Southeastern Colorado featured in the Wall Street Journal
Reporter Stephanie Simon on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in this historic corner of the Rocky Mountain state
What to do: Start in Granada, a tiny town by the Kansas border, where you can explore the remnants of Camp Amache, a World War II internment center. More than 7,500 people of Japanese descent—two-thirds of them American citizens—were kept behind barbed wire here, in dusty desolation. Most buildings have been razed, but the site is still powerfully moving. You'll see row upon row of rectangular foundations where barracks once stood; curls of rusted barbed wire; old farming implements; weathered wooden doors; and, in a tiny cemetery still impeccably tended, a handful of granite headstones. There are some interpretive signs, but the site is most meaningful if you read about the camp online before visiting: See www.amache.org or www.santafetrailscenicandhistoricbyway.org/amache.html. A small museum in town displays artifacts from the camp. It is open by appointment only: Call John Hopper at 719-734-5492. Next, drive west to La Junta for a peek inside Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, a reconstruction of an 1830s trading post where Native Americans, explorers, soldiers, fur trappers and Wild West characters of every description gathered. During summer months, re-enactors in period costume bring history to life, but the fort is fascinating even during the off-season. Marvel at the thick adobe walls (painstakingly built by Mexican laborers) and wander through rooms stocked with old military uniforms, buffalo robes, cannonballs and other artifacts (Tel. 719-383-5010, www.nps.gov/beol/index.htm). Finally, don't pass up a chance to hike through the Comanche National Grasslands. In one section, known as Picketwire Canyon, you can see an astounding array of dinosaur tracks, including the lumbering path laid down by a massive brontosaurus. Be warned: Getting there requires fording a stream and hiking 11 miles round trip through unforgiving terrain. Those with less stamina should aim instead for Vogel Canyon, where three moderate trails wind through gorgeous vistas, past ruins of Dust Bowl-era homesteads and to a canyon face where you can see (amid a distressing amount of modern-day graffiti) 1,000-year-old petroglyphs scratched into the rock.
Where to eat: Eastern Colorado is known for its agricultural bounty, and if you're visiting in summer or early fall, stop by a roadside stand and make a picnic lunch out of the fresh-picked fare: Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, peaches, pears and the famed Rocky Ford melons. Other dining choices are limited. In La Junta, the Junction Grill serves up steaks, burgers and pork ribs (27866 Highway 50, Tel. 719-384-4001). Local-favorite Felisa's offers Mexican fare (27948 Frontage Road, Tel. 719-384-4814).
Where to stay: The brand-new Hampton Inn in La Junta is an excellent choice. It is clean, comfortable and equipped with an inviting pool and fitness room (27800 Hwy 50, Tel. 719-384-4444). There is also a Holiday Inn Express in town (27994 US Hwy 50, Tel. 888-897-0084). Or try pitching a tent at the KOA Campground on the Santa Fe Trail. There are recreational-vehicle and camping sites, cabins and a swimming pool in which to splash away the dust (26680 W Hwy 50, Tel. 719-384-9580).
Write to Stephanie Simon at email@example.com