Durango Adventures Tuesday, May 22 2018 

On Friday, we arrived in Durango. We stopped at the Welcome Center for information about the train to Silverton, hiking in the area, and local restaurants. We made our way to the train station where we purchased tickets for Sunday and toured the Roundhouse Museum. Within its 12,000 square feet area is a collection of railroad memorabilia such as the cab of a locomotive that shows the view from the fireman and engineer’s seats, a baggage car used in the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” that is now a movie theatre, and an 800-square-foot model railroad. The eclectic collection also houses antique cars, military uniforms and paraphernalia, and stuffed animals. We then explored Main Street looking for a restaurant. We decided on Himalyan Kitchen where we tried yak for the first time.

Firefighter with Slurry Bomber

Firefighter with Slurry Bomber

On Saturday, we drove to Vallecito Lake, about 22 miles NE of Durango, to explore the “Tour of Carvings.” Fourteen carvings are located around the valley commemorating the firefighters and support personnel that fought the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002. Between June 9th and July 28th more than 70,000 acres were burned involving some 4,000 firefighters and support personnel. The Vallecito Valley lost 28 of the 58 homes lost in the fire and one firefighter, Alan Wyatt, lost his life. Vallecito, a Hispanic word for “Little Valley,” is a valley where the Los Pinos (Pine River) joins Vallecito Creek. The Vallecito Dam was constructed between 1938-1941. Most carvings stand about 18 feet high. We learned that they are being systematically replaced because the originals were not properly preserved. We found the following carvings: “Black Bear & Cubs,” “Sheriff with Radio,” “Alan Wyatt Memorial,” “EMT & Eagle,” “Rebirth of Vallecito,” “Oregon Firefighter with Chain Saw,” “Firefighter with Slurry Bomber,” “Firefighter with Racoon,” “Doe & Fawn,” “Lynx & Eagle,” “Fireman with Hose,” and “Colorado Mounted Ranger.”

After lunch at the Rusty Shovel, we hiked on the Vallecito Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan National Forest. We hiked uphill about a mile with nice views of the Los Pinos River.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

On Sunday, we boarded the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for the 45.4-mile trip along the Animas River to Silverton. It took eleven months in 1881-1882 to build the original track which was used to transport ore from Silverton to Durango. A hundred years later new track was laid to accommodate passenger traffic. We were in the Alamosa Parlor Car featuring tables and chairs for two dozen passengers with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and a full bar. We were at the at the end of nine cars which gave us great views from the outdoor viewing platform. Because of fire danger from a steam locomotive a helicopter with bucket monitored us from the air and a small car followed us. During the slow climb from Durango’s 6,512-foot elevation to Silverton’s 9,318 feet we experienced a change in weather conditions. While we were in Silverton, a rain sleet greeted us. We had lunch at Handlebars Restaurant before exploring the only paved street, city hall, the public library, gift shops, Victorian-style homes, and picturesque churches. No wonder this city is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. When the last train departs as we did at 2:30, all the businesses shut down. We arrived in Durango after 6 p.m. and found an interesting menu and experimental beers at Carver Brewery.

Animas River Rafting

Animas River Rafting

On Monday, we explored Durango by hiking two trails. First, we found the Rim Trail adjacent to the impressive Fort Lewis College campus. This trail has great views of Durango asset against Smelter Mountain. We then parked in Santa Rita Park and hiked about two miles on the Animas River Trail to the modern Durango Public Library. Early in the hike we passed some unusual looking poles with strings and attachments above the river with its rapids. I later learned that Durango annually hosts a major kayak and canoe slalom event and that this year it is on June 2nd. We saw several rafters and kayakers enjoying the river.

Durango has changed significantly since my previous visit in the early 1980s. What did I learn about Durango on this visit? The Utes lived in small bands until gold was discovered in the San Juan Mountains in the 1860s. In 1882 the San Juan and New York Smelter processed lead, silver, copper, and gold. In early World War II there was a vanadium processing mill that was used to harden the steel for tanks and battleships. One of the by-products was uranium. In 1943 14 percent of the uranium used by the Manhattan Project came from here. Historically, Durango has been home to immigrants such as Italians, German, Irish, Japanese, and Finish early on for coal mining. One of the signs has a great quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants.”

Durango is a great place for outdoor activities such as hiking, golfing, mountain and road biking, off-roading, backpacking, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing.


Anasazi Heritage Center Saturday, May 19 2018 

Escalante Pueblo Kiva

Escalante Pueblo Kiva

On our way from Moab, Utah to Durango, Colorado we stopped at the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, Colorado. We were especially interested in their special exhibit, “Trowels, Trading Posts, and Travelers: The Wetherill Family.” We learned that all the Wetherills were involved in southwest trading posts: 1897 Al and Clayton in Chaco Canyon, 1898 Richard and Marietta also in Chaco Canyon, 1900 John and Louisa Ojo Alamo, Win in Tiz-Nat Zin, 1902 Al partners in Thoreau, 1902 Win purchases Two Grey Hills, 1910 John and Louisa open a trading post in Kayenta and more. Members of the family discovered important southwest locations such as Cliff Palace (Al in 1887) and Rainbow Bridge (John 1909). Many interesting people visited John and Louisa including Teddy Roosevelt and Zane Grey. It is also very interesting how this family related positively with the Native population. Other exhibits at the Center were well done, too.

We had lunch on the grounds and then walked a half-mile to the Escalante Pueblo with great views of the recently completed McPhee Reservoir and surrounding mountains such as Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado. The Anasazi Heritage Center is well worth a visit.

Moab Adventures Thursday, May 17 2018 

Corona Arch

Corona Arch

On this visit to Moab we decided to explore areas that we haven’t seen on two previous trips. On our first morning we drove 10 miles west on Utah 279, the Potash Road, along the Colorado River to the Corona Arch Trailhead. It is a 1.5-mile hike through a large slickrock canyon to the Corona Arch, a 140 by 105-foot opening. Adjacent to it is Bow Tie Arch. Earlier in this hike another arch was visible. The trail has a 440-foot elevation gain and a high elevation of 4,400 feet. The trail features two safety cables and a small ladder to assist traversing steep portions of the slickrock. A railroad completed in 1964 is still in use taking potash from a nearby plant to Crescent Junction. The Corona Arch Trail crosses this rail.

In the afternoon we backtracked to U. S. 191 and followed Kane Creek Canyon Road which follows the Colorado River opposite Utah 279. We needed to drive 3 miles on a gravel road that involved a steep section with switchbacks to reach Hunter Canyon. We followed the hiker-established trail along the canyon bottom about 1.25 miles at an elevation around 4,300 feet. About a half-mile in we spotted an arch. The trail is green along the creek, has large cottonweed trees and a variety of wildflowers. Although the stream was no longer freely flowing, there were several clear pools of water.

On Wednesday we traveled south on U.S. 191 to the Hole ‘n the Rock attraction. We paid fifty cents per minute for a twelve-minute tour, no photographs allowed. We toured the 14 room, 5,000 square foot home of Gladys and Albert Christensen who literally blasted their home out of the sandstone over a twenty-year period. In the 1940s and early 1950s they ran a diner. Albert, originally from Denmark, loved Franklin D. Roosevelt. He carved a likeness of this President on the outside face of the stone. The grounds have three different gift shops and a menagerie of metal sculpture by Lyle Nichols. His jeep look alike is especially interesting.

The nearby rest area has a sign recognizing Arthur Ray “Hardwater Rock” Knight (1924-1998) whose likeness is said to be found on a rock to the north. We needed some help to identify it.

On our return to Moab, we detoured to see Ken’s Lake. This 2,610-acre-foot capacity open water reservoir was completed in 1981. It has a 96-foot earthen fill dam that stores water from Mill Creek.

Birthing Scene

Birthing Scene

After lunch we returned to near where we were yesterday on Kane Creek Drive. We found the “Birthing Rock” with petroglyphs using the Abajo-La Sal style. In addition to a “birthing scene,” there are images of centipedes, a horse, bear paws, and a snake.

We discovered that we had previously toured the Museum of Moab but appreciated learning more about the area there. Uranium, of course, plays an important role in the development of this community. In 1951, Charlie Steen staked 12 claims on the southern rim of Lisbon Valley. His Mi Vida Mine produced the highest-grade uranium ore found in the United States. By 1953, Steen was a millionaire. The second-floor art exhibit featured landscapes by local artist Tim J. Morse (1955- ). He works in oil and watercolors.

We had dinner at Canyonlands by Night & Day before taking their two-hour Sound & Light Show on the Colorado River. We learned that the river was earlier known as the Grand. Is that why where the name “Grand Canyon” comes from? We also learned that Moab economically transitioned from cattle to fruit such as peaches, pears and apples before becoming a mining town and now its emphasis on tourism. We went upriver about eight miles before turning around and returning in the dark entertained by a recorded tape of biblical and Native American legends coordinated with a truck throwing light on the canyon walls.

On Thursday we drove on U. S. 128, locally referred to as the River Road, to the Fisher Towers hiking area near signpost 21. We started on the trail but seemed to detour to a social trail with treacherous stretches along a scenic canyon. We then returned by car on two miles of washboard road and followed the River Road to the Dewey Bridge. There we turned around and stopped at the Red Cliff Lodge near signpost 14 for lunch. We finished our afternoon with a 43-mile drive on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road. We didn’t know that major construction is taking place with several miles of gravel and avoiding large trucks. The temperature was 67 degrees while in the high 80s back in Moab.

It has been interesting to discover the diversity of Moab adventures. Little did we know that Discount Tires’ “Rally on the Rocks” would be taking place at the time of our visit.

Edge of the Cedars State Park Tuesday, May 15 2018 

Edge of the Cedars Village

Edge of the Cedars Village

Yesterday we visited the Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding, Utah as we drove from Monument Valley to Moab. The main reason for our stop was to see the temporary exhibit, “On the Gleaming Way: Slim Woman and the Kayenta Navajos.” We had previously seen a version of this exhibit at the Smoki Museum in Prescott. The Edge of the Cedars was able to provide more space and we learned new facts about this remarkable woman. We discovered that this museum is a gem. We were impressed with its Ancestral Puebloan pottery with a computer detailing information about each piece on display. Also, the bright color of a macaw feather sash probably originating from Mexico dating around 1050-1150 was impressive. I learned many things such as how a turkey feather robe was constructed. Just outside the museum is an Ancestral Puebloan village with a reconstructed kiva that could be entered. Artist Joe Pachak has created an interesting Sun Marker that poses questions about these people’s knowledge of astroarchaeology. He also has an interesting sculpture of a “Flute Player.” We learned a lot during our stop.

Monument Valley Monday, May 14 2018 

After our arrival at the new Monument Valley KOA, we backtracked two miles to visit the Monument Valley Visitor Welcome Center. Then we crossed the highway and explored the Goulding’s Monument Valley Trading Post & Lodge dating from the 1930s. After orienting ourselves in the Lodge Museum, we visited the John Wayne Cabin used in the film “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949). This root cellar had its front re-purposed as a cabin. The biggest surprise was learning that the Gouldings donated their complex to Knox College. The complex has a good-looking RV campground and restaurant which are worth exploring on a future visit.

John Ford's Point Overlook

John Ford’s Point Overlook

On Sunday we visited the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park which we last visited in August 2011. We started with a hike on the Wildcat Trail that circles the West Mitten Butte. Interestingly, we found evidence of three different mileages for this trail – one at 3.3 miles, another for 3.8 miles, and another at 4 miles. Four miles is most accurate. We enjoyed good views of Sentinel Mesa, Mitchell Mesa, Merrick Butte, and East Mitten Butte. Signage identified the following flora: broom snakeweed, cliff rose, rubber rabbit brush, black brush, salt cedar, sage brush, narrowleaf yucca, and Mormon tea. Our lunch at the View gave us a great view as well as Navajo food choices. After lunch we took the 17-mile drive through Monument Valley. We saw many interesting sites including Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point Overlook, Totem Pole, Artist’s Point Overlook, and the Thumb. Monument Valley is a special place.

Bearizona Wildlife Park Saturday, May 12 2018 


White Bison

Our most recent RV outing started in Williams, Arizona with a visit at Bearizona Wildlife Park. Our visit was marred with my difficulties remembering the correct procedures when disconnecting our smart car from the Via. I disconnected, but didn’t properly reconnect which activated the emergency brake system. Eventually, I corrected the problem as we entered Bearizona. Our three mile drive-through included views of Rocky Mountain goats, reindeer, mule deer, white bison and American bison, an Alaska tundra wolf who moved directly in front of us, black bears, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. We then parked and enjoyed watching the American badgers and red foxes in the Fort Bearizona walk-thru area. We missed taking advantage of keeper chats and an additional drive-through. My pre-birthday dinner was at the Williams Best Western restaurant that included live entertainment.

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