Category: Colorado

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.

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. 

Canyon of The Ancients National Monument

August 9, 2022

53 degrees at 6:30

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. 

Lowrey Pueblo, Canyon of The Ancients National Monument

Monday, August 8, 2022

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.

Moving to Canyon of The Ancients National Monument

Sunday, August 7, 2022

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.

This landscape has been used or inhabited by humans, including Ancestral Puebloan cultures, for at least 10,000 years, and continues to be a landscape used by humans today. Contemporary uses of the Monument include recreation, hunting, livestock grazing, and energy development.” From: https://www.blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/colorado/canyons-of-the-ancients

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.

Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Saturday, August 6, 2022

We met for our second tour at Mesa Verde National Park. Our tour guide, Michael, in the beginning warned us this is a strenuous hike, climbing several ladders with many steps and crawling through a tunnel. “If you can’t make it up these ladders, we may have to stop the whole tour. If we have to call for help, the whole day will be stopped. So if you have ANY thoughts that you can’t make it, please turn around now. Don’t ruin the day for all the others.” At 75 years old, he was beginning to talk me out of going. I felt a few glances in our direction, but we stood our ground. 

Climbing the first ladder, I was intimidated by his speech, but took it slowly, concentrating on one step at a time. Once we were all up, he took a different tack than other tours we have been on. He asked a lot of questions, and he had answers for questions that I have frequently asked myself. He may have been right or wrong, but I appreciated his frankness.

“How many people would fit on this courtyard? Why is this window so small? What could have been on the other side? Why is it so difficult to get in here? Look at the spring in the back. How many can drink from that spring? Why did they leave? Where did they go?”

All these thoughts lead to Balcony House being built in a time where resources were getting more scarce. The water was drying up. Crop yields were dwindling on this thin soil, trying to feed many people. Maybe people were fighting over dwindling resources. This was a difficult place to get into and out of. It could be easily defended. Grains could have been stored here and carefully dispensed through the small window. Maybe this was a last stand place. Maybe ranking officials held court in this courtyard with people sitting on the balconies. Maybe it was very hard times when people watched their children dying. They didn’t want to leave, but they had to go. 

It was interesting, and I enjoyed his approach. It made us realize the importance of this particular site that was built intermittently between 1180 and 1270. They raised turkeys and grew corn, squash and beans. http://npshistory.com/brochures/meve/balcony-house-2013.pdf

A Day in Mancos and Cortez, Colorado

Friday, August 5, 2022

We waited until 9:00 to go to Mancos. I had to get a newsletter out and needed WIFI, so we went to the Mancos Library. There were picnic tables and chairs on a covered porch where we found outstanding WIFI. This area is open 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week!

by Joseph Kerski

I was able to download two big updates – Luminar Neo and Proton VNP, both of which I use a lot. I sent the newsletter to the board for review and got replies from two. Then I uploaded two days worth of pictures for the blog. Martha went for a haircut, and then caught up on some things. 

By 11;30 we had had enough and walked a block to Main Street. We went into Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters. The nice owner told us about her different coffees, describing the pros and cons of each. I wish I had recorded it.

Mancos, Colorado

James, in Ace Hardware, had told us about an art store, which was nice. I bought some cards explaining petroglyphs somewhat. Across the street was a very good Indian arts and antiques store, Kilgore American Indian Art. Kelly greeted us and told us not to touch the bowls. She told us how they were made, using no machines. They are all fashioned by hand, using plant-based dyes and local clays.

Kelly grew up working in Kilgore Trading Post, that her parents owned

There was a lot of antique jewelry and baskets. Martha went to the rugs, and after some discussion with Kelly, bought a pretty rug. Kelly grew up working in her parents trading post, …… She speaks Navajo and Hopi and understands their symbols and beliefs. She is an appraiser for other organizations. She photographed the rug and will send a description of the meanings of the symbols.

Martha bought this rug

We went across the street to Columbine’s for lunch and read a local magazine. Louis L’Amour lived here on a big farm, and many of his stories were about this area. 

We drove 17 miles west to Cortez, stopping at an auto parts store to get some engine coolant for the truck, then drove to a crazy welded art field that James told us about. In a pasture in front of his house, he has made figures of all sorts from scrap metal and paint and a good sense of humor.

It had gotten hot, about 90o. I pulled over to call Sirius AGAIN! My weather app isn’t working, and I think it’s pretty essential to be able to get a weather report. Same story, different day. “I am so sorry for your trouble Mr. Wall. Let me get all your information and I will refresh your radio.” Same result – it doesn’t work. 

Back at camp, we had a light dinner and enjoyed the first fire of the trip. At the top of the mesa, the temperature had dropped to 72 degrees.

Hike Petroglyph Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

Thursday, August 4, 2022

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.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

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:

Business in Cortez, Colorado

Wednesday, August 3, 2022 

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. 

Shower house and laundry

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.

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