Wednesday, July 23, 2014

DESTINATION: Million Dollar Highway, Colorado

Nearing the end of our motorcycle trip through the southwest we drove the Million Dollar Highway starting at Durango and ending at Montrose, Colorado, before heading east towards Salida, Colorado.  The Million Dollar Highway stretches for about 25 miles in western Colorado and follows the route of U.S. 550 between Silverton and Ouray, Colorado.  It is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. 

Waiting to head to Ouray

Area between Durango & Silverton
Between Durango and Silverton the Skyway loosely parallels the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.   

Though the entire stretch has been called the Million Dollar Highway, it is really the twelve miles south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass which gains the highway its name.  This stretch through the gorge is challenging and potentially hazardous to drive; it is characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and a lack of guardrails; the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic—many cut directly into the sides of mountains.

Bear Creek Falls near Ouray, CO

During this ascent, the remains of the Idarado Mine are visible. Travel north from Silverton to Ouray allows drivers to hug the inside of curves; travel south from Ouray to Silverton perches drivers on the vertiginous outside edge of the highway. Large RVs travel in both directions, which adds a degree of excitement (or danger) to people in cars and, most definitely, on motorcycles.

Remains of Idarado Mine

Waterfall cutting through rocks near Ouray, CO
Molas Pass, Molas Lake
One beautiful view after another

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

DESTINATION: Mesa Verde, Colorado

After resting for the night in Durango, Colorado, we headed west to Mesa Verde National Park.  Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. It is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.  The park was created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world, or as he said, "preserve the works of man".   It is the only cultural National Park set aside by the National Park System.  It occupies 81.4 square miles and features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancient Pueblo peoples, sometimes called the Anasazi. There are over 4000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people at the site.

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park

Upon arrival at the park, we stopped at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center to purchase tickets for a guided tour of Cliff Palace.  After purchasing our tickets we headed to the park's entrance where you pay admission to get into the park.  From the park entrance there is approximately 30-45 miles of winding road that lead to the cliff dwellings within the canyon walls.

Beautiful sculpture dedicated to the cliff
dwellers in front of the Mesa Verde
Visitor and Research Center

Mancos Valley Overlook

Along the way there are several "lookouts" and points of interest.  The main road leads you around the top and down into the canyons of Chapin Mesa.  The second road, which we didn't visit because of time, leads you around and down into canyons of Wetherill Mesa.

Montezuma Valley Overlook
Montezuma Valley Overlook
Montezuma Valley Overlook

The Far View Sites are the first ruins you come to at the top of Chapin Mesa.  Far View was one of the most densely populated parts of the mesa from A.D. 900 to about A.D. 1300.  Nearly 50 villages have been identified within a half square mile area, and were home to hundreds of people.  Today, several excavated and stabilized sites are linked by a trail system within a short walking distance. These surface sites include Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, Coyote Village, Far View Reservoir, Megalithic House, and Far View Tower.

Covered site at Far View
Far View Reservoir
Far View dwellings with several kivas

Pictograph at Far View
Kiva at Far View
Adobe dwellings at
Far View
After leaving the Far View Sites we headed to Spruce Tree House for a self guided tour.  The walk from the top of the visitor's center to the cliff dwellings is not long but is steep.  Spruce Tree House, the third largest cliff dwelling, was constructed between A.D. 1211 and 1278 by the ancestors of the Puebloan peoples of the Southwest. The dwelling contains about 130 rooms and 8 kivas (kee-vahs), or ceremonial chambers, built into a natural alcove measuring 216 feet (66 meters) at greatest width and 89 feet (27 meters) at its greatest depth. It is thought to have been home for about 60 to 80 people.

Spruce Tree House
Spruce Tree House from above
Spruce Tree House kiva with roof
After leaving Spruce Tree House it was time for our tour of the Cliff Palace.  Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park. It has 150 rooms, plus an additional 75 open areas. Twenty-one of the rooms are kivas, and 25 to 30 rooms have residential features. The number of Ancestral Puebloans living in Cliff Palace at any one time was 100 to 120.

Cliff Palace from above
Cliff Palace rooms
Cliff Palace from exit

Very knowledgeable park ranger about to take us into Cliff Palace
Looking down into a kiva

You definitely need more than one day to visit all the sites at Mesa Verde National Park.  Above are the biggest sites we saw and visited.  There are several other sites along the cliff that you can view from overlooks.

Monday, July 21, 2014

DESTINATION: Durango, Colorado

Main St. Durango, CO

The next stop on our itinerary was Durango, Colorado.  We left the Gilman Tunnels, headed to San Ysidro, New Mexico, and hit Highway 550.  This was a rather miserable ride due to heat and wind but the beautiful desert landscape seemed to change with every mile keeping us entertained.  Several hours, and a couple of sore butts later, we finally reached Durango. 

There are many things to do in and around the area of Durango, however, our goal for the night was to rest up so we could tour and hike Mesa Verde, Colorado, (see the next post) the next morning.

Comfort Inn & Suites  on Camino Del Rio,
Durango, CO

We stayed two nights at the Comfort Inn and Suites of Durango and would highly recommend this hotel to anyone.  Although its not located in historical downtown Durango, it was just a short ride to Main St.  The staff at the hotel was welcoming and the room and public spaces were clean and spacious.  This was a family and motorcycle friendly hotel!

Fish & Chips at the Irish Embassy,
Durango, CO
While in Durango we decided to check out a few local brew pubs.  The first night we visited The Irish Embassy Pub which claims to be an authentic Irish pub. We chose a local Ska Brewery Mexican Logger over a Guinness and enjoyed it with the Embassy's delicious fish & chips!

Tuesday is bingo night
at Lady Falconburgh's,
Durango, CO
Our second night in Durango we visited Lady Falconburgh's Barley Exchange, had another Mexican Logger (G-man's new favorite), enjoyed their meatball sliders and played a game of bingo with the locals.  Lady Falconburgh's boasts that they have over 100 beers and 38 of them are on tap.  They are also located in the basement of a downtown building that is over 100 years old adding to its appeal.  

We visited Carver Brewing Company but didn't enjoy it as much as The Irish Embassy or Lady Falconburgh's.

Durango is well known its historic train which has been in continuous operation between Durango and Silverton since 1882.  The train carries passengers behind vintage steam locomotives and rolling stock indigenous to the line.  You can relive the sights and sounds of yesteryear for a spectacular journey on board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

The Animas River runs through Durango and the city offers a beautiful river walk with winding trails and bridges.  We saw many kayakers and tubers on the river in town, but, the upper Animas offers white water rafting with beautiful scenery, whitewater and unique experiences.

DESTINATION: Gilman Tunnels, Canones, NM

Just outside of Jemez Springs, New Mexico, we turned off (over?) Highway 4 onto Forest Road 485.  The road snakes through the Rio Guadalupe Box Canyon in the Santa Fe National Forest and near the unincorporated town of CaƱones (or Gilman) and eventually turns into Forest Road 376.  On this road are a series of tunnels known as the Gilman Tunnels.   The tunnels were blasted out of the rock by the Santa Fe Northwestern Railway (SFNW) to create a pass used to haul lumber from the Jemez Mountains. The railway opened in 1924 but never recovered financially from the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and ceased operations in May 1941 following flood damage from the Rio Guadalupe.  Several movies have been shot in the area including The Lone Ranger (2013) and 3:10 to Yuma (2007).

Road goes through Gilman Tunnels
485 hugs the Rio Guadalupe

Guadalupe Box Canyon

TK Outside of Gilman Tunnel

DESTINATION: Jemez Springs, NM

Road through Jemez Springs
After a romp through the Jemez Mountains and a short hike to the Jemez Waterfall we continued south on Highway 4 to the village of Jemez Springs, New Mexico. This sleepy little town lies in a valley along the Jemez River.  The Jemez valley has a fascinating variety of canyons, mesas, tentrocks, hotsprings, ancient village remnants, spring-fed rivers and gorgeous red rock formations. 

Battleship Rock
As we neared the village, one of the first rock formations we saw was Battleship Rock. Battleship Rock is a sheer cliff that rises suddenly above the river like the prow of a ship.  The formation is peppered with bits of glassy smooth obsidian, a black rock created from volcanic eruptions in the area over 5 million years ago.  Adventurous hikers (not us on that day!) can hike to the top to get a bird's eye view of the valley.

Soda Dam
Further along Hwy 4 is Soda Dam where water from underground hot springs has flowed for centuries. The buildup of mineral deposits has formed a unique and spectacular natural dam (mostly calcium carbonate) that blocks the Jemez River.  Intending to take a swim, we stopped at the hot springs only to find it too hot and smelly for our liking.  We did, however, find a small hot springs pool on the opposite side of the highway where we witnessed the mineral springs gurgling from a hole in the rock. 

Swimming hole along Jemez River
Soda Dam
Nail art in old door
frame on the
ground near Soda Dam

Jemez Historic Site
Just inside the city limits of Jemez you'll find another popular point of interest: the Jemez Historic Site.  Unfortunately, on the day of our arrival, the site was closed for repairs.  Normally, visitors are welcome to tour the history and the beauty of this historical site. The ruins are among the most impressive in the Southwest. An interpretive trail winds through the 7 acre site.

Weary from the road we decided to make a pit stop at one of only three restaurants in Jemez Springs, Los Ojos Restaurant & Saloon.  Although the restaurant/bar lacks good reviews, we found it to be welcoming to two dirty motorcycle gringos.  We downed a couple of cold beers and the Chili Charley (fries topped with green chili stew & cheese) all served by a very friendly woman referred to as "mama" by several locals.  "Mama" told us stories of fires that took place in the area in the past years and explained some of the sites around town.  Cooled and refueled we hit the road.  Next destination:  Gilman Tunnels!

Inside Los Ojos
Chili Charley - Yum!
G-man's Happy!