It was a nice drive on 94 and 40 from Colorado Springs to Oakley, Kansas. It was pretty flat and very dry as we made the turn onto 40. 94 was a bit rough and narrow, but still tractor-trailers were making time at 65 mph.
We missed the turn at Kit Carson somehow, and went south for 20 minutes until we figured it out, but that cost us 45 minutes.
We set up in High Plains Camping near I70, which is a nice travel campground. They spread everyone out nicely. The people are very nice, and the showers good.
Trying to settle on a place to eat, we drove up to Buffalo Bill’s Bar & Grill where five trucks were parked outside. The overhead sign was falling apart, and the front door wasn’t very inviting, so we turned around and went to “The Bluff”. We were early at 6:00 and walked into a big dining area that was vacant except for one table with 8 men and women in deep conversation. As we passed, I asked if that was the City Council. They laughed, saying they could solve a lot of problems, and they invited us to join.
We smiled and took a small table two tables away. It was a shame, because I could barely catch a comment or two of their conversation, and they did seem to be addressing some of the local issues, one being marijuana and Colorado being so open.
We were a bit nervous about the place, and it was a while before a waitress came over. Martha ordered a beer and I ordered a $5 screwdriver with Absolut. Martha ordered a steak and I smothered chicken breast with cheese, onions and mushrooms. Their slices and grilled potatoes were great and so were the green beans.
As we sipped our drinks, people started coming in. It’s a small town (pop. 2046), and they all knew each other. One lady came in for a take out order of 8 boxes! There was a big take-out business, and the two men in the kitchen were hopping. Thankfully, another waitress came in, because the place was filling up.
It was the right choice. The food was good and the people very nice. It had a homey feel in a small town. I liked it! We drove back to camp where Tres Hermanos restaurant, right beside the campground, was busy. Looked like a good place. I would liked to have visited the Fick Fossil History Museum, but we were heading home now. Oakley is a nice, little town. Next time I’ll sit in with the “City Council”.
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 😊
We went for a visit to the Broadmoor Hotel, an iconic, beautiful hotel in Colorado Springs. Passing by lovely Pauline Chapel, we we went to The Penrose Heritage Museum just across the street from the hotel. It is mostly a carriage museum, but also has cars and motorcycles owned by the original builder and owner, Spencer Penrose.
We have two carriages and a sleigh in our garage, so I was very interested with all the carriages and a few sleighs, all in immaculate condition. It would be so much fun to drive these!
Walking around the lobby, I was struck by amazing art work. I have since learned they have one of the largest collections of western art. I could have wandered around looking at the art for a long time. Maybe we saw 5% of the resort. I would love to come back to walk around more. I would have to find some kind of deal as the rooms are listed at $600 plus the usual resort fee, plus the taxes, but they are completely booked next week for its 784 rooms.
The ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs is dedicated to professional rodeo riders, livestock, equipment, clowns and events. Opened in 1979, it has historical exhibits, stories of over 300 inductees and displays of saddles, ropes, lariats and outfits. I learned that lariat comes from the Spanish, La reata or lasso. It is a light rope, usually of leather or hemp, used to catch livestock or tie grazing animals.
We first watched a 15-20 minute video showing all the events and history of rodeo. Then we toured the museum.
I wanted to pick up one of the saddles to see how heavy they were, but they were anchored in place. They look heavy, maybe up to 60 lbs. This article notes that a working saddle needs weight to remain stable under stress. They also distribute the load over a larger area, therefore applying fewer pounds per square inch. https://www.western-saddle-guide.com/saddle-weight/
I also enjoyed the outfits, shirts, hats and chaps. Rodeo has certainly brought out more flare to the dress. Having been in the southwest all summer, I tried to picture what it was like on a cattle drive for a couple of months. You would have only one outfit, a raincoat and bedroll. That outfit would have to be pretty versatile.
Then I looked around for my old hero, Gene Arnette, who roped for a time, but he didn’t make the Hall.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
With 270,000 acres and hundreds of sites, there is a lot to explore and discover in Canyons of the Ancients. We opted to hike Sand Canyon Trail to Saddlehorn Pueblo and Double Cliff House for a 4-mile out-and-back hike. We were a little late getting started at 9:00, but it took us about 40 minutes to get there. It was 78 degrees when we started and 83 when we finished. That is not so bad, but at 5,400’ and clear skies, the sun is hot, and it is VERY dry, so we made every effort to drink a lot of water.
We could see others had made the hike already. Dirt bike tracks helped mark the trail. It looked like someone ran the trail, and horses had come up last weekend. The entire trail is 6 miles one way with a 700’ gain in elevation. I can’t imagine the biker went the whole way. A horseback ride would be a nice way to explore this vast region, but you would need a lot of water.
It was a very pretty hike. Just when you think you have seen all possible rock formations, a different group presents itself. The lower layer was bright red from oxidized iron. At one point I thought we were back at Goblin Valley. Surrounded by such history makes the hike pretty amazing. Natural features present many great home sites for cliff dwellers. It is so dry now, you have to imagine it when water was plentiful, especially at Double Cliff House. There would have been two waterfalls and perhaps a lake. Farming would have been good, with lots of game. When it all dried up abound 1200, the people migrated south to better water sources. to the east they followed the Rio Grande south. To the west they followed the Colorado.
We passed a lot of people out for a hike. One young man looked determined to do the whole thing – a 12-mile trip. Walking back down, we got a different view and perspective of Ute Mountain and the beautiful irrigated farms below. There are a number of other trails in the area. It would be fun to come back and do them.
We drove to the top of the trail to see Sand Canyon Pueblo, which has not been excavated. It is a huge site where hundreds once lived 1,000 years ago. Somehow modern technology is able to scan the area and see what is below the earth and rubble. Pictures on signs showed what it looked like, which is pretty amazing.
We had lunch in the shade at a picnic table. Then we drove to the cute, little town of Dolores and went to Dolores Market that Martha had heard about. It’s a small market, but it has everything. Browsing the store, I passed by a substantial kitchen where three women were working. The smell of freshly-baked cookies filled the air. I watched a lady carry out a tray of cookies. They are known for their pies, and we bought a tri-berry pie along with sausage they made and a few other things.
I needed to get some emails out and work on the Virginia Airstream Club newsletter, so we went to the Dolores Library. It is a beautiful library with outdoor seating and a park-like setting beside the beautiful Dolores River. Several people were tubing down the river on a hot afternoon.
I was able to get a lot done in a few hours, until a storm came through, knocking the internet out. Then my email app wouldn’t load and didn’t like my password. In a panic, I remembered this happening several times before, and I wanted to get it resolved before leaving this nice library, but I could not. I got the emails sent by going to the email website thankfully.
Driving, we saw the Dolores River flowing into the McPhee Reservoir then out through the dam downstream to our campground. We drove to the recreation area next to the campground and saw why so many come here. It is a great swimming hole with a rock ledge on the other side. A family was enjoying the day, and a young boy showed how you can jump off a 10’ cliff into the water. A big sign described the river and canyon below. It looks a bit muddy and low to be able to run the canyon right now. Apparently there are trout in the river, but it is awfully hot with little cover for trout. They would be looking for cold springs to hold out in. We agreed that the river offers a lot of opportunities in this area, but tomorrow we leave for natural Bridges National Monument.
Canyon of The Ancients is a massive 270,000 acres on the Sagebrush Plains in the southwest corner of Colorado with 30,000 Ancestral Puebloan ruins, and more being found. Humans have been here for 12,000 years. Starting around 750 AD they started farming and building homes, starting with clustered pit houses – round building sunken into the ground and covered with a roof of woven timber with a hole in the top for entrance and exit. It provided warmth in the winter and cool in the summers.
Their building skills developed to its peak in about 1300. Trade and travel between regions was extensive. Products from Mexico and the west coast have been found. They built towers, storage areas, water diversions, dams and reservoirs. Their basket-making and pottery skills were incredible. They farmed, growing crops of corn, squash and beans unique to this area. By 1300, they had all left the area, going to the Rio Grande areas, where there was water. With large population growth, the land could no longer support them, and mostly because the climate became drier. Some say this explanation is the easy way out.
Anna, a volunteer at the Visitor’s Center, gave us good directions and a plan of how to explore the area. We started by driving from Morefield Campground in the National Forest to Lowrey Pueblo. I was surprised to be driving through beautiful farmland, all made possible by a canal system and giant watering systems. Sound familiar?
Lowrey Pueblo is an impressive area built with thick walls, 40 rooms and a giant Kiva with two stone “summer and winter” figures in the bottom. What is the difference between a pit house and a kiva? As one of our guides said, “about 600 years.” Better construction, bigger with air vents and baffles to circulate the air. Some had windows, but most were sunken in the ground. Sinking these 10 feet into the ground would be difficult today with modern machinery working in this hard, rocky terrain, but how they did it then is pretty amazing. All of these sites are spiritual places for modern Pueblo, Hopi, Navajo and Ute people, all saying, “This is where we came from.” They believe the spirits of those before them are still there.