“Barbecue may not be the road to world peace but it’s a start.” – Anthony Bourdain

Welcome back to Uncle Tom’s Corner. You’ve probably noticed the days getting shorter, the kids are back in school, the official unofficial end of summer (Labor Day) is right around the corner, the first of the pre-season NFL games are behind us and Christmas stuff is showing up in the stores. More importantly, the leaves have begun changing colors and NFL regular season and college football seasons are upon us. And that means tailgating!

But first I want to tell you of my latest adventure…the trip to Alamosa to the San Luis Valley Beat the Heat BBQ contest. If Moses had allowed me to lead the Israelites we’d have ended up in Mongolia. If I had been the navigator of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria we’d have ended up in Norway. And if I’d been in charge of the Lewis and Clark expedition we’d have ended up in Nova Scotia. You get the idea. So rather than take anything that bordered on a direct route to Alamosa I blazed a trail that added an extra hour and a half. No applause, please…it’s a gift.

In my defense, I got to see some incredible scenery going west of Pueblo. Jon Chandler, a local country singer, paints musical pictures of some of the places I drove through. There was a veteran’s park, The Leo S. Boston War Memorial Park east of Canyon City that featured an Apache attack chopper, a medi-vac helicopter, a jet and some kind of military troop carrier. There were some large 3-D letters that spelled out IN GOD WE TRUST and it was covered with pennies…58,272 of ‘em in fact…the same number of pennies as there are names on The Wall in Washington, D.C. The whole thing was put together by the classmates of an Air Force colonel who was shot down and killed in Viet Nam. Pretty moving.

I also learned that my earlier thought that Florence, CO, home of SuperMax aka Alcatraz of the Rockies,  is NOT out by Limon but is rather in Fremont County by Canon City. The latest “guest” is El Chapo Guzman. I didn’t bother to visit there. I’ve long held the theory that guys my age don’t do well in prison despite the free health care, etc. That is a long-held theory I choose not to put to the test.

After my extended tour of southwest Colorado I arrived in Alamosa and headed for Cole Park, the site of the competition.

Within the regular competition, which usually takes place on Saturday, there can be some sub-categories. In the case of the Alamosa competition they held a Kid’s Q competition Friday evening. The sub-sub categories are ages 4-10 and 11-17. They had the regular judges act as table captains and brought in the Adams State University football team to act as judges so I had six young men…maybe 18-22…with the metabolism of hummingbirds, as judges. What a kick that was! In a normal competition a judge will take a single bite of each of the meats presented to them. Much more than that and one tends to blow up like a balloon, may or may not contract “meat sweats” and has to beg forgiveness from their colon until about Wednesday. These guys ate every consumable sliver of meat and were gnawing on the bones while looking for more. And funny? Ha!

In addition to the bbq contest they had a “fun run” (what a misnomer THAT is), live music, alligators for the reptile farm, cornhole contests…all kinds of stuff going on. And one sick raccoon…but that’s another story for another time.

The next week was a bit closer to home…the 93rd Annual Beef and Bean Festival in Milliken. Milliken is a community of about 7,000. When I drove into town the first thing I noticed was that both sides of the street were lined with people waiting for the parade. That was just a little slice of Americana right there. Aside from it being a fun contest I don’t recall anything out of the ordinary taking place.

The most recent was the contest in Worland, WY. I understand the draw of exotic places across the country, the globe, and soon outer space. Some spend millions (have you priced a yacht or private jet lately) to visit but for purely spectacular scenery I think you’d be hard pressed to out do what we have right here and within driving distance. Combine that with the economic restrictions and some people just have to settle. The point of that is to suggest that if you have the time a drive through the Wind River Canyon of Wyoming or The Spanish Peaks of Colorado or I-70 going to Grand Junction certainly won’t disappoint. Of course, you can’t dive into the azure waters off the Greek islands or swim with the whales off the Big Island of Hawaii. All of life is a tradeoff.

After the contest in Worland…which includes some pretty darned good bluegrass and some awesome dark cherry crisp ala mode compliments of the Episcopalian ladies and most of a ton of good old down home hospitality…it was time to head home via Buffalo. Saturday evening I had dinner at an Asian restaurant in downtown Buffalo followed by a drive through town (a pretty short drive) and saw a live concert going on in the town square. After listening to a few numbers and watching a young mom and dad trying to teach their 10-month old to walk (he’d take a couple of unsteady steps and plop unceremoniously onto his butt) it was time to retire. That’s when I saw the “Campaign Headquarters of Sheriff Walt Longmire…Sheriff of Absaroka County”. Having watched the whole series on Netflix that was a pretty cool thing to see.

Sunday morning…time to head home. Nothing much to mention about that other than I was talking with a guy who, with his wife and dogs, took a driving trip to Alaska (okay…so I’d like to go to Alaska just to see it) which covered 8,000 miles. He said the worst part of the drive was that stretch of highway from Fr. Collins to Denver. I got to experience that as well. But I made it home and will be here until its time to head for Casper next month.

On that note I’ve once again run out of time and space so must wrap it up. Hopefully you have some awesome plans for Labor Day weekend that include barbecuing something wonderful. With any luck next issue I’ll have room to throw in some pretty darned good tailgating recipes. See you through the smoke.