Del Norte Mini-Adventure

We can’t go to Taos. Well, we could, but we would have to self-isolate for 14 days. Which might explain why the room rates were so reasonable. Since that didn’t seem practical, I decided to look for an alternative weekend destination. It had to be within 3.5 hours drive, in Colorado, and have (1) an acceptable and affordable dog-friendly lodging option, (2) dog-friendly outdoor recreation choices, and (3) promising takeout food. Bonus points were available for places we hadn’t explored. Dog-friendly lodging proved to be the deal- or budget-buster in most of the towns I explored online, though takeout options were also sparse too.

I eventually located the Mellow Moon Lodge in Del Norte, CO. Situated on both Highway 160 and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, it seemed a reasonable choice. I booked their last room for the weekend and emailed to advise them that our 12-pound adventure dog would be joining us.

I always imagine that we can get out of the house more quickly than we really can. Even though we had packed bags the night before and I had packed the car earlier in the day, making and eating dinner and the ensuing clean-up meant we left about 6 p.m. on Friday. The drive out was pretty easy. We stopped at the “weasel stop” just past the La Veta (town) turn and before La Veta Pass, to switch drivers. It is so named because we saw an actual weasel there the first time we paused at that nearly-always-windy picnic spot. The sky was turbulent and we were treated to a rainbow as we pulled in.

Weasel stop rainbow

After seeing what we think was an owl on a utility pole and driving through a bit of rain, we arrived at the lodge around 9 p.m. Our hostess had already texted the room number and entry code, so we went in and made ourselves “at home.” Sadly, the reimagining of motel into lodge did not seem to correct the thinness of the walls. Our neighbors were loud, so we had to try to figure out the smart TV to get something on to drown out the noise and settle the dog. We succeeded somewhat on that front (the ads were quite annoying), but failed with the ductless heating and cooling unit. We’ve seen others like it and their operation is never obvious. Note to lodge- and innkeepers—until these are everyday appliances for most Americans, PLEASE provide instructions!

We had packed boiled eggs, zucchini bread, and cantaloupe, so we were able to have a nice breakfast. The lobby was closed for COVID, so sadly no coffee was available until 8, but we headed out to hike anyway. I had scoped out a moderate trail, Middle Frisco, not too far out of town. Only one truck was at the trailhead when we arrived, perhaps due to the very cloudy weather. It was actually nice to be outside in temperatures that required long pants and sleeves. We saw the mountain bikers from the truck shortly into our hike and didn’t see anyone else until we turned around. The trail climbs along the Middle Fork of San Francisco Creek (i.e. Middle Frisco) through thick stands of aspen. There were some lovely wildflowers as well, including the Rocky Mountain Columbine, our state flower. We saw and heard birds too, and spied numerous chipmunks, but no bears. (whew!)

After a rest on a log, we turned around about 2.5 miles in and headed back. The bottom portion of the trail looked quite different without the morning’s heavy cloudiness. Rebbe lived up to his adventure dog billing, leading the way back to the car, including across this log that intimidated him at the beginning of the hike.

We were of course hungry by this time. Maureen expressed a desire for a burger and fries, which I knew were available at the 1874 Food Truck adjacent to the Windsor Hotel (1874 is a reference to the hotel’s establishment, which does make one wonder what was happening in Del Norte then). It took a couple trips around the block to locate it, hidden in a courtyard, but that turned out to be a pleasant outdoor space in which we could wait and drink (finally) a cup of coffee.

Windsor Hotel courtyard and 1874 Food Truck

We took the food back to the room, where we had a camp chair in addition to the room’s single wingback chair. It was satisfying. After lunch, the adventure dog had to have a bath, as did the humans. I’m generally not a fan of the roll-in shower (the consequence of booking the last room), but it worked quite well for dog washing. It was quite rainy in the afternoon and we felt very fortunate to have finished our hike in the late morning. After a little rest, we decided to go for a drive. We headed first towards South Fork, just because. Traffic was steady, so plenty of other people were out exploring and adventuring. We really wanted ice cream, but options were limited, so we ended up at Lowe’s Market back in Del Norte, which fortunately had Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars. While indulging, we decided to visit the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, a site we’ve visited a few times, but previously only in winter. We enjoyed seeing the water birds, including one that we believe was either a bittern or a juvenile night heron.

That was enough adventuring for one day, so we returned to the room and called in an order for pizza to Three Barrel Brewing Company.

Sunday’s start was more relaxed. We considered breakfast burritos and/or doughnuts from the food truck, but decided to eat the breakfast we’d brought. We were able to get coffee delivered from the office once it was 8 a.m. We’d figured out the smart TV to the degree of signing into Peacock (thanks Comcast) and were pleasantly surprised to see that the Tottenham Hotspur match was available. We lounged and watched football until checkout time.

We had decided to take the long way home through Salida, mostly in order to shop at their vastly superior Natural Grocers. Yes, we have more than twenty times the population of Salida in Pueblo, but a smaller and less well-stocked Natural Grocers. Sigh. Again, traffic was steady. We decided to order lunch from Boathouse, but our timing was not ideal. We had no signal as we traversed Poncha Pass, then had to call when their online ordering system was not working. I’m pretty sure they hadn’t started making our food when Maureen went in to pick it up. Fortunately, I was able to secure a picnic table in the park across from the restaurant and Rebbe and I watched the world go by while we waited. The tacos (duck for me, ahi for Maureen) were worth the wait. After lunch, I acquired ice cream (Josh & John’s) for us from Chill Salida. I think Maureen’s Mocha Java Jolt was better than my Malted Mazel Toff, but it was all good.

Salida was hopping. Natural Grocers was not too bad. I found most of what I was seeking and, after a quick fuel stop, we headed for home. It was slow going through the canyon, as again, traffic was steady. But it was a nice day and we just tried to enjoy it.

All in all, a good mini vacay. Hopefully our day in Taos, and Scottsdale, and and and, will come.

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