone.

Listened to: Jason Isbell’s “Southeastern” and “Something More Than Free” albums

Next stop: Jackson, Wyoming

For more photos from the trip, follow Katy Ruth on Instagram at @katyruthc.

10 Cities, 10 Days: Features Editor Katy Ruth Camp's Journey West, Post 5: The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs

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There are some really wonderful, selfless people in this world and I learned that the easy way yesterday.

After leaving my airbnb in a Victorian home near the downtown area of Colorado Springs yesterday morning, I took the recommendation of many friends to visit The Broadmoor, a grand and historic hotel near the foot of Cheyenne Mountain. Most of what I packed in my suitcase is of the hiking boots and yoga pants variety but I did pack two “just in case outfits” so I put on a flowy skirt as well my lone pair of heeled wedges, a sweater top and pashmina and hit the road – top closed on the convertible, this time. It was in the low 50s, foggy and chilly – not the convertible weather I was spoiled with during the first few days of my trip!

The Broadmoor was built in 1918 and is five-star all around, from its hotel, golf course, spa and the Penrose Room restaurant. There are countless wilderness inclusion opportunities, from fishing to hiking; 20 restaurants; meeting spaces; 26 shops and even a zoo. As I walked the grounds beginning around 10 a.m., it seemed many people were involved in conferences or finishing breakfast and getting their days started. It was a bit quiet, but I think that helped me enjoy and appreciate its beauty even more. I toured the art gallery for a bit then went through the back doors of the main building where I was met with a view of Cheyenne Lake and gorgeous mountains looming behind it. I walked across the bridge and toured the second building for a bit before crossing the bridge again and searching for lunch options. The Penrose Room was not open for lunch so I walked across the roundabout in front of the hotel to The Golden Bee, a British pub-style restaurant that many had recommended I try out while I was in Colorado Springs.

During my self-guided tour, I posted many pictures of The Broadmoor and its grounds on my social media, including one of the grand Western building with the mountains and lake in its shadows with a sarcastic comment that I was just going to get a room here for the rest of the trip as I was sure I could afford it.

As I sat at the bar of The Golden Bee, waiting on my food, I met Debbie and Greg Gelpi, who were in town from Baton Rouge. It was refreshing to hear the first Southern accent (other than my own) of the trip and she commented on the same. She told me about the 102-year-old dairy farm her family owns back in Baton Rouge. Her father was one of 11 brothers and all but one brother was in the business. Today, they buy from local dairy producers rather than operate a full farm, she explained.

When I asked her about the recent flooding in Baton Rouge and if she was affected, she said: “It’s high land. I didn’t know where to build, but my ancestors knew where to stay and that saved us.”

As I continued my conversation with her, I received correspondence from The Broadmoor that an anonymous friend from Georgia had purchased a room for me for the night at the hotel, if I wished to stay there.

Stay there? At The Broadmoor? At no cost to me? Was that a real question?

I implored for a name but was told it was to be anonymous, just a friend back in Georgia. I suppose one of you saw from my posts that I was in Colorado Springs. I was in shock, to say the least, and incredibly grateful. How someone can spend what I assume to be a large amount of money for me to stay there, and with no credit wanted or needed, was incredibly moving. I cannot express the thanks not just for the act itself but for confirming that there are some truly altruistic, wonderful people in this world and I’m lucky to have one among my friends. Only you know who you are, and I will respect your wishes for anonymity by not imploring further. Just know that it meant a great deal to me.

While walking the grounds that morning, the last idea I had in my mind was that I would be staying there that night. I originally planned to stay with some friends in Denver Tuesday night but they agreed that I couldn’t pass up a night in the Broadmoor. So, still in shock, I finished my lunch, paid my bill and headed back to my car to get my luggage.

This time, two well-dressed bellmen opened the French doors of the hotel to welcome me in as a staying guest and not a tourist passing through. As I was taken to my room in the Western building, my bellman told me some of the history of the property as well as options for dining and entertainment during my stay. 

Once I settled into my room with a king-sized bed, I realized the room was larger than my entire loft back home in Ponce City Market. That isn’t saying much, I realize, as I practically live in a shoebox with high ceilings, but it was certainly much larger than most hotels where I’ve rested. I almost felt selfish to be taking up such a grand room all by myself but it didn’t take long to brush that feeling aside!

After hanging up some of my clothes that had been stuffed where they would fit in my suitcase and putting my makeup out in the powder room area and my toiletries in the large, double-sink bathroom, I sat down on the bed and looked through the brochure I was given at the front desk to figure out what I wanted to do next. By this time, the fog had departed and the sun was warming the property up to a lovely 65 degrees, so I thought that would be the perfect hiking weather. I threw on my hiking clothes and set out to hike Seven Falls nearby.

It took me forever to find the trail to Seven Falls and I even had to follow the direction of the shuttles as they passed me for the first part of the trek. I refused to ride the shuttle there – if it took me all day, I was going to find this Seven Falls place by foot!

I finally saw a “hikers crossing” sign and followed that trail, which eventually led me to the foot of Seven Falls. After paying the entrance fee, I began walking uphill toward the falls and was surrounded by large, red rocks and mountains. The brochure told the name of each rock in the canyon and, as I stopped to marvel at each one, I took it all in. Someone had done such a selfless, wonderful thing for me and now God had provided this beautiful, wonderful weather to enjoy His creations surrounding me. Life was good.

Life got a little harder as I began to climb to the top of the falls, though – ha! There were a few times I thought my legs were going to give way and my lungs would have nothing of what I was putting them through, but I persevered and pushed through until I got to the top. What greeted me was a gorgeous, 360-degree view of the canyons I had just passed through, a long waterfall and mountains upon mountains in the distance. It was worth the struggle.

After finding my way back to the hotel – the hike back much quicker than the hike there - I showered and got ready to go downstairs for dinner. After eating at the Italian restaurant and walking around the property, I noticed that my room was visible in two of the photos I had posted that very morning. I had every expectation in those early moments to be in Denver last night, but this was not a bad substitute!

I walked back to The Golden Bee, as I was told it would get lively at night with a bombastic piano player directing patrons to sing along to piano bar favorites. It was apparent many people there had met each other during conferences taking place at The Broadmoor and it was fun to watch new friendships forming. After nursing a draught of local beer for close to an hour, I decided I was ready to fall into that king bed.

For the first time this trip, I “slept in” this morning and woke up around 7:30 a.m. I’m not sure if it was the hike or everything that I’ve done so far catching up to me, or the fact that the bed is perhaps the most comfortable I’ve slept in, but I slept like a baby. Here’s a funny visual for you – even if I were to sprawl out my arms and legs as far as they would go, I still couldn’t touch the edges of this bed. I realize I am short but that’s a great way to sleep!

I am currently listening to Jason Isbell’s “Southeastern” album as I write, taking up a small square of the large bed. I am crossing off a bucket list item and one of my most anticipated stops tonight in seeing a show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. And not just any show – that of one of my favorite artists, Jason Isbell. I rented a room at a historic, cottage-style hotel in the tiny town of Morrison where I am told I will have my own patio and hot tub out the back of my room. Good thing I packed a bathing suit! It is also just a 15-minute hike to Red Rocks from the hotel so I’m sure there is another beautiful hike awaiting me.

I’m going to stop through Denver for lunch and do some exploring before making the 20-minute drive to Morrison. I may not be in Denver long, though; Isbell is calling me to Red Rocks, and I can’t wait to answer.

Listened to: Ryan Adams’ “1989” album, a track-by-track reinterpretation of Taylor Swift’s 2014 album

Next stop: Denver and Morrison, concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

For more pictures from the trip, follow Katy Ruth on Instagram at @katyruthc.