Saturday, May 31, 2014

Curecanti NRA

Every year we head to Denver at some point, but we try to vary our route.  This year we took US 50 east through Colorado past pretty Blue Mesa Reservoir and Curecanti National Recreation Area.
There are several campgrounds in the recreation area and we stayed in spacious Elk Creek CG.  Mid week, we were almost the only ones there.

There is a very reasonably-priced boat ride that goes through the canyon below the dam which I would have loved to do, but alas, they were in the process of filling up the reservoir and not releasing enough water down river to float the boat.  Next time.

However we did a couple of nice hikes.  The first was the Dillon Pinnacles trail,

With great views of the lake . . .

On the way up to the base of the pinnacles.

We also hiked some of the Neversink Trail, which might not be named too appropriately since we had to turn around where the trail was under water.  On the other hand, this is above the lake and the Gunnison River was really roaring.

Actually we really enjoyed the Neversink trail for the fauna.  We saw many birds and heard even more.  In one section, the frogs were serenading us.

Continuing east on US 50, we crossed the Rockies and Continental Divide over Monarch Pass.  The grade is about 10 miles of 6% both going up and coming down.  It's a haul, but the eastbound assent had a passing lane almost the whole way.  The view from the top is breathtaking, but sometimes the lack of guard rails stole my breath even more.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Okay, two things, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is really hard to photograph and it's not really black, unless you take a picture into the sun like this.

When properly lit, it's brown, but I guess Brown Canyon of the Gunnison just doesn't sound as good.

The river is a long way down.  Although the flow is now controlled by dams, the Gunnison continues to carve the canyon.  Within the park, the river drops an average of 95 feet per mile and 480 feet in one 2-mile stretch.  Even with the decreased water flow, this creates the power to cut away the cliff walls.

In one section, you can see the north side of the canyon is subject to erosion.

We saw a lot of pretty arrowleaf balsamroot.

At 2300 feet, the Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado.  The patterns were created when molten rock was squeezed into fractures in the existing rock.  The sun had gone completely by this time, hence the poor picture.  You'll just have to see it for yourself.

I wonder what the rangers are looking for.  I sure hope nobody fell over the edge.

I don't know the name of this precious little flower.  Anybody?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


One place that I would like to spend some time is Ouray, Colorado, another alpine town surrounded by mountains.  (Something I've wondered about - why don't these towns just float away during spring thaw? But I digress.)

Continuing along the San Juan Skyway, we turned onto CO 62 in Placerville.  Still very pretty scenery and we actually stopped to take this picture when we crossed the Dallas Divide.

Knowing Ouray has a national forest campground very close to town, I called the ranger district office to ask if it was open.  Now you may remember that didn't turn out too well in the previous post, but this was a different district.  This time I was told that the campground is still closed and snow covered.

So we were forced to stay at Ridgway State Park.  Now, as some of you may know, Colorado State Parks are VERY expensive.  This one was $22 a night, PLUS a day use fee of $7.  I have never understood that. It seems to be only reasonable that you should either pay for day use or camping, but not both.  But that's Colorado.  On the other hand, their state parks are absolutely beautiful and this one was no exception.

We paid the exorbitant fee, quickly parked, and took off for Ouray.  We did the short, but breath stealing hike up to Cascade Falls.

And checked out the 'baby bathtubs', a series of .impressions in the rock.

Although the road to the campground was closed, we wanted to see it and hiked up the road.  We had some great views along the way.
Update on the campground -  There was not a speck of snow, but it was closed and they were clearing out some downed trees.  And it is very small.  There are probably only two sites large enough for our 30' RV.

Back in town, we walked around admiring the architecture.  Ouray has something very interesting that I've never seen before.  On each block, there is a sign that tells you what buildings were there in 1886 and 1906 and what year the buildings were built.

For instance, the hotel on the corner in the picture above was built in 1886-87.  Cool, huh?

And the fancy Elks Lodge (no RV parking) was built in 1904.

We'll have to come back another time in the summer to really experience the area.  I understand there are wonderful hikes with unbeatable views.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Moving On

Although we left the expensive campground in Mesa Verde National Park, we weren't ready to leave the area so me moved to McPhee Recreation Area.

We must have been really wiped out from our grand tour in the park, because we didn't do much in the two days we were there.  We did make a friend.  Isn't he gorgeous?  I'm guessing he's a collared lizard because our friend Lloyd identified one on his blog awhile ago.

Leaving McPhee Reservoir, we headed north on CO 145, part of the scenic San Juan Skyway.  Boy, is it ever.  The aspen leaves were just coming out and bright green.
(Out the front window, of course.)

Now for my rant.  There are a couple of national forest campgrounds along this road that we thought sounded inviting.  Since they were listed as being open from May to September, I called the ranger district office to ask if they were actually open.  It turned amusing when she told me to call the national reservation number for that information.  Really?!?  Well, I did and was told yes, they are open.  Imagine our surprise to find both campgrounds securely closed.  Grrr.

So we went on.  We wanted to check out Telluride, a pretty little mountain town, surrounded by snow-covered peaks.  We unhooked the car and left the RV at a pull off outside of town.  (actually where this picture was taken.)

The only other time I was in Telluride was when I went to the doctor there for shingles.  I only had three spots, but knew the medicine only works if you catch it quickly.  Although the doctor wasn't convinced that I had shingles, he gave me the prescription and the spots went away without spreading any further.  Seems to be a confirmation to me.

I love these cute alpine towns.  Look how quaint.

Did these people move from San Francisco?

We even found a partially frozen waterfall.

Soon we hitched back up and continued on our way, with me snapping more pictures out the front window.

But the stress had taken its toll and when we came across this really wide pull off, we felt it calling our name for an overnight stop.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mesa Verde NP

I've loved Mesa Verde National Park from the first time I saw it.  To think that the Ancestral Pueblo people lived here from about 550 to 1300 A.D.  For most of that time, they lived in pueblos on top of the Mesa, but, for some unknown reason, in the 1190s, they built and moved into cliff dwellings.  It is these amazing structures that are the highlight of the park.

There are many canyons running north and south separating the 81 square miles of the park into many different flattop mesas.  The two that have roads are Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa.  Unfortunately, the road to Wetherill Mesa is only open late May to early September and we were a little early.  (We were there mid-May.)

It seems that from any viewpoint, you can look across the canyon and see some kind of cliff dwelling.

But to tour the two main ones, you have to get tickets which we did the day before.  (Wow!  We actually committed to something.)

So promptly at 10 o'clock, we were at the meeting point for our tour of Cliff Palace, the park's largest cliff dwelling.  It is truly magnificent.  (Note the food storage rooms just under the roof.)

It looked similar to this in 1888 when two cowboys, Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason came upon it while chasing cattle up the canyon.

Although it seems totally different at first glance, a lot of the structure was under all that rubble and had to be excavated.

I'm always interested in what is original and what has been recreated.  Here's a wall that is in both pictures.

Imagine chipping away at the sandstone to make it fit so uniformly.

But if there happened to be a large boulder in the way, it was incorporated into the structure.

We had the best ranger leading our tour.  He was a gifted story teller and made me feel like I was there in the 13th century.  It gave me chills to look up inside the square tower and see decorative painting still there.

Our next tour was Balcony House, famous for the 32-foot ladder that visitors must climb.  Before I went on the road, I was afraid to climb above a couple of rungs.  Now, nothing fazes me.

Our ranger for this tour wasn't quite as captivating, but we had a lot of children with us, and I must say he was very good with them.  Here's a peek from one part of the dwelling to the other.

One theory for the move from mesa top to cliff dwellings was for protection.  Although the ranger said this is probably not the reason, he did say this particular dwelling could be defended by an old woman with a stick. The original residents didn't have the sturdy 32-foot ladder from the nice trail built by the park service.  Instead this was the way in or out.

Next we explored the Archeological Museum which displayed pottery and baskets found in the area.  Our first ranger guide had mentioned that if a mug from that period with a handle is found anywhere in the United States, chances are it was made in Mesa Verde.  It seems handles were their thing.

Our last stop of the day was Spruce Tree House and a self-guided tour.  You can bet they still had rangers watching, but they were also very happy to answer questions.  Spruce Tree House is tucked further under the cliff overhang and is the best preserved of the dwellings.

We noticed that it seemed to be deeper than the other two, with rooms tucked way back in the dark.  The ranger verified this.

It's safe to say we were pretty tired after all this touring.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

On to Colorado

We finally left Arizona by way of a little piece of New Mexico.  Once again we are on our way to Denver area and we've mapped out a different route this year.

In the northwest corner of New Mexico is a famous landmark known as Shiprock..  We came within a few miles of the formation but to get any closer we would have to take a dirt road.  Since we didn't want to unhitch the car, all I got was a zoomed shot through the dusty air.

Then we passed into Colorado and, uh-oh, what's that white stuff?

Our plan was to visit Mesa Verde National Park and stay in the park campground.  The campground is only four miles from the entrance, but the road has to climb 1500 feet up the edge of the mesa.

We have stayed in various national park campgrounds and like the fact that they are usually very basic for a very reasonable price.  Imagine our surprise to learn that for the same lack of amenities, the campground at Mesa Verde is $33 a night!  Of course, it's half price for us old people, but that's not the point.  We shortened our planned stay and paid for two nights.

After settling into our site, we hiked the very easy and extremely scenic Knife Edge Trail.

We had a good view of Ute Mountain, otherwise knows as the Sleeping Ute.  According to a Ute legend, one of the gods became angry with his people and lay down to sleep.  You can see his head to the right, his arms folded in anger across his chest. and his toes to the far left.
(I swear we didn't make this up.)

Look at Ron - always pushing the boundaries.

I think deer in the campground are almost mandatory, but it's always fun to see them.

We got a kick out of this sign. especially the second guideline.

Next post will be our hectic one-day tour of the park.