Thrifty, Part 1

When most people travel, it’s common for them to pick up a few souvenirs along the way. Indeed, my two knick-knacks after ten fun days in Durango include a metal Native American bracelet, a new bumper sticker on my Nalgene, and a Colorado state flag patch to add to my collection.

Upscale shoppers in Milan or New York may even need an extra bag on the return flight to pack all of their new chic outfits. But we did not spend ten days in one of the world’s great shopping centers. We were in the Four Corners region of the United States, where tourists flock to the many National Parks and Forests, the more adventurous taking part in outdoorsy activities like climbing and mountain biking, the less simply enjoying the area’s geographic diversity, ranging from towering mountains and giant evergreens to barren clay desert and deep canyons.

And we did do a little bit of both of those. Every morning we woke up early, attempting to get out the door at a respectable hour. We are a distracted, dawdling group, though, so our departure usually ended up being around 10 a.m. But eventually we got out, and each day, we checked off an excursion: taking the tourist-obligatory Durgano-Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad train, hitting several hiking trails, horseback riding, exploring ancient 1,600 year-old cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, soaking in natural hot springs, and bike riding.
And though we did all of those things, we still had to check a whole extra suitcase of garments we picked up during our stay in South Colorado. It weighed in at 28.7 pounds. This is how the thrift store shopping escapade started.
Despite being in a several-year-long drought, we arrived during Colorado’s monsoon season, and the rains came consistently almost every afternoon. Like clockwork, we knocked out an activity in the morning, and then we prepared for the mass of converging clouds ominously darkening before us to empty themselves. They did. And what does a cheap family of six on vacation do in the rain? Plunder Colorado’s abundant thrift stores inundated with expensive outdoor brands of course.
The first time was actually a mistake. Compton family plans almost always go awry, and that is probably because we don’t have too much of a plan to begin with. On the second day of our trip, we decided to go biking. It was mid-morning, and all the bikes had already been checked out for the day. Ohmagoshhhh, I think to myself. I can just forsee this becoming a recurring pattern for the rest of our time here. Okay, regroup.
“Mama, we better go book that train ride,” I urged. “I don’t want to miss it because we didn’t reserve tickets in advance.”
The Silverton Narrow Gauge railway has been running between Durango and Silverton since 1882, and steam engines that are now almost one hundred years old still carry over 160,000 passengers a year. During a round trip seven hour ride, over six tons of coal and ten thousand gallons of water are used every day as the train chug-a-chug-a-choo-choos its way through the San Juan National Forest[1]. Given the monsoons we had already learned to expect, it is ideal to take the train in the morning and bus back. At the station, we asked to book a morning train ride for the next day. Full. Saturday? Sorry. Sunday? Nope. Any time in the next week?!
“I’m sorry,” the cashier dressed in a conductor’s uniform responded. “For six people, it looks like that won’t be possible. You can take the bus now and the train in the afternoon, though.”
Hoffa can be a little impulsive, so without much consulting, he decided that we would go now; the bus departed in an hour.
Now, had we booked these tickets online ahead of time, we would have been able to reserve a morning train and not even worry about the weather. And had we done that, and happened to mysteriously be really on our A game, we may have even checked out the FAQ page, where it reports that “Mountain weather in Colorado is often unpredictable. Wearing layers of clothing that you can remove or add as the temperature changes will add to the enjoyment of your journey.” But, you know, that is a bunch of “if”s that never transpired. So Hoffa and my siblings went back to the house to grab the GoPro, while Mama and I puttered around the downtown shops. Which turned out to be just one more bad idea. When we re-convened for the bus ride, Mama asked where the rain coats were.
“We didn’t pack any coats.”
“David. We are taking an open-window gondola at three o’clock in the afternoon, just in time for the rain to start. We’re going to freeze!”
A Mama reprimand is at the top of Hoffa’s metaphorical “Avoid at All Costs” list. In typical Compton fashion, we boarded the bus transporting us through 14,000 foot mountain views and deep valley gorges completely unprepared. So, upon arriving in Silverton – a small, notoriously lawless town of bandits and prostitutes during the American Gold Rush – what was the first thing we did during our mere three hours in town? We headed straight to the Jailhouse Thrift Store, a dilapidated shack which actually used to be the town jail back in 1883. Thirty minutes of scouring the store and six warm layers later, we were prepared to weather the expected storm in style.
The Jailhouse saved Hoffa from the doghouse, and we walked out with an over-sized silver hip-hop coat with the monogram “Jerry,” an authentic button-up flannel (frockets and all), a tan canvas cargo coat reminiscent of a U.S. army uniform, a heavy pea coat that could keep one insulated through a Chicago winter, and a horizontally patterned knitted wool pullover. While we were at it, we may have also picked up a pair of burnt-sienna rainboots, a ghetto baseball hat, a New Mexico-style beaded belt, and a Lucky brand shirt. While most items were only a few dollars, it took some serious restraint to abstain from buying a $30 pair of climbing shoes, which, though ideally I would like to use, in reality I knew I probably would not. I think we also met the week’s store quota on sales, all benefitting Silverton’s local radio station.
And thus it began – the thrift shopping escapade of the 2014 Durango family adventure. The Colorado thrift store saga continued on. Check in soon to read what ensued.
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