Colorado Motels

Check out our growing collection of motel postcards from this state.

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On a US 40 trip in Summer 1998, we stop at Dinosaur, Colorado, and the Desert Cottages. The cottages, drywalled boxes set against a harsh sky, are remnants of this region's oil boom more than four decades ago. Around here, folks talk about Charlie, a mellow New Yorker who bought this place from folks who'd run the cottages into the ground. Charlie's trying to resurrect this site, but he's not around during our visit. Over at the Hi-Vu motel, the owner sympathizes with our search for Charlie, saying "he usually doesn't go far - especially before evening." She winks and smiles as if I know what she's talking about.

[camera icon]El Palomino [camera icon]Trail's End

The following is from a 1996 summer trip from California to Ohio: Pulling into Grand Junction, Colorado, we stop at the El Palomino. The site has one of those enclosed telephone boxes with a Bell Telephone logo on top. Jenny snaps some exposures of the motel sign and, almost immediately, the manager walks towards us. She says that we're missing some of the design. Apparently, after thousands of dollars in renovation, a strong wind mangled the sign a few years back, ripping off an arrow. Still, we enjoy chatting with Alberta ("I was named after peaches, but I'm sour as a plum"). She recognizes that the sign may be more hassle than it's worth, but says, "I feel that it makes a big impression. It's enchanting."

Over at the Trail's End Motel, we stare at a headstone that's marked: "John Doe hanged 1841 for cheatin' and stealin'" The gravesite, custom-made for tourists like us, lies on a strip of ground -- filled with rocks and bones -- that's perpendicular to the road. Large trees form a green line that stretches into the complex. Here and there, chairs made out of wine barrels and milk can/ash treys distinguish the owner of this motel as a little eccentric. Jeri shows us some of the rooms, inviting us to marvel at the homemade decorations. "We want to make it like home," she says, "you know, where you can sit out and have a barbecue. We have a lot of weeklies and I don't want to say they party hardy, but everyone has a lot of fun."

[camera icon]A Bar D [camera icon]Big Bunny [formerly Bugs Bunny]

We drive into Denver. It amazes us that on one side of the city we find mountainous grades that reveal awesome vistas -- while on the other side, the land stretches toward a horizon of farmland. In town, we catch sight of Route 40 -- the first federally funded interstate highway -- and get off the freeway. We pass by the A Bar D Motel, with its yellowish cactus sign, but pull into the Bugs Bunny. Unlike its animated counterpart, this rabbit has seen better days. Nonetheless, fresh flowers pour out of the brick side of the building and the bright green doors look mighty inviting. And, if you're looking for a flush toilet, you can find a couple stacked next to the satellite dish.

Down at the Rocky Mtn. Motel, two disheveled kids sit on a couch that's, apparently, being moved into (or out of?) room number one. One of the doors here is an unpainted wooden board. The pastel street signs nearby do little to dislocate the fundamental dinginess of Denver's periphery. We stretch toward the tall buildings of the Mile High City, but find little to hold us. Eventually, we find the Aristocrat, with family crest-looking shields on its walls. The owner --for sixteen years -- says the area hasn't changed much during his tenure. At the Niagara House Motel ("all visitors must check in at the office. No exceptions."), we find a dark building with deep red brick. On one of the cars, a bumper sticker reads "America is Indian country."

[camera icon]Aristocrat [camera icon]Rocky Mtn. Motel

The most unforgettable motel we find in Denver is the Sand & Sage, a self proclaimed Drug Free Zone. We drive very slowly and tightly through what can only be described as a security compound. This is a motel under siege -- a microcosm of many collective fears about crime and violence. On every wall, there are signs: "no prostitution," "caution beyond corner," and even "slow kids at play." There are even black and yellow safety strips on the round corners of the main building. The owner is suspicious of me, but is quick to explain his motel's unique motif: "You're either a drug user or you support those who do. That's the impression I get. I wouldn't have any part of it. It's killing our country and I think it's killing our kids. And it's certainly killing this area. I think anybody who uses that is sick. I gave nine years of my life helping people like that -- nine years -- never took a penny. Didn't do any good. There've been a lot of threats, yeah. I'm not the only one though. I think there are many my age who feel that way." Before he steps away, I ask for his name. "You don't need it," is his only reply. Just then, a long haired man walks in saying, "it's only me . . . " uttering the unspeakable name. I choose to keep his secret though. After all, he's right. For good or for ill, there are many, many people just like him.

[camera icon]Sand & Sage Motel

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Columbine Motel
1700 South Santa Fe Drive - Denver, Colo. - Coloradožs Finest Tourist Court - 40 Ultra Modern Le Luxe Units - All with Bath, Steam Heat, Frigidaire, Radios and Phones in all rooms, Maid and Porter service. 10 minutes drive to center of city. Unobstructed view of Rocky Mountains, Longs Peak to Pikes Peak. U.S. Highways 85 and 87.

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Last update: August 19, 2000. All photographs copyright © Jenny Wood. Text copyright © Andy Wood.