June 8, 2001

6/8/01 Pueblo, CO

58.5 miles

Woke up to sunshine. I turned on the radio while I packed and wished I hadn't. More rain in the forecast. What is it with me and rain! I mean, the year I hiked the Appalachian Trail was the wettest on record. Said goodbye to Madeline and was just thankful for the sunrise over my shoulder.

John said this valley was a huge producer of cantaloupe and watermelon years ago. But when the farmers fell on hard times, they sold their water rights, mostly to a Texas cattle rancher who built a huge feed yard next to Lake Meredith. Now, the only crops I saw at this end of the valley were being grown by the prison near Crowley.

As you can guess, I have pretty good experience with the country café/diners in "small town" America. I can now claim the best meal I've ever had was this morning at Olney Springs Café. If you want to die and go to heaven, try their cinnamon rolls!

The restaurant used to be called Dingo's Café, but had closed for a while. Lorie McCleary and Jude Miller bought it two years ago and reopened it as the Olney Springs Café. Having never done anything like this, these two women have done a remarkable job. But they also own a building across the street and would like to open a horticulture/landscaping business. So they are in the process of selling the café to a young couple. "They've got a lot more experience in the food business than we did when we started," Jude said. I wished them the best in both ventures.

As we talked, the subject of water rights came up again. This end of the valley doesn't grow crops because Colorado Springs bought all the water rights. Lorie said, "You can't blame the farmer. He makes less and less on the crops he grows. The kids aren't interested in farming. Then somebody comes and offers you a ton of money." Even the two prisons built in the area to provide a few local jobs had trouble because of the water needed to run each facility.

That wonderful meal perked up my spirits right away. As I rode Hwy 96 towards Pueblo, the recent rains had drawn out all the flowering plants in this dry climate. For miles, the roadside was vivid with flowers of all colors - yellow, orange, blue, purple, and white. Add to that the different grasses, butterflies, and dragonflies. Just a very nice ride!

Then I entered the city on a 15-mile stretch of Hwy 50, a divided highway with a large shoulder. When you're so used to the quiet of the country roads, this can be very annoying. One upbeat item, though. All along the highway, you could see Prairie Dog colonies. Cute little guys. Then I got a flat!

This seems to happen only when I'm in a city. I thought the guard Prairie Dog was going to get hoarse from all his barking while I changed my flat tire. As I worked, Steve and Bob rode by. I ended up seeing them again at the Great Divide Bike Shop, where I bought some more inner tubes.

Camp tonight is inside the maintenance area for the Pueblo City Park. It's just me tonight. Storm clouds have swiftly come in this afternoon from several directions, but the rain didn't last long. I plan on taking a day off and hanging out. They have a river bicycle trail that should get me to all the places I want to go, like the movies.

One person I'd like to thank here in the park is Jessie. She's working here during the summer and was happy to help me with some great maps and such of Pueblo. She had an enthusiasm that was infectious.

Today I saw the mountains. After so long on the flatlands of Kansas and eastern Colorado, I think I might feel something of what those early settlers felt. Concerned about the crossing but excited all the same. I can almost taste the salt air of the Oregon coast.