By JOHN E. BIALAS
Broadmoor Bureau Chief
Rented a Nissan Maxima, downloaded the Waze travel app and took our sweet old time from Gulfport, Mississippi, with seven day trips in nine days on the road to Colorado and back.
My wife, Patty, organized just about everything for our vacation to attend the beautiful Rocky Mountain wedding of my nephew and godson, Ryan Bialas, to Taylor Thomas.
Ryan is the youngest of the three sons of my brother, Mike Bialas, and Mike’s wife, Carmen, and the family is from Lafayette, Colorado, which is in the Denver area. Taylor and her family are from Fort Collins, Colorado.
Patty made all the hotel reservations and figured out the interstates and highways to take, and all I had to do was drive when I felt ready to get behind the wheel.
The routine went something like this: Get up at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. with me or Patty as the driver, and when Patty did the driving, I was navigating or napping.
When I wasn’t navigating or napping, I was driving and making meal plans and thinking of places to escape the monotony of traveling for nine hours or so.
Patty and I stayed in harmony about how to break up the boredom of the 2,800-mile round trip that started Saturday, July 22 and ended Sunday, July 30. Here are highlights:
First destination: Plano, Texas, July 22
Long before Plano, we had to get off Interstate 49 for a doughnut fix in Louisiana, and it was worth it. Rickey Meche’s Donut King in Carencro was the place and I hope I get a chance to go back there.
Maybe the next time I’m in Louisiana, I will make a day trip from my daughter’s home in Madisonville just to load up on the biggest apple fritters you’ll ever see. The one I got on this trip lasted three days.
The Waze app, with its map and precise directions, helped us get through the death trap of traffic in the Dallas area, and after we checked into our hotel, we went to In-N-Out in Frisco for dinner.
It was our first trip to the popular fast-food burger chain, with locations primarily on the Pacific Coast and in the Southwest.
The double cheeseburger was good, but I’ve had much better at such places as Company Burger, Five Guys, Whataburger and Steak and Shake.
The highlight was knowing I’ll never want to go to In-N-Out ever again.
Second destination: Las Vegas, New Mexico, July 23
A friend told me to stop at The Big Texan restaurant in Amarillo, Texas, right off Interstate 40, and we did around 1 p.m.
This is the place you get a 72-ounce steak for free if you can eat it in an hour. I thought I deserved a prize for eating a 9-ounce ribeye in nine minutes.
The featured image for this post was taken outside The Big Texan. It’s one of the few vacation photos I have left after losing nearly all of them because of an iPhone update.
Hours after going to The Big Texan, we were in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and yes, New Mexico has a town named Las Vegas. It’s a small town and it’s the real Stark Vegas. It makes Starkville, Mississippi, the original Stark Vegas, look like Las Vegas, Nevada.
After driving through a couple of bleak-looking neighborhoods, we found the best part of Las Vegas, New Mexico. We stayed at the historic Plaza Hotel downtown. It has New West and Old West vibes. I was expecting the jingle jangle of cowboy boots among cellphone rings.
The hotel is known for hosting celebrities, and it overlooks a park. We spent the night in the John Lithgow Room and down the hallway is the Javier Bardem Room.
The Plaza Hotel has a strong connection to the Oscar-winning 2007 movie “No Country for Old Men,” which stars Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin.
Patty and I were happy no violence and mayhem ensued during our visit, and after our vacation, we started watching the TV series “Longmire” because it, too, is connected to The Plaza Hotel.
Our room had a big bookcase with a lot of books, and though I saw no Cormac McCarthy works, I looked through a very old copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Twice-Told Tales.” The Hawthorne book must be worth something.
The hallways also had bookcases filled with books, and once I got through admiring all of them, Patty and I walked across the plaza to a pizza place that has three lanes of bowling. Roll and dough at JC’s New York Pizza Department.
Our waitress, a graduate student in psychology, told us she is an Ohio State football fan. That led to a long conversation between the young woman and Patty, who will talk about the Buckeyes with anyone, even rival fans from Ann Arbor, because she is an Ohio State graduate originally from Columbus.
Third destination: Boulder, Colorado, July 24
We stayed at the University Inn, which looks like a motel in “No Country for Old Men.”
The room was small and had a bad bathroom scent. The good thing about the University Inn is that we could walk to the Pearl Street Mall, where I spent about 45 minutes roaming through an awesome bookstore that reminded me of the old Kroch’s and Brentano’s in Chicago.
Another good thing about Boulder was the bottle of chocolate milk I got at Alfalfa’s, which is across the street from the University Inn.
After four days of drinking the milk, I brought the empty bottle home and I refill it every few days.
Fourth destination: Estes Park, Colorado, July 25-27
We stayed with Mike and Carmen in the Deer Mountain Loft at the Rustic Acre for the next three nights, and when we got there, we saw guys playing wiffleball.
Patty said, “That’s Eric over there playing ball.” I said, “No way Eric is playing wiffleball. He’s in his 30s.”
As usual, I was wrong and Patty was right. Eric, Mike’s oldest son, was playing ball with his brother, Matthew; their cousins; and their friends, T.J. and Sam, who are brothers. I’m guessing T.J. and Sam are in their late 20s or early 30s and they seem to embody the spirit of Vince Vaughan.
All those guys have lots of energy and share a competitive spirit.
Ryan played ball later on, and there were ground rules, adult refreshments and cornhole, all leading up to the rehearsal dinner. And what did everyone have for dinner? The best food on earth. Pizza, and there was a lot of pizza.
Twenty-five pizzas were ordered from Antonio’s. Mike and I went to pick them up and we were the delivery boys.
I enjoyed the sausage pizza and I also liked the Buffalo chicken pizza, a really big hit with others. Donald Dorcik, who is from D’Iberville, Mississippi, and is the youngest brother of Carmen, took this photo of the pizza fest early on.
The pizza proved to me that Ryan is truly a Bialas. Marinara apparently runs through his veins and you have to have that in the Bialas family. My grandson has it and he’s only 5. He must have picked that up from his mother.
The Rustic Acre is 420-friendly and outside tables have pots for your pot. I have no idea what you do with the pots. I do know the owners of the Rustic Acre are Ohio State fans and that made Patty more than happy. She is the one who makes me believe Woody Hayes is a saint.
The second day at Estes Park was the big day: Ryan and Taylor’s day. Hours before the wedding, I took a 30-minute walk and I’m glad I did. I saw seven elks lodge in front of an American Legion post. Talk about harmonic convergence.
Ryan and Taylor’s wedding at the Della Terra Mountain Chateau was a late-afternoon ceremony outdoors with a view of the Rockies, and I teared up when T.J. talked about how love is like a dog. I laughed, too, and Patty and I were proud to be on the first row with Mike and Carmen.
At the reception, I told Taylor her new last name will often be mispronounced and misspelled, but I wasn’t telling her anything new.
“Yes, like B-i-a-l-i-s.”
The third day Patty and I went to Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent two hours driving up and back and saw patches of frozen tundra at the highest peak we reached.
Frozen tundra? I thought only Lambeau Field in Green Bay has it.
Fifth destination: Amarillo, Texas, July 28
We ate at Acapulco after visiting the Cadillac Ranch right off Interstate 40, where people were spray-painting old cars partially buried in mud.
A Cadillac Ranch souvenir shop is down the road, and I got a T-shirt and a steak restaurant recommendation: Logan’s is the best in town. Logan’s? Really?
I’m more than happy we went to Acapulco.
Sixth destination: Natchitoches, Louisiana, July 29
We stayed at the Church Street Inn Hotel, a really cool B&B downtown next to a Catholic church. We like Catholics. We are Catholics.
We walked to the “Steel Magnolias” house, named after the 1989 film shot in town, and afterward met a genial high school coach from Bossier Parish.
I’ll call him Johnny Treme, who told me a lot of things in about 10 minutes. One of them is that he thinks Slap Ya Mama seasoning is much better than Tony Chachere’s, and I didn’t even ask him about Cajun seasoning.
Coach Treme was sitting in front of a women’s shop with his son and his wife, and his other son was at a basketball camp at Northwestern State, which is in town.
Coach Treme’s wife has a wonderful Cajun accent thicker than Bobby Hebert’s and Ed Orgeron’s, and I never thought anyone could out-Cajun those two.
Final destination: Back home to Gulfport, July 30
And the day after we got home, Tilly was back home, too, after her stay at the doggie hotel in Biloxi.