Colorado Springs has an Olympic Training Center, which would have been a lot of fun to see, but we couldn’t go. We did go to the Hall of Fame though, and it was very cool. It’s a museum also, so there are lots of pictures and stories of famous athletes. Like most museums, it is difficult to take it all in.
The coolest part was a group of demonstrators where you compete against other visitors. There is a two-lane track to test your speed. There are three simulators – a soccer goalie, a bobsled run and a downhill ski course. That was good for some laughs 😊
It was a beautiful morning at Cheyenne Mountain State park as the sun rose over Colorado Springs.
Cheyenne Mountain has quite a story. Deep within the granite is a NORAD site built during the cold war. The Broadmoor has a resort up there and a zoo. An antenna farm sits on top. There is a host of luxury housing areas. Cheyenne Mountain State Park has another park on the mountain, and North North Cheyenne Cañon Park has 20 miles of trails and seven waterfalls. We need to go back for another week just to explore the mountain! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheyenne_Mountain
Across the highway from Cheyenne Mountain State Park is Fort Carson. It is very cool to hear the bugle calls in the distance, although I was usually asleep before taps 😊, but I was up long before reveille (wake up call).
The Air Force Academy is the youngest of the service academies, starting in 1959. The Academy sits inside 4,630 acres that was formerly Cathedral Rock Ranch owned by Lawrence Lehman of the famous Lehman Investment family. The price was $300,000, or about $65/acre. It is a gorgeous setting at the base of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains. “140 different parcels were eventually purchased to make up what is now a nearly-18,500 acre government property.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Air_Force_Academy)
We stopped beside the runway where they practice flying and parachuting. It would be fun to watch that some time. They had several airplanes on display. Martha thought one might have been one her father tested in the wind tunnel at Langley Air Force Base where he worked as an engineer.
We went into the Visitor’s Center, watched a movie and poked around while we waited for a guided tour given by a graduate of the school. He gave a nice tour, but we couldn’t go into any of the buildings, and we were disappointed they didn’t march to lunch. I think it was too hot.
I wondered what it would have been like to go to school here in stead of VMI. It certainly is a gorgeous setting, but our guide said they never saw much of it. Their lives were busy with school, chores and physical fitness. Their rooms were assigned by squadron, not by class as it was at VMI.
A lot of money was spent on the facilities, and their sports complex is top notch. The school design is very modern with a lot of glass and aluminum. Entering class size is about 1,200, 20% of whom don’t graduate.
It is about a 5.5 hour drive from Durango to Colorado Springs, which is northeast of Durango. It takes us about an hour or so longer by the time we stop for lunch, gas and whatever else happens. Pulling the Airstream makes us a little slower, but not that much. We arrived yesterday, staying at lovely Cheyenne Mountain State Park, a perfect location for visiting the area, yet you feel you are away from it all. It’s a great spot with great views.
We had a list of things to do thanks to Carlotta at the sheepskin store in Durango. We wanted to do two of them today. First up was Garden of The Gods National Natural Area. Located in the city, It is a busy place that attracts visitors like us as well as a great place for locals for hiking, biking or walking dogs. There is an excellent Visitor’s Center with a great porch overlooking the park. It would be much nicer early in the morning when not so crowded, It is also easiest to walk through. We drove and found it difficult to park. Everyone wanted to have their pictures taken sitting or climbing on the rock formations. After a few pictures, I had enough. A very nice guide at the visitor’s center told us about a restaurant at the other end of the park, so we went for a nice lunch.
Next up was driving up Pike’s Peak, a 14,115′ mountain on the front range of the Rockies. Colorado has 53 fourteeners and the US has 96. I had read about this treacherous drive and was preparing myself. You have to reserve a time to go so the little road isn’t too crowded. The other way to go is by taking the cog train, quite an engineering feat to get a train up a steep mountain. Of course gold was the first call to Pike’s Peak, but it didn’t really pan out.
It was named many things by different people, the first known name was a Ute name meaning Long Mountain. Its current name came from explorer General Zebulon Pike. At the same time as the Lewis and Clark expedition, President Jefferson commissioned him to explore through the Louisiana Purchase territory in 1805-1806. A second expedition took him to the southwest – Texas and New Mexico (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zebulon_Pike). I had never heard of him until writing this article, but he is quite an explorer and Brigadier General, killed in the War of 1812. Like Lewis, he kept a journal and later wrote a book that was very popular around the world. I ordered a second-hand copy. You can also read it at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/43774/43774-h/43774-h.htm.
The base of the mountain took us to the very cute, little town of Manitou Springs. The road first climbs through Pike National Forest on a normal road. You purchase a ticket @ $10 per adult. Then we passed a small guard house. Thereafter the road becomes steep, narrow and winding. A nice ranger gave some good tips: go slow; downshift coming down into first or second gear – mostly first! I hate this kind of road, on the precipice, with sharp curves and switchbacks and areas with no guardrails. On some of the turns I couldn’t see if anyone was coming or not. Driving on the inside is OK, but when on the outside I’m a wreck. Well a wreck is one thing, but one mistake here and it’s Goodbye! Or what if someone else makes a mistake, texting or videoing while driving? All kinds of thoughts crept through my head as Martha urged me on, totally unaffected. She offered to drive, which makes me even more afraid. Later I asked her what she would do if I fainted or had a heart attack. She said she would reach over and put it in first gear and take control. Pretty cool!
Once at the top, there is a nice visitor’s center and great views all around the top. Some rain came through, obstructing the views a bit. The ravens met us again, making me feel better. I watched with amazement as they sailed through the air with ease at this altitude. Of course they are attracted to areas like this where humans always leave something to eat, or something to take home as a prize.
I was shocked in the Visitor’s Center to learn there is an annual car race up the mountain called Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. This ain’t no hill! It is 12.42 miles, 156 turns and 14,115 ft elevation. It used to include motorcycles, but after four deaths, they quit having motorcycles. I cannot comprehend racing up this mountain!
There is also THE BROADMOOR CYCLE TO THE SUMMIT for those who would rather bike 12 miles with a 4,725 ft elevation gain!
I did as the ranger told me going down. I put it in first or second gear and took it slow, stopping a couple of times at overlooks. I started breathing again when I saw the little guardhouse. I stopped next to it wondering why. A man checked the heat of my brakes and said I was borderline, but recommended stopping to let them cool down for about 10 minutes. There is a small souvenir/restaurant, so we checked that out while I and the brakes cooled down. The rest of the way was a normal mountain road.
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.
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.
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.
“The Hopi, San Juan Southern Paiute, Zuni, and Navajo are tribes that have inhabited the canyons for centuries. Springs fed into farming land on the canyon floor and homes were built in the natural sandstone alcoves. The cliff dwellings of Betatakin, Keet Seel, and Inscription House were last physically occupied around 1300 AD but the villages have a spiritual presence that can still be felt today.” From: https://www.nps.gov/nava/index.htm
You can take a guided tour of Betatakin for half a day. The only other way to see it is from an overlook across the canyon. The only way to see Keet Seel is a 10-hour, 18 mile hike. You must have a permit, and you will meet a ranger at the site for a guided tour. It is supposed to be one of the best preserved sites. These are incredible sites, and the Navajo consider them sacred sites. No doubt, they will be better preserved in this way, however they do allow their cows to roam these lands.
We opted to go to the overlook, carrying my heavy 200-500mm lens and a tripod. It was worth it though, as I got some pretty good pictures. We walked back up past the nice Visitor’s Center and down the trail to Betatakin until we reached a gate. It gave us a feel for the canyon.
There is a very nice write-up on Keet Seel at: https://www.gjhikes.com/2016/07/keet-seel.html. After reading about the adventures explorers have had in finding these sites, this is a relatively easy trip to an incredible site where you can be guided through the site, climbing the ladders into the houses where the ancients lived.
Inscription house has suffered from erosion, people digging in the site and school children inscribing their names on the walls, so it has been closed. Still the problems persist. “The latter ruin derives its name from an inscription scratched into the clay plaster of a wall. It reads, “Shapeiro Ano Dom 1661.” An intrepid early Spanish explorer or missionary, probably on his way to or from the Colorado River, must have entered the canyon in which this ruin is located and paused at the long-abandoned pueblo to scratch a record of his visit. So far as recorded it was not visited again until June, 1909.” From: https://navajopeople.org/blog/inscription-house-ruin-nitsie-canyon-arizona/.
Only an hour drive from Mesa Verde National Park, I had a little maintenance to do. Someone described the inside of a travel trailer as being a small hurricane. Things get shaken loose. The latch had come loose on the door of the half-closet over my bed. I carry a dowel that I cut to length, then tap it to place with a small hammer, adding some super glue. Then I replaced the screws and made a mental note to leave it closed for 12 hours.
Since we were going into the boondocks with no services, we did several loads of laundry. In Cortez, I washed the trailer while Martha went next door to the grocery store. Once finished, I drove over to the grocery store where we unloaded groceries and filled the cooler with ice and drinks.
Bradfield Campground is on the Dolores River outside Dolores, Colorado. I was a bit nervous as we drove down the mountain on a gravel road. There is a recreation area on the river next to the campground. All campsites are first come-first serve, so I wasn’t sure we would get a spot. After driving around two loops, each with vacant spots, we settled on a site with a good shade tree. As soon as we set up, two boys on ATV’s rode up and down the gravel road, throwing up dust and making a lot of noise. I stood watching, wondering what to do. Finally I walked over to the pay station and filled out my information and site number, filled in my Senior Park Pass, and paid $12 for three nights! three men, three boys and one girl each reeved up their ATV’s with excitement in their eyes. One of the men gave the girl a verbal whipping since she let her machine cut off. He was looking for a jumper cable. I offered mine, but they had one. “Don’t worry sir. We are all going for a ride over the mountain, and will leave you in peace.” We both grinned, and I waved happily as they rode off. It’s hard to get mad when you look at the excitement on those kids faces.
We drove back to the Visitor’s Center to see what Canyon of the Ancients was all about. Unfortunately, it was closed on Sunday. It is a beautiful building with native flowers planted and labeled all around. Martha found a booth next to a path leading up the hill. A very nice volunteer was there to give information about the national monument.
“Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (‘the Monument’) encompasses 174,000 acres of federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The Monument is located in the Four Corners region of southwestern Colorado, about 50 miles west of Durango, 10 miles west of Cortez, and 12 miles west of Mesa Verde National Park. The Monument was designated on June 9, 2000 by Presidential Proclamation to protect cultural and natural resources on a landscape scale.
The Monument contains the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, with rich, well-preserved evidence of Native American cultures. The archeological record etched into this landscape is much more than isolated islands of architecture. This cultural landscape contains more than 8,300 recorded sites which reflect physical components of past human life: villages, field houses, check dams, reservoirs, great kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, sacred springs, agricultural fields, petroglyphs and sweat lodges. Some areas have more than 100 sites per square mile. The number of sites is estimated to be up to 30,000.
We drove back to the campground with brochures and a reasonable idea of how to approach it. Things had settled down in the campground, and on a Sunday evening, everyone but one camper had left. Then the next thoughts came into my mind – OK, here we are out in the middle of nowhere. Were we safe here? I scavenged the other campsites, picking up firewood and kindling. I built a fire, but didn’t light it. For one thing it was hot, and the other was it was very dry. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for starting another big fire in the west. Once the sun went down, it cooled off nicely.
One of the coolest hikes we have been on, we enjoyed this one a lot. What makes a great trail? A great view, features along the way, discovery of something new, history, wildlife, solitude all go into making a great trail. This one has some great features, steps (some carved in rock), slots between huge rocks, walking under shelves where people have walked for thousands of years. The petroglyphs were a special attraction. There were a few others on the trail, but not many. We were reminded of the history of this place passing a wall still standing from a house built 900 years ago. Toward the end you climb up out of the canyon onto the mesa top and walk along a gravel path that leads back around to the museum. It crosses what was once a great, flowing stream with a waterfall into the canyon right in front of Spruce Tree House, one of the great ancient ruins of the park.
Petroglyph Point Trail Difficulty: Strenuous Distance: 2.4 miles (3.9 km) roundtrip Elevation Change: 227 feet (69 m) Trailhead: Spruce Tree House Overlook, by the Chapin Mesa Museum
A rugged and adventurous trail with steep drop offs. Hikers traverse the side of Spruce Canyon, squeezing between boulders and descending narrow stone staircases to reach a large petroglyph panel at 1.4 miles (2.3 km). From here, hikers must climb a 100-foot (30 m) cliff, scrambling up rocks and uneven sandstone steps to the mesa top, before returning through pinyon-juniper forest on the mesa top to complete the loop.
We were lucky, very lucky to get a tour of Cliff Palace. We knew nothing about Mesa Verde, just that it was a national park, and I wanted to see the national parks and monuments. Perhaps it is fortunate I am writing this three weeks late.
Built approximately 1190, and added to until 1260, it was abandoned by 1300. It is the largest cliff dwelling in North America, and one of the most impressive. It was built late in the Pueblo III period, the most impressive building period. As we saw in Chaco Canyon, people traveled impressive distances, and trade products came from the west coast and Mesoamerica (Central America).
In 1888 Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason would rediscover it. The Wetherill family continuously moved before settling on the Mancos River, starting the Alamo Ranch. Alamo is derived from the Spanish word for cottonwood. Benjamin Wetherill had five sons, Richard being the oldest. The young men enjoyed searching the canyons in winter when ranch work was done. They had discovered minor cliff dwellings.
They had good relations with Indians, and although Richard had only a high school education, he read and studied a lot. “Meanwhile, they befriended the Ute chief, Acowitz. One day, twenty miles down the Mancos from the ranch, Acowitz walked up to Richard Wetherill as he stared at the twisting bends of Cliff Canyon, where he had never been.
At that moment, Acowitz chose to tell his cowboy friend something he had told no other white man. far up Cliff Canyn, near it’s head, he avowed, stood many houses of the ancientt ones. “One of those houses,” said Acowitz, “high, high in the rocks, is bigger than all the others. Utes never go there. It is a sacred place.” From: “In Search of the Old Ones”, by David Roberts.
Continuing: “Almost two years passed. On a bitter day in December 1888, with snow in the wind, Richard and his brother-in-law Charlie Mason rode horseback along the rim of Mesa Verde above Cliff Canyon, tracking cattle that had strayed far from their usual pastures. Twenty-five miles from the Alamo ranch, the cowboys knew they faced a cold bivouac under the pines before they could bring the cattle in.
A looping track drew the two men near the mesa’s edge, where a cliff dropped sheer to the talus below. They dismounted, walked to the rim, and gazed east across the head of Cliff Canyon. Suddenly Richard blurted out a cry of astonishment.
Half a mile away, in the cliff forming the canyon’s opposite wall, loomed an overhang that sheltered a natural cavern fully four hundred feet long by ninety feet deep. Inside it stood the pristine ruins of an ancient city, more than two hundred rooms built back-to-back of stone and mud, dominated by a round three-story tower. So this was the place Acowitz had told Richard about! “It looks like a palace”, murmured Mason.”
I love the way the original park buildings were made to resemble the cliff dwellings. The ancient ones were small, the women 5′ and men 5’5″, so doors were smaller. Windows were smaller before glass. Doors were smaller too, although they may have hung a rug or deer hide.
In 2015 the National Park lit luminaries in Cliff Palace for a centennial celebration. From the Durango Herald:
A store at the Morefield Campground has all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast as well as breakfast burritos starting at 7:00. two nice, older guys were working the kitchen. Their computer wasn’t working, so I went to the store to pay. I had the burrito and Martha the pancakes, both of which were very good.
We went down the mountain and turned west on 160, and found Suburban Propane Supply. They didn’t open until 8:00 and we were a couple of minutes early. Soon a man got out of his car and bid us good morning. He looked a lot like John, my great lab man. He was a retired Air Force airplane mechanic and was born and raised in Cortez and had returned after seeing a lot of other places.
He asked where we had been, and Martha told him. His eyes lit up when he heard Monument Valley. “Did you go to John Wayne Point?” He is a big John Wayne fan and has (or had) all of his movies until he got divorced. It seems his wife kept some of them. John Wayne was in 250 movies! He talked about the first one, where he just made an appearance.
He said the climate has gotten a lot more temperate here. When he grew up, the snow would get up to your waist, but they don’t have snows like that any more. We asked where a car wash was, and he told us “Third stop light, on your right.”
I gave the truck a much-needed wash, and will return with the trailer Sunday on our way to Canyon of The Ancients. Next up was a haircut. We went into Cortez Barbering where a father and son worked. The son had recently returned to town. Both are excellent barbers!
Next stop was Ace Hardware for a better mouse trap. We picked up a pack rat at Chaco Canyon, and our cheap mousetraps weren’t good enough. He was picking them clean without tripping the spring – at least I hope it is a he! I would learn at Mesa Verde that mice proliferated at these ancient places where they stored so much corn and other grains in rooms. Ancestors of these ancient mice are still there!
This is a big Ace Hardware with a lot of help all over the store. I went to the bathroom while Martha selected a couple of traps. There was one sticky trap that looked good. Our mouse jumps over a short wall into a recessed area, so it would be a good place to catch him.
We asked about breakers, since I might replace a second breaker that is heating up. James took us to the area with breakers, but I wasn’t sure if it was the same as the one I changed.
It was such a nice store, we wandered around looking for possible things we needed. We kept running into James, who was most helpful. Martha asked him about our mouse trap selections, and he offered to show us his favorite. He said the sticky one is good, but then you have to somehow kill the mouse. Good point.
He asked us where we were from and what we had seen. He worked for AT&T for his career, then moved here to be near the grandchildren. He told us to be sure to see the trading post down the street where they have high end Indian things.
Taking James’ advice, we walked a block or so to Notah-Dineh Trading Company and Museum. Notah is what the Ute tribe calls themselves, and Dineh is what the Navajo call themselves. It is a very cool store with high quality things and a lot of history. The best we could do was to take in as much as we could in an hour, because we had a tour at Mesa Verde at 2:30.