Rifle, CO is an interesting place if by interesting one means boring, standard, ho-hum, and bland. I’m waiting for the hate mail. In all truth, I am referring to the part of Rifle I had a chance to see. That is, I saw the part that lies flush with I-70 – a small community of hotels, gas stations, and restaurants placed there for the benefit of travelers like us. We are, for all intents and purposes, just passing through this region of the country. Pretty scenery, the likes of which most people never see, jagged mountains sloping toward a wide and high plain in the middle of nowhere accompanied us as we rolled on.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said as we packed up the car. There’s no animosity toward Rifle or any of the towns like this where we’ve stayed. There’s just no love for these nondescript locations.
About 30 miles down the road Karla, driving the car so I could get a little rest, asked me a favor.
DAY 40/Where is Your Head?
“Why don’t you open that Roadside app and see if there’s anything around?”
I opened the app as we were passing an exit for a tiny town called Fruita and almost dropped the phone.
“Karla!!! You have to turn around!”
Do you know what I found for us?
This is good… “What’s there,” she asked. I almost couldn’t speak I was so excited.
“Mike the headless chicken!” I screamed. “Mike the freakin’ headless chicken!”
I will explain to you as I explained to her. Many years ago my sister Bridget and I were visiting a mutual friend from college who live sin Albany, NY. For some reason her mom had recorded a documentary from PBS for us to watch. Why not? It was a documentary about… poultry. Yes, you read that right. And who doesn’t love a good poultry documentary? I still remember the opening line in that deep narrator voice coming from the small screen.
“If you only see one poultry documentary this season, make it this one!”
There are so many poultry documentary options to choose from. Thank God she had recorded the right one. As we watched this bizarre flick, learning all about how chickens are raised, slaughtered, and brought to market; we also learned the curious tale of Mike the headless chicken.
The year was 1945. In Fruita, a town of about 12,000 today, a farmer went out back to kill a chicken for his family’s dinner. He chopped off the clucker’s head. Unfortunately he chopped too high because he missed most of the bird’s brainstem. Guess what? The chicken, a Wyandotte rooster named Mike, survived the assault. Hard to believe, right? Farmer thought so too so he documented the life of his “Miracle Mike” and took him on tour. Mike lived another 18 months as the farmer lovingly – stop laughing – fed him drops of corn and water through the hold in his neck with an eye dropper. Mike was featured in Life Magazine and the farmer made thousands of dollars exhibiting him in sideshows. The chicken even got his own hotel room wherever they went. In hindsight this might have been a bad idea. One night in Phoenix – I swear this is all true – Mike got into his feed. Sadly, he choked to death before the farmer could find the suction device needed to save the little guy.
Since Fruita has no other claim to fame, Mike became their local folk-hero. Since I am demented and have a phenomenal memory with a twisted sense of humor and a loving wife, we went five miles to the next exit and returned to Fruita. There we stopped at a five foot tall statue of a headless chicken and took pictures. I Facetimed my sister to show her and make her jealous. She shrieked with delight when she saw where I was. Her six children shrieked in fear at their mommy screaming at a headless chicken statue.
Now you can’t leave an experience like this without a souvenir. I’ve long since given up trying to find ashtrays since the world is now run by fascists so I set out to find a tee shirt or two. First I walked into the cafe adjacent to the statue. No luck. They sent me to a bar across the street. They have shirts but none for sale. Every year, by the way, the town hosts “Mike the Chicken Days”. We just missed it by a month. Damn. The bar owner sent me to the local smoke shop. “They’ve got unique stuff,” I was told.
I approached the smoke shop and suddenly remembered we were in Colorado. “Better stay out here with the kids,” I said to Karla as I, for the first time in my life, entered a marijuana dispensary. Boy did it reek in there. They seemed like happy people but incoherently told me to go in five different directions. Then they laughed. They were still giggling as I backed out of the store and headed to thrift shop.
Ten stores later we were about to give up. Wilma had heard something about a community center so we gave it one last shot. Thank the Lord we did because in the town’s library was a rec center and cafe and inside that rec center was a large counter, behind which were bins and displays of Mike memorabilia.
$37 later I emerged triumphantly. I stripped out of my Grill’n & Chill’n shirt right out in the parking lot. Turning to the ladies entering the library with their kids I shouted “Yeah, I’m hot. You wanna’ make something of it?” I meant “hot” in the temperature sense as it was almost 100 degrees. I didn’t care. For the rest of the day I would be repping my favorite headless foul of lore. Satisfied, we hit the road. Karla was slightly embarrassed.
After driving a few more hours we stopped at Arches National Park in Utah. See, they don’t only have Mormons here. We drove throughout this scenic wonderland and stopped for a picnic. Unfortunately the arches, when viewed from the viewing areas, appear to be three inches in diameter. Nonetheless, this was the kind of place I would suggest people stop to see if ever given the chance. In this park the glory of God’s design is on display for all to see.
So there you have it. I just used 1100 words to describe a headless chicken and only about 50 to talk about one of the natural wonders of the world.
Shows where my priorities are.
And at the end of the day, after driving another few hundred miles and crossing into the Pacific Time Zone we reached Ely, Nevada, our home for the night.
I can’t wait for you to see what happens tomorrow…