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Things to do in the Steel City when you're stoned (or not)

Road trippin' in Pueblo

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Union Avenue is awash in blossoms as spring breaks in Pueblo. - REGAN FOSTER
  • Regan Foster
  • Union Avenue is awash in blossoms as spring breaks in Pueblo.

I have a confession to make: I'm not a cannabis connoisseur. Never have been. I wasn't during my Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder-era high school days, wasn't in college or grad school, and I certainly am not now.

I can totally understand why people may think I am, though. I look the part. I'm a hippie rancher chick who is 99.9 percent vegetarian, wears natural-fiber clothes and dirt-stained shoes, keeps my hair and makeup at train-wreck levels and always has dirt under my nails.

Plus, I'm a dingbat to a degree that would require serious pot intake for most others to achieve.

But, really, I'm just naturally like this.

So when I was assigned to create a pot tour of my adopted hometown, Pueblo, I came up with a comprehensive list of crazy things to do if you want to turn your bud/edibles/seed/clone-shopping foray into a sensory-forward day trip in the Steel City.

I'm going to start by saying that I love Pueblo. I live in Pueblo County and I worked at the city's daily paper for four years. As editorial page editor, arts and entertainment editor and eventually lifestyle editor, I had the chance to get to know both the touristy places and the city's hidden gems.

This tour consists of both.

Pueblo is a special place. A weird city, yes, with its prep sports fetish and its obsession with change that never amounts to much. But it's also a magical one.

It is a city steeped in history. Pueblo was once a trading post at the intersection of nations. It was a community that, quite literally, built the West by constructing the steel rails that guided the locomotive and westward expansion. For a while, it was Colorado's largest and most important city; it remains host to the Colorado State Fair.

A mural of Lucky the horse is just one of many decorating Pueblo buildings. - REGAN FOSTER
  • Regan Foster
  • A mural of Lucky the horse is just one of many decorating Pueblo buildings.

Like any city, it has its stories. It flooded badly enough in 1921 to relocate a life-size, papier mâché horse; it has the world-class Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center and Buell Children's Museum (sdc-arts.org); and it was the childhood home of both newspaperman and fiction writer Damon Runyon and Pro Football Hall of Famer Earl "Dutch" Clark.

Rest assured, Pueblo has never forgotten any of this. It's justifiably proud of it all. It has built museums, theaters, stadiums and monuments to All. Of. It. But enough of the sappy crap: Let's get road trippin'!

For a few years following legalization, Pueblo West was the best bet for recreational marijuana stores. Fortunately, some entrepreneurial types wised up and realized it would be a good idea to set up shop in Pueblo or Pueblo County, closer to Interstate 25.

It helps that the governments of both jurisdictions are far less sphincter-driven than their counterparts in the Springs and El Paso county, and they've allowed the industry to flourish down south while applying some reasonable restraints. (Both are players in the partnership that supports the Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University-Pueblo.)

Pueblo and Pueblo West are home to a cornucopia of dispensaries — about 35 recreational shops — and their prices tend to be lower than in other markets. That might be because of Pueblo's relatively low cost of living, but it's also likely due to the large number of grow operations based there, which also brings the shopper a broader choice of strains.

Beyond the Pueblo market's bargain bud, you can buy seed and clones there — something you can't do at any brick-and-mortar operation in El Paso County. Among the area's purveyors of botanical bounty are NuVue (nuvuepharma.com) which sells seed; Starbuds (starbuds.us) which sells clones at their Pueblo and Pueblo West locations; and TheSpot 420 (thespot420.com) which sells seed at their Pueblo shop and seed and clones at their Pueblo West location (they also offer free weekday tours of their grow operation at Pueblo West).

About 7 miles south of the Pueblo County Line, you'll find Maggie's Farm Pueblo North (maggiesfarmmarijuana.com). You'll know you've crossed jurisdictions because there is a drainage ditch marked as County Line Road and the Ronald Reagan Highway, which we know as I-25, inexplicably jumps party lines and becomes the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway. Bipartisanship at its best, right there.

Anyway, Maggie's is located off Exit 110, also known as Piñon. It's one of those remote places where, if you stop, you're basically outing yourself. It's brightly painted and features a charming split-rail fence, newly planted trees, AstroTurf and a Monster Energy Drink vending machine out front.

The place sticks out like a sore thumb in the rustic landscape that is rural Pueblo County — a haven promising weary travelers a safe place to ride out a metaphoric storm, only it's offering buds, not beds.

A security guard opens the door for me, and a friendly woman checks my ID. After a few minutes' wait — I pass the time by watching marijuana-related trivia and menus scroll across the two flat-screen TVs — I am ushered back to a budtender, a friendly and extremely knowledgeable staffer who takes my deer-in-the-headlights expression and dumb questions with good humor.

I tell him I'm looking for something low-key and edible that could help with muscle pain. I helped a friend move the day before, then used my pickup to relocate a few thousand pounds of hay, and I am concerned my arms might fall off.

He hooks me up with 21 bucks' worth of THC/CBD-infused, lemon-flavored gummies that he assures me will be nice and mellow and still muffle the scream coming from my biceps.

I have a theory about pretty much all intoxicating substances: Don't take them on an empty stomach. Whether this is as true with marijuana as it is with booze, I don't honestly know; but I figure it's worth getting lunch anyway.

My husband has courageously agreed to be my driver for the day. We debate whether to do the true Pueblo thing and get a slopper. If you want to try the city's perennial favorite — an open-faced burger slathered in cheese, onions and green chile — head for Gray's Coors Tavern (restaurantsnapshot.com/GraysCoorsTavern). Not for nothing has it been the Best of Pueblo winner for several years running.

Start your visit to Pueblo with lunch at the Mongolian Grill. - REGAN FOSTER
  • Regan Foster
  • Start your visit to Pueblo with lunch at the Mongolian Grill.

But this defibrillator-sold-separately delight is really not for me, and my hubby is more of a world-food lover, so we head to a Mongolian grill appropriately named, Mongolian Grill (719/543-4526).

It would be easy to overlook this hole-in-the-wall haunt, tucked into a strip mall between a hair salon and a clothing store, at 164 W. 29th St. The city's King Soopers shares this lot, and — be warned — to enter the parking lot is to take your life into your own hands.

Once you bob and weave your way safely indoors, however, you are rewarded by a make-your-own stir-fry buffet that borders on mystical, priced by the size of the bowl. The spices and sauces aren't all marked, and that's OK — the silent cooks will work their sorcery and serve you a delicious conglomeration roughly the same temperature as molten lava.

I go for a tofu-and-veggie, curry-inspired dish. A grumpy man holding a spatula that may or may not double as a saber suggests dousing it in teriyaki. I don't argue and devour the rewards. My husband has a vegetable-heavy pork-and-noodle dish.

Do not, under any circumstances, think about busing your own table. You will greatly upset the adorable hostess who handles everything except the cooking.

Our lunch costs $31, including tip, for a large bowl, a medium bowl and a hot tea, and we roll ourselves out of the restaurant with a to-go box that contains the rest of my husband's lunch. A quick dash to the car, and we're back on the road with our sights set on City Park.

Canada geese graze at Pueblo's City Park. - REGAN FOSTER
  • Regan Foster
  • Canada geese graze at Pueblo's City Park.

Ahhh, City Park (pueblo.us/100/Parks-Recreation). It's a gem within Pueblo, a favorite of locals and savvy, tourist-trap-averse visitors alike.

This 157-acre spread at 800 Goodnight Ave. truly offers something for everyone. There are historic amusement park rides for the kiddos, an arboretum, ball fields, bike trails, bocce ball courts, disc golf, fishing, horseshoes, pavilions and gazebos, grills, picnic spots, playgrounds, a dog park, a pool/splash park, tennis courts, skate park and — my personal and professional pick — the Pueblo Zoo (pueblozoo.org).

It's a gorgeous day, the rolling fields are green and packed with recreating families, the crabapple trees are blooming and a gigantic flock of Canada geese is lounging around the grounds.

I suggest a walk, a quiet stroll along the waterfront. One of the trees nearby is covered in breathtaking pink blooms, and a pair of geese is grazing languidly in its dappled shade. Overcome with photographic delusions of grandeur, I snap what I believe are some artistic photos of the pair.

That's when I realize that the sharp-eyed bird — no longer relaxing and now slowly walking toward us — isn't posing. It's stalking.

Strike that idea. We run.

To my horror, then delight, a young family turns a toddler loose right in the middle of the flock. The child is holding a bag, and she darts about. Giggling, she's dropping pieces of some sort of baked good in her wake.

The child and her pastries tame the beasts.

First observation: Apparently even geese like carbs.

Second observation: That kid was on to something. Carbs sound really good right about now...

Pueblo is a city of neighborhoods. City Park is in the Aberdeen area, near the main campus of Pueblo Community College. Just a few blocks away, though, you cross into the historic Mesa Junction (historicpueblo.org) neighborhood, where we're headed.

We cruise along residential streets characterized by a mix of early- and mid-19th century architecture, and my husband — a student of architectural and theater design — points out the various styles.

Swing by Gypsy Javas in the historic Mesa Junction neighborhood for a caffeine boost and homemade pastries or deli items. - REGAN FOSTER
  • Regan Foster
  • Swing by Gypsy Javas in the historic Mesa Junction neighborhood for a caffeine boost and homemade pastries or deli items.

We head to a funky little coffee house called Gypsy Javas (facebook.com/GypsyJavasco), one of my favorite destinations in the Steel City. It's woman-owned, sources local products and roasts its own line of beans (unchartedcoffeeco.com). The unbelievable pastries are baked in-house, in an oversized industrial oven.

Housed in a historic storefront at 119 Broadway Ave., Gypsy's features vaulted ceilings, restored woodwork and the most unbelievable lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, teas, Italian sodas and milkshakes in the city. Much like its baked goods and entrées — it offers fresh wraps, salads, sandwiches, etc. — the restaurant's syrups are homemade.

I indulge in an iced floral latte, which has rose syrup in it, and a monster cookie with a calorie count I don't want to contemplate. My husband orders an iced latte, takes three bites of the cookie and leaves the rest for me. Our bill comes to $11.73, and I relish every delicious penny's worth.

"C" is for cookie, cannabis, caffeine and carbs, and right now, that's good enough for me.

From Gypsy's, we head northeast, past the hovering mothership that is the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library (pueblolibrary.org), over the Arkansas River and down blossom-filled Union Avenue to the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (aka HARP or simply the Riverwalk, puebloriverwalk.org). It's just shy of a scenic mile and an easy stroll if you are wearing the right shoes.

It's worth walking along Union Avenue (historicpueblo.org), both for the shops and the people-watching. Union was once the city's red-light district. Now, you can shop for other things.

According to the city's website, 83 buildings along the three-block stretch are on the National Historic Register. It is bookended by the Pueblo Union Depot and the Riverwalk, and during the summer months it is packed with walkers, antiquers and buskers, tourists and locals.

For now, the trees provide the eye-candy, draped as they are in bouquets of their own blooms. But in a month or two, giant pots, lovingly tended by a battalion of volunteer gardeners, will overflow with floral displays and wash the street in color.

Union Avenue is home to antiques shops, restaurants, bakeries, art galleries, another funky coffee shop called the Hanging Tree Cafe (thehangingtreecafe.com), a clock store and a metaphysical store.

The Union Avenue bridge that spans the Riverwalk itself may seem busy with all its flags, but there is great history there, too. My friend and trusted local historian, Mary Jean Porter, wrote an article many years ago about how the banners — those of the U.S., Colorado, Spain, Mexico, France and Republic of Texas — represent the once and current entities that have governed this crossroads community.

The bridge is also a great place to take in beautiful views of the river channel below.

The Riverwalk is more than just a paved, well-maintained, mile-long waterfront trail. It's a 32-acre park that includes riverboat tours, public art, a waterfall, some of the city's most exclusive restaurants, music venues, a swanky hotel, play-compatible fountains and a lagoon where you might spot parkour practitioners or yoga classes conducted on stand-up paddleboards. On Thursday evenings, starting in June, these walkways will be filled with stands as part of the city's farmers market series.

The Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo is a favorite spot for guests and locals alike. - REGAN FOSTER
  • Regan Foster
  • The Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo is a favorite spot for guests and locals alike.

But on this Sunday in April, it is packed with walkers, dogs, diners, dogs, kids, ducks and dogs. I watch my husband take it all in, and it occurs to me that even though we've lived here for four years, he hasn't visited this area with me. As I watch him observing the action for the first time, I promise myself that it won't be the last.

I know how this sounds: "Come to my community and check out the alleys!"

Yeah, that'll sell 'em.

But there are two alleyways in Pueblo that really are worth a visit.

The first is Neon Alley (facebook.com/Puebloneonalley), a quirky public art display and event venue located off B Street between South Victoria and Union avenues. It's more of an unmarked roadway than a true alley, and puebloneonalley.com describes it as "the greatest assembly of neon art west of Time Square and east of the Las Vegas Strip."

If you're in the city at night, it is definitely worth checking out. Neon Alley boasts everything from a magic lantern a la Aladdin to a giant, illuminated pencil. In 2017 it hosted a scorpion festival in which a particular, luminous breed of the namesake denizens of the desert were intended to "race" under the neon lights.

The second alley is a little more hidden — and a little more sketchy and dramatically less illuminated. And it's incredibly rewarding.

That's because this mile(ish) walk that starts behind the Blue Sky Building at Second and Main streets takes you right by some of the city's most spectacular street art and murals. They're gritty, they're grimy, they're gorgeous, and that makes them a strong metaphor for the Steel City itself.

It's an easy trip from the Riverwalk over to Second and Main, just follow South Main Street about four blocks to West Second Street. You'll cross City Center Drive, pass some honest-to-god corner establishments and suddenly you're on North Main. If you're driving, park on the street (the lots are generally reserved) and prepare yourself to hoof it.

We start at the people-helping nonprofit Blue Sky Enterprises and check out the magnificent tribute to Lucky the Horse (pueblo.us/2128/Pueblo-Art-in-Public-Places). This work of public art isn't hard to find — it's brightly colored and roughly three stories tall. The mural was painted by local king of the genre Mat Taylor, along with artist Michael Strescino, and depicts the odd-and-soggy life of Lucky, a papier mâché, saddle-form horse that was swept out of town during the 1921 flood and deposited, unharmed, in a tree more than 10 miles away.

On the other side of Blue Skies Enterprises, we take a hard left down the official alley. You'll know you're in the right place because you will be walking beneath a set of questionable-looking, high-tension power lines. And on occasion, you may well bump into some questionable-looking people.

But if you make the trip, I promise it will be worth it.

We follow the power lines toward Third Street. I am captivated and amused by a piece that appears to depict a mustachioed rabbit and long-legged, tattooed cupcake taking a break from a bare-knuckled boxing match. The cupcake is hurling an insult at the rabbit, which in turn seems to be one jab away from delivering a knock-out blow.

Popping back into the sun at Shamrock Brewing Co. (shamrockbrewing.com), we stroll across Third Street, and pick up the tour again at a multi-icon mural painted in shades of turquoise, silver, black and white, and there are instruments and what appears to be a mashup of a lamp and butterfly. A half-block later, we stumble on a smaller mural that, in color and triangle theme vaguely channels the cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

At the intersection with busy Fourth Street that will get us back to Interstate 25, we decide to turn around. It's getting late and time to head home, despite my protests that we have yet to pass the story-tall mural of an eagle in flight.

Oh well, there's always next time.

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