Apr. 22: Comanche Drive In Theatre, Buena Vista CO

It’s Day 112 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took 2 1/2 hours of mostly mountain driving (good thing I’m used to it by now) to journey from Pueblo to the Comanche Drive In Theatre just west of Buena Vista CO.

I often think of the Comanche as a “stealth” drive-in. The Comanche was built in 1966 by John and Pearl Groy, and had its first full season in 1967, but it wasn’t in the 1969 edition of the International Motion Picture Almanac. When I first cataloged active Colorado drive-ins over 20 years ago, none of the other primitive online lists included the Comanche. At my day job, a coworker asked me if I had mentioned the drive-in near his parents’ house in Buena Vista. Long story short, I added the Comanche, bringing the number of active drive-ins in Colorado in 1998 to an even dozen.

Five from that list have closed since then (Durango’s Rocket, Sterling’s Starlite, Englewood’s Cinderella, Springfield’s Kar Vu, and Fort Morgan’s Valley). For a while the Comanche looked like it was gone too. Never the model of high-tech efficiency, it operated erratically in 2007 then closed in 2008. But by 2013 it had reopened, and it has continued an eclectic mix of first-run and classic films every summer since.

At almost 8000 feet, the Comanche is probably the highest drive-in in the US. It’s about 100 feet higher than Minturn, home of the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In. I’ll visit Minturn just a few days from now.

The Comanche is scheduled to open for the 2017 season in May (usually late May), so even though it was a Saturday night, I was left to watching TV in my hotel room.

Miles Today / Total:  131 / 12307 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 52

Nearby Restaurant: There are a surprising number of restaurants in little Buena Vista, testament to the hordes of Arkansas River rafters who visit every summer. For a healthy meal, the best choice might be the House Rock Kitchen. It features plenty of adventurous options, and I liked the house bowl with greens, slaw, and pumpkin seeds supporting tender pulled pork.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Once again, the Super 8 in town makes a great choice. The room was clean and comfortable, and the breakfast included waffles and hard-boiled eggs, giving me a better start than some other Super 8s. I also felt kind of lucky; during the summer, it’s almost impossible to get a Saturday reservation here.

Only in Buena Vista: The Comanche may be the highest drive-in, but just up the road is Leadville, the certified highest city in the US. It’s over 10,000 feet high, or what would be over half of the way up Pikes Peak. There’s a fine little mining museum in town as well as what’s left of Baby Doe Tabor’s Matchless Mine. And a lot of pauses to catch your breath.

Next stop: Denver Mart Drive In, Denver CO.

Apr. 21: Mesa Drive-In, Pueblo CO

It’s Day 111 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It was a long drive, about 4 1/2 hours, all along US 50 from the South Drive-In Theatre in Dodge City KS to the Mesa Drive-In in Pueblo CO.

The Mesa opened as a single-screen drive-in in 1951. Chuck and Marianne James bought it in 1994, then added two screens to celebrate its 50th year.

When the Mesa added two screens in 2000, it took the unusual tactic of buying them used. Two other Colorado drive-ins had recently closed, the Lake Estes in Estes Park and the Pines in Loveland, but their screens live on in Pueblo.

The Pueblo Chieftain ran a fine article on the Mesa just a few weeks ago, focusing largely on manager Mark Lovato and the nuts and bolts of operating the place. Important, mundane stuff like the dozens of cases of food needed every weekend. “We went through 20 cases of hamburgers and I had to buy 48 extra (burgers) for (Sunday),” Lovato said. “We went through 250 pounds of popcorn in two days.”

There’s a reason they go through so many hamburgers – they’re that good, and a lot of repeat customers (like me) know about them. I was so glad to be back here to enjoy one with a choice of movies even though I’d seen all three already. At least it was only my second dance with Beauty and the Beast.

Miles Today / Total:  270 / 12176 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Beauty and the Beast / 52

Nearby Restaurant: There used to be a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint in the little strip mall adjacent to the Mesa marquee. Now there’s a hole-in-the-wall Chinese food joint, the Pueblo Dragon. If you’re sick of superb hamburgers, or if the Mesa’s closed, the Dragon’s a decent enough place for take out.

Where I Virtually Stayed: More than most chains, Quality Inns have a wide range of quality in my experience. Fortunately, the Quality Inn & Suites Pueblo is one of the good ones. Fresh cookies and coffee in the lobby, a clean, comfortable room, and enough breakfast to continue through Colorado.

Only in Pueblo: Pueblo recently had what the Guinness Book of World Records recognized as the world’s longest painting. The levee mural project stretched three miles along the Arkansas River. It started as basic flood control, got tagged by graffiti, then was painted at night by Colorado State-Pueblo students. But by 2014, the levee was starting to buckle, and in 2016 it was rebuilt without the mural.

Next stop: Comanche Drive In Theatre, Buena Vista CO.

Feb. 25: Star Drive In Theatre, Monte Vista CO

Panoramic look at the Star Drive-In marquee and screenIt’s Day 56 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. The drive across the Continental Divide, from Montrose to Monte Vista CO, was cold and took about three hours, but at least it was dry. I found myself at a place I’ve visited several times over the last few decades, the Star Drive In Theatre.

The Star opened around 1955 on the west side of little Monte Vista. In 1964, owner George Kelloff got the idea to build a motel along the back of the drive-in. He started with 14 units, and they’re up to around 60 now.

Long ago, just before my second-ever visit to Colorado, I heard about the Star and the Movie Manor. Coming from the southeast, I passed the Ski-Hi Drive-In in Alamosa and arrived at the Star just before the sun went down. There’s nothing like sitting in a motel room, turning on the dedicated speaker, and watching a first-run movie through a picture window.

My next time through the area, the Ski-Hi was gone, replaced by an multiscreen indoor theater, but the Star and the Movie Manor were just as nice as I remembered. In 2003, the Star added a second screen which can seen from most rooms from a tight angle. (You could drive over to watch, but what’s the fun in that?)

Of course, the Star was closed for the season; it typically opens in mid-May and closes around late September. Fortunately, the Movie Manor is a comfortable place to spend the night even when there isn’t a movie showing.

Miles Today / Total:  171 / 7244 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 37

Nearby Restaurant: The Movie Manor’s restaurant, now called Smokin’ Johnnys BBQ, is only open Thursday through Sunday, so once again I got lucky with timing. Great barbecue ribs, beer, and big-screen TVs to watch some sports on evening like this one without a drive-in movie.

Where I Virtually Stayed: That’s a no-brainer. Even with the drive-in closed for the season, I was happy to stay at the Best Western Movie Manor, same as always. The motel has been around for more than half a century, yet the folks here keep it modern. A few years ago, they converted one of the first-floor rooms into a workout area. And now, this was my first stay here that included a free continental breakfast.

Only in Monte Vista: Just south of town, the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge holds an annual Monte Vista Crane Festival each March when Sandhill Cranes spend their Spring Break in the San Luis Valley. That’s when “the cranes perform their courtship dance — leaping and bowing while raising and lowering their wings, and making a croaking sound to one another.” Sounds like Spring Break!

Next Stop: Fort Union Drive In Movie Theatre, Las Vegas NM.