104. Back Into Colorado

…But not too far

Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

Left Monticello this morning for a short 60 mile or so drive across the border to Cortez, CO. An uninspiring drive. Part of the reason for leaving was that I could not extend my stay at the campground and there are some things I’d like to try to see in this SW CO area anyway.

As a side note, this has been quite an unusual summer. In all my past years of traveling full time, I’ve taken some pride in the fact that I roam with no plan and only made campground reservations to get me through holiday weekends or to make sure I had a spot if I had a specific plan and time to visit someone. Otherwise it was just find a nice spot early or mid afternoon, stop and stay. This summer, campgrounds seem to be full or at least not available for several nights at a time. Reservations seem to be a must. I’m guessing that in the past, most campers were at work most of the summer and just taking up campground space for their vacation time. This year, with COVID, I’m thinking more people are out of work and getting stir crazy or working remotely and in both cases, if they have a camper, they’re doing ‘their thing’ on the road.


Saturday, Sept 26, 2020

The campground for this week is just outside of Cortez, CO and about a 6 mile drive from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.

Distant view of the tops of Mesa Verde NP from my campsite. Miles of pinion and juniper surround the campground.

The park was created in 1906 to preserve the archeological heritage (1150-1300 AD) of the Pueblo people who grew crops and hunted on the mesa tops and lived in the canyons and its alcoves.

Sight from the Park entry. A part of the Park’s 44 mile long road system is visible as it begins its climb. while there are several forks, all the roads deadend returning you back the way you came. The cliff dwellings are basically located at the far end. The drive is high (elevation to 9,000’) with lots of steep inclines and drop offs. The views of the Montezuma and Mancos valleys below are magnificent.
Mancos Valley from about 7,509’
Overlook towards Montezuma Valley
More Montezuma Valley from 8,004’ elevation
Cliff Palace. Ranger tours were closed for 2020 so it was not possible to hike down and then be take thru the complex including climbing the ladders to individual segments. Not that I’d have physically been able to anyway but, having never seen cliff dwellings anywhere before, I was impressed with the view from this overlook. Amazing place!
If you were to take the tour, the hike goes down thru here. A portion of the path is visible beneath the retaining wall at the left.
A mile or so away was another cliff dwelling called Balcony House. It too was off limits and from the overlook presented a more difficult view. I kinda think this probably housed the neighborhood mall. I did find it interesting that an Indian (I presume) couple had a table set up in the overlook parking area and were selling carvings, jewelry etc. While they were engaged with a shopper, I strolled up, knelt down to look at the boxes under the table – all shipping boxes labeled “Made in China”.😠
Juniper, pinion and yucca
Trees, at this elevation and with heavy winds, have a tough life
Along the drive there were several large areas with signs denoting the fires of 2002, 1997 etc. leaving kind of an eerie sight.

Tuesday, Sept 29, 2020

Today I took a sightseeing trip (100 mile round trip) to see Hovenweep National Monument which is located west of Cortez and is within or surrounded by massive The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The area straddles the UT/CO border. I’ve known about the area since 2003 but never had a chance to see it.

The area is so named as it was the home of the nomadic Anasazi indians. The now favored name is Ancestral Puebloans. By the 1200’s increasing numbers of people concentrated at the heads of canyons where there was water available and they became farmers raising maize or corn, squash, beans and a grain called amaranth. They congregated in small villages and in this area they more or less constructed stone shelters and buildings arising above ground level vs the below ground level cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde.

Many ruins from these times are located in The Canyons of the Ancients but are accessible only by off road vehicles or multi mile hikes. Hovenweep National Monument is a small section developed for accessibility and contains 6 such village clusters with portions of some of the buildings still standing. Even though the park facilities are basically closed due to COVID19, the trails (and primitive campground) are open. The trail, which circumscribes the canyon, is about 2 miles long passing by each of the village areas. I’m not able to hike that far but I did manage about 1/2 mile before returning. I got as close as 10-15’ from one ruin while others I was able to capture with the zoom feature if my iPhone.

It really is amazing to be viewing up close unretouched ruins of buildings built 8 centuries ago. It also boggles my mind how close (a foot or so) to a cliff edge they built or balanced the structure atop a rock. One building (I didn’t get that far) was built straddling a chasm with felled trees creating a bridge upon which part of the structure was built. The trees have long ago rotted and the middle part of the structure collapsed to the bottom.

With few people around (it really is a long way in the middle of nowhere) it is remarkably quiet. What you hear are the noises in your own head. A part I really enjoyed was the vegetation. So many Juniper Trees for miles and miles, all decked out with their little bluish berries. As quiet as it was is as fragrant as it was. The air was awash, not with viruses but with the sweet woody cedar aroma.

A heads up.
The canyon is barely visible running just below the hill line.

Built at cliff edge
Across the canyon you can see “Twin Towers” structure







Thursday, Oct 1, 2020

Hard to believe it’s October already! Today was another Jeep sightseeing trip. I headed to Durango and then north another 20 miles to the Rockwood Station. I’m taking a nearly 50 mile long ride thru the San Juan mountain range of the Rockies. The transportation mode of choice is a narrow gauge coal fired steam locomotive with about 20 open air cars behind – The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, established in 1882.

The ride starts high in the mountain and runs close to (like a foot or two) the edge of the canyons’ cliffs (assuming you are on the right side of the car). You can lean out the train car and look straight down and see the Animas River far below. If you are on the left side you literally can extend your arm and brush the rock comprising the vertical canyon wall arising above you. My timing was OK but probably would have been better in another week or so. Leaves are beginning to turn color. By far most trees in the area are pines and so the overwhelming tree color is green. Interspersed are lots of cottonwoods and some birch lending brilliant yellow leaves. A few others and bushes were showing the beginnings of orange/red.

It was cool hearing the sounds of the steam whistle and seeing the cloud of steam when it sounded. Likewise when the engine labored going uphill, a great cloud of smoke would linger in our wake. There was probably 5+ miles of ‘top of the canyon’ ride before the train started descending for probably another 5 miles towards the valley where it then ran next to the river rapids and in the forests.

About midway down, the train crossed crossed above the river by bridge. At about mile 15, the train stopped for 5-10 minutes while it took on more water for the steam boiler. Also along the way we passed a small hydro electric plant, a small dude ranch type place and maybe 3 or 4 houses. How those were accessed, I’m not sure. At the end of my ride (there are different ride options) we stopped at a railroad picnic park while the crew moved the rail switches. We then backed up about a quarter mile onto a spur, waited for another train to go past, moved two different rail switches and proceeded forward again (a Y turn) back to the beginning of the ride. If you didn’t switch sides of the train, you got an entirely different view on the way back. Total train time was about 2.5 hours and then another hour plus back to the campground.

I had planned on driving about 40 miles south to the Four Corners National Monument, the only place in the country where the corners of four states meet (CO, UT, AZ and NM). It is located on the Navaho Nation land and even though it’s a National Monument it is on Navaho sovereign land. The Navaho Nation had/has a high COVID19 rate and visitors on their land are not welcome, the entry road is chained off. I also wanted to go to Farmington, Shiprock and maybe Gallup NM but NM requires a 14 day quarantine if entering from a high risk state. Amongst the 30 or so states so labeled, all of the states surrounding NM are high risk so the only way to enter without quarantine is to begin in a low risk state and without stopping fly or take other transportation in. I thought perhaps Oct 1 would bring an easing but NM has spiked so that’s not happening. There were also a number of other places in NM I wanted to visit but that’s not going to happen now. Will have to pull out the map and look for other alternatives. I should be able to figure it out by Monday morning.

6 thoughts on “104. Back Into Colorado”

    1. It was. I was nervous when leaning out the car to get the pics looking down or forward towards the engine that my phone would slip out of my hand and be gone forever. Seemed when going around a curve etc and could see forward or when on a narrow ledge with a good ‘down view’, that the train would get ‘jerky’. My phone now has permanent fingerprints pressed into it.

      Sent from my iPad

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