CO Rte. 17 eventually comes out of the mountains and the landscape begins to level out. Shortly before you reach the small town of Antonito, you’ll spot the ruins of this beautiful old church, on the north side of the road.
You could probably walk up to it, and inside it, without any trouble, but it was just too darned cold when I was there, so I didn’t.
Just like Chama, Antonito also benefits greatly from the Cumbres and Toltec Narrow Gauge Railroad. Fortunately, this rail yard wasn’t buried in snow.
Since the trains weren’t running, any tourist-related businesses near the Antonito station were closed. I was still intent on finding a good New Mexico green chile dinner, even though I was in Colorado. So, I wandered on into town.
Downtown Antonito has a few businesses that are still in business, including the Dutch Mill Cafe and Bar, which has a cool old sign that needs a little bit of repair.
… and the Palace Hotel also sport similar neon, but both businesses are closed.
In addition to the Dutch Mill, Dos Hermanas Steakhouse is also still in business. Those red chiles on the sign were exactly what I had been looking for. Lunch was delicious, the food was cheap, and the service was friendly.
Conejos, Colorado: Oldest Church in Colorado
Just north of Antonito, and slightly off the main road, is Conejos, Colorado, home to the Oldest Church in Colorado, and not much else. The Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish was established in 1858. The original church on this property burnt to the ground in 1926, and the current church was built the following year (although the towers weren’t added until 1948).
As I admired the church, an old truck rumbled up beside me, and the driver waved me over.
Clarence Candeloria introduced himself, and we chatted for a minute or two about the church and the town. He told me that he lived here in Conejos, and that he’s on disability. His truck was a testament to his financial hard times–when he stepped out, I had to operate the door handle, because the one on the inside didn’t work.
Clarence, it turns out, has a creative side, and he happened to have an example of his work with him. He carves sharks out of bull horns–carefully making sure that the fins are in the right place, and using zippers to form the teeth. Clarence told me that one example of his work was on display in a museum in Denver.
He would have liked to have sold me a piece of his artwork (for around $60), but I promised him that instead of buying it, I would post his information here. So, if you find yourself in need of a shark carved from a horn, or would like to help out a Colorado folk artist, give Clarence Candeloria a call at 719-298-9191, or write him at PO Box 94, Conejos, Colorado 81129.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.