For many, many years we’ve heard about Leadville’s burro races (part of their annual Boom Days celebration), but the timing has never worked out for us to attend. Fortunately this year our trip overlapped with a similar quadruped-fest in nearby South Park. Not only does it feature burros, it has a whole day called Llamarama!
We joke that Seamy identifies as a llama, and he was more than a little intrigued by these big, curly guys.
It turns out that llamas & alpacas are both members of the camelid family, so it was cool to bookend our trip with camels. Check out Shepherd Finn escorting a llama through the grueling obstacle course. 🙃
As you can see in our gallery, we all had fun meeting the creatures, as well as exploring the town—especially its Wild West-era buildings and trains. Here’s hoping we can meet these guys again someday!
Literally every time we’ve visited Leadville, we’ve driven past a gorgeous mountain lake surrounded by mountains, and probably half of those times we’ve asked ourselves, “Hey, why don’t we ever stop off here for a hike?”
Following Henry’s birthday, the lads headed off to Denver with Auntie Laura & Grandpa for a few days of fun with their cousins (go-karts & kayaks & trampolines, oh my!). This left Margot, Seamus, and me to hold down the fort—oddly & rather refreshingly alone! We took advantage of the time to bike around Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail…
After we came home tired & happy, it was time to celebrate officially. Here’s a handful of shots, plus the total highlight of the day—Henry getting his great-great grandfather Liggett’s railroad watch! Check it out:
Following the Fourth, it was time for the four cousins to go off for some adventures together. We all journeyed down to Copper Mountain, then turned the lads loose:
We have just a small gallery from the day, given that the guys were off on their own (running through an obstacle course, duking it out on water-spraying bumper boats, cruising skyward in a gondola, and more), but here’s a video showing the super fun alpine coaster we all rode:
“Life is as big as you make it,” we always tell the boys, and Henry—in his idiosyncratic, insistent way—is often a great catalyst for getting off one’s duff and into the world.
Last year he wrangled me into poking around some abandoned train tracks, picking up “treasure” just as I did around Galena as a kid. This year he got me & Seamy to join him down there on what proved to be a spectacular evening. Check out a gallery of pics the two of us took. (Seamus contributed more as a model than as a photog. 😌)
A couple of days later, Hen persuaded me to drive down towards Buena Vista in hopes of exploring some old Rio Grande RR bridges. Amidst some trial and error involving little back roads, we were able to scramble down to the water, Legos in hand:
Here’s one trippy little video we concocted on & around the bridges…
…and another we made while zipping through the old train tunnels outside of Buena Vista:
And just like that—a mere 168 hours after leaving home—we arrived in Leadville!
Things were just as we left them, and it was great to spread out and connect with the fam. Chilling on the porch never disappoints:
Over the weekend the boys headed down to Turquoise Lake for some paddleboarding with the cousins and Uncle James, and on Sunday the Fourth of July parade was just as cute and charming as ever. James cooked up some amazing BBQ, and we enjoyed meeting his sister and her husband.
After a solid week on the road, our destination was at last just around the bend (where “bend” equals giant mountain range—but still!). Take ‘er away, narrator Hen:
We woke up, packed up, and hit the road. When we got back to Crested Butte, we got some breakfast and walked around. Finn kept stealing my hat, and he almost threw it in a river!
Next, we went hiking around Peanut Lake, where there were the most beautiful wildflowers. When we were going back to the car we ran into the Wiggins again, who told us to meet them at a bridge and a river in an hour.
While we waited, we ate some killer burgers and picked one up for Hazel. While there we saw a guy blasting country music on a pink Vespa scooter with a unicorn head stuck on the front. (A human man was actually driving this!!) We then drove to the bridge with a burger for Hazel.
We had fun skipping rocks and chatting about various topics. Next, we left CB and started up Cottonwood Pass. It was really beautiful. The end of the pass leads straight through Buena Vista and on to LEADVILLE!!
After we’d chilled out (literally) following our Meow Wolf & antique explorations, we packed up the van & headed out to Hoover Dam & beyond. Henry write,
After a while staying at the motel, we embarked to the Hoover Dam—”The Zeus”—which had a super low water level. Dam, that was a fun time! 😛
Here’s a quick clip of our journey across the top:
Next, we went to the Nevada Southern RR for rail bikes, and on the way we stopped at A&W, where we got a family meal pack that included a gallon of root beer in its own special flagon/bladder!
We of course enjoyed touring the old trains, and all five of us hopped onto a rail bike for a sunset ride. Check out the pics.
When we were riding, Seamy’s poor tail got stuck in the axle, and we had to back up and unwind it. The rest of the ride [minus Dad & Seamy, who walked back up to the station] was really beautiful, though a little ruined by the incident.
We got picked up by the Union Pacific GP-30-844 and some passenger cars + caboose. Seamy & Dad rode down in the caboose, and we all rode back in the caboose. I got to sit in the cupola.
Happily, Seamy’s proud plume wasn’t badly injured, and it was back to flying at full mast within a few days. ❤️
Our time in Vegas was all about beating the heat—especially for our fur-coated amigo. Even at 8am, our jaunt to the dog park was insufferably hot, though it did produce a memorable interaction with a homeless guy offering some, uh, unique grooming services (“For 20 bucks I’ll squeegee yer dawg!”).
While Mom & Finn took in the amazing Meow Wolf exhibition (more on that below), Henry and I took El Poocho on a little antiques exploration of the arts district. Hen in particular was thrilled to drop in on the shop featured in the Pawn Stars TV show. He says “I saw some Confederate paper bills & even some Picassos!”
We were relieved to find a dog-friendly & air conditioned shop where Hen chatted up the proprietor & impressed him with his extensive knowledge of arcane railroad facts. 🙃 He writes,
I budgeted myself $20, and I found the coolest old mug from the Santa Fe Railroad with their mascot, Chico. I also found an old anti-drugs pin for Finn, with a lion he named Darnell. 🦁
Now, about Meow Wolf: it’s the product of an artists’ collective that’s turned into a sprawling, madcap interactive space. The entrance seems to be a too-perfect convenience store (“Omega Mart”) stocked with really bizarre products. From there you’re beckoned (by crawling through tents, lockers, and other hidden portals) into a psychedelic world-behind-the-world, complete with weird interactive instruments, climbing walls, slides, aliens, and more.
Margot and Finn checked it out first, spending a good three hours (!) exploring, after which Hen & I passed Seamus off to them and explored it ourselves. Take a peek at what we saw.
Following our Red Rocks jaunt, we plunged right into the triple-digit temperatures of Las Vegas. The city isn’t one we’d normally choose to visit, as characterized by Henry continuously flipping the bird to the big, gross edifice owned by The Former Guy. To our surprise, though, in the last couple of years the town has grown a rather cool arts district, and it was fun to explore it with the boys & Seamus, as you can see in this little gallery.
And here’s a quick little timelapse of our sunset walk:
Later we attempted to take the lads to see old Fremont Street, but between the still-triple-digit nighttime temperatures & total lack of parking, we opted to cruise the Strip in air-conditioned relative comfort. I had fun making this trippy little rendition of the journey:
Adhering to the timeless wisdom of ZZ Top, we began our second day by scoring some cheap sunglasses—then headed out to Barstow, the huge rail hub we first discovered in 2019 and then visited last summer and again in March.
After hitting Centennial Park (where Hen scrambled over a vintage Marine tank) and visiting the various trains and Harvey House, we headed out to piping-hot Las Vegas. Before we got there, though, we took a cool detour through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, where Henry picked up a little stuffed buddy, “Churro the Burro.”
You only turn twelve once, so the dudes & I said YOLO and rang in Hen’s milestone by flying over Leadville at the Top of the Rockies zipline tour. As you can see in our gallery and in the vids below, we had a blast zooming over the railroad tracks and on down the mountain. Check it out!
Having been a fireman & machinist for Southern Pacific, our neighbor Severn is incredibly well connected to folks dedicated to railroad preservation, and his skills remain in high demand.
On Saturday we were delighted to accept his invitation to drive up to Napa, where a team of volunteers devote many hours per week to restoring old engines & cars. It was an especially interesting day as the group was firing up their 100-year-old steam engine for the first time in many years.
Severn & the whole team were incredibly generous with their time and knowledge, taking us through their numerous old cars. Highlights include a mail car that had been trapped in an avalanche in the 50’s (causing the passengers to have to rip up & burn its flooring to stay warm) and a beautifully restored Art Deco lounge car featuring an amazing round bar.
The real highlight, though, was Henry getting to fire up a pair of the old diesel locomotives on site! Here’s video of the whole process:
On Sunday Henry & I arose early and braced ourselves for what was to be the longest leg of our trip—just over ten hours in the MZ! I’ll pass the mic to Hen to narrate the whole day:
Albuquerque, NM: In the morning, we cruised over to the train station with our Breaking Bad Lego minifigs (courtesy of cousin Tony) for pics.
Hovering over the skyline were hot air balloons. At the gas station, we bought a very, very cheaply made neck pillow that immediately sprang a leak. We traded it in for another neck pillow, which was a combination monkey-wiener dog!
After a while, we stopped at the Petrified Forest visitor center, where we met some cool Illinoisans.
After that, we stopped at the Painted Desert Trading Post, which had lots of cool old teepees and dinosaurs. This store was on old 66, which was basically cut of road that was next to I-40.
Next, we stopped in Holbrook, AZ, at the Wigwam Motel. (Side note: this was the real-life inspiration for the Cozy Cones in the movie Cars!) Outside the teepees, they had lots of cool old cars such as a rusty old tow truck labeled “Tow Mater’s Grandfather.”
Come take a spin with us!
Later, we stopped by Flagstaff, AZ, to see what we think is the westernmost Culver’s, as well as their cool old locomotive.
When entering Kingman, we were following an intermodal train. Next, we went to Mr. D’z, a wonderful 50’s diner. Next, we went to see their big Santa Fe 4-8-4 steam locomotive, #3759, and some old cars all along Route 66. Across 66 was the visitors center (the ex power plant) and the train lines. It was almost completely dark, so their cool neon sign lit up.
After loading up on milkshakes, we faced down a final three (!) hours of driving. My little “R2 unit” Hen thankfully conked out while I powered us through all the way to California.
Henry was such an energetic scribe/wingman that I get to pass the mic to him for most of this update. 😌 Here’s how he recorded things in our journal (Hen text indented throughout, mine regular):
After Cadillacs we ate an excellent lunch of fried chicken and gravy. While we were there, someone began the challenge of eating the famous 72oz. steak in an hour.
After that we went to the Amarillo Train Museum, which had a model railroad and lots of equipment from the nuclear weapons disassembly plant’s train (three guard cars, electric buffer cars, a car to carry bombs, and a helium car).
You know who’d love to take you on a narrated 15-minute tour inside, outside, and on top of those trains? Why Henry Nack, of course. Take ‘er away, Hen:
In Amarillo we saw a Santa Fe steam engine—the prototype #5000—and five BNSF locos in H1 paint schemes.
After finally getting our fill of the museum & city, we headed west once again, hoping to grab lunch at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, TX (population 166). Well, good news/bad news: it’s hard to find a living soul there, much less an open restaurant, but the antique ruins are fun to explore:
We were trying to find the Midpoint Cafe, but instead we found an abandoned Phillips 66 station with an old Coke machine, vintage gas pumps and signs, and most importantly, a very cool Texas farm route sign, which is in the Miata as I write!
All was well until we grabbed that sign. As we were somehow finagling it into the Miata, an ominous white pickup truck started running slow laps on the road in front of the service station—and the afternoon took a turn I can only describe as “Murder-y.”
We hightailed it out of there as fast as the old car would carry us, and I swear for the next hour on the freeway, I kept nervously checking the rear view mirror, honestly expecting a Mad Max-style pickup truck full of hooting, pipe-wielding yokels to speed up on us. 😬 Thankfully that never happened, of course—and Hen and I had a good chat about following one’s gut and not taking things without permission, even if they seem long abandoned.
So, moving right on…
While going to Tucumcari, NM, we were in the endless fields of wind turbines. We found an enormous pile of their blades!
When we arrived, I started to notice all the abandoned gas stations, motels, etc. on Route 66 (acting as the Main Street). But, I also noticed all the cool historical motels and gas stations. We stopped at Teepee Curios and got some cool stuff.
We took the clerk’s advice to eat at a restaurant down the street, which had a fake cow on the sign. In Tucumcari I noticed the sign for the Blue Swallow Motel. You may ask why this is so special, and it is because I saw the sign on one of my many postcards. While leaving we saw another scene from one of my postcards.
And with that, we settled into our final 3-hour (!) drive of the day:
We saw several trains and many mesas. We also saw a huge truck wreck on the median, where there was merchandise thrown everywhere & one of the trailers was mangled. While writing this I had my head down, and dad joked that I was a prairie dog, and I was gonna be served up as “chicken”!
The crazy thing about trying to recount our trip, I’ve come to realize, is that on each day we packed so much in—as many adventures as could usually fill a whole series of blog posts and galleries—that it’s all a bit overwhelming to gather, recount, and relive. But what the heck, let’s give it a shot. 😌
To start us out, Henry writes,
We stayed the night in Chandler, OK, in the Lincoln Motel, which was right on Route 66. In the morning we visited the “Route 66 Interpretive Center.” We also visited an old Phillips 66 gas station.
After fueling up at a fun 50’s-themed diner & scoring a few Legos at the thrift store in Chandler, we dropped the top for our first real time cruising down Route 66. Check it out!
We stopped off at a neat motorcycle museum in Seaba Station, followed by the famous Round Barn in Arcadia:
Here, join us for an epic spin around the barn! Tap the video below to play:
From there, Hen writes, “We went to Oklahoma City and went to the awesome train museum (with a Frisco F-unit).”
Of course no trip to Oklahoma would be complete without “cooling off” at Braum’s Ice Cream, which Hen & I cheerfully did following our museum visit. Afterwards, Hen writes,
On the way to Amarillo we visited Slug Bug Ranch, which had a handful of VW Beetles dug into the ground next to some abandoned (spray-paint-covered) gas & motel buildings.
We stayed at the Big Texan hotel/restaurant, and we slept in an awesome cowboy/wild-west-themed room.
We like to think that the Miata met its big, longhorn-sporting brother. 🥰
And with that, we fell asleep, as exhausted as you must be reading this & seeing all the photos!
After driving 2,000+ miles down Route 66 and beyond in six days—the last of which also included getting onboarded at Adobe!—I’ve only just begun to breathe & go through the titanic number of photos and videos that Henry & I captured. I’ll share more good stuff soon, but in the meantime you might get a kick (heh) out of this little vid, captured as we cruised lengths of the old road in Oklahoma & California:
A few weeks ago, a new pedestrian bridge opened up on the trail that occupies the old path of the railroad that once ran through our neighborhood. I noticed that off to one side, a little garden railway was visible. I took a few long-distance pics for Henry, figuring that that’s about as close as we’d get.
This Tuesday, however, both boys joined me on a walk with Seamus, and Henry—visiting this spot for the first time—decided to get a closer look. As luck would have it, a nice lady named Cathy was out walking her dog—and it turned out to be her house!
Minutes later we found ourselves in the back yard, checking out & even riding the train with Severn, a retired machinist who’s been building up the railroad. Even more amazingly, they have a full-sized caboose in the back yard! 🤯
The dogs played happily while we soaked it all in, swapping all kinds of nerdy railroad facts & planning our return visit this Sunday—when we hope to help with the construction of a miniature water tower! It’s like we’ve all died & gone to Henry Heaven. 🥰