The Highs and Lows of Budget Travel

Warning sign

Luke and I pooled together some credit card points and took a week-long trip to Colorado during the final week of my “sabbatical.” It’s not that unemployment paid poorly, we just prefer to travel lightly. If it doesn’t fit comfortably into the overhead bin, we won’t bring it. If we can’t pay off a trip on the next month’s credit card bill, we won’t take it. This system allows us to travel as frequently as we do.

Why am I telling you this? Because it explains how and why I found myself staying in the Gone Fishin’ room at the Country Lodge in Montrose, Colorado.

Montrose is not a fancy place. It’s located too far southwest of Denver to benefit from tourism spillover. It’s not a ski town and it doesn’t have any hot springs. You have to travel there intentionally. For us, it was because of its proximity to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Luke has wanted to visit this somewhat obscure park for a few years now – mainly because it meets all of his travel criteria:

  1. It’s difficult to get to
  2. It’s uncrowded
  3. It’s foreboding

Black Canyon gets its name from the steepness of the walls that rise as high as 2,700 feet above the Gunnison River. Some parts of the gorge receive no more than 30 minutes of direct sunlight each day.

I stood at one of the overlooks along the rim and peered into the shadowy gash carved by a neon green ribbon of water actively carving through the Precambrian “basement rock” below.

An immediate and overwhelming sense of vertigo kicked in and I had to back away from the waist-high wooden railing for fear of involuntary flinging myself overboard.

“Very prepared, expert hikers” sometimes venture down to the river. These intrepid few follow a popular trail that dips 300 feet below the rim. From there, they pass a small wooden sign denoting the invisible barrier to the backcountry where a permit is required in order to proceed.

Backcountry sign.jpeg

The rest of the hike is a series of steep scree fields and technical climbs that are not recommended for those recovering from a sprained ankle. The park’s vintage signage – a remnant from its national monument days – tells a fictional tale of those who have overestimated their abilities and became human sacrifices to the rock gods. As humorous as their illustrations were, they were a good reminder to stay in my lane and remain safely on the beaten path until all body parts are fully accounted for.



It was dark by the time we rolled into the Country Lodge in Montrose. It’s a classic, one-story roadside motel where the rooms are decorated in various iterations of garage sale chic and smell like your Grandfather’s favorite shirt. The reception area has an old roaming shop dog and features signage reminding the police about a citizen’s right to bear arms and their protection against unlawful search and seizure.

We opened the door to our room with an old key attached to a leather strap, inspected the mattress for creatures (all good) and turned on the AC to lessen the smell of Grandpa’s musk (which turned out to be the source of it). I stood in the wood-paneled kitchenette and reminded myself that everything was fine: the place wasn’t dumpy – it had character. Plus, who am I kidding? I’ve stayed in worse places.

We walked over to the late-night Mexican joint next door and had some decent chicken mole and some excellent Negra Modelo on tap. The next morning, we found a local coffee shop that had awesome bagel sandwiches and cold press on nitro.

As always, we left town feeling all is well that ends well.

Luke and Robin

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  1. This was beautifully written! I was so captivated by it – thanks for sharing!

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