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Trinidad, Colorado, It’s Not What You Think

This is not a post about the island in the Caribbean. This is a post about Trinidad, Colorado. You may have heard about it. Over the years, Trinidad became well-known as the sex change capital of the United States.

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

ArtoCade on Commercial Street in downtown Trinidad, Colorado.

Interestingly, the clinic that put the town on the map for sex change surgery, moved to California a number of years ago, but preconceptions die hard, especially when a town’s sex change reputation is big enough to have made it onto an episode of South Park.

Before I visited Trinidad this past summer, it was 1) the sex change capital of the United States 2) a place I drove through on my way to New Mexico and 3) the place my friend Amanda, who makes the world’s best green chile, grew up.

After visiting Trinidad, I’ve developed an entirely new perspective on the town. It’s a place where no one is a stranger, where art thrives and history runs deep, where waiters sing and the positive energy is so thick it’s hard not to get caught up in its flow.

Trinidad, it's not what you think

Having a blast at Cardango, the ArtoCade’s evening, adults-only party.

I can honestly say that when I add up all of my experiences on our two night trip, it was one of the most fantastic and fascinating places I have visited in Colorado.  

Ryan and I were in town because HeidiTown had been invited to cover ArtoCade, a unique art car event that must be experienced to be understood. I blogged about it here and here.

After checking into our hotel and before heading downtown, we went to Trinidad’s only brewery, Dodgeton Creek Brewing Company, which is north of town. Here we enjoyed good beer and even better conversation with locals who talked proudly about their town.

We got a recommendations on restaurants and insight into the town’s bright economic outlook, thanks in part to marijuana businesses, which have been proactive in gaining unilateral support for their industry in Trinidad.

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

Our first reaction to the downtown Trinidad was pure delight in the architecture. The buildings are magnificent and it’s obvious that there was an enormous amount of money in this town during the 1800s.

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

One of the most fantastic bank buildings ever!

The downtown area is much bigger than I expected with a never ending array of beautiful buildings to view and photograph.

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

On the recommendation of nearly everyone we met, we had dinner at Bella Luna Pizzeria, and it did not disappoint. They serve up delicious pizza in a friendly and cozy environment.

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

After dinner, intrigued by its retro signage, we stumbled into Skateland, which I later learned has been operating in Trinidad since 1949. It’s a true, old-fashion skating rink and one of only two rinks in Colorado with the original wood flooring (the other is in Pueblo).

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

Skateland has a new caretaker, Jaime Primmer, and if love can save a place, this classic skating rink just may make it another 67 years. If you’d like to help Jaime keep this skating rink open, please go to Skateland’s GoFundMe page here.

That evening we enjoyed drinks and conversation at the bar at the Quality Inn where we were staying. The bartender loves riddles and games and the small space tucked into the hotel’s large atrium is full of them – just look around – it kept us entertained for quite awhile that evening, along with a patron’s puppy that kept scampering in from the patio and stealing the show.

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

Trinidad Lake

The next day, before ArtoCade got underway, we decided to drive up to Lake Trinidad to take some photos. On the way, we stopped at Bob & Earl’s for breakfast, on the recommendation of the bartender at Bella Lunas. I had the breakfast burrito with green chile (there is no bad green chile in Trinidad. I fear any purveyor of bad green chile would be run out of town).

Back in town, we happened upon the Trinidad Farmers Market, which turned out to be terrific. I’ve been to much larger farmer markets around Colorado that didn’t have half the amount of fresh and local produce I found at Trinidad’s market.

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

My haul from the Trinidad Farmers’ Market. The watermelon is from a roadside market in Rocky Ford, Colorado.

The rest of our Saturday was filled with ArtoCade shenanigans. This is like no other festival I’ve attended and I highly recommend folks come down and experience it for themselves next year.

EyeVan at ArtoCade by Rodney Wood of Trinidad

Googly eyed van by festival founder, Rodney Wood. Official name: EyeVan.

After the parade we indulged in street vendor food; a pulled pork sandwich for Ryan and a crawfish etouffee hot dog for me, which was the tastiest and perhaps most messy street food I’ve ever eaten.

We toured the Trinidad history museum grounds (we will one day go back and take an official tour) and then purposefully got lost in the backstreets of Trinidad. We became mesmerized by the town’s architecture and wandered around taking photos and surmising about what used to inhabit the various empty buildings.

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

Former home of the Schneider Brewing Co. in downtown Trinidad, Colorado.

My favorite spot in downtown is Commercial Street. It’s curviness reminds me of streets I’ve walked in San Francisco. We popped into What A Grind for a cup of coffee and I realized that this beautiful coffee shop, restaurant and bar incorporates a lot of what Trinidad is all about which is progress and preservation. This town is proving that the two can exist simultaneously.  

Trinidad, Colorado, it's not what you think

That evening we had dinner at an iconic Trinidad restaurant, Rino’s Italian Restaurant & Steakhouse. A number of people had recommended Rino’s for their food and entertainment. The entertainment comes in the form of singing waiters. Everyone at Rino’s sings, staff even emerged from the kitchen to belt out a tune.

My shrimp and chicken pasta was good, but it’s the singing at Rino’s that we’ll remember for a lifetime. When the owner, Frank, sang “All I’ll Ask of You” with one of his waitresses, I teared up. It will go down as one of my most beautiful travel memories.

rinos-restaurant-the-heidi-guide

On Sunday morning, after breakfast at Tony’s Diner, we made our way home the long way, down US Route 350 towards La Junta following the Santa Fe Trail. One day I might write about this interesting detour, but this post is long enough.

It feels like Trinidad is a town where things are moving in a positive direction and that’s a great feeling to experience in a place. We can’t wait to go back.

Thank you to ArtoCade for hosting us at the Quality Inn in beautiful Trinidad, Colorado. 

59 Responses to Trinidad, Colorado, It’s Not What You Think

  • Geiditown bashed us in the past. Thanks for getting it right this time.

    • Wow, Nancy. When did I “bash” Trinidad? I don’t ever “bash” or trash talk about any town in Colorado, so can you point out when you feel that I bashed the town?

      • Thanks for the email and clarification, Nancy! I’m glad to hear it was another writer. I love Colorado and strongly believe that every town in this beautiful state – no matter where it is – has a wonderful story to tell.

        Thank you for reading the article, Nancy. I hope I’ve made a Heidi citizen out of you!!!

      • You should have mentioned how the blooming population of homeless people are taking over the town like the zombies from the walking dead, because of cheap weed prices. Or, you should have mentioned how prices for anything are more than anywhere else in the state. How the elderly population of the town is being gouged to death by the snoozing tourism industry. You should have also mentioned that the youth of the town count down until graduation to leave the town because of no industry outside of marijuana wants to expand there. You should have also mentioned the heroin epidemic that has Trinidad with the highest user/death rate per capita in the country, and how all of this has led to a massive spike in crime for locals. Love how you forgot to mention how the farming community surrounding Trinidad is shunned, and how there is no true medical offices there. If you get sick or injured, hopefully it’s not that bad to make the trip to Pueblo, otherwise you’re screwed. Article is all fluff and no realism at the actual state of emergency the town is in.

        • You are wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ve lived in Trinidad almost 25 years. The hospital and doctors saved my life. The college, art galleries and year round live thestre nourish my soul. The land and sky are always beautiful and the people are particularly friendly and supportive. I’d rather be in my world than yours anytime.

          • I’ve lived in Trinidad for 32 years, my family has been in the town/area since before the 20th century. You’re kidding yourself about the hospital if it’s “saved” your lifebeen in the last 5 years. You know I’m right about the homeless and drug problem. I never said it wasn’t pretty, but don’t church it up. This town isn’t as great tourists think it is. If it’s so wonderful, how come none of the youth stay?

          • I totally agree with Cynthia, and the emergency services people, from the dispatch operator to the helicopter pilot and all of the doctors and nurses in between, they all saved my life after a HA in 2015. I bring a bouquet of flowers to the ER on Valentines Day in appreciation and recognition of what the entire team can do. As for the art galleries, they would be sorely missed by many if they were not here. Lastly, the newly remodeled construction currently going on is extremely exciting to anyone who has lived here over thirty years especially.

        • You seem to be confused about what HeidiTown is all about, Danny. This isn’t an expose website. This is not a newspaper. I am not an investigative reporter. This blog is about the good things in this world and there’s lots of good out there if you look for it.

        • Umm yeah dude that’s everywhere in every town I have visited anywhere in the United States.

        • Wow! Danny certainly isn’t helping his own community much with such a scathing rebuke! The opioid crisis and lack of opportunity are problems in rural towns all across America. And if you can figure out how to keep the young people from leaving town, small towns everywhere would love to hear from you.

          The other problem ALL over.. lots of complaining but few productive solutions. At least the marijuana industry is bringing some money and jobs.

          • Danny hit the nail on the head. But as others have said these issues are in every town, not just in the US or Trinidad, but everywhere. The Marijuana has helped Trinidad do a facelift on the streets and such but have you noticed all the homeless? The population has really increased and there are so many new people we don’t recognize, even after having lived here for several generations! Things are changing and changing slowly in Trinidad. It used to be if you were an outsider who moved here you were always an “outsider” no matter how many years you lived here. You were either a Mexican (Hispanic) or an Italian. All the “white” kids were in Hoehne. Very few, and I mean you could count them on your fingers, of any other races. The town liked to keep it that way. The corrupt politics you knew about but you kept your mouth shout or you ended up dead. I loved the article because it is a glimpse of what a beautiful, wonderful town Trinidad could be with some change. The buildings are beautiful, the setting of the town surrounded by the mountains is amazing! The tourism industry could be beefed up for sure, I25 goes through it, with a little effort it could be rocking. But here is the problem. Most people are lazy and have the entitlement attitude. The customer service SUCKS at most, not all, establishments in Trinidad. Maybe that is too harsh. Okay I will settle with MANY instead. You can’t find a decent place to eat on Sunday or Monday except Chinese or fast food. After 8 or 9 pm good luck! I’m sorry, but during the summer we are out late working all day and don’t stop until after the sun sets or is setting. Then we are hungry and want someplace to eat but the streets of Trinidad close down by 6pm, some even at 5pm., so don’t expect to find much open as far as regular business. Oh and our Walmart charges more for the crap they sell then many other Walmarts throughout Colorado! Oh and they are always out of stuff you want or need…..such as sugar! Seriously, how could you not have sugar! I’ve seen some really cool items at other Walmart stores but ours sucks! They get all the leftover items nobody else wants. One year they got in over 50 black angles to put on the tops of your trees and no other choices, LOL. I digress, sorry. Some places you go seem to be put out by waiting on you or serving you instead of happy you are going to spend your money in their establishment. I loved the view of Trinidad through the author’s eyes because folks…..that is really what Trinidad could be! So stop belly aching and make the changes necessary to effect change, do the work, put in the hours, put your necks on the line and get involved. As for us, we are tired of the whole struggle and we are getting out, yes we are bailing like we should of the day we graduated from Tdad schools.

  • Beautiful article about my home town!! It’s really nice to hear wonderful things! Thank you so much!!!!

  • Thanks for stopping by Tony’s Diner for breakfast. My father and I appreciate it very much.

  • I used to live on a ranch just north of Walsenburg ….I knew the Dr. who performed the sex changes there…I actually got to observe a sex change operation…very interesting…that was a long time ago…Shirley Halsey

    • Hi Shirley, what a small world. I remember you from about 35 years ago. I’m married to Ken Maldonado from Walsenburg, CO.. Ken and I use to live in Pueblo, CO.. I knew you from the Pueblo SDA Church. Ken & I now live in NE..

  • Also home to the beautiful and oldest Jewish temple in the southwest. Worth a pass by

    • That’s a fun fact! We’ll look for it next time. Thank you, Ric!

    • The Aaron Temple, if I remember correctly, and it is located on South Maple. I lived in Trinidad on South Chestnut and Third Street in a large brick duplex. I went to Junior High School at Rice Jr. High. I have very fond memories of the town.

  • Yes, you got this right….I live here and all you said was true and known. Thanks for sharing for others to read and come visit. Also, visit Raton, NM a beautiful place over the pass….look it up….we are so LUCKY to live here and have Trinidad and Raton…..

  • Great article. I have to admit T-dad is not the town I grew up in 50 years ago. I do get there every couple of years and it seems something is going on and changing. I left there in 1967 right after high school. Still have family there. And by the way that Dr. that was mentioned he removed my (pause) Appendix when I was in the seventh grade. That was before he was removing other parts. lol lol

  • Is B Ernies still there? I believe it was an error in the spelling of Bernie’s a bar from long ago.

  • Thank you for writing this, what did he think about the pulled pork? We try hard to put out a good product and always value an honest opinion. We are RedneckSmoke, thanks again for the mention.

  • Thank you for your wonderful inspiring comments of my hometown. I was not born here in Trinidad, but moved there many years ago. I graduated from Trinidad High School and Trinidad State Jr College. I hAve a great number of friends in Trinidad and just had a 2 week reunion in August. I love this town and always will. There’s just something about Trinidad Colorado. Thank again.

  • I will always love my old home town. Sounds like encouraging things are happening. Happy for all the people who still live there!

  • What a great article. Love hearing anything positive about our little town! It’s sure how we feel about it.
    Come on down next for trinidadddio in August.
    Between daddiio and artocade, lots of fun!!!

  • Thank you for writing about our beautiful City and the friendly and talented people who have made Trinidad their home.
    Positive feeds positive, explaining why there is so much energy here.

  • Thanks for shopping the Trinidad Community Farmers Market. So glad you enjoyed your time with us.
    Trinidad is ” moving on up” and you covered it beautifully. You had fun and that’s just the best news.
    Come back again ❣️

    • Joyce, your market ROCKS! You should be very proud of what you’ve created there. Please let the vendors know how pleased we were. Everyone was so nice.

      Thank you for the comment. Please come back to HeidiTown soon!

      Heidi

  • Thank you for your article, it was well written and interesting. I would like to share with you our favorites and suggestions. When visiting do yourself a favor and ride the trolley! So much history and really cool architecture. Then visit the Baca house and Bloom Mansion, and the court house. Soon maybe you could tour Ft. Wooten behind the court house, which currently houses The Department of Human Services. I know it is a lot to take in, but I would definitely start out eating breakfast at Toni’s dinner, Family Seed, or Bob and Earls. For lunch I would head over to Lee’s Bar BQ. Anyone who is from Trinidad and has moved away, may I take the liberty of saying most of the time, return to eat at Lee’s as soon as they get into town. Great food, hot, and fast service. Talk about history, Lee’s has been around since 1938!!! For dinner you have to to visit “Nana and Nano’s Pasta House.” We love Fran’s family cooking. It is like entering another world, the smell, the sounds, the tastes! Wednesdays are cream puff day! Homemade cream puffs that are the best I’ve ever had! But here is the difficult part. Ristra’s is excellent Mexican food but so is Mission at the Bell! Mission at the Bell is a totally different type of chili and so if you want something different and unique, head down the stairs at the Bell Block. If you want something lighter for lunches head to “The Cafe” or “What a Grind” for great salads and sandwiches. I could go on and on but these are our top choices depending on what type of food we are hungry for, that are unique to Trinidad and not a “chain type” restaurant. It all boils down to what atmosphere you are looking for mixed with what type of food you are hungry for.

    • OMG, Kim! Thank you for all the recommendations. We’re going to have to make several trips back. 🙂 Several people mentioned Mission Bell, but we didn’t have time to go there. We definitely want to go back to What a Grind. We got coffee there and absolutely LOVED that building. Lee BBQ is our friend Amanda’s husband’s favorite place, but we didn’t make it there either. Tony’s Diner and Bob & Earl’s were EXCELLENT for breakfast.

      Thanks for stopping by our little town and please, stop again!

    • Kim, you must be from the family of my TSJC physics teacher! I grew up with Robby Lee, rhe former co-owner and last Lee family member to operate Lee’s. I can second most of your suggestions, though I have only been back a couple of times since my mom passed away almost 15 years ago., so several are unfamiliar.

      • Hi Kevin,
        Yes, that would be my father in law, John “Jack” Kosovich. He has been an amazing man. So many people tell us that if it weren’t for him they wouldn’t have had the great careers they have had. His classes inspired them to go into their careers. I grew up eating at Lee’s and worked for Robby and his sister Barbara who ran Lees before they sold out. Now Franky Mattorano and his daughter have taken it over and it is back to it’s former glory with great food again. The portions sizes will fill you up and are worth every penny. When you make it back be sure and stop by, you wont be disappointed.

  • Thank you for the wonderful feedback and article. I will pass it on to my real estate clients and people planning on moving here. We love Trinidad! John and my family homesteaded here and in the mountains in the early 1900’s. Many of the 35 acre developments around here and the highway 12 area and Apishapa through Aguilar were our passion for years; building mountain communities and integrating the respect of our culture, arts and history while welcoming the people who were attracted. I think it worked out pretty darn good! Live and let live is our motto here! Again great job on the article….would love to see and hear from you again.

    • Next time we visit, we’ll have to get into the surrounding mountain areas, Gina.

      Thank you so much for stopping by HeidiTown and thank you for for passing this article around!

      Please come back to town soon.

      Heidi

  • A very nice article. My husband and I moved to Trinidad two years ago and opened up a tee shirt/souvenir shop called Tees me treat me located in the historic Columbian Hotel. We also sell home-made fudge, wine tasting and now serve lunch. We have a wonderful secluded courtyard out behind our business and folks are loving it! If you ever get a chance to stop here, be sure to have lunch out in the courtyard. It’s something you won’t want to miss and the food is delicious too!

  • “Progress and Preservation.” Very well said. Thank you for writing about my adopted home town. I love Trinidad!

    • I think progress and preservation need to go together. So often times progress trumps preservation.

      Thank you for stopping by HeidiTown, Mary! Please come again.

      Heidi 🙂

  • My wife and I stopped at Trinidad en route to Santa Fe about a year ago and since have stopped by every trip through. We discovered a fabulous antique and art glass store/museum, Fumio Sawa Fine Art, right on Main Street. The owner has a cyclopedic knowledge of the glass he sells, or in some cases, displays, and is just a delight to talk with. We hope to explore more in this interesting city, but that particular place is a must-see.

  • I live in Trinidad in the fifties on a street called tascosa our house was at the base of a mountain I loved it there so much

  • I lived there in the fifties on a street called tascosa at the base of a mountain

  • No one in Trinidad moves excessively fast, however, we all get along well! I lived most of my life in the northern part of the state and have found the uncrowded mountains here just as beautiful as North Park. The people are the best expression of the American Way of Life. Rural, yes with dreams of a calm peaceful future.

  • We love this little town. Almost two years ago, we moved here from Texas. This town is home; more home than any other place I have lived. The relaxed pace, the friendliness of the people, and the beauty of the area are perfect for us.

  • I LOVE what you had to say about Trinidad! You summed up perfectly why i live here. Its a beautiful lil town with equally beautiful people here.
    There’s ton of things to do – you just have to do them!
    Now you need to come down for Trinidaddio Blues Fest!

  • Yes and Trinidad has even more to offer and has grown since this publication was originally posted. When you come back to Trinidad, be sure to visit the courtyard at Tees me Treat me. It’s an awesome place to have food & drinks!

    https://www.facebook.com/TeesMeTreatMe/

    • Della, Your place looks so fun! I’m a huge fan of courtyards. 🙂 We will definitely come and visit you the next time we’re in Trinidad. Thanks so much for stopping by HeidiTown.

  • I am originally from Walsenburg Co. and still have relations in Trinidad. I am now in Arizona
    And I always stop in Trinidad on the way to Pueblo. My Mother worked at the old Saddle
    Rock Cafe,which was a high spot in dining at that time. One of the things I remember was
    the Trinidad light on Simpson rest. I always marveled at the location of the court house
    located on the hill above main street, of its structure .

    • That is one heck of a courthouse building! We sat on the steps of it while we were wandering around Trinidad taking photos. It’s impressive. Thanks for stopping by HeidiTown, Bob.

  • Love, love this place. My parents were both born here. It holds such fond childhood memories and I still visit from time to time. Thanks for the wonderful pictures. And be sure to visit when the rodeo is in town. Such an event!

    • Unless something has recently change, the Trinidad Round-Up and Las Animas County Fair is coming up next weekend, starting on Sept. 2 and ending on Labor Day. Yee Haw!

    • Love Trinidad. I dont make it down there nearly enough but My Father is from there and it holds a large piece of my heart as well as my childhood.

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