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Trip Dispatch #29: Thursday, June 16: Pitkin: The Pitkin Hotel and the Ohio City Cafe

We high tailed it to the Silver Plume General Store after breakfast. Pete talked at length with Matt (the store owner) about our upcoming route, and I sat on the porch and conversed with the locals, who were sitting in rocking chairs. They collectively said that there’s snow up on Cumberland Pass, making it impossible to cross by horseback. But we’re going to give getting over it a try, for as always, optimistic Pete said that by the time we get up there, there will be less snow.

In the late afternoon, Chad appeared and shoed Signy. He was very gentle with her, and she stood quietly for him. Her rope burns have healed, making Chad’s

Chad shoeing Signy
Chad shoeing Signy


job easier. Pete talked with him as he worked, and learned a bit more about trims and shoeing. Like Adam, Chad is broad-shouldered and lanky. I talked with his girlfriend Lori, who recommended the title of a book that now escapes me. The pair left thinking that they’ll come to Alaska and visit us next spring. Chad, who’s taught people to shoe, could also do a farrier workshop.

After the pair left, we went back to town and checked out the Pitkin Hotel, which is the one available site where one might do laundry and take showers. It’s comprised of two large buildings that were built in 1909. The bottom floor was filled with books, kid’s toys, kitchenware, and old photos. Joann, the hotel owner, showed us a yellowing photo of Len Brown, the fellow who made my western saddle. At the time (in the 1980s) he did a 3,000 mile trip with a string of packhorses. After, he came up with the prototype for the saddle I’m now using.

Joann, 80ish, wearing a corduroy coat like a shaw, repeatedly pulling it tight around her shoulders. She was also wearing a white knit cap with gray hair tucked underneath, and baggy pants. She was soft spoken, and quite friendly. Joann has gray blue eyes, and when she spoke, she looked directly at me, making me fumble for words.

I said we had to do laundry, and she handed me a large box of Tide. Pete and I then followed her up a steep staircase to the laundry room. Once we got our wash going (and with our all chatting, this took some time) we got a tour. We walked down hallways that seemingly lead nowhere, and checked out bunk rooms and bedrooms (the beds all neatly made up.) At one point Joann turned to the left and opened a door—on the far side was a fully furnished apartment, vintage 1950. The late afternoon sun entered the room via a skylight, and cast a soft glow on the older furnishings.

The Pitkin Hotel is for sale, and Joann wants $500,000 for it. “I’m tired of cooking, doing laundry. And bringing in the firewood is just too much for me,” she said. She’ll retire to Florida after the place is sold. The one drawback in terms of the sale is that the town’s septic and water codes will make renting out rooms cost-prohibitive. The rooms lack bathrooms, and, as Pete observed, having bathrooms in place will up the room cost, making the enterprise more profitable.

I walked around the far side of Pitkin as Pete finished doing the laundry. The upper end of town contained the older homes that previously had been owned by mining families. I stopped in front of a place that I really liked, a one-story house with green trim—it had a small side-yard, and behind it, a rock-studded hill. In the yard were two mule deer who, when they saw me, stood still, like statues.

I arrived back at basecamp and was soon joined by Pete, who drove up in Joann’s car. She’d offered to loan it to us so that we could go to nearby Ohio City for dinner. The café—a combination bar/restaurant, was practically empty when we got there, in fact the staff outnumbered the customers.

Alligator was a menu staple—this prompted me to ask the owner, a large fellow with a big belly, if he’d gotten if from the Gator farm (located 12 miles north of Alamosa on Highway 17, in the San Luis Valley).

Nope, he was from Louisiana, where he used to be in the seafood business. He had the meet shipped north.

Pete raved about the apple pie, said it was the best he’d ever eaten. As we were eating, a handful of young people walked in. After learning that the place would be getting its liquor license the next day, and therefore could not serve alcohol until that evening, they walked out. “That sucked!” The young waitress exclaimed.

Next: Dispatch #30: Places you MIGHT Go