When Plans Go Wrong: The Ward, CO Story

by Stephanie Withers
ward, colorado

There’s always a moment, especially as a young female traveler, where you get into an uncomfortable or scary situation and you’re left trying to piece together how the hell you got there or how the hell you let it happen in the first place. This moment, for me, was almost twelve years ago in Ward, Colorado.

I was 20 years old and driving cross-country with a friend, another young woman. It was early summer and we were taking a lazy, tour-around-the-country trip with Duluth, Minnesota being our planned destination point.

By the time this story begins, my friend and I had already been camping with the wildlife in Virginia, stayed overnight in a beautiful home in Tennessee (when the owners were on a trip across the country), bunked with her church friend in Missouri (meeting the dog who knew how to smile and scared the living daylights out of me cause I thought it was snarling), and booked it across Kansas to land in Boulder, Colorado.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Colorado was like nothing I had ever seen. As the snow covered peaks of the Rockies began to grow in the distance, tears welled in my eyes. It was so unbelievably beautiful.

No matter how much planning you put into your trip, there's always the possibility that things won't go your way. My Ward, CO story is a whole mess of "trip gone wrong". #usaroadtrip #usatravel

Arriving in the beautiful state of Colorado

We took the first few days a little easy since the altitude was really messing with my ability to catch my breath (I was pretty chunky and asthmatic). There were plenty of things to do in Boulder like shop Pearl Street, visit the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, and take short hikes up the Flagstaff Trail.

When we were finally ready to step it up a notch, we packed up the car and sped off toward Rocky Mountain National Park where we were set to camp for a few nights.

This is where our story really begins. Waking up in the Rocky Mountains started off really rough. We were uneducated and under-prepared.

Overnight, thick clouds had rolled in and everything got soaked. Water came into the tent and soaked my sleeping bag and clothes during the night. I quickly got out of my sleeping bag and realized temperatures had plummeted and I was fucking freezing. With circulation issues, my legs were cramping and aching and my fingers hardly worked. My body was tense from shivering. I didn’t want to wake my friends so I grabbed the car keys and unzipped the tent.

As I went to get out of the tent, I found myself face-to-face with a moose. Startled, I zipped the tent right back up. Moose were mean, right? Had I read that somewhere? What should I do? I waited a few minutes, shivering like crazy, before I unzipped the tent again. The moose had moved on. I went to the car and grabbed my camera, snapping a few photos before I booked it to the bathroom a few sites down to change into dry clothes.

Whatever I did, I couldn’t get warm. I marched in circles, put on dry layers, and sat in the car. My feet and legs were cramping like crazy. After suffering for a little bit, I decided to wake my friends. We were pretty bummed that we couldn’t spend another night in the park as we were expecting more storms and my sleeping bag was soaked. So we packed up the car and set off in search of adventure.

What I don’t have photos of is the cool train dining car turned into a coffee shop or the health food co-ops we found. There was also a small shop with gemstones, crystals, and GIANT geodes. I don’t even remember where they were.

Stumbling into Ward, Colorado

What I do remember was driving down the road and realizing that we were all starving. Note: This was before everyone looked at their phone for everything and I’m pretty sure there wasn’t any cell service either, so we were super screwed. :-/ We took a turn down a road leading to Ward, Colorado in search of some food. The day was dreary and overcast. Intermittent rain fell and the clouds were really low. As we arrived in Ward, the first thing we noticed were PILES of old junked cars lining the sides of the road. I mean, they were everywhere literally stacked on top of each other. Cars, trucks, parts.

While that’s a little weird in itself, we noticed that we were the only moving car on the road. We were alone, three young girls straight out of a scene from The Hills Have Eyes.

“What if these are the cars of their victims and they’re waiting right over that hill with shovels and machetes to murder us?” One of my companions asked.


As we drove further into the town (why did we keep going?), there wasn’t a soul around. No people anywhere, just more junk cars, dilapidated looking buildings, a creepy general store.

We U-turned and left (after I snapped a few photos). We were officially creeped out and didn’t even know where to go to look for directions (I think we didn’t have any cell service here). By now, we’re ravenous. We got back on the road and found a restaurant attached to a motel. There were a few cars in the parking lot, so we deemed it okay as long as we weren’t alone. We got out of the car and walked inside, immediately getting nervous. We were completely and totally alone. No hostess, no one behind the bar, and no one sitting down to eat.

It was dimly lit, completely silent, and the decor was a bit dated. Looked like something out of a scary movie.

As we approached the bar, a man came out from the kitchen behind. He greeted us and invited us to sit up at the bar. We all took a seat and two more men came out from the back and slowly made their way out the front door. We nervously looked over some menus and made quick orders. The man in front of us doesn’t say much. He’s not very welcoming and looks slightly out off by our arrival. But he disappears back into the kitchen.

“What if they’re out there slitting our tires so we can’t get away?” the same companion asks.

If I haven’t told you before, I have crippling anxiety. In this moment, I’m planning my escape and mentally preparing myself to fight for my life. I come from the city where rape and murder happens every single day. I was ready to defend myself to the death.

Honestly, we were nervous and a little scared. It wasn’t that these men were threatening or mean, we had just heard so many stories of awful things happening to young girls who are by themselves. The previous experiences of the day and current ambiance didn’t help. And, like I said, we’re from the city where this kind of situation goes wrong more times than it goes right.

The two men returned from the front porch (where I assume they were smoking) and went back to the kitchen. The first man brought out our food and hung around while we ate. My friend struck up a conversation so that we weren’t just sitting there awkwardly eating while he watched.

To our surprise, this guy was an open book. He was really friendly and we spent the whole meal talking and laughing. We talked about where he was from, how he came to Colorado, and joked a little about the town of Ward.

Ward, Colorado was a former mining settlement.

It was founded in 1860 after the discovery of gold nearby and was once considered one of the richest towns in Colorado. The town was nearly deserted by the 1920s, but the population popped up a little after the building of the Peak-to-Peak highway in the 30s. In 2010, a census reported that the town had a population of 150 people. Wikipedia states that the town is a great interest to hippies, who make up most of the town’s population. Maybe they were still sleeping when we rolled through?

It’s a rough place to live with 9 months of really harsh winters. To live there is to adopt a simple life, working hard to maintain the area and thrive in it.

While I didn’t get to see much when I was there in 2007, it’s definitely a story that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

What’s your biggest travel mishap? Comment below!

Get your road trip planner right here and try to learn from my mistakes! —–>

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