Miles Today: 224.4
Total Miles: 11,367.2
Days on the Road: 197
Of Spacemen And Ghost Dogs
We drove slowly into the one-street town, heads craning out the window to case the joint we'd booked for the night. Seeing hardly another soul in sight, we pulled into the only other apparent business in town -- a café/museum/grocery store collectively called Road Kill. The two-story hotel, decorated with some brightly painted outdoor furniture and an unarranged couple of flower planters, looked inviting enough from the outside -- it was the town itself that creeped us out a little.
Pitkin, 30 mountainous miles northeast of Gunnison, Colorado, is home to about 80 year-round residents living among a cluster of log cabins, rusted antique cars, and abandoned mine buildings. We'd come to learn the history of this ghost town that once claimed "the most modern and best equipped mountain hotel in Colorado". Like most mining boom towns, Pitkin went bust and about all that remained from the heyday of the early 1900s was the Pitkin Hotel, where we proposed to stay the night. Although the desertion and desolation of the place gave us some reservations, we figured we couldn't pass up the chance to a see some ghosts. This place is in the official Colorado "ghost town" register, after all.
Turns out the term "ghost town" doesn't actually describe a haunted place but rather a town that has been abandoned then revived. Dead and then alive again - something like that. Apples and oranges if you ask us. And so much for reservations - we soon learned we were wrong on that front, too. We met the disheveled and frail looking hotel proprietor, Jo An, as she looked us over from the stair banister then fixed her gaze and movement toward the front door. Intercepting her plan to ignore us and make a quick exit, we asked if she was the owner. Aiming a long-drawn and intimidating sigh right at us, she closed her eyes and nodded in affirmation. "What's your name? Rose? Lynn? Rose?" This was beginning to sound exactly like the disjointed phone conversation Liz had had with her a few days ago when she made the reservation.
She silently showed us two rooms upstairs before turning on her heel with the question, "Yes or no?" Sure, the whole place seemed a little peculiar, but how strange could it be, really?
Being affiliated with American Youth Hostels, the hotel tends to attract a motley crew of budget travelers, drifters, foreigners, and people who can only be classified as oddballs. First, we met the drifter, Dan, who evasively answered questions about where he lived (Oregon), how he got to Pitkin (hitchhiked with a trucker) and what happened to his car (sold it a few states ago). When asked what he'd been doing around here since he arrived, our suspicions about Pitkin were confirmed when he smirked and responded, "not too much", then raised his eyebrows as if to say, "didn't you not notice this middle-of-nowhere place is totally, eerily deserted."
In contrast to Dan was the ultra extroverted Elaine, another hostel guest who offered volumes about her new farm in Florida, pet macaw, diabetes symptoms and undeveloped trip photographs - and that was just the first five minutes. Dan later told us that Jo An, in response to something Elaine had said or done, had threatened to attach a sign to the front door stating "No Texans, No Republicans, No Bible Beaters." For the duration of our stay, the unfinished homemade sign, with only the line "NO TEXANS!" scrawled across the top, remained as a warning on one of the half dozen café tables scattered throughout the hotel's main common area.
We got another good dose of Jo An's frankness at breakfast the next morning, as she talked about her experiences in Pitkin, the town's history and paranormal activities in and around the hotel. She told us how her daughter, years ago, on the upper floor of the hotel, saw apparitions of a white German Shepard - identical in appearance to the dog that had belonged to the hotel's previous owner.
She then told us many guests have reported a "presence" or "spirit" upstairs, in Room #2. "How did you sleep?" she asked. Perhaps we should be glad she didn't tell us any of this before we spent the night in that spirit-lurking room, because it would've only added to the hours Liz spent awake, listening to voices somewhere in the hotel and wondering what the hell were those flashes of white light outside the window. We later found out that Elaine had also seen flashes of light outside her window and enlisted Dan and his flashlight to investigate. What Elaine and Liz saw, at about the same time, on opposite ends of the hotel, remains a mystery. A mystery to us at least.
When we mentioned it to Jo An, she told us something about how there's a "power center" near an old mine about five miles down the road "where aliens are said to be able to enter and exit the earth". In fact, she went on to say, these aliens often congregate on top of the hotel when there is too much activity at the mine. She claims to have had many guests who've seen and talked to these space people. Although all evidence may suggest otherwise, Jo An really didn't seem like a crack pot - she's just a sweet, grandmotherly lady who made us believe and hope, at least for a little while, that aliens, fairies and ghost dogs just might be real.
We left the hotel with wide eyes and, at the last minute, with a little card from Elaine, telling us all about how Jesus can change our lives. Ah yes, the 'ole religious presto change-o. How nice.
For anyone - Texans, Republicans and Bible Beaters excepted -- who's visiting the area and wants a ghost story souvenir or a place to stay that's like the circus but without all the animals, big tents and rings of fire, we'd highly recommend the Pitkin Hotel. And be sure to ask for Room #2. We dare you.
© 2002, 2003 Anthony Hecht and Liz Jones. All rights reserved.