Chasing Birds

I've got a garden to tend, birds to find, beers to drink, and stories to share.

The Cost of a Just-Okay-Day


While I’m not too far off the topic of the un-Yelped world, I’d like to present my personal review of Van Camp Cabins in Yampa, Colorado. By way of a short story.

Chapter 1: From Okay to Absolutely Not Okay

My day started off okay. But just okay. I slept through my alarm, which is the worst way to wake up on a survey day. It’s not like you can give some excuse when you get into the office, passing the blame onto something that was entirely out of your control (like when a frickin’ sweet Prairie Falcon soars over your house as you were getting into your car (which is a legitimate excuse at my workplace, by the way)). It’s all on you. I was supposed to be on my first point, ready to survey by 5:15 and I failed, which was particularly important today because a huge thunderstorm was predicted to roll in by 7 and I had a 2-mile hike in. However, I only slept in an hour late, so all was not lost. After a 15 minute drive, 1 mile on a Stairmaster, and 1 mile banging my shins on fallen trees, I still made it to the first point by 6:30 and it was not yet cloudy. I felt redeemed when I nearly stepped on a male Dusky Grouse and then heard another one hooting in the distance. I finished 4 points by the time the clouds really started to roll in and got back to the truck barely before the storm. A win in anybody’s book.

So then I hop in the truck and decide to change out of my dirty field pants when I find a tick trying to cuddle with my leg latch onto my shin. >>insert Gasp! and cringe<< Nothing ruins a just-okay-day more than finding a tick trying to bury its mouthparts into your skin and give you debilitating terminal diseases. My logical brain tells me that I should squish it with the tweezers. Nope! I panic and throw it out the window. Great, now I am forever stuck inside my truck. The ground is now made of ticks (you all know the rules to that game). I do a thorough tick check before putting on my presumably tick-less garments, then proceed to slowly turn my work pants inside out, looking for more horrible, parasitic creatures. I do all of this while squished up in the driver’s seat of the truck because the ground outside has been contaminated. I find one more, kill it, and throw it out the window as a warning to the first.

Chapter 2: What the Heck Just Happened?

I knew what would improve my morning by at least 5 fold: coffee. But it was raining, so making my own was out. I remembered passing a café in Oak Creek, so I headed that way. Kate’s Café was packed with breakfast-seekers and their shrieking children. It was a tiny place, but I only needed a cup of black coffee and maybe one of those muffins over there. So I helped myself to coffee and waited for my delicious muffin. As the place was super-duper packed, I asked a gal about my age if I could share her table. She said yes and that she was only waiting on coffee and would be leaving soon anyway. She had unkempt dreadlocks and was wearing a shirt that said “Live Free”, so obviously she was harmless. We got to chatting about the town and what she was doing there. She was a recent transplant from Southern Ohio and had plenty to talk about. Her monologue went from how she’s a massage therapist at the Sheraton to how she really needs to learn her Colorado trees to how she grew up on a farm in Southern Ohio to the toxicity of plastic to breast cancer back to gardening and oh yeah, did I mention she has a degree in botany? to planting seeds with tweezers and a ruler to her mother shipping her corn from Ohio to how she really misses elderberries and how she’s going to try and grow an elderberry bush in her backyard to So, what are you doing here? [Birds] to Ohmygod do you know anything about cranes? How long can a crane hold its breath? I once saw a crane [Great Blue Heron!] dive under water and it never came back up!

One hour later, she gets up, says, “Thanks for the great conversation! Have fun counting birds—we really need people like you!” and walks away.

Chapter 3: Monster Trucks and Antlers

Next on my list is to secure lodging for the night. The only place in Oak Creek is—get this—the Oak Creek Motel. So I head straight down to the motel only to find out that I had missed their last available room for the night…by 15 minutes. Are you kidding me? I sat there and watched the Sophie Show for an hour and it caused me to lose out on my last ray of hope for the day.

BUT. There was still one more thing. Don’t lose hope! There was still…the tacos. Lupita’s Cantina is a well-known road-side stop for amazing fish tacos. Yes. I would get tacos then figure out Plan B. As I walk up to the counter, I see the words I fear most: Cash Only. You cannot know my despair. I already had the knowledge that no establishment in town gives cash back (this ain’t my first rodeo in Nowheresville). My soul is crushed and I can smell the tacos. So close, and yet… Sigh.

So, what are my options? The next motel is 12 miles south in Yampa. It’s called The Oak Tree something or other, but it gets bad reviews, is the kind of place where you have to go inside the building to get to your room (I guess they call them hotels. I don’t like them because they put too many doors between me and all of the gear in my truck), AND is more expensive than the Oak Creek Motel which gets props in both of its reviews (possibly from the same person). Regardless, I refuse to pay significantly more money for a run-down room that’s farther away from where I need to be on Saturday. So I broadly Google search “lodging” which brings up 2 results for Yampa. Two! Van Camp Cabins. You never know what you’re going to get with cabins (they’re usually outrageously expensive), but my last option is to sleep in the truck just like I do most other nights, so what have I really got to lose? Google Maps: Engage Navigation!

Naturally, Google takes me on some route that puts me on like the one creepy back road in Yampa and at a T-stop, randomly says, You have arrived! Left is a dead end, so I go right. Eventually, I pull into the driveway that Google did not take me to where I see a small half-moon of little log cabins (and realize the front of the establishment is on a different road entirely). As I get out of my truck to head for the office, a guy sticks his head out from around the side of a two-tone matte black and maroon monster truck with a neon green brush guard (at least he stuck it out with the matte finish—it really pulls everything together) and looks to make sure someone is coming to help me before putting the grinder back to the rear wheel well. A sweet little lady hurriedly walks up to me and lets me inside the itty bitty office (it was pouring by this point). The place is deserted, but I ask the obligatory question— if she has anything available—and she does. But then she looks up at me apologetically and maybe a little hesitant and blurts, “But the cabins are basically just sleeping quarters and the toilets and showers are in a separate bathhouse. I hope that’s okay.” And I politely think, Ma’am, you’re talking to someone who usually squats next to her truck to pee. The reality is that I’m used to “doing toilet” as they say in the UK, in much less desirable conditions than in a detached bathhouse. So I ask how much. She says $63 after tax. And I do a little happy dance. I really was curious as to why she was so sure that I would shriek in disgust at a detached bathroom. I had to look behind me to make sure she wasn’t talking to someone else. It wasn’t like I was wearing pumps and carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag or anything. I mean, I pulled an inchworm out of my hair shortly after that. Oh well.

Van Camp Cabins

Van Camp Cabins

The thing that makes the detached bathroom ordeal even funnier is that the bathhouse, or the Bathhouse of Antlers, Slate, and Luxury, as I like to call it, is that it was one of the nicest detached bathroom-shower house combos I’d ever been in. It had real shower inserts with glass doors that prevented water from getting everything outside of the shower wet. The last public shower I paid for got everything in 3 counties soaking wet for 6 minutes. And it stung. Is that what microdermabrasion feels like? It made me angry. So back to the Bathhouse of Antlers, Slate, and Luxury. I felt so swanky after showering and giddily walking around barefoot on the squeaky clean floors, that I went back to my cabin and made a cup of hot chocolate. Luxurious bathhouse experience complete.

Bathhouse of Antlers, Slate, and Luxury

The cabins are also pretty amazing. Just this morning I learned that my cabin was one of the original structures on the property, along with the main house—a stagecoach stop built in 1883. The remaining cabins were built in 1993, but are all real log structures in a similar style with a wood-burning stove, beetle kill pine ceilings, wood floors, and a feather bed. I could say the only downside to this place is the lack of wifi, but really what better place is there to sit down and let your environment be your muse than in an 1883 cabin? It’s said that the house is the longest continuously-occupied home in Colorado. The folks who own it now are the fourth owners in 131 years.

Cabin 104 (est. 1883)

Cabin 104 (est. 1883)

Chapter 4: I Love Hamburger

The icing on the just-by-chance-I-found-a-luxury-historic-cabin cake is that I happened across the Antlers Café and Bar just down the street. I saw it from a distance when I rolled into town and hoped-prayed-crossed my fingers that it was still in business. The bar was built around 1905 and it looks like it hasn’t changed a wink since then, with two beautiful bar tops, creaky floors, and taxidermy animal heads (as well as 6 or so Golden Eagles from the early 1900s) all over the walls. They had a fairly small, but mouthwatering menu including three cheese ravioli, mussels, top sirloin, and Thai curry (apparently their chef lived in Southeast Asia for some time). Not to mention a thoughtful beer selection. I ordered a glass of Goose Island’s Matilda, a Belgian Strong/Pale Ale and a burger (I know, all those options and I choose a burger). The bartender, whom I presumed to be the owner of the establishment, came over to chat with me about my beer selection. He was so proud of getting that beer all the way out here to Routt County. He explained that he had to fight really hard to get his distributor to deliver this keg from Chicago and that it was the most expensive keg of beer they had ever delivered (which is saying something considering the distributor covers Steamboat Springs, too). We’ll just say that I was pleasantly surprised to find this place in Yampa, a town consisting of one dirt street with a general store, post office, two bars, two churches, and a handful of beds. The cream cheese icing on the cake is that the burger was the best I’ve found in Moffat and Routt Counties (and I told them so). I will be back for the ravioli with Colin in tow.

The Antlers Cafe and Bar (ca. 1905)

The Antlers Cafe and Bar (ca. 1905)

So, for a grand total of 3 years taken off of my life from stress, frustration, and lack of tacos, 22 additional miles driven, $83 in food and lodging, and 3.5 years added back onto my life from that amazing burger and a good night’s rest, I found the best place to get away from the internet in Routt County. Maybe the whole world. And everything was perfect.

After chatting with the owner of Van Camp Cabins for a while, I’ve decided not to submit a review of their facilities online. It sounds like they prefer to remain far off the beaten path and enjoy the patronage of those who really want to be here and don’t mind that they (sort of) have to go outside to use the bathroom.


  1. May we all find reasons to smile at the little things in life that fill our soul, rejuvenate our minds, and give us pause. Pause to appreciate this very moment and live it to the fullest. Who knows what tomorrow may bring. Live it up right now and be thankful. I’ll happily use my indoor plumbing today, but would gladly walk outside to the luxury bathroom across the way especially if there was a chance at a Brittany sighting. Oh, and I promise to look up and see the falcon flying overhead as I begin my journey.

  2. Been there!! It’s all true!

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