When I heard that Connecticut-based travel writer Malerie Yolen-Cohen made a solo drive across the country — on one road — I knew I wanted her to share a part of that journey with readers of The Vacation Gals. I asked her to chime in on one section of the country especially relevant to me: Colorado! — Kara Williams
I consider myself a good mom, and for years, as a travel writer in pursuit of a story, I’d drag my kids along on feature assignments. But sometimes I felt as bound up and immobilized as a calf at a rodeo, and all I could do was count down the days till my youngest left for college. That was when I started planning my solo cross-country trip on the single digit highway that runs from the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Bishop, California (and before 1964, to Long Beach): US Route 6, which, at 3,205 miles also happens to be the longest contiguous federal road in the country.
Last May, I gave my husband of 29 years a tutorial on bill-paying and house-keeping, along with lots of hugs and kisses, and left him for six weeks to follow my dream across 14 U.S States, 3,652 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean on both the current and historic portions of US Route 6. While I wouldn’t say that the trip was flawless (no worthy journey is), it opened my eyes to the diversity and richness of our nation, particularly in its ignored midsection.
Of all the Route 6 states, Colorado is the most frustrating when it comes to signage. While all other states include the Route 6 shield on signposts where the road aligns with other numbered byways (ie, I-80/6 in Iowa), the Rocky Mountain State does not. CDOT signs only the Primary Route and others that pair with it are merely implied. And so, west of Hillrose, Route 6 seems to have been swallowed up by Route 34 without a word. I-76 and I-70 are also devoid of the Route 6 shield, though from time to time you will see an exit indicating a Route 6 segment. In my newly published guidebook, Stay On Route 6, I take travelers easily through all this uncertainty, while providing information about the best attractions, restaurants and hotels along the way.
For the Vacation Gal in all of us, here are the top 10 places to stay and eat on US Route 6 in Colorado (moving east to west):
1. Bully’s Grub & Pub, Fleming, draws a certain kind of aficionado. Folks come from miles away to eat the good grub at a good price (a “Cowboy Cut Ribeye” is only $13.95 for dinner), but mostly for Billy’s Rocky Mountain Oysters, which, um, don’t come from the sea. These oysters have made waves in Chicago’s annual “Testicle Festival,” and the restaurant’s owners, Debbie and Mark Trybowski used to ship them all over the world. But no more. Shipping costs have just gone balls out crazy.
2. The Pepper Pod Restaurant, Hudson, has been family owned since 1913 and remains a fabled roadside institution. Amy, graduate of Culinary Institute of America (CIA) – is the newest generation in the kitchen turning out universally good dishes like the steak shish kabob; perfectly cooked, seasoned — each tidbit draped with charred and caramelized red peppers and onions. Feast beneath the gaze of several mounted buffalo heads, a reminder of the animal that once dominated this land. The Pepper Pod is as good and unpretentious as it gets.
3. The Golden Hotel, Golden. The clubby lobby has the feel of a luxurious mountain lodge, and its location — right on the creek in the heart of town — can’t be beat. Head out back to the deck for a drink; the creek-side Bridgewater Grill is the perfect perch from which to watch kayakers and families splashing in the clean, coursing water.
4. Clear Creek Canyon. Okay, this isn’t a restaurant or inn, but it is one of the most stunning stretches of US Route 6. This area of the country is all about the scenery; the main attractions being rock, river and sky in ever unfolding manifestations. You may find yourself catching your breath at the wall of evergreens coming at you at 50MPH or at the white-water river barreling alongside the car. It is truly overwhelming, geologically speaking.
5. Baxter’s On the Creek, Idaho Springs. You’ll be swept away (figuratively, of course) by the roaring creek that bisects an intimate patio and lounging area, linked by a cute footbridge. It’s perfect place to enjoy an end-of-day glass of wine and keep warm by the creekside fire pit. A gourmet breakfast is included in your room rate.
6. Vic’s Route 6 Grillhouse, Glenwood Springs, offers wonderful, fresh cuisine in rooms festooned with classic car and 50’s roadside paraphernalia. Meats are smoked on premises and veggies at the salad bar appear just torn from the garden. An eclectic menu features everything from escargot to buffalo wings, Hungarian goulash to incredibly tasty marinated London Broil.
7. Red Mountain Inn, Glenwood Springs. Ideal for budget conscious travelers, this charming courtyard motel is of a former era with clean, comfy, cute rooms and the friendliest owners around. Cottages cluster around a central driveway — its own little universe off the main drag — and your moderate room rate includes free wi-fi, heated pool, hot tub, guest laundry, and a continental breakfast, all less than two miles from downtown.
8. Red Rose Café, Palisade, features an eclectic and ambitious menu — Italian, American, and inexplicably, Vietnamese in a brick-walled bistro. Rose is from Vietnam and she and her husband, Tom Casabona turn out some seductive Asian dishes. Order the excellent pork noodle bowl — a flawless combination of piquant marinated grilled meat, noodles and greens.
9. The Meadery of the Rockies, Palisade. Mead is not a conventional wine at all but a honey brew esteemed by Romans, English and Norse as “the drink of the gods.” Rather than using grapes, mead is created by blending honey, yeast and water – mixed with fruit. Try Chocolate Cherry Satin – one of the best sellers. It’s like sipping a cherry cordial.
10. Bin 707 Foodbar, Grand Junction, is a contemporary NY-style bistro with a Western twist; it will pass muster with even the most extreme foodies. The kitchen turns out terrific skinny seasoned fries (wow), and a spicy watermelon gazpacho to die for.
East Coast based writer Malerie Yolen-Cohen writes for Newsday, National Geographic Traveler, Huffington Post and a bevy of other publications. Her first book Stay On Route 6 is currently available through Amazon in both print and Kindle editions.