Day Trippin’ To Trinidad
I grunt as I swing my legs over the low sill, planting my feet on the hand-laid brick street. My little red convertible’s top is down in true open-air motoring fashion… all I’m missing are a set of leather gloves and a silk scarf. For a second I close my eyes and pretend the little car is a green Austin 3000 Mk III and my lovely wife Lindz and I have been tooling along the English countryside. I chuckle because the sun is too warm for it to be England and my hands are too clean for the car to be British. Trinidad, Colorado? I ask myself. Why did I leave the luster of Colorado Springs to spend the night in the border town of Trinidad? Rumormongers say that Colorado’s southernmost Front Range city is reinventing itself into a hub of culture and activity, so I’m here to test the lore.
Stopping at Café What a Grind for some java bean refreshment provides my first taste of Bricktown, Trinidad’s local moniker. I’m greeted by a smiling hostess who doubles as the barista and makes it easy to grab a quick coffee; soon I’m sinking back into a deep brown leather couch. Sipping a delectable brevé, I appreciate how comfortable this interior, which could have been a saloon once, is. Nestled at the far end of the room, the antique mirrored-back bar gleams brightly above the weathered hardwood floor. Dangling mason jars provide inviting illumination, their beams dancing on the exposed stone and red walls like pagans around a fire. Lunch smells wonderful, but it’s time to hit those bricks again.
Saturday afternoon finds the downtown hustling and bustling with jubilant activity. Couples enjoy beers at a sidewalk café while soft music wafts out the open windows, nearly making the half and quarter notes visible in the thin mountain air. Boutique shops line each side of the street, servicing niches from the outdoor über enthusiast to the folk art hunter searching for that next fix. Sitting atop a wall under the shade of an ash tree, we discuss our life plans as a smoker Mercedes chugs uphill, floored, which I sympathize with from experience. Two songbirds add magic to the air from a porch across the street—each sweet chirp seems to brighten the sun. Adjacent to the music sits old Fort Wootton, whose courtyard is a sea of yellow, red, purple, orange, pink, and white flowers. This city feels a little like Santa Fe; while The City Different seems like an artist’s whimsical rendition of southwestern life, Trinidad feels present and active in its millions of red bricks.
The next stop in our journey-for-two is the Trinidad History Museum. Museums make fun dates because of their intimacy and interactivity—qualities which are lost at a bar or movie. Forgoing the $5 guided tour for free wandering means that we quietly talk, laugh, and joke about what we see, speculating first before finding the truth in history. Kit Carson’s colorful buckskin leather trapper’s coat catches my eye, and soon I’m ogling its lavishness. Water-repellant in abstract Hispanic colcha style with brown velvet cutaway triangular insets, ornate stitching, lavish floral buttons, and a Sturgis-worthy amount of fringe, this coat is as tough as it is 1850s chic.
After our fill of local history, we move outside to explore the Bloom Mansion, Baca House, and Baca-Bloom Heritage Gardens. The backside of the Baca House, traded for 22,000 pounds of wool in 1873, is lined with pink and red hollyhocks that contrast magnificently against the 120-year-old white weathered wood. Bees the size of quarters lazily buzz around on their collection routes through the flowers. The self-guided tour does not allow access inside the mansions, so peering through the leaded glass like department store windows is our tactic of choice. We steal one last kiss among the flowers before moving on.
Driving up the one-lane Ave Maria Shrine road feels like blastoff; it’s so steep that the nose of the car is pointed at the southwestern sky. The shrine overlooks Trinidad and is shrouded in a local myth involving a 1908-era physician, a blizzard, and a candle. Regardless of your faith or belief in legends, the view from the white and Egyptian blue structure is utterly spectacular. The stillness in the air above the city makes the setting so serene I don’t want to leave—these are moments in life worth treasuring. With our cameras away and Lindz in my arms, we gaze west across the open sky to the Sangre de Cristo mountains until cool raindrops escort us down the long set of stairs.
Perched on a ledge above I-25 and overlooking half the city, the Days Inn and Suites turns out to be an absolute gem. We breeze through check-in and are quickly enjoying a very comfortable king size bed, with pillows to match, from our second-floor room. With its updated rooms, pool, indoor hot tub, and friendly staff, this Days Inn fit the bill nicely. While they don’t have any 420-friendly rooms, there is a cannabis area, so pack accordingly.
A leisurely before-dinner stroll downtown takes us past recreational dispensaries on the western edge of Main Street, but the real high life is found at the Fox Theatre, an impressive two-million-brick structure that juts out of downtown like a stairway to the clouds. The Coal Miners Memorial sits one block to the east, a somber reminder of this great state’s roots. The most lively location this evening is the famous Performing Arts Center, home to the Southern Colorado Repertory Theater. As we walk by, the merry staff try their hardest to get us off the sidewalk and in front of the stage, but my stomach’s crooning for Mexican food is the only performance on the playbill tonight.
Opting for Tequila’s Family Mexican Restaurant for their extensive authentic menu rewards us with a festive and colorful interior bursting with trumpet sounds and margarita specials. The scrumptious guacamole salad comes with chips, medium heat blended salsa made with fresh cilantro, and pico de gallo. Feeling adventurous means ordering the chicharron burrito, a fried pork belly monster smothered in cheese and green chili and served with beans and rice. The chicharron is rich, fatty, and fried to the consistency of orange chicken—after two bites I develop a fierce taste for it. Lindz’s spinach enchiladas served in a red sauce that rivals the green like two high schools chasing the same football championship are equally delectable. Sopapillas arrive at our table as six triangles of fried flakey dessert heaven, drizzled with honey, cinnamon, and sugar. With a full bar and enough booths to seat even the biggest posse, Tequila’s homestyle family cooking can satisfy even the wildest bunch.
Tonight’s journey up the Santa Fe Trail is perfect. The lights of quirky motels illuminate the beaten path once used by 18th-century Spaniards, while the setting sun silhouettes the western peaks and amplifies their splendor. Glancing left I see my beautiful wife, her long blonde hair glistening in the moonlight. As I pull her in for a kiss, the hair softly brushes my face and reminds me just how lucky I am. Yes, this particular trip is about Trinidad, but all our trips are about making the time to get away with someone special.