Feb. 24: The Star Drive-In Theatre, Montrose CO

It’s Day 55 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. In the middle of a week of long drives over mountain highways, I was grateful for a pretty short, flat half-hour trip from Delta CO to Montrose, home of The Star Drive-In Theatre.

The Star opened around 1950 and has been Montrose’s only drive-in theater ever since. In 2013, there was a little concern a digital projection fundraiser fell short, but the owners got a loan to buy the equipment. The drive-in hosts an annual “Back to the 60’s Nite” in June.

When I think of the Star, I think of owner Pamela Friend, who has always been one of the most positive, friendly people I’ve met. The Denver Post profiled her in a 2010 article. “I’m told I put on the best picture in Colorado,” she said. “It’s a clean, clear picture. I pride myself on what we do. I’ve put on every show for 15 years without missing a night.”

Of course, the Star was closed for the season; it’s scheduled to reopen in April. I think we might be done with snow for a while, but the temperature stayed close to freezing all day. I think I’m glad the Star was dark tonight.

Miles Today / Total:  24 / 7073 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 37

Nearby Restaurant: The price for my lodging was so reasonable (see below) that I walked across the street to invest my windfall at Ted Nelson’s Steakhouse. I enjoyed a huge, perfectly cooked rib eye steak with a baked potato, veggies, and a salad. Add a glass of wine, and I was ready to face the elements again.

Where I Virtually Stayed: When the best hotel in town is a Super 8, that’s either a small town or a really good Super 8. Montrose is not that small any more, so it really was an excellent Super 8. I appreciate 24-hour in the lobby as well as the coffee maker in the room, and I was also happy to have a mini fridge. And with the usual bargain price, if every Super 8 was like this one, I might not ever stay anywhere else.

Only in Montrose: Just east of town, in the early 20th century, workers from the Bureau of Reclamation built the 5.8 mile Gunnison Tunnel to take water from the Gunnison River to the Uncompahgre Valley. At the time of its completion, it was the longest irrigation tunnel in the world. Memorial arches soared more than two stories high on Main Street in Montrose, and for the dedication on September 23, 1909, President William Taft pressed a button, laborers opened a makeshift gate, and water flowed into the valley.

Next Stop: Star Drive In Theatre, Monte Vista CO.

Feb. 23: Tru Vu Drive In Theatre, Delta CO

It’s Day 54 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. As I drove for five hours over snowy, often mountainous roads from one closed-for-the season drive-in to another, I really wished I had a better way of finding more open, warm-weather places to visit in February. As least I made it in one piece back to Colorado and the Tru Vu Drive In Theatre in Delta.

The Tru Vu opened in 1954 and has been rolling along ever since. For the first half of its life (so far), the Tru Vu shared Delta with the Skylite Drive-In which had opened almost literally across the street in 1949. By 1984, the Skylite had been renamed the Big Sky, and it closed soon afterward.

A lot of drive-in theaters have some drama associated with them. They add screens, they lose screens. They shut down for a while, and sometimes reopen. Not the Tru Vu. Delta locals are just proud to have it around.

My first visit to the Tru Vu was on Memorial Day Weekend 1998. The other drive-ins in western Colorado were all showing Titanic, most as a single feature. The Tru Vu’s marquee reached out to me with the promise of something different, the Matthew Broderick version of Godzilla. The drive-in complemented that movie very well, rewarding its broad action sequences and distracting viewers from its plot holes. Ah, memories of good times when it warm and dry. (Update: I drove past the Tru Vu for real on Memorial Day Weekend 2017. I’ve updated this post with the sharper photo I took.)

Miles Today / Total:  273 / 7049 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 37

Nearby Restaurant: Despite traveling for a month through the Southwest, I haven’t stopped at Mexican restaurants very often. I took a step toward fixing that at a little place called Fiesta Vallarta. The Super Burrito looked like enough to hold me all week, and the margaritas made me glad that I stayed somewhere within walking distance.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The Quality Inn is the closest place to the Tru Vu and about a half-mile walk from the Fiesta Vallarta. It’s a little tired, but it’s clean and very inexpensive. I had a mini fridge in the room, a hot breakfast in the morning, and an adjacent grocery store across the parking lot.

Only in Delta: Delta is home to The Egyptian Theatre, operated by the same folks who run the Tru Vu. The 750-seat Egyptian Revival movie house opened in 1928 at the height of the fashion for thematically-designed cinemas. It was one of the first theaters during the Great Depression to hold “Bank Night,” a promotion where a random patron won $30. This pilot program worked so well that by 1936 the promotion was in use at 4000 cinemas in the United States.

Next Stop: The Star Drive-In Theatre, Montrose CO.

Minturn CO embraces its new drive-in

Just this past Sunday, the Denver Post ran a nice little article describing the arrival and first season of the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In in Minturn CO. That makes me wonder how long the editors sat on this story, since the Blue Starlite’s last Minturn movie of the season was over six weeks ago. Maybe they were stumped about how a theater in a mountain valley small town could still call itself “urban”.

The Post tells the story of Josh Frank, who started the Blue Starlite on a shoestring in a 20-car lot in Austin TX and has grown the business to several locations across the country. His funky, eclectic vision of drive-ins was a perfect match for Minturn, a 1000-resident village with the words “funky” and “eclectic” in its mission statement.

In Minturn, Frank’s Blue Starlite sets up in the 40-car parking lot at Little Beach Park, which the village lets him use for free. Most weekend shows have been sellouts. At 7860 feet, this Blue Starlite is touted as the highest drive-in in the country. “This has been my favorite place to do this in six years,” Frank said.

There’s much more, including another Blue Starlite photo scraped from its web site. So go read it!