The Wonder of It All

Thursday morning I hopped onto the interstate so I could hurry along to the next stop on my itinerary, which I was very much looking forward to.  On I-70, about halfway between the western Kansas border and Denver, sits an old roadside attraction called the Wonder Tower.  It was built in 1926 by a fellow referred to as the "P.T. Barnum of Colorado," Charles W. Gregory, and his partner Myrtle Le Bow.  The rambling structure consists of 23 rooms and originally held a saloon, stage, dance hall and cafe.  Before the era of the interstate decimated its clientele, the Wonder Tower had become a popular stop, boasting that you could "See Six States!" from the top of the tower, built on the highest point between New York and Denver.

A couple named Jerry and Ester Chubbuck have owned the place for the last 20 years, and have essentially hijacked Gregory's original notion and made it into something truly and beautifully their own.

Jerry meets you at the door when you walk in and is notorious for being a big prankster. After collecting your $1 admission fee, he promises he'll give every penny back if you can only guess what each of the 10 items he's about to show you are.  This is how the hilarious and delightful roller coaster ride that is the Wonder Tower begins.  See if you can figure out either of these two items and if you can, I'll give you 20 cents of my admission fee!
Oh...alright, alright.  Here's one answer:

Rooster eyeglasses to help keep them from seeing each other so they won't get in fights!  I bet you give up on the other one, too, don't you?  Inside the tiny wooden box are three parched kernels of corn - a veritable 3 piece chicken dinner!  Tee hee!  Jerry's got a million of 'em.

Almost every room of the place is full to the brim with bottles, Indian artifacts, bottles, geegaws and whatnots, lamps, bottles and pictures (did I mention bottles?) - it's really pretty staggering how many items have been crammed into those tiny rooms.  Most of the items are for sale and I, of course, left with a bag full of amazing treasures including a tiny glass vial that I feel certain is an opium bottle, purpled by the sun and time.

The tower itself is a series of colorfully painted impossibly steep staircases, connected at each level by a landing area lined with dusty windows and packed full of items for sale.  I of course found a monstrously heavy piece of moderne machinery on just about the top floor and had to lug it all the way down to the bottom to put it on my pile of goodies.

As you approach the top level, the sound of the prairie wind blowing ninety to nothing just over your head reaches your ears.  When you pop out the hatch onto the uncovered deck at the very top, it really is a heady view.  Hell, I could even see six states attached to the side of my car in the parking lot! 

Jerry has a small collection of animal oddities on display at the Wonder Tower, the most famous of which is a stuffed two headed calf that exhibits a docile and trusting gaze from its dusty corner.  The Frankenstein lips really add to the feeling of pastoral bliss, don't you think? 

After I'd been poking around for a couple of hours, I asked Jerry if they had a bathroom I could use, and he replied, "Well, it's nothing fancy, but you're welcome to use it.  It's out back."  He handed me a roll of toilet paper since it had rained recently and the roll in the outhouse might be a bit soggy.  I stepped out into the cold prairie wind and started wandering toward the back of the property to find the outhouse.  I busted out laughing when I found it.  I may have laughed pretty hard, but by damn, I used it!  Without tumping it over, even!

Before I settled up with Jerry and Ester for all the treasures I'd managed to locate and couldn't live without, Jerry asked me if I wanted to see the $100 hat.  Well of course I did.  "That's a pretty nice hat, right?  Something you'd find in a fancy store, right?  Go ahead," Jerry urges, "pick it up and try it on!"  You pretty much know the drill by this point, so you lift it from its well worn spot on the counter and SURPRISE!  There's a fake rattlesnake hidden underneath, coiled just like it was ready to strike!  Jerry posed me for a photo wearing the hat while holding his Saudi-Arabian flintlock rifle with the special hilt designed for shooting while riding on the back of a camel.

If I've said it once, people, I've said it a million times - places like this are rapidly disappearing.  And one thing I've learned is the importance of a single vital personality in perpetuating a place like this.  I guess what I'm trying to say is there aren't that many Jerry and Esters left in this world, and you better get out and see them before they're gone.

As I left, I could hear Jerry showing the next couple around, referring obliquely to the walrus bone that was part of his shtick as something "a mama walrus didn't have."  It somehow felt awesome to see the cycle begin anew, knowing I wasn't the only or last visitor to this marvelous place.

I resumed my push west for a short while before turning north to avoid Denver and the snow storm that a concerned Visitor's Center employee had advised me was some "pretty bad weather.  Vail had been shut down because of heavy snow and a bad accident on the highway.  That pretty much convinced me the best route to take was through Wyoming.  Just before arriving in Laramie for the evening, I pulled over by the side of the road to watch the sun set on a wind turbine farm in the distance.  The sound and feel of the roaring wind in that beautiful light gave me a moment of perfect solitude.  Because it was Wyoming where people are every bit as friendly as Texans, two different people stopped to make sure I wasn't having car trouble.  No car trouble, I responded, just watching the end of a perfect day.

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