Tuesday, June 20, 2017–Lincoln to Bellvue, CO (via Hastings)

We left Lincoln early and with almost everything we needed (forgot to bring a tea cup for Mark and an extension cord), stopped briefly in Hastings for mail and some other minor errands, and then drove the slightly longer way to Fort Collins (via the 6/34, so not the interstate).  The main goal was to see some of the pretty stretches of Sandhills/bluffs en route, and just see what the small towns on the way had to offer by way of older downtowns and interesting buildings from the glory days of the DLD (Detroit-Lincoln-Denver highway in the 1920s and 1930s) We stopped for a picnic lunch in a teeny park in Cambridge, NE, but otherwise just drove pretty much straight through.  We got to Alan and Sue’s house outside of Bellvue up in the mountains above Fort Collins (near the Cache La Poudre River).  We hung out with their two dogs, Weasley and Potter, until Alan got home with his sons, Kai and Kati’s cousins, Anthony and Lee–we hadn’t seen them in two years, and sadly we missed Sue altogether, since she was on a business trip in California.  But we hung out on the deck, had some dinner, and some good conversation. I got a bit more caught up on what the kids are doing, and Alan and Sue are writing a historical novel together and are about to take a trip to Ireland and England, partly to do some research. Mark and I were pretty beat, though, and went to bed early–Anthony even moved his gaming operation to a different spot so we could.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017–Bellvue, CO to Rocky Mountain National Park

We woke up very early (5:30 am), partly because one of the cats, Tattoo, was outside our window, and seemed rather confused–we tried to lure him inside, but weren’t successful–and because we didn’t realize he isn’t allowed outside, we didn’t try harder to get him back. A couple of extra attempts to find him before we left didn’t work–we hope he turned up later in the day!

We left about 8:30 am or so, and Alan had given us excellent directions for mountain roads to Estes Park, so that we didn’t have to go back East to Fort Collins and Loveland.  The drive was very pretty and got us to Thompson Canyon, so that we could just drive up to Estes and on to Rocky Mountain National Park from there.  We were in the park by about 10, and went straight to one of our favorite places, the alluvial fan that was created after the catastrophic dam break of 1982, and then changed again 3 years ago when major rains caused another flood above the area.  We clambered around the big rocks around the rushing river that comes down there, and then drove to a nice shady picnic area right off the spot where the Fall River Road starts.  It is still closed until early July, but I really wouldn’t want to go up there with the Prius, anyway! Five years ago we did take the Mini that way, and that was pretty adventurous.  Two years ago, when we visited again, the entire area was still closed because of the flooding the fall before.  It’s fascinating how the landscape changes so much even in the Rockies, with all that eternal granite!

After a picnic lunch, we took off for other familiar haunts in the park:  We drove up the one and only road that goes through the park, past Alpine Visitor Center to the continental divide, and then turned around (since we are driving the rest of the road tomorrow).  We did spend some time at Alpine, and took the very short but steep hike up to the top of the meadows (11,796 feet or 3595 meters).  I’m glad we weren’t the only ones huffing and puffing, but it is still always frustrating to feel so out of shape in high altitude. I even got a bit of a headache.

The day in RMNP was all-around gorgeous despite of this.  It was unusually warm even high up (in the mid-70s; in Estes Park later in the 80–we were glad we had driven out of the heat of the plains, which the day before had had temperatures in the upper 90s. Up here in the mountains, the wild flowers are in full bloom, so we saw everything from teeny tiny alpine flowers to Indian paintbrushes and forget-me-nots.  And apart from small wildlife (chipmunks, a couple of marmosets, a wild turkey) we also saw quite a lot of elk.  It’s calving season right now, but I don’t think we saw any babies.  And since there was a pretty hefty snowfall in late May (about 3 feet–all our Colorado friends had snow days and road closings), there is still quite a lot of snow, which gives the mountains in the distance beautiful contrastive contours and, closer by, made for all kinds of snow melt “waterfalls” down the sides of the mountains.

We drove back down into Estes Park around 3:30 pm, checked into our hotel, and rested up for a bit before making our way to the touristy downtown for a totally simple pizza dinner and some ice cream for dessert.  Estes’ popularity as a tourist attraction makes it pretty boring to us–knickknack stores are just not our thing, and neither is overpriced hiking equipment.  There are at least 10 ice cream/taffy stores on the main tourist street, and while the taffy “machines” are fun to watch, it is pretty repetitive.  But the walk along the back promenade by the Big Thompson, which runs through town, is mostly really pleasant with the rushing water always by our side, and we revisited a crazy old movie theater (Park Theater) with a totally useless but awesome Art Deco tower with neon lights.  We picked up some necessities from the Safeway and called it a night before 8 pm!


Thursday, June 22 2017

We woke up before 6 am again and were on the road early, with a couple of very minor hitches–including trying to get coffee at a Starbucks where “the computers were down.”  Well, McCafe is about the same, so that’s what we got on the way out of town.  We were back in Rocky Mountain National Park before 8 am and thanks to a friendly ranger’s advice at the entrance, we took a chance at a 6-mile hike right near the entrance of the park, up a mountain called Deer Mountain that overlooks the entire valley that Estes Park sits in (Horseshoe Park).  It was quite a climb at times, with switchbacks, and I was struggling more than I thought I would with the altitude on the way up.  But the view was worth it, as was knowing that I can still handle a 6-mile hike.  Mark did better but the pollen is getting to him. The way down was more pleasant for both of us!
After this hike (from 8 until about 11:30) we went to the nearest picnic area and had our picnic, and then continued our drive through the park.  We didn’t stop much for the first hour or so since we were again on Trail Ridge Road, but in the Western half of the park, we picked out several shorter hikes with little elevation change–at the Colorado River trailhead, where the path leads across some awesome snowmelt creeks and into a gorgeous meadow that the (fairly narrow, but fast) Colorado runs through.  But the awesome highlight was that thanks to a tip from another hiking couple, we got to see a moose munching away on the banks of the river!  I had never seen a moose in the wild, and it was breathtaking.  Mark took some great photos.
At the next stop, the Holzwarth Historic Site, also in a beautiful Colorado River meadow, we watched a whole bunch of elk resting and wandering around, clearly not at all perturbed by the many humans wandering around. They wandered within a few hundred feet of the hikers on the way to the site, and a couple even crossed our hiking path.  While we were there, all the visitors did the right thing and kept their distance, but it was riveting to have the elk so close.  The ranger said they probably didn’t have any newborn calves with them, or they would have been much less peaceful and mellow about us.  The historic site was quirky but interesting–this particular valley had quite a lot of dude ranches before it was added to the national park lands, and the oldest of them, run from the 1920s to the 1970s by a family that immigrated from Germany, was preserved and restored.  And interesting insight into early Rockies tourism–cabins surrounding the original homestead of this family, which was turned into the kitchen, where Mother Holzwarth, a stern-looking German woman, cooked three meals a day for the lodgers in a kitchen that was half-equipped with American and half with German kitchen gadgets (the ranger promised the stuff was authentic; I of course recognized several German things, like a sugar shaker and an old-fashioned cone-shaped metal measuring cup).
After this last more extensive stop, it started to cloud over and as we left the park on the southwestern entrance near Grand Lake, looked quite stormy.  We did add one more mini hike, though, because our trail brochure had mentioned a 0.3-mile hike to a waterfall above Grand Lake (Adams Fall).  Even as it started to drizzle on us a little, we persisted and were rewarded with a pretty dramatic sight of crashing water, as well as thunder in the mountains, which always echoes very impressively.  (We were not very high up and safe.). It only started to rain in earnest after we were back in the car and driving to Granby, where we are staying in a very odd hotel / condo combination, the Inn at Silver Creek, with hundreds of rooms, most of which are clearly only used during ski season, so everything is only sort of open–the only working ice machine is miles away, the restaurant only has its bar menu available, the wifi kind of works, etc.  But we had a perfectly decent, ordinary meal that wasn’t crazy expensive, and although our room doesn’t have a refrigerator, it has a balcony and is spacious and quiet. We’re tired but it couldn’t have been a more perfect national park day!

Friday, June 23 2017 — Granby to Glenwood Springs

Another gorgeous & busy day!  We woke up early, checked out early (by 7 am, we were on the road!) and made our way slowly to Glenwood springs, which is about 2 1/2 hours from Granby, even on the scenic route we took via the so-called “Trough Road”–we had taken it a few years back, but liked it enough we wanted to use it again.  It is a well-maintained and quite wide graded dirt road that follows the Colorado River for the most part, but high up above it.  So we stopped a few times to take pictures of the river, and also of a zip line operation across a canyon.  Eventually, we caught Highway 6 and then the I-70.  We stopped in Eagle for a snack, and then at a rest stop not far from Glenwood Springs, Grizzly Creek, and that was a huge success.  The rest stop was right on the Colorado River, and had some walking areas and then actually a trail going off it–which we took just because we were curious, and which turned out to be gorgeous.  We probably went about a mile and a half up right along Grizzly Creek with the stream rushing down beside us and a fabulous cliff ahead, plus beautiful butterflies all over the blooming bushes along the path.  We were very happy we discovered it!  Once we had backtracked, we had our picnic lunch while watching a whole group of big rafting boats going down the Colorado.  We stopped at a second rest stop, No Name Creek, and although its trail wasn’t as cool (literally not, since it was hot and sunny, whereas Grizzly Creek Trail had been very shady and cool), it still was rewarding to go up because we could see the dilapidated remains of a “flume” (new word to me), i.e. a wooden trough-like structure high above us on the canyon wall which was built to redirect No Name Creek directly to Glenwood Springs for its water supply.  This is still where the town gets some of its water, except now by tunnel (we were able to see the entrance below the remains of the flume).
By about 2 pm, we arrived in Glenwood Springs and explored a little, because we couldn’t check into our hotel until 3 pm.  We then checked in (the hotel is unspectacular and very ugly, just a concrete square with four floors, but actually had a surprise free breakfast to offer us for tomorrow morning), and grabbed our swimsuits to go to the historic hot springs.  They became the town attraction in the 1880s, and are still a spa attraction but mostly just a really large swimming pool.  My inner cheapskate was against it, because we were only going to be there for a couple of hours, but had to pay $22 per person per day–but we went anyway, because my inner mermaid won.  Mark was a good sport, and we spent quite a while in the cooler pool (with a lot of families & little kids) and a little bit of time in the 104 F (50 C) “therapy” pool, for which it was really too hot.  We also looked at the original site of the spring, where people would drink the sulphur-smelling water, and where 3.5 million gallons of hot water come out the spring every day.
We left the Hot Springs around 6 pm and then checked out the rest of the town–cute  but only partly touristy–with the ski resorts nearby (Aspen etc.) being the REAL tourist traps, while Glenwood Springs is about half “cute shops” and half places that are currently out of business.  There is a huge construction site because a new car bridge will be going in this year–but the pedestrian bridge is nearly complete and useable, and we were glad, because it meant we could leave the car at the hotel and walk everywhere.  At about 7:30, we met our friends Randy and Angye for dinner at a brewpub by the historic Hotel Denver. Randy is a class mate of Mark’s from high school who has been running the Glenwood Springs paper, the Post Independent, for the past 3 or 4 years as editor and publisher. We had good, simple pub food and a fun conversation, and Randy walked us half-way back across the pedestrian bridge to tell us a bit more about Glenwood Springs.  (We are toying with the idea of taking the train here sometime (we could see the tracks for Amtrak’s California Zephyr for most of our trip today beside the road), because the views are spectacular, and when it’s colder, the hot springs would be a whole lot more fun as well.). We then walked back the 10 minutes to the hotel and are calling it a day!

Saturday, June 24 2017

Unsurprisingly, we had another early start, this time with a hotel breakfast (our first–not our main priority since we are light breakfasters), and then left Glenwood Springs for our destination for the day, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  We took a smaller route out of Glenwood Springs and went along some fairly winding but peaceful roads, even surprising a doe with twin fawns that stopped in the hills right by the road as if to pose (or, judging by the expressions of the fawns, give us the stink eye for being on their road).  The fun part was that this particular road led us astray in a very pleasant way. We had put “Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park” into the GPS of the I-pad, and it did dutifully get us there–but we didn’t know that there was a North Rim and a South Rim and that they are not connected.  Once we figured out that we were on track for the North, we decided to go for it and had a great time–we hiked down a short (1-mile) trail to an overlook called (very appropriately) Chasm View.  We looked across the very steep, dark canyon to the south side at the narrowest side (about 1,000 feet across if I recall correctly; it’s about 1500 feet down!).  It was truly impressive, and we could hear the Gunnison below us, which carved this canyon into hard gneiss and schist for 2 million years to get to this point.  Pretty amazing.  We then took the rim drive on the north side, and got out at every overlook, with different and impressive views all the way along.  Then we had our picnic lunch at the closed Ranger station (where there was a porch with one table in the shade!) and a friendly rope climber, who was coming back from a morning’s climbing trip into the canyon, recommended the long way to the other side of the canyon–along a beautifully windy road on the north side up river that eventually leads to the Morrow Dam, where there is a crossing.
We took off and were not disappointed, and again got out a lot to look at the various overviews, including over various reservoirs and toward the snow-capped San Juan mountains in the distance.  But the long way around to the south was  quite long, and we decided to overshoot the turnoff to the entrance and go all the way to Montrose, where we checked into our hotel and Mark took a little nap before we ventured back out around 5 pm.  We had a wonderful but also quick Thai dinner, and then went back the 15 miles to the entrance of the park.  We knew from the National Park map that there were several short trails and many overlooks, and also that this was the last day of an astronomy festival in the park.  So we went along the south rim stopping for overviews and short walks, then hiked a slightly longer (2-mile) path to a viewpoint at the very end of the trail called Walker Point (with several impressive vistas and nature train information along the way). Around sunset (about 8:40 pm) we found ourselves a spot to watch the sun go down (there is a spot called Sunset View, but we could see the parking lot filling up, so we decided to risk a slightly less spectacular view of the sun over the mountains at the western end (the outlet) of the canyon.  We then made our way down to the campground for a presentation that was supposed to bide the time until total dark away–it turned out to be on bats, so it was quite interesting.  By about 10 pm, it was finally dark enough for the audience to be led to a spot where the local Astronomy club had set up its telescopes and was showing us various things in the sky.  The park is a Dark Sky location, and it was a very clear night–so we could see an amazing number of stars, and the Milky Way was visible enough that even the astronomers were impressed.  We looked at Jupiter and at a couple of globular clusters through some telescopes, and otherwise just stared at the sky in awe.  Around 11, we finally headed home to the sweet and simple ‘Black Canyon Motel’, so that was a late evening for us!

Sunday, June 25 2017

Off to more adventures!  A lovely little breakfast at the “Black Canyon Motel” early on was a good starting point for our return to the National Park, just to do a small hike from the visitor’s center along the rim (my favorite views continue to be the ones where you catch a glimpse of the river down below, rushing along) and through the back country. We also went into the visitor’s center and did something I haven’t done in years–bought something on a trip–postcards and a poster, all in 30s / Art Deco style (but done by modern designers).  The poster features the August 21 Eclipse, and so we thought it will make a great souvenir, since we are “in the path” and definitely watching it.
After this lovely morning walk, we left the Canyon behind and drove the unbelievably scenic route from Montrose to Cortez via Telluride (part of the San Juan skyway).  We stopped a lot for vistas, and since we were just about at Telluride at lunch time, we decided to go up the “box canyon” (= no exit) where this former mining town, now snazzy resort town sits in its full tourist glory. It’s very pretty, with many restored and convincingly faked Victorian “Main Street” buildings, and it was bustling, because we ran into the last day of the Telluride Wine Festival, where people buy $ 75 tickets to have wine and food right on  Main Street from the many restaurants that line it. Thankfully, not all restaurants were just doing their vendor booths, and we ended up having a lovely mediterranean lunch in a shady cafe garden while the $ 75 people sat in the glaring hot sun in the middle of the street.  We walked around in the park at the end of town for a little bit and enjoyed the river that runs through town, but overall, the whole town struck us as a place in a bubble, a wealthy tourist bubble, that isn’t really our thing.  It figures that the lovely town park was built where the old working class neighborhood was leveled.  I bet that many who work in the shops and bars can’t afford to live within a 10-mile radius.  Even Glenwood Springs has that problem, and of course many of the ski resorts and Black Hawk/Central City as well.
As we continued, we saw some of the old mine tailings and other evidence of mining in then and now (just as yesterday, we drove past a hideous coal mining operation that is clearly very active), and it’s always a bit depressing to realize how little people whose bottom line is the almighty dollar have ever cared for the environment, and how much damage the mining and building of the railroads and roads has caused over the years. Given the beauty of this unbelievable landscape and especially this scenic San Juan Skyway route, that’s really sad.
As we moved on past Telluride and out of the alpine climate to the desert to Cortez and the Four Corners area, we were in awe about the radical change in landscape (even though we knew this was coming).  We had been enjoying temperatures in the lower 80s in Telluride, but by the time we got out of the car at the Four Corners, it was 100 degrees.  We walked around a little bit, and looked dutifully at the place where the four states meet, but didn’t have the patience to wait in a long line of people who took pictures of each other and their kids at the four corners point.  Instead, we drove back, and decided on a whim, and BEFORE Wikipedia could tell us what we were doing, to drive to the Hovenweep National Monument, even though that meant an extra couple of hours of driving and walking around in the heat.  That was a good decision, though!  I didn’t know at all about Hovenweep, but it is a site with pueblo-style ruins from around 1200, in a now dry-canyon that had active agriculture (and pueblo architecture) 8 centuries ago.  There are six major ruins there with a trail that explains the various buildings and what we know about the laborious architecture of these people, who are the ancestors of the Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo Indians that moved further West and South from the four corners area.  What’s still standing is really impressive!
We then drove the long country road from desert through irrigated agriculture back to Cortez, and finally got into town about 6 pm.  We stopped at a Safeway for some groceries, checked into our Econolodge room, made some salad to eat right here, started some laundry, and are now finally wrapping up this long but awesome day.

Monday, June 26 2017


Did I just say long and awesome day?  We had another one, this time in Mesa Verde National Park.  We had a quick breakfast at the hotel after we got up and then left around 8 am to drive to Mesa Verde, which is only about 20 minutes from Cortez.  We checked at the Visitor Center and bought timed tickets for two of the tours of the cliff dwellings that are only possible with a ranger (thank goodness).  Then we made our way down the long but awe-inspiring and very scenic drive (about 45 minutes) down to the Chapin Mesa area, where the Cliff Palace Loop got us to Cliff Palace.  We still had time to drive the entire loop and to take a mini hike of 1.2 miles to an outlook over a canyon called Soda Canyon, then the tour began at 10:30.  Cliff Palace is impressive, and apart from a steep ladder to get back out, it really wasn’t much of a climb, either.  This is one of the biggest cliff dwellings, and the ranger estimated the use at 150.  As we had already learned and as was stressed on both tours, the Ancestral Pueblans–now no longer called the Anazasi, because that means something like “the ancient strangers,” whereas the various tribes of pueblo Indians, the Hopi, and the Zuni consider these cliff and mesa dwellers their ancestors.  We learned about building and planting techniques, about the possible religious and everyday functions of the buildings called kivas, and were reminded multiple times that we don’t know for sure why the Ancestral Pueblan people left the region (mostly for New Mexico). Drought was part of it, but other factors may have played a role, too.  It’s sad and amazing to think that the 600 or so cliff dwellings that have been found (in various states of decay) were all built and abandoned within one century (between about 1200 and 1300)–so much work and then they had to pick up and leave!  The buildings are amazing, even as ruins, and imagining them in complete form is, again, awe-inspiring.  The tour took about an hour, and because it was morning, was mostly in the shade, which was perfect.
We had time to have our picnic lunch (also in the shade; it was getting hot!) before our second tour, at Balcony House, on the other side of the same canyon.  That tour had more climbing of ladders and also a narrow tunnel we had to climb through, but I never once felt unsafe because of heights or lack of space, and the tour was again quite interesting.  We heard more about the agriculture (dry farming on the “table top” of the Mesa) and about where the water in the region comes from–I had no idea that there are quite heavy rainfalls in July and August, or that water seeping through the sandstone collected in the backs of many of the alcoves where the dwellings were built into the rock. On this tour, we saw more of the wooden beams that held the ceilings/floors in place, and it was again amazing to see how much of the structures were still standing.
When we drove around the area a bit more (on the Mesa Top loop) we saw a whole bunch of additional cliff buildings, and some of them had clearly decayed or been destroyed by erosion much more than the best-preserved ones. But it was always impressive to scan the canyon sides for signs of civilization and find yet another building tucked into an overhang, sometimes “split level” style.  The Mesa Top Loop was especially interesting, though, because while we could look down at more cliff dwellings, most of the loop stops were about the buildings on top of the mesa–reflecting pueblo architecture from 500 to 1200, from pit buildings with just a leather roof to more elaborate structures built on the mesa top.  There were again classic kivas and typical grain storage and living rooms, and what struck me was that the kivas really looked like more stylized pit houses, so it did really seem like classic architectural evolution towards more “fine tuning.”  We drove the six-mile loop in the heat of the afternoon and were very grateful that the excavated buildings were in protective buildings that also gave us shade.  The last one, the Sun Temple, was a bit of a disappointment–it looked impressive from far off, but was really hard to appreciate from close up, because we couldn’t go in or see into it, because the walls were too high. It was apparently basically abandoned right after it was finished, in the 13th century, as the Ancestral Pueblans left.
We were good and hot by the time we were done with the Mesa Top loop and used the museum located at this site to cool off.  It was clearly an older part of the National Park, with too many artifacts and not enough location information, so that we had to just assume that some of the awesome pottery we saw was really found in this region and that it was old.  There were even some dioramas, and the whole exhibit had a sort of 60s feel. But it was a chance to cool off.  The area also has a small restaurant and we decided to just have a quick bite–even though it was only 4:45, we were pretty sure we were not going to last until after the hike we had planned on.  It was almost empty (very pleasant–not at all like the zoo in Yellowstone or Yosemite) and not outrageously pricy either for a veggie wrap and a hamburger.  Then we found our way onto the Petroglyph trail, which is a 2.4 mile round trip trail that starts near Spruce House, the cliff dwelling that is currently closed because of concerns that part of the alcove above will collapse.  The trail was fabulous–there was a natural tunnel to scramble through, great views of the canyon and several of the cliff dwellings, and (although this was not advertised in the trail guide) we actually walked right through a cliff dwelling that had decayed fairly far.  We hiked the trail with three sisters from Iowa who had almost decided to turn back when we came along and seemed to know what we were doing, so we all kept each other company and chatted while going along.  The petroglyphs are about 1.2 miles out, just before the trail loops back to the museum, and they were really quite impressive–even as the modern interpretation of several of the the glyphs is probably a bit iffy.  We even saw some wildlife beyond the little lizards we’d been seeing all day–some turkey vultures very close up, and some deer–and the hike was a great success.  We were tired when we started the hour-long drive back, but we still got out several more times on the way to gawk at the scenery–at several points, we could see far, far into the distance on both the West and East sides, and at the Knife Edge outlook, underneath a huge outcropping, we could still see the last traces of an older road from the early 20th century (for the first automobile tourists). As we drove back into Cortez, we could see the sun set in a gorgeous orange sky; treated ourselves to a dessert at the Denny’s across the street from the motel (which we actually got for free because they had a horrible time getting around to serving us or even bringing us our water), and wrapped up the day with photo viewing and blogging!


Tuesday, June 27 2017


We got up early and spent the morning in Mesa Verde, in the less-visited half of the park, the Wetherill Mesa.  We got there at about 8:45, again driving across the beautiful mesa terrain but also through many areas where the green bushes were overpowered by burned, dead juniper trees from wildfires in the past 30 years (recuperation is very slow).  We took a short (1-mile) hike to a smaller cliff dwelling, Step House, that we could tour on our own, and that had both a pit dwelling (with a reconstructed roof, so we could finally imagine a bit better what that might have looked like) and some of the brick buildings of the cliff dwelling period.  We made our way up to the top in time for our ranger-led walk at 10 am (we had purchased the tickets the day before), a two-hour hike to Long House, one of the biggest and most interesting of the sites in the park.  It was really elaborate, with walls high up on rock shelves within the alcoves, which would have been storage (with some, we could not fathom how the ancient Pueblans could have climbed up there), and with an obvious water source, a seep spring, now all covered in moss and fresh greenery.  The site features little cup holes carved into the surface of the rock, where the families who lived there (perhaps up to 150 people) could get water from the seepage one cup at a time.  Mark found one of those cup holes that still had a trickle of water coming into it through the little canal that was carved to capture a maximum of seepage.  It was a bit muddy, but it clearly would have worked if it had been cleaned out! The site also had a bunch of markings where the corn was milled and where axes were sharpened, as well as some petroglyphs and pictographs (including a handprint that was really visible).  We were glad we saw some better petroglyphs yesterday on our evening hike, because these were pretty hard to see.  The tour was informative, but of course there was some overlap with yesterday’s talks–we are really, really firm now on the time when corn was introduced to the region (500 AD) and on the sacred, spiritual meaning of the sipapus, the little round holes that are part of almost every kiva floor.
Side note: I have to say I am always very skeptical of the religious explanations that the guides so readily provide, because it’s not exactly fair to say “we really don’t know anything about these people’s motivations for building in the alcoves below the mesa and / or about why they left” and then superimpose the religious tales and practices of the Hopi and the Pueblo Indians today on their ancestors.  The kivas look so much like the pit-houses to me in overall design, I can’t imagine they were only used for sacred purposes in the past.  And clearly some were used for living in.
At the end of the tour, we had our choice of ways to walk back to the parking lot, and we took another mini hike to look at one more cliff dwelling that is quite large but can only be seen from a distance now.  The geologist / archeologist who first explored the alcoves systematically for the family that owned the land (the Wetherills) marked it in the late 19th century as site # 16 (Long House was # 21), and so now it’s know by his name, Nordenskiöld # 16 (he was Swedish, and apparently sold most of the artifacts he found to Europe, so Helsinki is the place to check for some incredible ancient Pueblo pottery). And on the walk back through some fire-damaged terrain, we spotted several animals, including a squirrel on a very dead tree (we thought he was a sort of sentry for a whole group), and a beautiful lizard who posed very patiently for Mark’s camera.
Back at the rest area / info kiosk, we had our daily picnic, and by about 2 pm, we were ready to leave Mesa Verde and get on our way to still reach Alamosa, 4 hours further East, by dinner time.  The drive was uneventful and had breathtaking views, sometimes completely unexpected.  Once we were past the Mancos valley below Mesa Verde, the landscape got Alpine again as we went North just a little bit, and at the highest pass on the way across on Highway 160 (Wolf Pass), we were back in full-on ski-resort territory.  Then, an hour or so later, we were starting to see desert terrain again, even though we were never far from the Rio Grande by this time.  We got to Alamosa at just about 6 pm, and went to a Mexican restaurant that a student of mine who lives here had recommended to us.  The food was good, simple Mexican fare, and although we really hadn’t planned on having desert, our neighbor’s sopapilla sundae looked so good that we split one.  We then checked into the motel (older and with the nasty 70s wood paneling, but spacious and sort of endearing, with snacks and juice boxes in the fridge), and I did a quick grocery run before we started on our blogging routine and went to bed.



Wednesday, June 28 2017

We left our cute little motel in Alamosa early in the morning to get to the Great Sand Dunes National Park early as warned–the sand gets quite hot (150-160 degrees) and we wanted to avoid that!  It’s a 35-mile drive from Alamosa to the park, and we arrived just about 8:15 or so.  Then we checked out the dunes–at this time of year, hikers/ sandboarders (there is such a thing) still need to cross the stream that separates the dunes from the parking lot, and that was both very pleasant (it is currently a braided stream with about 1-3 inches of water and lots of sandbanks, so really fun to cross and look at) and extremely unpleasant, because once it gets to this stage, it starts being a mosquito summer resort, and we were the all-you-can-eat buffet.  We had been warned and had our bug spray at the ready, but even getting out of the car without letting the bugs in was a challenge! Thankfully, once it got dry and sandy and hilly, we left the pest behind.  We walked up a small ridge and watched people sandboard and struggle up hills–which is always a challenge in sand, so there were quite a number of rather whiny kids, even though it does look like the world’s most fabulous sand box and sledding hill.  (The sandboard are for rent; apparently, normal sleds will not work on sand.).
So we kept our visit short; we had planned to hike in a nearby rec area where there is supposed to be a beautiful waterfall–but we realized a short way into the area that our car would not like the very rocky dirt road and turned around.  Instead, we headed north, following one of the rangers’ advice to go up 285 and then turn at Twin Lakes, about 2 hours north.  However, we actually took a really lucky wrong turn in a town called Pagoda Springs after getting gas, and ended up going up to a very impressive mountain pass, Monarch Pass.  Once we were past the pass, we realized our 20-mile mistake (which we had made despite two active GPS systems and the iPad’s maps), turned around, and decided to take the very silly but wonderful gondola ride up a steep hill above the pass, and have our picnic lunch in the little observation deck up there at 11,000 and some feet.  It was very windy, but the deck had a glassed-in area, so we had fun with that!  The tickets even got us free popcorn in the super cheesy adjacent gift store (“in operation since 1954”). Then we went back to Pagoda Springs and turned the right way, taking the Collegiate Mountain Scenic road through increasingly alpine territory to Twin Lakes, which consists of a reservoir, two lakes, and a little village with a historic (i.e. 1880s) mini town.  We got some advice on a hiking trail that wouldn’t take us too long (it was almost 3 pm by then), and hit the jackpot with a very nice feeder trail that led to a part of the Continental Divide Trail (so now we can say we hiked that too, for a mile or so, like the Appalachian Trail).  We had wonderful views of the lake and the reservoir, the surrounding mountains (including Mount Ebert, which is over 14,000 feet and could have also been reached by this trail–the rating of the hike was just a bit beyond us!), and also a beautiful young aspen forest and a rushing stream with a bridge over it.  We went about 1.5 miles in and then back out, and had a wonderful time–little elevation change, sunny but cool (in the upper 70s) and just very relaxing.  We needed that since we are dealing with worrying news from home, where Mark’s dad is in the hospital in Lincoln.
We then drove a large “U’ from Twin Lakes back south and then into the next valley to the East, where Fairplay is.  Mark’s cousins have a cabin there (we’ve stayed there before), and we had called them on the spur of the moment, to see whether his cousin Greg would be here.  It turned out no one was using the cabin, and so Greg suggested that we’d stay there tonight.  We arrived in Fairplay around 6, found ourselves some lovely Italian dinner on a deck overlooking a little lake (we even saw a large beaver swimming around in it), and then headed to the cabin.  Now we are going to have a relaxing evening in much, much more space than we’ve been in for a while (the cabin is really a two-bedroom house, with all the amenities and a detailed instruction booklet on how to turn on the water and flip the relevant fuses to “on”).  There are even about 30 boxes of puzzles to choose from–so may be a puzzle will take our minds off our worry about Mark’s dad.

Thursday, June 29 2017

True confessions: the puzzle never happened, because we were too tired and went to bed early; then woke up early again after our night in the cabin, but took it a little slower than usual, taking advantage of a kitchen to fix our picnic ahead of time (Antje) and consuming a leisurely cup of tea and the on-line news (Mark).  The news from Lincoln were at least partially reassuring (although Mark’s dad is still on a ventilator for at least this one more day), so we decided to continue our travels–although with the goal to get a bit further north and reach the Boulder area a day earlier than planned.
We had really not planned out a direction for this particular day (unusual for us), so we decided to start by taking the scenic route from Fairplay via Breckinridge to the I-70.  Mark had gone skiing at Breckinridge many times over the years (not since 2011, though, since I don’t ski), but he was amazed how many extra condos, shops, and infrastructure the already-touristy resort town had added over the years.  I thought it was totally hideous, unsurprisingly–but the drive beyond it was awesome.  We took Highway 6 to take the longer, Eastern route to I-70, which is the route over Loveland Pass that was the normal route before the Eisenhower tunnel was completed, but is now used mostly for scenic purposes and by the big fuel trucks that are not allowed in the tunnel.  The view at 11,990 ft (thank you, Wikipedia) was fabulous, and since it was a balmy 50 degrees up there and not that windy at all, we got out and walked up the first “hill” of the ridge that starts at the pass.  Beautiful view of the continental divide and of gorgeous mini wildflowers at the tundra level.  We also visited a little snowmelt lake that was just about 500 feet off the summit of the pass, and walked all the way around it, snow and boulders and all, watching the snow run-offs and the buttercups and other plants that are just starting to bloom and bud.
Then we drove on from the pass to the I-70 and thereby the fast route to Idaho Springs, which turned out to be my favorite town so far–it did have all the traffic it needed to make an old late-19th century Main Street into a functioning tourist attraction with cafes and shops (unlike Fairplay or Nederland, where few businesses survive more than a year or two), but not so much that it just becomes the ski resort super wealth claptrap that I found so unpleasant in Telluride, or the 20-taffy-shops-in-a-row thing that Estes Park has going).  We sat down in a quirky, pleasant cafe with  good latte and even better “upside down muffins” with apples and caramel topping (not to mention with a sign for “Parrot Coffee” from the Hargreaves Mercantile Company of Lincoln NE as bathroom decor–dorks that we are, we promptly had to look up that particular company, which used to operate out of the Haymarket area in Lincoln).  We even got a cookie to go with our picnic later, and then left town a little before 11 to continue on another scenic route–to Echo Lake Park and then on to Mount Evans on the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, “the highest paved road in North America.”
I had been on once before years ago with Jacquie and the kids.  I had suggested this road to Mark because I knew he’d love the view and wouldn’t mind the driving–even though I remembered how anxious I had been as a passenger looking out over sheer drop-offs on the 28 miles of switchbacks that help drivers slowly gain 7,000 ft (2,100 m) in total (thank you, Wikipedia). But the Grand Canyon trip in 2012 has made me much less anxious about heights and drop offs, and given that it was such a gorgeous day, I really wanted to be up there again and have Mark see it, too.  We had a great time, even though I occasionally gripped the “oh shit handle” above the passenger-side door (not ever with any real reason).  We stopped several times on the way up to take in the view, and we even took a little loop hiking trail along the way.  When we got to the top, we actually decided to hike the remainder of the rocky foot trail to the summit, since it was sunny, not too windy, and we weren’t feeling the altitude as much as we’d feared.  So we joined the constant stream of people to the top, and it was impressive to look all the way around–snow-capped mountains directly to the West and southwest, the huge plains where Fairplay sits (South Park), and the more rounded mountains in many layers to the East–plus Summit Lake right below us.  Last time I was there, it had gotten very cloudy/foggy, cold, and windy, and the visibility was limited, so this was awesome. And then, as we descended from the summit, we saw a whole bunch of snowy white mountain goats, with their babies, coming right up across the last switchback and frolicking around within feet of the tourists (there was a state park ranger watching out, so it was really the goats that got close to us, and not us who were getting too close to them).  The babies were doing their little crazy jumps and were being unbelievably photogenic, so we stayed quite a bit longer to watch them after we had had our picnic and cookie in the car.
Then it was time to take the road back down to Echo Lake–we only stopped once, at a nature trail where we some of the flowers we’d seen in bloom were identified, and where we were able to see some impressive bristle cone pines, complete with their beautiful dark purple new cones from this spring.  Bristle cone pines are some of the longest-living species in the world, and grow very very slowly, so the pines we saw were hundreds, if not a thousand years old.  At the end the Mount Evans byway, we took Colorado Highway 103 further east to get back to the I-70 across a much lower (but also very scenic) pass.  We only stayed on the I-70 as long as we absolutely had to to exit before Golden and take a road straight up to Lousville, east of Boulder, to stay at the house of Mark’s cousin and his wife.  They are currently on vacation, so we get to use their house and (perfunctorily) pet- and housesit until they get back.  We got to Louisville at about 5 pm, got some groceries at the local super markets, and I made us a salad while Mark got instructions from the regular pet sitter about the cats and talked to his brothers.  We had a nice early dinner, and we might actually still go on a little walk around the neighborhood (which has trails) before we turn in for the night.