Within the next day I'll be leaving northern Texas and driving to the greater Denver area. As always I will try and vary the route in at least one direction to do some exploring. In this case however, my trip north will be fairly straight. I'm going to discuss finances and look at condos with my brother the numbers guy, and he and my sister in law will be traveling for business next week. I'll surely see lots of changing leaves, the mountains and mesas, and post some photos along the way.
Still, it's always possible to find new adventures and interests on the road, well traveled or not. Most of the time I am not a destination traveler per se. While I may have a specific destination, the fun is the ability to swerve and get off any exit at any time. This post, however, is about a place at which I am a repeat visitor. It's the kind of often ignored small town that can make a boring section of drive worthwhile.
In many ways Clayton, New Mexico is a typical "drive through to get to" little town. Situated on highway 87, it is the primary route to ski resorts in New Mexico and Colorado from Texas and points south and west. Right here I'll say that if there are those of you traveling anywhere south of northern Colorado taking I30 and or 170, just stop. I've done it both ways, and as a single woman. With respect to folks living in Kansas or Oklahoma, the Oklahoma interstate is a network of potholes, and the speed and time is no better. At least try this route, once.I doubt you will be sorry. On another level, however, Clayton is a perfect example of what can be interesting, surprising and occasionally exciting about road travel.
For the first couple of years I drove this route to family I stopped off at the major city or either the major truck stop town-twenty some hotels, lots of fast food joints and gas stations and a quick way out of town. One year, however, I decided to take a risk and drive as far on a summer's day and see where I ended up. I arrived in Clayton, in front of the Best Western. A very plain, even ugly building with outdoor steps. Now, before you roll your eyes, this particular Best Western is living, physical proof that most motels are individual owned and managed. I am here to tell you that the beds at this Best Western Kokopelli lodge are without a doubt the best beds I have slept in at any motel (Days, Comfort, Holiday, or Hampton). Not only that, but my bed had six, countem six large pillows. These two things along with the breakfast good enough to sit down and eat leisurely would alone have made my decision to stop here worth while.
Next, I went to the front desk and asked them if they had a "real" restaurant. I NEEDED to sit down and be waited on and eat real food on that particular trip (as opposed to my own picnic basket or fast food). The nice young women gave me some directions and I set off on foot (yes, I could actually walk). In a few blocks I ended up at the Eklund Hotel-a refurbished hotel, saloon and restaurant from the nineteenth century. The hotel is three story, and the paneling in the dining room is hand carved mahogany. The hotel has been refurbished with attention to detail. I have not taken an upstairs tour yet, but exploring the first floor was well worth my time. The restaurant had a full menu of beef, fish, chicken and some New Mexican dishes. My experience of going back in time was complemented by a wonderful meal.
In this case I left the next morning headed for mountains and mountain cities. I still stay in Clayton as often as possible (on winter trips I stop when the light stops and that often is earlier than New Mexico). Sometimes I go right through, perhaps having dinner and then hitting the road. Occasionally I stop in our near Clayton and spend some time. In additional to historical buildings and good food, Clayton has a myriad of other opportunities. Fishing is plentiful, with the largest fishing derby in New Mexico nearby. It's near a section of the Santa Fe Trail, and has an extinct volcano crater to explore with other volcanoes nearby. Clayton is the home of Folsom Man. There is a natural grassland and a large state park near by. Clayton has an annual arts festival, some wonderful artist living in the area. In fact, my sweet little Best Western has a whole store dedicated to art of the area and every year I buy a different raku pottery angel for my tree. That's just a short list of what is in the area.
Not all of these things interest me. Furthermore because it is a regular travel route, I don't take advantage of Clayton every time I make this trip. Nevertheless, Clayton is a perfect example of hidden treasures among what at first glance could be simply an occasion to slow down for the locals. They exist everywhere. Perhaps you should explore and take advantage the next time you hit the open road.