Friday, August 18, 2017

Driving the Million Dollar Highway (in the Fit)

Posted from Questa, NM
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

Took view all of the pictures associated with this blog click HERE

Yes, I've managed to get behind in our blog posting again, but I wanted to make this last post about our adventure in Ignacio, CO before moving on. We decided to drive the "Million Dollar Highway" (US550) from Durango, CO to Ouray, CO.  Technically, the MDH moniker is most correctly attached to the section from Silverton, CO to Ouray, CO. It is only about 25 miles in length and loosely follows the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad line. There have been several versions of why the name MDH.  Some say it cost a million dollars per mile to construct, while others say that the highway contains a million dollars worth of gold ore.

The highway was constructed in 1883 by Otto Mears as a toll road between Ouray and Ironton (now abandoned). The road is a two-lane, windy path with very few guardrails and steep dropoffs along the edges.  Several points reach above the 11,000 feet level.

With all of that being said, the drive is beautiful. I know that many have taken their RVs along the entire route, but I'm not one of them. We, of course, started out on an overcast and rainy day, but the sky cleared nicely by the time we reached Ouray.

Honestly, the drive is not too bad coming north from Durango to Silverton. Mountainous, yes, but nothing "scary". We stopped in the Visitor's Center in Silverton to get a bit of local orientation.

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge train was just leaving Silverton as we walked in.

The stretch from Silverton to Ouray has the most beautiful mountain views (IMHO).

We stopped for a bit of sightseeing and roadside historical marker reading at Red Mountain Pass. The roadway in this area reaches just over 11,000 feet.

This area was collectively known as the Red Mountain Boomtown area. In the 1880s, six towns holding over 3000 people sprang up to support the numerous mines in the area. Today, abandoned mines dot the landscape.

As we got closer to Ouray, the skies began to clear and the views of the mountains were magnificent.

The Red Mountain area is aptly named as the iron oxide in the soil eventually finds its' way to the streams. The colorization of the rocks is seen beside us.

We're almost to Ouray now and the windy roads are made a bit more hazardous by the lack of guardrails along the steep canyon walls.

This is our first glimpse of Ouray from the highway above. As a sign nearby indicated, it reminded us of a Swiss town in America.

Ouray grew because of mining in the area. Prospectors first came to the area in 1875. At one time, there were more horses and mules in Ouray than people. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad arrived in 1887 and would remain until 1930 when trucks and automobiles finally put an economic end to the rail line.

This is the main street thru Ouray today.  Obviously, much of today's economy is dependent upon the tourist industry.

While walking along the main street stores, we happened to see some spices in the window, which we probably should have purchased.

The Walsh Library was constructed in 1900 as a miniature replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA. The structure burned down in 1950, but a successful restoration in 1988 was able to restore the original facade. The building is currently used as City Hall.

Ouray was a "neat" little town to visit. You can easily feel yourself transported back to the early 1900s as you walk the streets and observe the buildings. We did manage to locate a modern day ice cream place to have some excellent ice cream before heading south again along the "Million Dollar Highway". If in the area, I would definitely recommend taking the drive. (I would leave the RV parked in the campground, however).

This is our last post about our activities while staying in Ignacio, CO.  We'll be moving on to South Fork, CO on August 1st. Yes, I realize that I'm behind in posting (again).

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Animas Museum in Durango, CO

Posted from Questa, NM
(Click on Pics to Englarge)

For additional pictures not presented in this blog,  Click HERE.

Karen and I love to visit local museums, so on July 31st we traveled up to the east end of Durango, CO to visit the Animas Museum.  The cost was $5/person for us and the small, but very interesting museum featured many items relating to the early days of Durango and Animas.

The museum is housed in the 1904 Animas City School building. This building served the students of Animas District #1 until it merged with the Durango District #9 in 1939. After that time it served as an elementary school until it finally closed in 1967. Once inside, visitors are given a nice brochure which allows you to tour the museum at your own pace.

One of the original classrooms has been restored to an early 20th century classroom. A lot of visitors can relate to the historical items found in the classroom.

I thought one of the more interesting items was a list of "1915 Rules for Teachers".

There is a large area devoted to early law and order in the area.

Also, many exhibits describe the early inhabitants of this part of Colorado.

Just outside the museum rests the "Joy Cabin". This is the oldest surviving intact structure in Durango. It was originally constructed in the 1870's and was occupied by many families.

The structure was moved to its' present location on the grounds of the Animas Museum in 1988. The inside of the cabin is filled with artifacts which give the visitor a glimpse into the life of early residents in this part of the country.

The Animas Museum is worth an hour or so of your time. The staff was very friendly and willing to answer any questions you might have.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum

Posted from Questa, NM
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

To view additional pictures not included in today's blog, Click HERE.

On 7/30/17 we took a short drive to Durango, CO to visit the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNG) Museum. Entrance to the museum is totally free. The museum can be accessed after walking thru the gift shop and ticketing area in the original train depot.

A short walk down the boarding platform area and the museum entrance comes into sight (across the tracks).

There is quite a collection in the museum.  Everything from an early airplane, to early cars, to an early fire engine, and of course, a lot of train memorabilia.

This is one of the two fully restored engines on display.

There was a huge miniature model train setup on display. The miniature depicts areas along the actual rail lines in the area.

The museum occupies several of the bays of the train roundhouse, but because this line is still in operation (to carry passengers on sightseeing tours), the roundhouse yard is still functional.

It was interesting to view (thru the windows) the shop area where restorations are done, and maintenance to the existing cars and engines are carried out.

This is the outside (business) side of the depot where passengers board.

After visiting the train museum, we took a hurried walk (while dodging the rain) thru the historic section of downtown Durango. Lots of galleries and shops for your viewing pleasure. Here's one of the original hotels in the historic section.

By this time, we were ready for lunch. I had done some research online and Nini's Taqueria received good reviews. It was only a block from the train museum and the food was very good. We both ordered different burritos and they were HUGE and excellent.

That's it for our day in Durango.  Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Down a Creek Without a Paddle

Posted from South Fork, CO
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

No, the title of the blog doesn't mean that we're having problems.  In fact, "down the creek" in this sense refers to a very enjoyable time we had recently on the San Juan River through Pagosa Springs, CO.

From the Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio, CO we drove approximately 53 miles to Pagosa Springs, CO. The drive takes about an hour in the car.

After a bit of internet research, we located a company named Pagosa Outside Adventures to rent tubes from, and shuttle us up river. The company is located in the center of town and is within a short walk from the river. After renting a tube, customers board a shuttle van which takes you about a mile up river. You put in with your tube and float (sometimes quickly over the rapids) to a takeout point which is within walking distance of Pagosa Outside's store. You can then jump back on the shuttle and float down the river again as many times as you'd like.  You can select between a 3-hour rental, or a full day rental. We chose the 3-hour rental and were able to make 2 trips down the river during that time.  We could have gotten in a third run, but decided two was enough.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of us tubing down the river, because I currently have no waterproof camera. Here's a picture of tubers coming down the final straightaway before the takeout point.

Here's another one of a group of happy "tubers" going over a small fall. I will have to say that during this tubing adventure, I lost my favorite hiking hat as I overturned coming off of one of the falls near the beginning of the run. I had that hat for at least 6 or 7 years! Karen is happy that it's gone.  I will get another one, however, that looks just as bad.

Here's a picture of Karen and our tubes at the company's parking lot after we finished for the day.

Just past the takeout point is the really nice Springs Resort and Spa. The Resort was pretty busy the day we visited. Pagosa Springs was a very lively little town.  Our visit, although just for the day, was very enjoyable.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Nice Casino Campground Find

Posted from South Fork, CO
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

 Click HERE for additional photos for Sky Ute Casino and Campground

On July 25th we lifted our jacks and traveled a whopping 56 miles to the little town of Ignacio, CO. It was an uneventful drive east on US160, then a 14 mile trek south on CO172 (just east of Durango) to the Sky Ute Casino and Campground.

The casino itself is average in size, obviously not like Las Vegas casinos, but typical of Indian Nation run casinos.

We located the campground through Passport America. You can stay under PP for 7 nights @ $17.50 per night.  A truly good deal for FHUs, level and all-asphalt sites, and the best picnic tables and grills we've see for some time.

As shown above, there is plenty of room between sites.  I also liked the idea of being able to park our toad beside the rig.

Here's a look at the passenger side of the rig showing the grill and picnic table.

Entry and exits from the sites are via the wide and well maintained roads within the campground.

This was just a quick blog entry to move us along (as I'm still behind in my blog entries.) The next blog will show a few things we enjoyed in the Durango, Ouray, and Pagosa Springs areas.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Visit to Hovenweep National Monument

Posted from Ignacio, CO
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

Not all of our time in the Cortez, CO area was spent visiting Mesa Verde NP. One day we decided to take a drive of about 45 miles to Hovenweep National Monument. Believe me, when you visit this area it will NOT be overrun by tourists. We might have seen 10 people total during our visit. This is the route we took from our CG (near Mesa Verde NP). We traveled to the NM by heading south out of Cortez and returned by the northern route to Cortez. The Visitor's Center is just into Utah.

Map Courtesy of NPS

We knew very little about the area or what we would be viewing, so our first stop was the Hovenweep Visitor's Center to pick up a map, and to watch a short video detailing what we would be discovering.

We discovered that the Hovenweep National Monument (HNM) consists of a collection of several sites spread throughout many miles.  The most visited area (which also contains the most structures in one location) is named Square Tower. This area can be hiked from the Visitor's Center via the Little Ruin Trail. The trail is slightly over 2 miles, but will take a couple of hours to complete.
Map Courtesy of NPS

We also discovered that the majority of the other sites can only be reached via 4x4 or high clearance vehicle.  Because the Honda Fit meets neither of these requirements, we spent the entire day exploring the Little Ruin Trail.

The trail begins at the Visitor's Center and led us to the rim top of the canyon.  We followed the trail counterclockwise and stayed on the rim until the last 1/2 mile (near the north end of the canyon). At that point you have to hike into, and out of, the canyon to complete the loop.

Map Courtesy of NPS
The Hovenweep structures are amazing in their construction.  When you consider that you are looking at structures built between 900-1300 AD and think about the primitive tools used, all I can say is WOW! Sometime around 900 AD as the population grew in the mesa and more land was needed for agriculture, groups combined into communities when water sources were located. (In this case near the head of the canyon on the south end.)

Tower Point commands a great view up and down the canyon. Notice the circular construction technique employed.

Twin Towers structure originally contained 16 rooms. The structures were built right on the edge of the canyon on bedrock with their walls almost touching. Wooden lintels (shown at the top of the rectangular opening) are original to the structure.

Square Tower was built on a large sandstone boulder down in the canyon. There was originally a door facing the spring on the south end of the structure.

One of the most interesting structures was Hovenweep Castle. It consisted of two D-shaped towers sitting right on the edge of the canyon rim. A wooden beam in the castle was dated at 1277 AD, one of the oldest dates on any structure in the San Juan region. The residents who lived here were not kings and queens, but were farmers.

By 1300 AD, the inhabitants of this area departed. They moved south into central Arizona and to the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico. The ruins remained undisturbed until Mormon expeditions came upon the area in the 1850s.

We really didn't know what to expect when we came to visit Hovenweep National Monument, but were very pleasantly surprised. If in the area, this is definitely worth a visit. NOTE: It was pretty hot during our visit, so earlier in the day or later in the afternoon worth make for a more enjoyable time.

This is the last blog entry for the Mesa Verde area. We will be moving on next to Ignacio, CO, just a few miles southeast of Durango, CO.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Mesa Verde National Park

Posted from Ignacio, CO

When we booked our stay at Mesa Verde RV Resort Campground for TWO full weeks I was a bit "nervous" that we wouldn't have enough to see in the area. After all, the main attraction in the area is Mesa Verde National Park and it didn't look to be one of the larger parks. All I can say is I was wrong!

When we arrive in a new area (or park) we head first to the Visitor's Center to pick up maps and plan our visit. The close proximity of our campground was a major plus during our visitations to the park. We were located within a 1/2 mile from the Visitor's Center. Mesa Verde NP's attractions are generally located in the far end of the park from the Visitor's Center. There are two main areas of concentration, one on the Chapin Mesa and the other on the Wetherill Mesa. From the Visitor's Center to Chapin Mesa is approximately 23 miles and it's approximately 27 miles to the Wetherill Mesa area. Because of the very winding and hilly drives to both plan on at least an hour to reach each area from the Visitor's Center.

This is an overview map of the park showing the Chapin and Wetherill Mesas relationship to the Visitor's Center.
(Map Courtesy of NPS)
This blog entry is going to take a somewhat different reporting approach because we visited the Park on 5 different days and hiked, picnicked, took tour ranger-guided tours, and visited stationary displays.  Rather than creating a VERY lengthy blog with tons of pictures I decided to keep the pictures to a minimum and create links to our blog albums for those who wish to see more.

The map below has different areas we visited as shown by BLUE NUMBERS. These numbers indicate the chronology of our visit and the following blog will correspond to these numbers. At the beginning of each "section" I will list a photo link should anyone wish to view additional photos.
(Map Courtesy of NPS)
Click on Map to Enlarge


As stated above, we always make the Visitor's Center our first stop. 

On this particular day, after picking up maps and reserving tickets to the Cliff Palace Tour, we also made the drive from the entrance gate to the Chapin Mesa area. We made a stop along the way at Park Point Overlook. This is the highest point in the park at 8572 feet and is used as a fire lookout station.  

There have been many fires in this park thru the years and the view from here is gorgeous.

The second day in the Park we decided to take a ranger-guided tour of Cliff Palace. The pictures of Cliff Palace are associated more with Mesa Verde NP than any other in the Park.  Cliff Palace is the largest of the cliff dwelling communities in Mesa Verde NP.

Several of the cliff dwellings can only be viewed when accompanied by a ranger. The fee for these tours is $5 (and well worth the cost). This particular tour is considered one of the easiest and includes two fifteen foot ladders to climb. Karen is not really happy to climb ladders and crawl thru tunnels, but this tour was very doable for her. 

This is an example of a Kiva, a structure common to many of the sites we visited. When used as structures, logs are placed on the vertical stone pillars and a roof is constructed. A ladder is placed in the center of the roof and creates the entry and exit point for the Kiva.

After visiting Cliff Palace, we drove down the road a short bit and followed a sign for Fry Bread. This area is just outside the boundary of the Park, and on the Ute Indian Reservation. Fry Bread is similar to a Funnel Cake, although a bit lighter in consistency. We sprinkled a bit of confectioner's sugar and honey on top to create a very tasty treat.

Our goal on another day was to visit the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and to hike the Petroglyph Trail. The trail is listed as "moderate" in difficulty and is a 2.4 mile loop. I believe it's closer to 3 miles, but still very enjoyable. Like most of the trails, steps were created years again by the CCC to assist in navigation.

Of course, one of the benefits of hiking these trails are being able to view the surrounding canyons.

The largest wall of petroglyphs in this park are viewed on the hike.  

Near the end of the hike, the only current view of Spruce Tree House is possible.  These dwellings are currently closed to visitors as the rock cliffs above the structures are crumbling.

Here's a bit closer photo of Spruce Tree House.

We completed this day with a quick visit to the Far View Sites. This area of construction belonged to the period around 1000 A.D. The cliff dwellings, by contrast, were constructed later than these dwellings which were built up on the flat Wetherill Mesa. 

This trail on the Wetherill Mesa is reached by taking a VERY windy road. It's approximately 12 miles from the turn off near the Far View Lodge. There is a Wetherill Mesa information kiosk near the beginning of the trail. Step House is in the middle of a short hike and is self-guided (although there is a ranger at the structure to answer questions). After descending a series of metal steps, the complex comes into view. 

A partial reconstruction of a "pit house" can be seen at Step House.
This style of house is believed to have been originally constructed around 620 A.D. and was later used alongside the pueblo-styled buildings constructed 100s of years later.

Just a single ladder to climb here, but quite doable.

Beginning again at the Wetherill Information Kiosk, we trekked toward the Badger House Community.  The hike is probably 2 miles in length and is relatively flat. This community depicts archaeological finds thru 600 years of occupation from the first pit houses around 550-600 A.D. 

The construction evolved to single story villages around 750 A.D. The single-stoned exterior walls give us a clue that these were single story.

Next came the multi-story buildings around 1100 A.D.

Finally, a small percentage of the population moved to the cliff dwellings in the alcoves of the surrounding canyons. This occurred sometime around 1200 A.D., but most of these dwellers moved from the area around 1275 A.D.  Fires have continued to strike the Wetherill and Chapin Mesa areas throughout the years.

We wrapped up this day by hiking a short 1 mile trail named the Nordenskiold #16. Gustav Nordenskiold was a Swedish photographer and geologist who photographed many archaeological sites as shown to him by the Wetherill family. This site was labeled as #16. The site can only be viewed by visitors from a viewpoint across the canyon at the end of this trail.

A closer view of the structures.

This little guy was standing guard near the viewpoint.

On our last day to visit the Park, I believe we saved the best tours. Long House Tour is ranger guided, but the groups are much smaller and more time is spent down in the actual cliff dwelling. The hike to the site begins at the Wetherill Info. Kiosk and follows a paved road to the entrance. The hike is approximately 2.25 miles round trip and takes about 2 hours (including the tour of Long House).

Long House is the second largest cliff dwelling in the Park at 150 rooms and 21 kivas. This was our first glimpse as we hiked down the steps.

This tour was different also, because you were able to climb a couple of 15-foot ladders and view an upper level of the dwellings.

Here's a view looking down into one of the kivas.

Evidence of water seeping through the rock to provide a source of water to the cliff dwellers.

Jeanette, our NPS Ranger, allowed us to take our time looking thru the dwelling and was a wealth of knowledge on the subject.  Actually, all of the guides throughout our entire park stay were excellent!

Balcony House Tour was again a ranger led tour. I was left alone to take this tour as Karen is not a big fan of tall ladders and narrow tunnels. This tour is billed as the "Most Adventurous Cliff Dwelling Tour" by the NPS. During the tour you must be able to climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl thru an 18-inch wide by 12-foot tunnel, and climb up a 60-foot open cliff face with stone steps (and cable railings on each side), and finally climb two 10-feet ladders to make an exit.

Here is Ranger Jack giving us an introduction to Balcony House and "warning" those who might not want to continue given the constraints outlined above. 

No one in our group chose to drop out, so here's the first ladder to enter the dwelling.

Here's a view from the top of the ladder. Yes, it really is that steep.

This cliff dwelling is somewhat unique as balconies were built along the walkways which gave fantastic views of the canyon below.

Here's a view of one of our group exiting thru the narrow tunnel. This was also the same way in which the ancient cliff dwellers exited their dwelling to climb to the flat mesas above.

I can't imagine scrambling up this cliff face with only foot and toe holds while carrying provisions along the way. Today, the cables are a great aid!

One more ladder and you're at the top!  This was truly a great tour. It did get the blood pumping a bit. I won't lie!

Well, that's it for our visit to Mesa Verde NP. If you've managed to stay with me to this point, thank you. We really enjoyed exploring the park.  There was definitely much more to see and do than we had initially envisioned. This park is a bit different from many other of our National Parks because it deals with the humankind struggles and evolution, rather than just the natural beauty. If you can't tell by now, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and would recommend this park to those who have not yet been able to visit.

(Don't forget to click on the numbered link at the beginning of each section. This will take you to many, many more photos on that area of the park.)

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!