Despite our best efforts to go where the weather suits our clothes, an unexpected heat wave drove us out of Salida. We rolled north 40 miles to Buena Vista, population 2,617. Kat found a VFW Post offering water and 30 amps for $10 a night, open to the public. The juice would let us run our A/C when needed, and while camped in a white water Mecca we hoped to raft the Arkansas River. The VFW operates a bar next door from noon to ten daily, with three TV screens, each tunable to a different channel. One of them was the Major League Baseball channel and I got to see thirteen innings of hardball excellence in our stay with contests between Pirates and Cardinals, and later, Giants and Dodgers.
The locals cautioned us on the whitewater: it’s too high for real rapids, and too cold to risk falling into. It’s mostly snow melt, don’t you know? Besides a close, fast-moving ballgames, we lucked into Happy Hour featuring $1.50 draft. As you may have guessed, the VFW’s clientele tends to be mostly of the Viet Nam or Korea vintage, along with a Gulf War I participant or two. A lot of VFW widows (lost him to age, not combat) gather here. It is a pretty close group, but they welcomed us with genuine warmth and honest curiosity.
Unlike so many small towns, Buena Vista is thriving. Tourism has two seasons that cover most of the year: skiing and rafting. There’s a big state prison here, medium security, although the Denver Post says 400 of its 900 inmates are so violent they should be in maximum security. Nobody escaped during our stay. That’s a very good thing since its fence is at most a half mile to the west. On the north end of town down by the river lies an upscale development of high-density Craftsman homes, galleries, restaurants, and shops. BV’s newest city parks are there. One supports kayaks and rafting on the Arkansas. There’s also an elaborate skateboard park, lovely blue and green tennis courts, and a training ground for kids who want to learn to be serious mountain bikers. Nearby are more cafes and watering holes for those of us with bad knees but serviceable livers.
Life on the Blue Highways is now an award-winning blog. I had to put on my Trump Cap and buckle its chinstrap to write that; it’s an honor, not an award. Our Mayor, The Kat, now has a published photograph first used here. In May, 2015 she illustrated “The Mountain State” with a photo of Bob’s Hot Dogs, a takeout-only diner we discovered outside Elkins, WV. American Express sponsors an online publication called Amex Essentials, and a recent feature was Best Diners in Every State. Hot dogs are “Yuuge” in West Virginia, and Bob’s was their diner pick for that state. The picture they now have shows two dishes of hot dog condiments. Ours shows Bob’s storefront and my feet. They plan to replace the chow images with Kat’s picture. Pretty cool, huh? Here’s a link to their slide show on America’s Best Diners.