Along the road
For nearly 80 years, group offers refreshments to travelers
The wind blows over the adobe hills, encountering little resistance from the stubby scrub brush. The horizon stretches out to the purple-tinged canyons, with a few tiny smudges that could be bushes or antelope, depending on if you watch long enough to see if they move.
This is what locals call the Stinking Desert, the badlands between Whitewater and Delta along U.S. Highway 50, skirting the western side of Grand Mesa with its monotonous landscape. This is the land of Spanish explorers and priests Dominguez and Escalante, who traveled along the Old Spanish Trail through these desolated parts on their journey to establish missions and reach potential converts.
Aside from a lone, scraggly, out-of-place Christmas tree that people decorate in the wintertime, there’s not much else to see out there most days. Except on summer holiday weekends, when a tiny speck of a trailer sits off the road, with a flag whipping in the wind and a sign inviting people to stop in for refreshment.
This little green-striped Nomad trailer parked at Escalante Road is the welcome wagon for weary travelers, an oasis in the desert. And it can be found along Highway 50 for the last time this year over Labor Day weekend, staffed by volunteers dedicated to providing a free rest stop for people traveling between towns.
Instead of spending the three-day weekend with their families, these volunteers hand out refreshments to strangers, hoping to provide them some comfort and to cut down on the number of drivers who fall asleep at the wheel during long drives.
A family who stopped by the trailer on the Fourth of July weekend was stunned to see the stop in the desert, about 15 miles northwest of Delta. As the children picked out homemade cookies, volunteer Myrna Bertram filled Styrofoam cups with pink lemonade and tea and handed them through the window.
The family’s little dog had a drink of water poured from the cooler, the dad put a few dollars in the donation jar and they loaded back into the truck, looking back at the banner advertising that “REBEKAHS and IOOF” were running the show.
“Who’s Rebekah?” the mom asked as they got back into the truck.
“I dunno,” the dad said, and they drove away.
Rebekah isn’t a person, it is a service club, one that started to support the International Order of Oddfellows (IOOF). The women met in an auxiliary group to help with the Oddfellows activities, and today, the District 25 Rebekahs chapters in western Colorado have outlived the fraternal order they formed to support.
Though their numbers are small, they’ve managed to keep the only Rebekahs-supported rest stop known in Colorado open for decades, starting with Memorial Day weekend and ending the season with Labor Day weekend. Members from the Olathe, Montrose, Ouray, Grand Valley and Cedaredge chapters volunteer in shifts to greet travelers, offering them snacks and drinks and a break from driving on the road.
The rest stop is a public-service project the Rebekahs started back in the 1940s in an old sheepherder’s tent on the side of the road. Back then, it was a two-lane highway, and they served coffee and homemade cookies to passers-by.
Alice Goodman’s mother, Nellie Boyd, was one of those volunteers with the rest stop tent. Goodman joined the Rebekahs in 1952 with her cousin, because “my mother was in it, and she thought it would be good for me,” she said.
Back then, the Rebekahs were a social outlet, like quilting bees. Today, they choose local causes, such as sponsoring students who go to the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth, and keep projects like the rest stop going.
The rest stop is popular, and old-timers around here expect it. In one weekend, as many as 500 people will record their names in the registry the club keeps at the trailer, said volunteer Margaret Hogan.
“I think people like just being able to stop and get something to drink, probably, and maybe a little snack,” Goodman said. “People like to stretch their legs, and they can’t accept the fact that it’s free. You don’t have to give nothing.”
When Goodman started years ago, nickels and dimes dropped into the donation box. Today people donate dollar bills and more, and she thinks people give more freely than they used to. The proceeds help pay for the next rest stop weekend and other projects.
This is the third trailer the Rebekahs have used for rest stops since Goodman joined the club. Her son, Mike, maintains the trailer and hauls it to the parking lot on the Friday afternoon before the holiday weekend. Then she and Hogan usually camp out and set up all the refreshments so they are ready to go by 7 a.m. the next day. As soon as some people see the trailer set up on Friday, they start pulling over. But that’s OK with Goodman.
“Anytime somebody stops, we’ll offer them something,” she said.
The donated plastic Baggies of peanut butter cookies with the fork hash marks on the tops are Hogan’s handiwork, on a table with other goodies in the shade of the Nomad. Hogan, who lives in Delta, has been a Rebekah since 2004, and she’s one of the younger members at 73 years old. Peer pressure led her to join the group, and she loves the camaraderie with the other members and the service projects. She’s a retired nurse and it helps her keep busy.
She looks forward to the rest stop holiday weekends and knows people appreciate the Rebekahs’ project.
“We had one guy come down from Telluride last year on the Fourth of July; he was headed for Grand Junction,” she said. “He was almost home and said, ‘Gosh, I’m so glad you guys are here. I was getting so sleepy I was afraid I was gonna wreck.’ “
“If it was one person who didn’t have a wreck because they stopped, that’s enough for me,” Hogan said.
One time, Goodman and Hogan were doing their four-hour shift in the Nomad when a man drove up and said he needed help because he had run out of gas. Goodman ended up giving the stranded man a ride to town, and when he left, he donated $20 and gave her another $10 for her troubles.
Goodman, a retired teacher who lives in Olathe, is now 83 years old and is one of the longest-standing members of the local Rebekahs chapters. Back when she joined, about 30 members would come to the twice-monthly meetings.
“Right now, we’re doing good if we get six people to show up,” she said. “We’re diminishing quickly, it seems like.”
That’s the only worry they have, that the dozen volunteers who have kept this tradition alive will burn out, and the rest stop won’t survive their dwindling membership. They’re open to help from other service clubs and individuals, if anyone wants to assist with the project to keep it going.
“We’ll do it as long as we can,” Hogan said.