Durango, Colorado

Saturday/Sunday, September 2/3, 2022

50 degrees at 6:00, 84 degrees high

We went to the farmer’s market, which was good. Martha loves a farmer’s market! It is downtown near the train station where we took our ride to Silverton.

We went into historic Strater Hotel to look around, and were surprised when a front desk person, Tina, offered to show us around. She hadn’t been on the job very long, but she had done her homework. It was built in 1887 by a young pharmacist, Henry Strater for $70,000, using 376,000 native red bricks and carved sandstone (https://strater.com/historic-strater-hotel/hotel-history/). It has changed hands a number of times and has survived the end of silver mining, the depression and other challenges, and has also been restored and upgraded along the way.

The glasswork and woodwork are exquisite. There is also some very nice artwork, and an interesting glass case with 14 Purdy shotguns. There was some connection with owners of the Purdy company and with the hotel. Purdy makes beautiful shotguns.

There are some ghost stories about the hotel also. A lady who died can sometimes be seen sitting in a chair downstairs. The hotel was built on the old railroad tracks. People have seen visions of men dressed in vintage railroad attire. A female bartender apparition is sometimes seen.

Many famous people have stayed at the Strater. Louis L’Amor would regularly rent room 222 above the Diamond Belle Saloon. He said the Honky Tonk music helped set the stage for his stories. His family would stay in an adjacent room. When he was finished writing for the day, they would enjoy Durango.

Walking through downtown, we explored stores and art galleries, which one lady described as a free museum. I love western art, the animals, the scenery and the horses. I love the image of riding a horse in a wilderness. I might love walking it, but I am not related to John Muir.

Martha found s cool sheepskin store and bought some gloves and a neck warmer. The salesperson, Carlotta, gave us some great suggestions of where to go next. 

We have been accompanied by ravens our whole trip

Sitting on a beautiful mesa above Durango is Fort Lewis College. It is a liberal arts college that waives tuition of Native Americans. It started as a military fort, then evolved to an Indian boarding school, and finally a college. It is a beautiful school with great views of the valley below. A walking trail follows the mesa rim.

The Million Dollar Highway

Friday, September 2, 2022

42 degrees at 6:00, high of 90.

First we went to a Durango fruit and vegetable stand and bought a few things. All the locals seemed to be stopping by. Roaster green chilis are in season.

The Million Dollar Highway is the section of the San Juan Skyway from Silverton to Ouray. Several reasons for the name are 1. The cost to build it. 2. The amount of gold and silver in the fill dirt and gravel. 3. The breath-taking views.

It is listed on Dangerous Roads website (https://www.dangerousroads.org/north-america/usa/635-million-dollar-highway-usa.html). It is a narrow, mountain road at high elevations with 1,000 foot drop offs with no guardrails. There are also some very tight turns. “The road climbs up to 3 very high mountain passes. Coal Bank Pass (10,640 ft /3,240 m); Molas Pass (10,970 ft /3,340 m) and Red Mountain Pass (11,018 ft /3,358 m). The stretch between Silverton and Ouray, the part everyone goes on about, is only 25 miles in length but takes about 42 minutes. Large RVs travel in both directions often.”

We thought about driving the San Juan Skyway loop, but it is 255 miles, and we have been to the southwestern part of the loop, so we went to Ouray and back. We drove through Silverton again, not wanting to miss anything.

On the way back to Durango, we stopped at Pinkerton Spring, right next to the road. It’s pretty cool with hot mineral water percolating from the ground, leaving its mineral deposits all the way down the mountain. A better chance to get in a hot spring was in Ouray, which directs hot, clear spring water into and out of a swimming pool. I’m sure that would be quite nice in November.

Next up was Honeyville, where they have all things honey, and ship all over the country. We bought some honey-flavored bourbon which was good, and of course some honey and some cinnamon-flavored honey.

Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Train

Thursday, September 1, 2022

52 degrees at 6:00, high of 85

Yesterday we drove from Taos, NM to Durango, Colorado. It was one of the prettiest drives of the trip going through Carson National Forest in the San Juan Mountains. With 1.5 million acres, it makes you want to explore.

Carson National Forest
Pagosa Springs, CO

Voted the best train ride in America in 2020 & 2021, it is 3.5 hour out, 2 hrs. in Silverton and 3.5 hrs. back following the beautiful Animas River in the San Juan Mountains. We opted for inside seating with some amenities, and were very lucky to have the best guide possible, a young lady named Zoie. She kept it lively and informative. Only a month on the job, she had learned her lessons well. She is a geologist and her father is a botanist, so she pointed out some very interesting things.

Of course there were historical things, like mining in Silverton, and how the train became an important part. Her boyfriend is a fisherman, so she knew a few things about the fishing. Hikers use the train a lot, and they can get on and off at designated places. About half way up is a zip-line camp and lodge that looked very busy.

Riding the train for 7 hours, you get to know most of the people in your car. Mike and Vickie from Louisiana sat across from us, and we had some interesting talks. A “Rusty Spike” drink from Zoie helped break the ice. Mike and Vickie had a Motorhome and travel a lot. They also tow a Jeep, and they like to drive the dirt and gravel roads through the mountains. They know the area well.

Silverton still has the feel of a western town, although they are mostly supported by tourism. We took a short spin around town in a stage coach. That’s a first for me, and I was surprised to find it pretty comfortable. 

In two hours, train passengers will shop a bit, but everyone wants to eat lunch, so there are lots of restaurants. Zoie told us about a unique jewelry shop where they mine a stone not found anywhere else. 

Mostly we walked around town, but finally had to get a bite to eat before boarding the train. We now had the river side of the train, so imagined fishing it. Zoie pointed out the place Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kit jumped on the train from a cliff in the movie. Some hikers got on and off the train in a couple of places.

It was a beautiful train ride with good company and a great guide. Mike and I gave her a hug when we got off the train. Well, we had sipped a little bourbon on the way down. 

Canoncito Trail/Arroyo Seco, NM

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

A lady in one of the shops had recommended the Canoncito Trail just outside Arroyo Seco. It’s a bit strange because it goes across private property, and you have to pay $10/person. That’s unusual, but I understand the problem. For one thing, there is very limited parking. People will also leave trash, bottles, clothing and other things, so someone has to go and clean up. I’m sure it got to the neighborhood’s nerves, so the $10 deters some people. But, hey, I never thought I would pay to go trout fishing.

Field of sunflowers leading to Sangre De Cristo Mountains

The trail follows a very small stream that you must cross a number of times. Someone has put down logs and rocks to cross this 4-inch deep stream so no one gets their feet wet. Being a trout fisherman, I have said many times – it is much safer to get your feet wet than trying to balance yourself on slippery rocks and logs. 

On the fifth crossing I was looking down at the logs as I pulled myself to land, holding onto a pine tree. Well, a broken snag of a limb jabbed me on the top of my head. It hurt a bunch, and I quickly started bleeding, well, like a stuck pig. I kept pressure on it with a bandana while muttering a few expletives. Martha took a look and said, “Oh my!” 

As the pain subsided, I left the bandana on my head and put my hat over it. I realized it would have been a lot worse if I hadn’t been wearing a hat. We continued the hike, but I walked through the water at every crossing the rest of the way. This is one of the 16 reasons to carry a bandana:

  1. Wipe sweat
  2. Clean up blood
  3. Blow your nose
  4. Sweatband
  5. Make a sling for a broken or hurt arm
  6. Tourniquet
  7. Neck gaiter to protect from old or sun
  8. Pot holder
  9. Dry your hands after washing
  10. Mark a trail or trout stream
  11. Emergency coffee filter
  12. Clean your glasses
  13. Padding under straps
  14. Lens cover if you lose yours
  15. Make an ice pack
  16. Tie brightly colored bandana to tools or people to keep track of them

It was a nice hike. I guess there are some pretty views further on, but we didn’t make it that far. Back at the truck, I pulled out the emergency kit and we cleaned up the wound,

We drove down the road to Arroyo Seco and explored the shops. We had a very nice lunch at the Sol Food Cafe. Next door they had an excellent, little grocery that was packed with all kinds of good stuff. In a small town like this, people came in steadily. There are a lot of artists in the area. One Art Gallery in particular had an impressive collection from many artists. They also had a unique approach to selling art. We have some incredible art on this trip, but how many things can you buy? This gallery turns the art into very nice greeting cards. Arroyo Seco is one of my favorite places of the trip.

Further down the road, we went to the Millicent Rogers Museum. From the brochure: “The Millicent Rogers Museum was founded in 1956 by Millicent Rogers’ youngest son, Paul Peralta-Ramos, as a lasting tribute to his mother. Born in 1902, she originally hailed from New York high society and was the granddaughter of Henry Huttleston Rogers, the cofounder of Standard Oil Company. Millicent came to Taos in 1947 and immediately fell in love with the rich Native American and Hispanic traditions of northern New Mexico. A philanthropist and life-long collector of fine art and antiques, she began to focus on the variety of arts unique to the Southwest and developed relationships with the local craftspeople, artisans and cultural communities. Millicent’s own creativity flourished in Taos as reflected in the merging of southwest cultural design elements within her own creations. The collection that Millicent developed became the core of the Museum’s exhibitions after her son, Paul, donated it upon the Museum’s founding.”

She had rheumatic fever as a child and suffered multiple heart attacks and pneumonia. Her left arm became debilitated. She died in 1953. She was known for unique style, her own fashion designs and for designing jewelry.

The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

August 29, 2022 

42 deg at 6:00, high 79

Listed as one of the top things to do in Taos is to drive The Enchanted Circle. It is a 2.5 hour drive if you don’t stop, or an all-day trip if you take your time and enjoy the sites, which is what we did. 

Heading east, we crossed into the Sangre De Cristo Mountains and down into beautiful Moreno Valley, stopping at Eagle’s Nest State Park along Eagle’s Nest Lake, fed by the Cimarron River. At 8,200’ it is an alpine lake that is stocked with rainbow and brown trout, Kokanee salmon, smallmouth bass and northern pike.

We poked around in the little town of Eagle’s Nest, but it was early. There were some cute, little shops and a coffee place, all of which weren’t open yet. Eye of The Jewelry was open, so we checked it out. A very nice, gregarious lady greeted us and showed us around. They had some interesting things, including a whole wall of cast iron cookware, both new and old. There was an interesting assortment of baskets. Martha bought some soap that looked like mineral rocks.

This is a ski area in winter and a place to escape the heat in summer. We continued north through this beautiful valley on 38, but had we continued east on 64 across the Sangre De Cristo mountains, it would have also been beautiful. This follows an alternate of the Santa Fe Trail. 

We arrived at Red River and walked both sides of the street. Once a gold and silver boom town, its income is now derived from tourists, with skiing and cool summer weather. 

Next stop on the tour, now heading back west, was Questa. We expected a town similar to Red Rock, but it was much smaller. Googling a good place to have lunch, Wildcat’s Den came up. It’s a small diner where four highway crew workers were waiting for their orders. A cute, young girl took our orders. The Bobcat Burger seemed to be the highlighted choice. I was disappointed to hear it was a hamburger. With fries and a soda, it was $6.95.

We wondered about our choice as more locals came in, many placing take-out orders. For a while there was only one guy cooking and the girl taking orders and calling names when it was ready. Fortunately, another cook came in as the line got a bit longer. It was probably 15-20 minutes before our order was ready. It was good, and it was great people watching – a happening for sure.

We turned south on 522, crossing the Red River. About 20 miles later, we turned northeast to Arroyo Seco. The little mountain town is only about a block square, but it is very cute, with nice, little shops and a great ice cream place with chairs and tables out back by a small stream. A big storm loomed in the background as we enjoyed our ice cream. We got rained out before we had a chance to really explore. Maybe we’ll come back tomorrow. 

Mabel Dodge Luhan House

On our list of things to do in Taos was the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, knowing nothing of its history. 

From Wikipedia: 

“The Mabel Dodge Luhan House, also known as the Big House, is a historic house at 240 Morada Lane in Taos, New Mexico, United States. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991.[2][3] It is now used as a hotel and conference center.

It was a home of arts supporter and writer Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879–1962), where she orchestrated one of the most successful artistic salon environments in the early 20th century United States, hosting well-known writers, painters, photographers, and musicians, and nurturing the young Taos art colony.[2]

The house was built between 1917 and 1922, using largely tradition Puebloan construction methods, and incorporates into its structure two older buildings. The work was overseen by Tony Luhan, a Native American whom Mabel Dodge later married. The public spaces of the interior include the large “Big Room”, a two-section chamber that doubles as entrance vestibule, and the “Rainbow Room”, so named for the colors painted on the latillas (the crossing members of the ceiling above the vigas). The house was the largest of several small houses Luhan had built on her property; the others served as additional guest quarters, and have not been well preserved.[2]

Mabel Dodge Luhan was born into a wealthy family and was well-educated in the arts. In the 1910s, she became well known for the salon-style gatherings at her New York City apartment. Her short marriage to painter Maurice Sterne brought her to New Mexico in 1917, where she soon bought the property near Taos, and sought to recreate the salon atmosphere in the budding art colony.[2]

Her endeavour was highly influential, furthering the careers of writers Willa Cather and D.H. Lawrence, artists and photographers including Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Edward Weston. Musical guests included composer and conductor Leopold Stokowski and composer Dane Rudhyar. While resident here, Luhan also wrote seven books on cultural and intellectual aspects of American society.[2]

The house was later owned for a time by actor Dennis Hopper.[2] It presently is used as a hotel and conference center, with a focus on education.”

The High Road To Taos

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Our Airstream neighbors in Santa Fe gave us some good recommendations, one being to take the high road to Taos. It is a very pretty drive, and there are several Spanish chapels worth seeing. We also wanted to visit the Nambe Trading Post in Nambe Pueblo, NM along the way. Carla had recommended going there, and we had bought a small painting from Jennifer Smith at the Indian Market.

I almost made a turn toward one of the churches, but was afraid I would get stuck on a small road since we were pulling the trailer. Then we missed a sign to turn to the trading post. It was quite a while before we could turn around beside a popular rug store. Turning into the small trading store parking lot was a bit scary, and I wondered if I would get back out. A 1960’s Airstream was parked by the store. The trading post is part museum, part store and part diner. 

It’s a family enterprise. Cathy Smith is in the Cowboy Hall of Fame, Emmy award winner, and other awards. She is a talented artist who is known for her authentic costume design for Dances With Wolves, Son of The Morning Star, Jedediah Smith, Into the West, Comanche Moon, Geronimo and more. Cathy’s mother is Lakota Sioux. At a young age Cathy became obsessed at studying Lakota ways, customs and dress.

“Cathy has spent her lifetime participating in the ceremonies and cultural life-ways of relatives on the Cheyenne River Reservation and refining her skills in the sacred art of porcupine quillwork

“Maintaining these traditional arts is imperative as they are a part of our American heritage in danger of being lost. Not only are they beautiful and useable, but when made with integrity, they are imbued with power & spiritual meaning.” From https://www.nambetradingpost.com/about/

Daughter, Jennifer Jesse Smith, makes beautiful jewelry and sculptures, but has also does well with paintings and has helped her mom making costumes. “Inspired by indigenous metal-smithing techniques from around the world, Jennifer combines her love of sculpture, silver-smithing and the elegance and edginess of rock-and-roll fashion with the best stones and finest metals to create original, balanced, wearable art that invoke a sacred connection and collaboration with the wearer. Jennifer Jesse Smith designs pieces of power, passion and beauty for those with enough mojo to wear them.” 

The building is not big, but it is amazing what is in it. We started with a tour of the museum with all the costumes made for so many movies and TV shows. A room is filled with used shirts, dresses, hats and boots that are for sale. Some list what movie they were used in, or who wore them. I should have bought an outfit, but it was too much to take in at one time.

I learned about Ledger Art. I am sometimes confused by the pictographs and petroglyphs. They are often so simple, I think some are done by children. On the other end of the spectrum, we have seen incredible talents in basketweaving, rugs, pottery and jewelry. I didn’t know that many displayed their art on their teepees, clothes and buffalo and deer hides. Most of the world didn’t see this side until the introduction of accounting ledgers by traders in the 1860’s. It enjoyed a revival in the 1960’s and 70’s. 

The other incredible art form is what can be done with porcupine quills. This one was naturally dyed porcupine quills, brain tanned buckskin, tin cone and horsehair.

Alcove House, Bandelier National Monument

Friday, August 26, 2022 

56 degrees at 6:20, high of 76

It’s about a mile out and back to Alcove House from the Visitor’s Center. We were lucky to be able to see it, as it is now limited or may even be closed due to wear and tear of the site. This seems to follow what other sites are doing now.

There are four ladders that must be climbed to get to the site. Martha didn’t hesitate, as heights don’t bother her as much they scare me. It is a very cool site though, and I didn’t want to miss it. Since the rest of the buildings are out in the open, one can only speculate about this site. Was it a lookout site, a ceremonial site or a more secure site? Part of the fascination of all the ruins in the “Four Corners” is trying to answer questions that may never be answered. Certainly a factor is growth of a population that outran its resources of water and food. One has to wonder if our current era isn’t making the same mistakes.

Hike Falls Trail Bandelier NM/Valles De Caldera National Preserve

Thursday, August 25, 2022

50 degrees at 6:00, high 75?

We hiked 1.5 miles to Frijoles Creek Falls. It’s a pretty cool area where the creek flows down a steep canyon and into the Rio Grande River. Since we are in monsoon season, the water was flowing nicely over the fall. 

We talked with a couple from Durango, Colorado, who had some good suggestions for our next stop, Taos. Combining theirs with our Airstream friend in Santa Fe:

1. Ride the narrow gauge train

2.  Drive the 80-mile loop from Taos

3. See the missions on the upper road to Taos

4. See the two houses owned by a lady in Taos

5. Taos Pueblo

As I look north of Taos for the next place to go, I see we run into Great Sand Dunes National Park. We are coming up on Labor Day, so we need to be booked.

We went back to the Visitor’s Center and watched a movie about the park, then toured an area they had just reopened since the fires last year. It is a very nice visitor’s center with very friendly and informative staff.

We had lunch at the pretty, little cafe. Eating in a courtyard planted with Hollyhock with hummingbirds zooming around.

We drove west, up a winding mountain to see Valle Caldera that we had heard about from several people. Stopping at a beautiful overlook, Martha said, “I think that’s the prettiest place I have ever seen.” We drove into Valle Caldera National Reserve and stopped at a small house that was the Visitor’s Center. Two rangers were busy repeating instructions to visitors. We opted for the drive through the beautiful valley to get the big picture. At lunch at the Indian Art Festival, Bob had told me about fishing the two streams here. They are beautiful, clear spring creeks running across the valley.

It started to rain as we began our drive. It is a beautiful grassland reminding me of Yellowstone. We kept looking for deer or elk, but never saw any. We did see a very pretty coyote. Although there are some very nice cabins, there is no place to stay in the park, but there is a campground not far up the road.

Coyote trots by

Valle Caldera is a super-volcano, like Yellowstone, and it is still active. There are a couple of hills and mountains in the valley, which I learned reading the brochure, are due to the magma refilling and pushing up those hills. When this one went off a million years ago, it was 600 times more powerful than Mr. St. Helens! 

It rained heavily as we splashed through puddles on this dirt and gravel road. I kept looking for a rainbow, but never saw one. As we drove out, the rain stopped within a few miles, making us wonder what forces this caldera holds. 

Bandelier National Monument

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

64 deg at 4:00, high 79

One-hour drive from Santa Fe is Bandelier National Monument. Signs said to turn back and take the bus, but we pressed on. There is a campground just past the gate, so we knew we could get in. 

Martha, again selected an excellent camp site, so I signed up for three nights. With my Senior Pass, it cost $18! After setting up, we drove to the Visitor’s Center, hoping we could park. An overlook gave us a good look at the beautiful canyon. Then winding down a steep road to the bottom, we did find parking places. 

Built in the style of the ancient pueblos, the Visitor’s Center is very cool. Inside were good exhibits of the 33,700 acre park and main dwellings. People have lived here for 10,000 years. With a good stream, that rarely runs dry, the land provided well for them. 

There are some unusual features of this area. The main dwelling was huge, and it was on the canyon floor. Behind the main dwelling are cliff dwellings and Long House. A million years ago, a volcano exploded nearby, spewing ash heavily in this area. It was 600 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens. Over time, the ash solidified, pumice being its main component. Wind and rain dissolved holes and caves in this “Tuff”. The ancients carved caves for food storage along the cliffs. Just when you think you have seen it all, this strange landscape presents something so unique, it looks like a movie set.

It was very cool to walk along the cliffs and climb up ladders into the caves. One passing lady said, “You never hear of this. You hear fo the Grand Canyon, but who knew about this? It’s so cool!”

Then a man and his family passed. “Christopher Newport” was on his T-shirt, so Martha said, “Christopher Newport! I’m from Hampton.” She said she went to Hampton High School. “Oh”, he said. “Was Mike Smith the football coach?” She said he was. “Well he is still coaching! I will be working with him in the fall.” Amazed, Martha said to tell him Martha from 1968 said Hi. “I was a cheerleader.” I asked her to give us a cheer “You can’t crush a crab”, but she didn’t. 

We stopped at the little restaurant, where they touted their famous hamburgers and bison burgers. A young man named PJ was working the place all by himself, doing the cooking, taking orders and cleaning up. He was a wonderful cook! There is a nice store with some local Indian arts for sale as well as books and souvenirs. We bought a couple of cards to send the kids. As we walked across the parking lot, our Christopher Newport friend yelled, “Can’t Crush a Crab!” 😀 Back at camp, for the first time on this trip, we built a fire in a great fire pit. Should be an interesting three of four days.

First campfire of the trip on a cool evening
In back of our campsite