Life happens and you deal with it! That’s our mantra currently and if you read on, you’ll see why.
We started off the month in Cortez, Colorado – our first time to visit Colorado with our home on wheels – we added another state sticker to our map of states we’ve overnighted in – woo hoo! This is also where we met back up again with Karen and Galen. The four of us toured this corner of Colorado and did a pretty good job seeing a lot during our week’s stay in the area.
The only disappointment was our choice of RV park. It was convenient, located in town, but the campground was shabby, run down, several of the sites quite narrow and pet rules weren’t enforced. In fact, while we were walking Shelley our last evening there, we felt threatened by one of the permanent campground residents who wanted to shoot all the dogs in the park! (Keep in mind that we always follow all pet regulations because we want to be invited back and don’t want to ruin a pet-friendly park for others in the future.)
We do NOT recommend La Mesa RV Park, at least not until they make simple improvements. The gal who checked us in was quite helpful in telling us about the area, giving us tips on what to see and do, as well as handing out maps and brochures – she was the only redeeming factor about our stay there. Over the past six and a half years, we’ve only run into one other campground that gave us the willies and that was in New Jersey, so I guess we were overdue for a not-so-good experience. Okay, enough grumbling.
While in the area we visited:
Mesa Verde National Park – We could have spent a week just visiting Mesa Verde and all the ruins here and still not seen it all – what a jewel of a national park!
About 1400 years ago, even before Europeans explored North America, people living in the Four Corners area chose Mesa Verde as their home. For 700 years, they lived there, building their homes in the sheltered alcoves of canyon walls, growing crops and hunting game on the mesa tops. These Ancestral Puebloans, formerly known as Anasazi, used nature to their advantage, building their homes beneath the overhanging cliffs. Basic construction material then was sandstone formed into loaf-sized rectangular blocks.
Mesa Verde has both guided and self-guided tours of the ruins. The guided tours are so popular that tickets must be purchased in advance – our first order of business on our first visit there. Despite the crowds in line, we were able to snag tickets for the two tours which interested us for that same afternoon. After a picnic lunch, the guys toured Balcony House. The gals opted out of this one because climbing a 32-foot ladder, crawling through a 12-foot long narrow tunnel, climbing a 60-foot wide open cliff face with stone steps and two 10-foot ladders didn’t excite them as much as it did the guys. Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the park, had some climbing and stone steps but was not as strenuous as the other tour. About 100-120 Ancestral Puebloans lived in this 150-room structure. Both Cliff Palace and Balcony House were quite interesting with views of some well-preserved cliff dwellings. It is even more impressive to see both these sets of dwellings from high atop the mesa – almost surreal.
The three-mile round-trip Petroglyph Trail had us hiking along the cliffs until we spotted the petroglyphs, and then climbing back with a return across the mesa – pretty neat hike passing through forests of juniper, pinyon, and gambel oak. Some of the pinyon pines showed evidence of bark damage by porcupines. A flat rock near the trail was used to sharpen axe heads as seen by the grooves in the sandstone.
Factoid: After several multi-thousand acre fires within the past ten years, over 1,000 more ruins were exposed that were previously undiscovered – Mother Nature’s excavation!
Four Corners Monument – A trip to this part of Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico is not complete without the requisite stop and photo op at the Four Corners Monument. This is the only place in the United States where four states meet and where you can manage to be in all four states at the same time. Together we posed for a picture – one of us in each state. Managed by the Navajo Nation, there is a nominal entrance fee to the monument. Native vendors selling crafts and traditional foods surround the monument. We spoke to the one of the vendors who told us there is a lottery system to choose which vendors will be there because there are more vendors than spots. She felt this system was fair because prior to the lottery, vendors would show up in the wee hours of the morning in hopes of obtaining a spot that day.
A day trip to Telluride – The San Juan Skyway, an All American Road, covers a distance of 236 miles – looping from Cortez to Telluride to Ouray to Silverton to Durango and back to Cortez. We’ve heard wonderful stories of the gorgeous scenery throughout this drive but because we can’t leave Shelley that long, we drove only from Cortez to Telluride and back, about 150 miles round trip. The scenery just on this portion of the road was breathtaking as we passed beneath some 14,000-foot peaks.
First stop was a small coffee shop in Rico touted by Lucille’s brother Roger and wife Kathie as having the best scones. Based on their description, we kept an eye out for the small building housing these tasty treats. We lucked out and snagged the last two, sharing them amongst the four of us (yup – they were good-thanks Kathie for the tip.) Silver mining was once the major industry in Rico, with 88 mines in the area at one time. We stopped and took pictures of some old mining equipment and snagged a geocache at the same time.
On to Telluride where we learned of the free gondola ride up to Mountain Village, about a 13-minute ride with fabulous scenery – we even spotted some deer below us on the return trip. When we got to the village, we enjoyed lunch at Tracks, and then headed back down.
Telluride is very dog-friendly. They even have special posts to which you can tie up your dog while you support the local stores. Even some of the gondola cars accommodated man’s best friend.
Factoid: No one is quite sure how Telluride got named but one theory is that the town was named for the famous sendoff, “To-hell-u-ride!,” given to fortune-seekers heading to the rugged, rough and avalanche-prone southern San Juans surrounding the area.
Just a few minutes’ drive east of town is the impressive Bridal Veil Falls, a two-pronged waterfall with a vertical drop of almost 100 feet. Those with a four-wheel drive vehicle can get a closer view by driving the switch-back dirt road to the top of the falls.
Next point of interest was the railroad museum in Dolores but it was not open on Sundays. We took pictures of a most unusual train – the Galloping Goose, a bus/train combination with a gasoline-driven engine, meant to carry passengers and light freight on the existing tracks which were deteriorating. It was more economical to run this type of train rather than repair or replace the tracks. A total of seven ‘geese’ were operating at one time, including a maintenance goose.
Time to move on to Chama, New Mexico for a few days. Roy and Alice, friends we made while working a NOMADS project in McCamey, Texas, earlier this year, winter in McCamey and summer in Chama. After we got settled into our site at Sky Mountain Resort (very nice park with friendly owners and guests), we called Roy and made plans to see them the next day. What a beautiful place they have on one of the highest mountaintops in the area – a gorgeous view all around, which is what sold them on the location years ago. It was good to see them again.
Nearby is Heron Lake State Park where we parked at the trail head for the Rio Chama trail. Stairs lead down the cliff to a suspension bridge (built by the Youth Conservation Corps in 1984) crossing the Rio Chama. We hiked the trail for about a mile and turned around where you clearly see where a boulder (huge!) crossed the path. The boulder broke off a cliff during a rockslide, sometime during the winter in 2005, and rolled down about 500 yards, pushing down trees and moving smaller rocks out of its way. Nature hasn’t quite covered up the gash the boulder made.
All this hiking worked up an appetite, which we satisfied at the historic Stone House Lodge. Their roast beef sandwich is one of the best we’ve had, layered with tender roast beef, grilled onions and those famous New Mexico green chiles.
Chama is the southern terminal of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, 64 miles of what once was part of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway and now preserved by Colorado and New Mexico as part of the West’s heritage. This railroad is the finest example of narrow gauge, mountain steam railroading in the country.
What we enjoyed most about the railroad is that you can access any part of the rail yard, talk to any of the train personnel, and even get invited to tour the locomotives. Larry hopped up to get a closer look of the innards and got a fabulous picture of the inside of the coal-fired engine. We learned there is a technique in knowing when to stoke the fire and how much, and that it’s a very physically demanding job. We also saw the feed line that runs from a dome on the top of the locomotive, down along to the wheels, dispensing sand onto to the rails to prevent the locomotive wheels from slipping in wet weather or on the steep grade up to Cumbres Pass, all controlled by the engineer – cool!
We didn’t take any of the scheduled train rides but we did enjoy the Great Train Chase, an activity so popular that printed and online guides are available telling you which mile markers have the best shots of the train as it heads north. The weather was ideal – beautiful clear sky, comfortable temps, as we hopped in and out of Galen’s truck keeping ahead of the train by a few miles.
Highlights of our chase: A great view of the train as it crossed a trestle bridge, smoke pouring through the steel beams; Kodak Rock – named for the thousands of photos made here – we saw the train below as it crossed the highway, then started making the climb up Windy Point; Cumbres Pass – this is the top of the grade at 10,005 feet (the train stops here for water and then begins the long downhill run to Antonito); Los Pinos Tank, a landmark water tank where the train makes a 180-degree loop, turning down the valley toward Osier, and the point at which we stopped our Great Train Chase.
Time to leave Chama, head south to just past Santa Fe, where we spent several nights at Cochiti Campground, a Corps of Engineer park located on Cochiti Pueblo. Nearby Cochiti Lake, formed by damming the Rio Grande and Santa Fe River, is one of the ten largest earthfill dams in the US. For security reasons, you can no longer drive across the top of the dam but it is accessible to hikers.
Also located on Cochiti Pueblo is Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument – what the heck is that, you ask? Kasha-Katuwe (white cliffs) contains cone-shaped tent rock formations, the products of volcanic eruptions that occurred close to seven million years ago and left pumice, ash, and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. Tremendous explosions from the Jemez volcanic field spewed rock fragments (pyroclasts), while hot gases blasted down slopes in an incandescent avalanche (pyroclastic flow.) The tent rocks are fairly uniform in shape but vary in height from a few feet to 90 feet – pretty neat looking formations and totally different from what we saw while visiting Utah’s red rocks. Did you know that obsidian is volcanic glass? Obsidian fragments are found throughout the national monument but are there for us to observe, not take as souvenirs. The guys went on a more strenuous hike and brought back a few fragments for us to ooh and aah over but they were returned to the park for others to enjoy.
A day trip to visit Santa Fe got kicked off with breakfast at Harry’s Roadhouse (thanks Shelley for the tip!) One of their signature dishes is lemon ricotta pancakes – excellent!
While in Santa Fe, we visited Loretto Chapel, completed in 1878. The Gothic Revival-style chapel was patterned after King Louis IX's Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Its most famous feature is the Miraculous Staircase. Built by an unknown carpenter, the spiral staircase makes two 360-degree turns up to the choir loft, with no visible means of support at first glance (brackets are cleverly concealed.) The Chapel has been deconsecrated as a Catholic chapel and is now a private museum.
San Miguel Mission is the oldest chapel still in use in the US. Built between 1610 and 1628, this adobe chapel has the oldest reredos (altar screen) in New Mexico. The multi-paneled screen features wooden doors with statues of saints perched in niches, the most famous of which is St. Michael the Archangel.
We finished our tour of Santa Fe at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. (A cathedral is a main church located in a city that serves as the center of a geographic area called a diocese, with the people in the diocese shepherded by a bishop.) Built in 1886, the cathedral blends three styles of architecture – adobe, French-Romanesque and modern.
It was time to leave the Santa Fe area and head north again, with an overnight stop in Capulin. We had gotten an early enough start that we visited Capulin Volcano National Monument that afternoon, hiking two of the trails there. Capulin Volcano came into existence about 56,000 to 62,000 years ago and is a cinder cone, formed by falling debris accumulating around the vent. For miles before you get there, you can spot its 1,300 foot rise above the surrounding terrain.
This was a pretty cool volcano to visit. Its symmetry is well preserved because subsequent lava flows came from the western base of the cone, not from the main crater itself. Mother Nature has stabilized the cone since then – plants and trees slowly changed the volcanic ash into soil. Crater Rim Trail is a paved one-mile loop around the rim of the volcano, with spectacular views down inside the volcano as well as the surrounding area. On clear days, you can see Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma. The Crater Vent Trail descends 105 feet down to the bottom of the crater to the volcano’s plugged vent. Capulin and other cinder cones typically have only one period of activity so there is no worry about their erupting again.
Next stop in our travels was Colorado Springs, Colorado, home of the United States Air Force Academy. Our home for the next several days was Peregrine Pines Famcamp, the USAFA’s military campground. We had signed up for just a week but enjoyed our site and the area so much the first day we pulled in that we paid for additional days beyond the week. That was to change – more on that later.
The Air Force Academy is both a military base as well as a university with approximately 4,400 cadets in training. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill establishing the academy. Construction began in 1955 with the first class of 306 cadets temporarily training at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver until the present academy was ready for use in 1958. The academy is the Air Force’s training ground for its officers, as is its Army counterpart at West Point and the Navy’s at Annapolis.
On most days, the skies were filled with planes towing gliders and then releasing them. We later learned that the glider school is an extracurricular activity and obviously very popular. The glider pilots are upperclassmen gaining leadership skills as they teach lowerclassmen to become pilots themselves – a win-win for both students.
The Cadet Chapel was quite impressive. Designed to meet the spiritual needs of the cadets, it is an all-faith house of worship. The upper level houses the Protestant chapel; the lower level the Catholic chapel, as well as smaller worship rooms for the Jewish and Buddhist religious faiths plus two all-faiths worship rooms.
“The aluminum, glass and steel structure features 17 spires. There is no significance to this number. Original designs were judged to be too expensive, so changes were made, among them a reduction in the number of spires. The changes did not alter the basic design or the interior square footage of the chapel, however.” The colors in the stained glass windows in the Protestant chapel change from dark to light, representing coming from the darkness into the light of God. Just being in the chapel and seeing the surrounding beauty is quite moving. While we were touring the chapel, we were treated to music from the pipe organ – “Designed by Walter Holtkamp of the Holtkamp Organ Co. and built by the M.P Moller Co., the organ has 83 ranks and 67 stops controlling 4,334 pipes. The largest pipe is 32 feet high and the smallest is pencil size.”
The pews are made of American walnut and African mahogany, sculpted so the end of each pew resembles a World War I airplane propeller. The backs of the pews are capped by a strip of aluminum similar to the leading edge of a fighter aircraft wing – appropriate for an Air Force Chapel.
Our stop at the Visitor Center coincided with the noon meal formation on the grounds below the chapel. All 4,400 cadets line up in formation with several members of the Air Force Band playing military marches, then the cadets file into the dining rooms with their respective units.
The Western Museum of Mining and Industry is but a few miles from base and was a delight to tour. We got there a few minutes after a scheduled tour had started and were invited to join in. Steve, our docent, was very knowledgeable and passionate about what he was showing us – the 90-minute tour was fascinating. What makes this museum even more interesting is that several pieces of equipment (steam engines, pumps and drills) are original and still working. After explaining its use, Steve would start each piece to give us an idea of how it worked. There is even a mock-up of a small portion of a mine to give us the feeling of being in the mine. Mining back then was particularly hard on the employees and aged folks years ahead of their time.
Not to be missed in Colorado Springs is Pikes Peak. Larry had visited Pikes Peak several years ago and had taken the Cog Railway up then so this time we decided to drive the scenic 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway. There is a $10 fee per person, collected at the entrance station at the beginning of the highway. The attendant told us that we may expect a delay on the way back down because construction crews were striping the road close to the summit. Because it is an epoxy paint different than what is used on regular highways, the road would be closed for about an hour. Our timing must have been off because when we reached that point, the road was already closed and remained that way for over two hours – we and the rest of the 100 or so cars behind us were not very happy with that long of a delay. Can you guess where most of the folks headed for when they finally go to the Summit House?
But other than that, we were glad we had taken the highway. From an elevation at about 7,000 feet when we started, we climbed and climbed, gaining an additional 7,100 feet in altitude to reach the summit at 14,110 feet. We certainly noticed the higher altitude with our breathing. The 19-mile highway passes through three distinct zones as the road climbs – from the riparian forest through the temperate forest to above the tree line where almost nothing grows. There are also several switchbacks that take your breath away with the beauty surrounding you and the steep drop-offs and very few guard rails.
Crystal Lake Reservoir is about six miles up and is postcard gorgeous. From there, you can see the summit and a sneak preview of the switchbacks ahead.
There’s an annual auto race, from about Mile Marker 6 to the top, a distance of over twelve miles. Drivers have made it up those twisting and steep miles in around ten minutes – yipes! They’ve got to be going pretty fast - it took us almost ninety minutes to do the 19 miles, not counting our stop waiting for the construction crew.
On the way down, there is a mandatory stop where someone checks your vehicle's brake temperature. If they’re too hot, (there’s still a lot of ‘down’ to go), you pull over and let them cool off before continuing. Larry did a good job using the diesel engine and transmission to keep us going downhill at a safe speed without overheating the brakes, so we passed that temperature check. Checking the brake temperature is a good idea that keeps us all safe.
As we mentioned in the beginning of our update, life happens and you deal with it. In this case, Lucille had gotten word that her father was admitted to the hospital because of frequent and unexplained weak spells. We felt a need to get back to Georgia and help the family deal with his move to the hospital and subsequent move to a rehab facility, starting the wheels turning for Medicaid, and helping her mother transition to being on her own. Her father’s needs, due to his Alzheimer’s-related dementia, now require skilled care over and beyond what any of us non-medical folks can provide.
We cancelled the rest of our stay in Colorado Springs (we plan on returning sometime – way more stuff to visit in and around the area) and left the area on a Thursday, covering the 1,650 miles in four days, arriving back in Rincon, Georgia Sunday evening. We spent each of the three nights on the road at a different Sam’s Club – first in Salina, Kansas; Columbia, Missouri where friends Ron and Donna joined us for dinner at Chili’s (nice to see them as we were going to miss seeing them in Mountain View, Arkansas this fall); and lastly in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We sure get our money’s worth out of our annual membership fees!
We’ll be parked at Lucille’s sister’s house for at least a month, maybe longer depending on how things go here. Pat and his son-in-law installed a 50 amp power outlet for us – life is good! And just in time. We usually are here during cooler weather and don’t have to run the air conditioner but it is pretty humid in coastal Georgia right now.
Coming up: Well, what’s not coming up is our stay in Mountain View –we will miss all the music and friends out there. Most of September we’ll stay parked in Rincon; a possible getaway to visit different parts of South Carolina, Georgia, ending up in Huntsville, Alabama for medical appointments at the end of October. We’ll try to stay within a 300-400 mile radius of Rincon in case we have to get back here quickly. But that’s why we have wheels – it’s great to have this flexibility and ability to be where we are needed.