For fans of the strange, quirky and unexpected, there's nothing like a road trip through the weirdest sights Colorado has to offer. Here are a handful of destinations that all give new meaning to the phrase "Colorful Colorado."
Old Louisville Inn
740 Front Street, Louisville
Summer Guide 2011
Open Monday-Wednesday, Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday 1 a.m.-10 p.m.
This old tavern and former brothel has a beautiful nineteenth-century bar with a copper trough for the tobacco-chewin' miners, who back in the day knew that a lit match could set off the coal gases that used to seep through the floorboards. If the place isn't too busy, ask the staff if anyone's heard lately from "Samantha," the prostitute murdered on the premises who occasionally makes her presence known.
Lafayette Municipal Cemetery
400 block of 111th Street, just north of Baseline Road/Highway 7, Lafayette
The gravestone to look for is in the corner closest to 111th Street, toward the Lafayette Fire Department. This was the paupers' section, so it's not surprising that the marker is only a slab that someone obviously wrote on while the cement was wet. The headstone is dated December 1918 and has a few foreign-looking words scratched into it — but it's the reference to "Transylvania" that has caused stories to go viral on the Internet that Lafayette is the final resting place of a vampire. Spooky tales about this grave can be found on such websites as www.roadsideamerica.com.
Members of the American Association of Paranormal Investigators in Denver unearthed the truth some years ago by going through old Lafayette newspapers. The grave is shared by two immigrant miners, one from Transylvania, who died, probably of the Spanish flu, around the same time. But the legend has zombie strength, so if you drop by, you might still see some odd offerings left at the grave, and maybe even catch some "paranormal investigation."
I-25 Exit 265, 4801 East Harmony Road, south of Fort Collins
Usually open daily and admission free; donations encouraged
Retired farmer Bill Swet's zany little kingdom is being encroached upon by big-box retail, but you can still see the cheery yellow castle facade of his home and many of the metal creations he's been turning out — huge, small, kinetic and just wacky — since 1985. This is folk art created with humor and considerable skill with a welding torch.
Greeley History Museum
714 8th Street, Greeley
Open Wednesday-Friday 8:30-4:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Passing through Greeley? Make a note to stop at the local history museum, which is housed in a former newspaper building. Among the exhibits is a truly elegant flapper ensemble complete with pumps and headband, made from the skins of muchos rattlesnakes clobbered by the appropriately named Kate Slaughterback on one unforgettable fall day in 1925.
Coney Island Boardwalk Diner
West of Bailey, off U.S. 285
Open daily in the summer, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
If you've ever driven past the place shaped like a giant wiener on a bun and thought, "Someday I gotta stop there and try that elk-jalapeño hotdog," don't put it off again. The 1960s-era eatery might be poised for a third relocation in its history — or at least new management in the same spot — if current owner Ron Aigner can find the right buyer. He's looking to take life a tad easier. Meanwhile, he's got plans to start offering ice cream...
Colorado Prison Museum
One block off Highway 50 on 1st Street, next to the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, Cañon City
Right next to the classically forbidding walls of "Old Max" is the original women's prison, a much smaller bungalow built in 1935 that looks like it should have been the warden's home but wasn't. Inside are numerous cells that offer different looks at Colorado incarceration, from territorial days to modern times. Subjects include two infamous riots and the movies that Hollywood later made about them, and the hair-raising physical punishments handed out to disruptive inmates. The defunct gas chamber sits on the grounds. A Ghost Walk tour of Cañon City starts from the museum regularly.
CO-165, near Rye, about 13 miles southeast of the junction of state highways 96 & 165
Open daily, daylight hours only
Admission free, donations encouraged
Be patient; you won't miss it. The stone-and-ironwork edifice looks like a cross between the Eiffel Tower and a gothic cathedral, towering 160 feet high in the trees overlooking the highway. Yes, it's one man's castle, built by Jim Bishop, ornamental ironworker and visionary. He's been at it since 1969, give or take the legal battle he had with the government over what he was doing. Now he and the powers-that-be have a truce: The Castle is officially listed on state highway signs and maps these days.
Dinosaur, the town
Near Dinosaur National Monument, U.S. 40, this side of Utah
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Have a yen to see ancient Native American rock art and a lot of sites with fossils? Maybe do some outstanding backcountry camping and rafting? You can do all of that at Dinosaur National Monument; there's an entrance with a visitors' center this side of the border with Utah, off U.S. 40.
But don't forget to stop in the town of Dinosaur, formerly Artesia, just outside the park. It's one of the few places for miles around where you can find motels, gas stations, convenience stores and eateries. Bonus: streets with names like Brontosaurus Boulevard and Triceratops Terrace, and a park with dino statues.
Stay weird, my friends!
Charmaine Ortega Getz is the author of Weird Colorado, part of the "Weird U.S." series produced by Sterling Publishing. An updated version of Weird Colorado is in the works; meanwhile, the book is in its second printing. Getz's blog, at www.weirdcolorado.net, is intermittently updated, as well.