Since the beginning, I've had to avoid writing about the downside of travel in order to sell more than 100 articles. Just because something negative happened doesn't mean your trip was ruined. But tell that to publishers who are into 5-star cruise and tropical beach fantasies. I want to tell what happened on my way to the beach, and it may not have been all that pleasant. My number one rule of the road is...today's disaster is tomorrow's great story.
My travel experiences have appeared in about twenty magazines and newspapers. I've been in all 50 states more than once and more than 50 countries. Ruth and I love to travel internationally--Japan, Canada, China, Argentina, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, etc. Within the next 2 years we will have visited all of the European countries. But our favorite destination is Australia. Ruth and I have been there 9 times.
I've written a book about Australia's Outback, ALONE NEAR ALICE, which is available through both Amazon & Barnes & Noble. My first fictional work, MOVING FORWARD, GETTING NOWHERE, has recently been posted on Amazon. It's a contemporary, hopefully funny re-telling of The Odyssey.
The town of Manitou Springs is the closest one to Pike’s Peak. This modest town basically spreads up a canyon west of Colorado Springs. It is more than 100 years old and has a well-deserved and accurate reputation as the “Hippie Mayberry”. Its reputation goes back to Native Americans’ love for its springs that are partially fed by Pike’s Peak snow. Other popular attractions in this town are some cliff dwellings and the 9 springs that gush with abandon all over city central with free water from a deep aquifer and snowmelt. There is nothing else like this in Colorado. This water bounty is full of natural sodium bicarbonate. Visitors are encourage to sit in this water and drink it for its health benefits while there. Most of this town’s visitors, however, are strolling its main street looking for bargains in the many shops. Manitou Spring’s houses are generally modest, and its stores offer everything from junk to super finds.
The word most often used to describe Manitou Springs is eccentric, and most visitors find its penny arcade early on and spend time playing cheap arcade games before indulging in Patsy’s candy. Its shopping area reminded me of many others but it’s even more eclectic. The springs that have names like Shoshone and Cheyenne can’t be seen from the main shopping street, but Soda Springs Park can be. It’s near a bridge that is quite visible from Manitou Avenue. Reaching Soda Springs Park, the 9 springs, and all those shops involves traveling west on Highway 24 that connects visitors to Manitou Avenue and the Garden of the Gods. Parking in this town can be difficult.
Manitou Springs most recent improvement is a 100 million dollar investment in an upgrade to the tram to the top of Pike’s Peak. This tram leaves from the center of town for an 8.9 mile trip to the summit in 1 hour. It reopened in May of 2021 after a 3 year closure. ”Some call it expensive at close to $60 for an adult ticket, but it’s worth the travel investment if you plan to drive to the top of Pike’s Peak anyway. The road is two-lane narrow and without guardrails all the way. Taking the tram eliminates the danger and lets you see the scenery you otherwise would miss. But parking at The Cog is expensive too and spaces are limited. It costs $15 to locate across the street from the Depot, and people are encouraged to use the overflow parking at Hiawatha Gardens or at Old Man’s Trail that is cheaper to avoid a potential problem.
The Cog Railway is a big attraction indeed, but it’s not Tripadvisor’s #1 choice of what to do in Manitou Springs. That would be The Incline, a challenging hike that many accept. The Incline means an ascent that takes those who attempt it upward for 2,000 feet in one mile. This is best done in the summer because Manitou Springs gets 28 inches of snow in a typical year despite 300 days of sunshine. Manitou Springs is basically a town of 5,000 at the bottom of the closest canyon below Pike’s Peak. There are said to be 2,700 steps going up The Incline, which stops no one from doing it. The #4 Tripadvisor attraction in Manitou Springs is Miramont Castle. I enjoyed seeing this attraction at 9 Capitol Hill Avenue, but if I had to do it again I’d opt for tea and treats at its tearoom on the premises in the Queen’s Parlor instead. This wildly popular tearoom is available by pre-arranged seating only.
This time Ely made an impression. We had been through this Western Nevada town of about 4,000 people before, but Ruth and I never paid much attention to its past or present. This time we did and benefited. We stopped and had lunch in its public park where a lot of schoolchildren were taking a break from academics. Ely’s past included copper mines. Its present has quality of life characteristics.
Ely is one of the few real towns on Highway 50, the so-called loneliest road in America. There are really only 4 of them of consequence: Fallon, Eureka, Austin, and Ely, and Ely is the largest of the 4. Austin is built into the side of a mountain. Ely is far more traditional. It’s a place of murals and mountains.
The most interesting building in Ely is the Hotel Nevada. This is a 6 story hotel with reasonably priced accommodations. The Hotel Nevada was founded during Prohibition, and for many years it was the tallest building in the state. It opened for business in 1929, 2 years before gambling was legalized in Nevada. When it opened, it had 100 rooms, but it has been modernized and now has only 64 rooms. A donkey dressed as a cowboy has graced one of its exterior walls since the 1930s. It’s still there but has been restored more than once.
One of the more interesting towns near Ely is Ruth. Ruth, not my co-creator but a mining town, harks back to Ely’s glory years when it was Nevada’s largest mining center. The mining town called Ruth is not on Highway 50. It was once the scene of the world’s largest copper pit when Kennecott and other copper mines flourished in this area. They have all closed and agriculture and tourism are now the area’s main economic job providers. About the only evidence of Ely’s mining past still around are some beehive shaped charcoal ovens once used in smelting copper. They have not been used since the 1870s but are still a tourist attraction not too far from Ely. For a brief period of time these structures became hiding places for bandits who held up stagecoaches. Another business from the past that still thrives is in the tiny town of McGill 12 miles north of Ely. Its one-time drugstore contains an old-fashioned soda fountain that still gets attention. Ely was once a stop on the short-lived Pony Express, another claim to past glory.
Most of the tourists who find Ely now have come up from Las Vegas to see Great Basin National Park. This requires 244 miles of travel, so a few detours on the way find these tourists driving the Extraterrestrial Highway and visiting Basin and Range National Monument. The Lehman Caves are in Great Basin National Park as are the remains of a bristlecone pine forest up to its tree line. This National Park soars up to 13,060 feet, and one of its more popular lures is an annual Astronomy Festival. Low humidity and minimal light pollution make this destination not too far from Ely an ideal place for star-gazing.
If you want knots in your stomach, try to learn about this subject. Supposedly, there are 33 Clevelands in the world and 28 of them are in the United States. There are 3 in England, one in Tasmania, AU and one in Queensland, AU. You would think that they were either named for the man named Grover who was President of the United States twice or the city in Ohio. Many of them were. However, the Cleveland in Queensland was named by the famous navigator James Cook for John Cleveland, and the Cleveland in Tasmania was named after a breed of horses.
What is for certain is that there were once 28 towns named Cleveland in the United States, and most of them were named either after Grover Cleveland like the small town in New Mexico or after the city in Ohio like the Cleveland in the state of Washington. However, the Cleveland that once prospered in the state of New York was named for a man named James Cleveland and there was a Cleveland Glass Company in this town.
Most of the towns named Cleveland in the United States have populations in the thousands, but the champion remains the city in Ohio. About half a million people live in this rust belt city including my cousin Tom. His parents settled in this city after marrying and stayed for years before moving to Florida to enjoy retirement. Tom moved away from Cleveland, took some fun trips with us while establishing a major career in media, and moved back to Cleveland, where he still resides. Ruth & I will be near this Cleveland in a couple of weeks. There will be some blogs about this town and the area for sure.
The Cleveland in Washington State is 29 miles from the town of Sunnyside, where Ruth’s distant cousin Kenneth once lived. We visited him there, but he always preferred Missouri to Washington and returned to his roots often. We were much more likely to see him in Houston, Missouri, rather than in Seattle,WA where he used to live. I will never forget that he gave us some ashes from the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. He was the only human being I know who was there when this mountain in the Cascades erupted as a volcano.
The town of Cleveland in Idaho has become a ghost town. The Cleveland in Montana has also gone out of business, but one person who remembered it has posted poignant memories on the internet about it and mentions this town’s once thriving rodeo and its post office that closed for good in 1957. About 20 of the towns named Cleveland in the USA have populations, but 8 of them do not have many residents. Small towns had a hard time surviving as cities grew. Now we are about to experience the shrinking of cities as many US residents return to smaller communities to live. Nothing is certain anymore, especially towns named Cleveland.
Ruth & I visited Taos many years ago and loved it. Our most recent trip there, in 2021, was far less successful. I do not recommend traveling there anymore because the focus in Taos has changed. The community has decided to go for youth culture with money, and ads feature zip lines, white water rafting, eating and drinking in expensive restaurants, and skiing. It takes plenty of money to do Taos correctly now and I’m not sure its worth it.
We tried. We booked the oldest accommodation in New Mexico, the Hotel la Fonda. It’s on the famous Taos Plaza and surrounded by stores. The lady who checked us in after we left our car parked on the Plaza at a parking meter was focused on shopping and the horrible traffic. The central core of Taos has become a sea of cars that all seem to be waiting for a light to change. The hotel did have a parking lot behind it that was supposed to charge us for parking but did not, perhaps because this practice was producing complaints. This hotel opened in 1922 but has been updated. I was not surprised to learn that there had been shops on this property before the hotel was built. Our room was small because the hotel is old, the walls were thin, and staying there has gathered lots of complaints. We will not be returning to it. There were plenty of restaurants in the area as we tried to walk around and enjoy this historic plaza, but we ended up walking to a nearby Albertsons to buy food and eat in our room. The famous guests that once stayed here like Judy Garland and Dennis Hopper are long gone. There was road construction on the way to the busy supermarket and lots of traffic. We had plenty of time to evaluate the shops in the vicinity of the hotel and bought nothing but food.
Actor Dennis Hopper fell in love with Taos and tried to live here. He bought the Mabel Dodge Luhan house at 240 Morada Lane and lived there for a spell before vacating Taos but then returning. Ruth & I toured this house on our first visit to Taos. Mabel Dodge Luhan was an early resident who married a Native American and bonded with anyone famous who was visiting what she soon considered her town. She especially doted on authors like Willa Cather and D. H. Lawrence. The Luhan house is now a hotel and conference center with no Hollywood connection.
People visiting Taos like to visit the pueblo. This is the only Native American dwelling place in America that is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark. It’s also something of a cheat. Most of the natives who supposedly live here have houses in town. They only come to the 3 level pueblo for public ceremonies. Fees from tours of the traditional pueblo that represents centuries old architecture keep it going. Photography is strictly forbidden while taking a pueblo tour. Tours of the plaza and other places in town are conducted. The main activity for visitors, however, is encouraged shopping. There are a lot of fine art shops selling expensive decor. Vintage cowboy boots, Navajo silver, and trinkets are not hard to find but we learned in Albuquerque that a lot of the turquoise jewelry now sold as authentic is really plastic, not real turquoise, so be careful to authenticate.
The only time I felt comfortable at an attraction was during our morning visit to San Francisco de Asis. Women were grooming the exterior of what is called the most photographed church in the world. We stepped inside to see its traditional interior, but we did not see the “Mystery Painting” despite the fact that viewing it is said to be free. Other free attractions include the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and some scenic mountain highway views. There are several art museums in Taos worth their admission price as is the Kit Carson home and museum.
I would expect few towns to have this name, but there are said to be 14 of them. The Peorias were a Native American tribe in what is now the state of Illinois, but the towns with this name are now quite scattered. The word Peoria in Peorian meant, “carrying a pack on one’s back.” Peorias are never found in other countries, but there is one in Canada. It’s in Alberta and reportedly has a population of 12.
Not unexpectedly, the 2nd largest Peoria is the city in central Illinois. It has a population of more than 100,000. I have been there several times but not recently. There used to be not much to do in this city, but that has changed. I used to visit its art museum, but that was just about the extent of its tourist attractions. Now it’s different probably due to community spirit. According to Tripadvisor there is now a Grand View Drive with glimpses of the Illinois River, a Caterpillar Visitor Center, and a new Riverfront Museum. There is a zoo, a botanical garden, a historic house called the Pettengill Morron, parks and malls; but for the most part Peoria remains a not-too-exciting travel destination even though the people of Peoria are known for their good manners and the city has a highly industrial atmosphere.
The largest Peoria in the United States is part of the city of Phoenix, AZ. Its population is said to be 176,000. There is a Peoria in the states of Oklahoma (population 131), but a lot of Peorias have become ghost towns.
There are said to be towns named Peoria in states like Florida, Texas, and Missouri, but most of them are very small. Many are listed as unincorporated. Those with several people are often said to be “populated places” like the Peorias in New York and Mississippi. The Peoria in North Carolina in Watauga County has an elevation of almost 3,000 feet. That places it in the western part of the state near Asheville and Mount Mitchell, this state’s highest point.
Peoria seems to be a dying town name with 2 exceptions. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Each article about one of our trips will include a quick and easy way for readers to determine if the trip is a worthwhile venture.
When you see a 5 compass rating then starting planning your trip. When you see 1 compass, then you know this is a trip you can skip. While we love to travel and hope we never come across a 1 compass trip, it may happen. We pride ourselves on being honest with our readers and hope you find us a great resource for your next trip off the beaten path.