South Fork and the Silver Thread

South Fork, CO

The drive from Farmington, NM to South Fork, CO is about 345 miles. Most of the trip is through fairly flat, scenic country. But just beyond Pagosa Springs there is one final obstacle, the Rocky Mountains. Apparently nobody bothered to build a tunnel through these obstacles so the only way to get to the other side is to go over them! We were traveling on US 160, one of only three main east to west routes through Colorado (the other two are I-70 and US 50). All three are good roads with passing lanes where needed.

US 160 goes over Wolf Pass, with an elevation of 10,857 feet at the summit. We could have left the Jeep hooked to the motorhome if we wanted (we did that on a previous trip over this pass) but since we would be un-hooking when we arrived at South Fork on the other side of the pass anyway, we decided to take the Jeep off before going up. Why haul a 4000 pound anchor up the pass if not necessary. We know the motorhome appreciated the lighter load.

Going Up
Going Down

South Fork sits at the eastern base of the mountains. We turned north on CO 149 at the only main intersection in the area and drove a mile or so to Aspen Ridge RV Park, which will be our home for the next few days.

Aspen Ridge RV Park

The community of South Fork sits along the confluence of the South Fork River and Rio Grande River at an elevation of 8,209 feet. It was first settled in 1882 and in 1992 South Fork achieved independent statutory town status, making it the youngest statutory town in the state. Originally the principal economic activities involved forestry and mining, but in recent years these have been overtaken in the employment statistics by tourism. South Fork has about 400 permanent residents, but a substantially larger summer population due to seasonal residents and visitors.

Two of those permanent residents are our friends, Rick and Joanne, who we have met at various locations during our travels. They now live in South Fork full time. We met at a local Mexican restaurant and enjoyed a long visit catching up on recent experiences over a delicious meal. It was like having our own travel guide for the area, as they gave us information on things to do and see nearby. But, alas, nobody remembered to get a photo so you’ll just have to trust us. We all looked as young and buff as ever!

Our first adventure here was a drive up Rte. 149 to Lake City, a drive known as the Silver Thread Scenic and Historic Byway. The 72 mile drive goes through the old mining town of Creede (we’ll tell you about Creede in the next post), up over the continental divide, to the little community of Lake City. Along the way the scenery is impressive, with beautiful vistas at the high points and the beginning of the changing leaf colors along the way.

Rain in our future
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Slumgullion Summit is named for the nearby Slumgullion Earthflow, a gigantic landslide whose yellowish soil reminded early settlers and miners of slumgullion stew. The slide began about 700 years ago when weak volcanic soil on the southern flank of Mesa Seco slid several miles down the steep mountainside. About 300 years ago, a second earthflow started from the top of the mountain and is still active, moving as much as twenty feet per year. Trees growing on the newer slide are tipped at odd angles.

The first flow was so large and cataclysmic that it blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and created Lake San Cristobal, Colorado’s second largest natural lake.

Lake San Cristobal
Water level view of Lake San Cristobal

Lake City, named for nearby Lake San Cristobal, sits at 8,600′ and has a population of around 400 permanent residents. As with most western towns it was founded as a mining community in the 1870s with up to 5,000 inhabitants. But as often happened, the mining boom ended at the turn of the century and the population rapidly decreased. Beginning in 1915, visitors began coming to Lake City for the entire summer season and by the 1930s tourism had emerged as a viable industry.

The Lake City Historic District contains a collection of intact buildings associated with the mining era. The town’s remote location and decades of economic decline helped conserve the buildings, and the weak local economy discouraged new construction, so Lake City avoided many of the modern “improvements” to historic buildings that often occurs in more prosperous towns.  Many of these restored buildings can be seen throughout the town.

School bus fleet in a small town

The local coffee shop was closed for the day as were most of the businesses so we began the return trip to South Fork while continuing to enjoy the great vistas.

Along the drive we stopped at the North Creek Falls Observation Site. It is an interesting place where you are driving on a wide, flat valley to a paved parking area. Walk a few feet down a path and a waterfall appears in front of you!

The drive up the Silver Thread was a beautiful trip through a bit of rain but mostly sunshine. Next up is a visit to Creede, CO.

More on that later . . .

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Back to Colorado

After a brief hiatus (ok, it has been over a year) we’re back on the road for a few weeks. Our last post was about a brief trip to Bryce Canyon last year. Since then we have limited our travels (hasn’t everyone?) to a couple of short trips that we didn’t deem “blog worthy.” But now it’s time to stretch our legs a bit and return to the road with another trip to Colorado to explore some new places and return to some places we explored during our last trip.

Goodbye Lake Mead (for now)
The Colorado River from US 93 in Arizona

We headed out the day after Labor Day, driving south on US-93 to Kingman, AZ then east on I-40. After about 300 miles we stopped for the night at Homolovi State Park, just east of Winslow, AZ.

The next morning we were back on the road and drove about 240 miles to Farmington, NM where we settled in to McGee Park, the local fairgrounds. We stayed here a few years ago and knew that, while it is nothing fancy, they have a huge number of sites with 50 amp electric and water. The fairgrounds is a good spot to stay while exploring the area.

Our original reason for visiting Farmington was to hike trails in the Bisti Badlands, south of Farmington in Navajo lands. But it is still very hot in this area so we decided to return here at the end of our trip to do the hike. But there are a few other things we wanted to see in this part of the world so we decided to stay for our planned three nights.

The first day of our visit we drove a few miles east of the fairgrounds for a visit to the Salmon Ruins. Salmon Ruins is an ancient Chacoan and Pueblo site that was constructed by migrants from Chaco Canyon (south of Farmington) around 1090, with 275 to 300 original rooms spread across three stories, an elevated tower kiva in its central portion, and a great kiva in its plaza.

The site takes its name from the Salmon (pronounced sal-mon, unlike the fish) family who homesteaded the land in the late 1800’s. The ruins of Salmon Pueblo were excavated between 1970 and 1979 by a team from Eastern New Mexico University in partnership with the San Juan County Museum Association. The San Juan Valley Archaeological Program resulted in the excavation of slightly more than one-third of Salmon’s ground floor rooms. More than 1.5 million artifacts and samples were recovered from Salmon.

The next day we drove north about ten miles to the town of Aztec to explore a maze of dirt roads used by companies maintaining a series of gas and oil wells. There are a reported 300 arches in the area and a brochure we obtained at the local visitor center gave directions to 12 of them. We were able to find two!

Outcrop Arch
Pillar Arch
Pillar Arch from the other side

For our final adventure during this visit to the Farmington area we drove about 17 miles east on US 64 to the little community of Blanco, NM to visit Crow Canyon Archeology District, site of an extensive collection of Navajo and Ancient Pueblo rock art. Just east of Blanco we turned south on county road 4450, a dirt track well maintained by the company that operates numerous oil and natural gas wells in the area. Our information said that we should drive 19 miles, then turn left on a side road heading east toward the canyon. The problem we encountered was that there are numerous side roads there that lead to the various gas and oil wells. We explored many of these near the 19 mile marker to no avail. Continuing south we just couldn’t find any indication of the Crow Canyon site. At one point we were able to receive a weak data signal on our phone and consulted our friends at Google Maps. We quickly located the proper turn, which is at the 18.4 mile, and made our way across a wide dry wash.

After crossing the wash we came to a “T” in the road that, miraculously, had a sign directing us to Crow Canyon, about a mile or two to the north. We arrived at the site and quickly found a parking place (we were the only visitors, so it was a fairly easy task). A short trail leads from the parking area to the panels of artworkl

The Crow Canyon Archaeological District, known to be the ancestral homeland of the Navajo people, contains the most extensive collection of Navajo and Ancient Pueblo petroglyphs or rock art in the country. Etched into rock panels on the walls of the canyon are petroglyphs or rock art depicting what is believed to be ceremonial scenes and symbolic images that represent the stories, traditions, and beliefs of the Navajo people.

As you can see, most of the panels are in excellent condition. The site is very isolated and difficult to locate (as we found out) so there are few visitors. So you have to think that anyone making the journey to the site is not interested in vandalism. There are a couple of “newer” etchings made by sheep herders working the area a century ago, but they don’t significantly impact the rest of the artwork.


That concludes this visit to Farmington. We think we’ll return in about three weeks as we finish a loop through Colorado with a stay in nearby Cortez. Next up is a visit to South Forks, CO.

More on that later . . .

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A Visit to Bryce Canyon

Boulder City, NV

When we finished a motorhome visit to Tucson and Borrego Springs in the middle of February, our plan was to hit the road again in May for a trip to Oregon and Washington.  Of course, things changed a bit after that.  So we settled in to an extended stay here in southern Nevada as winter turned to spring and turned to summer.  But the heat and the isolation began to take its toll on us.  Motorhomes don’t like to sit in one place for long periods of time and neither do we, so we began to look for a safe spot for a short escape.  Pam came up with the perfect spot for a brief adventure, Bryce Canyon City, UT just three miles from Bryce Canyon National Park.

The drive to Bryce Canyon City is a bit under 300 miles, so the motorhome would get a good workout.  We’ve been to the national park and hiked the main trails on previous visits so we didn’t need to repeat those adventures.   But we knew there were many roads and trails to explore outside the park and away from crowds of people.  We also knew that the main private RV park, Ruby’s Inn and RV Park, has huge sites in the newer section in the back, giving us good spacing from our neighbors.  And with an elevation of over 7,600 ‘ we knew we would enjoy cooler temperature.   We called and found we were able to reserve ten days in late July, so on a sunny Sunday in late July we fired up the motorhome and headed north on I-15.

After the fairly plain scenery between Las Vegas and the Arizona line we entered the beautiful Virgin River Gorge, which connects the northeastern part of the Mojave Desert and the southwestern rim of the Colorado Plateau, gaining 800’ of elevation in the 18 mile stretch of highway.

Entering the Virgin River Gorge

As you approached Bryce on UT 12 from the west you know you are in colorful southern Utah, as the road goes through two short tunnels in Red Canyon.

After an uneventful drive of 288 miles we arrived at our site and quickly set up the motorhome for a ten day stay.

Great site for social distancing

What?? Low 70s in the middle of the day???

After setting up and seeing the RV park was rather empty since it was Sunday,  we decided to take one drove into the National Park.  The main park road is 18 miles to where it ends in a large parking area.  The road terminates at Rainbow Point (elevation 9115′), where there is a nice viewing area and a short trail through the pines.

On the return drive from Rainbow Point we stopped at a couple of the many viewpoints along the way.

Natural Bridge

While the number of visitors in the park was nowhere near what we had experienced in previous visits, there were still too many people for us to be comfortable taking one of the many trails down into the canyon.  Since we had done those hikes before, we opted to explore some forest roads and trails more remote with few visitors.

Pine Lake

Our first trip was to Pine Lake.  To get there we drove north from the park, crossed UT 12, and drove about 14 miles on Johns Valley Road.  At a well-marked cross road we turned east on a maintained dirt road and drove another 8 miles where a sign marked the turn leading to the lake.

Pine Lake

The road went around the west side of the lake, then narrowed and continued up into the woods beyond it.  After about 5 miles we came to a parking area at the end of the line.

After a short climb from the parking area we were rewarded for our efforts with a great view of the surrounding cliffs.

Hell’s Backbone Grill

One of our favorite restaurants is in the tiny town of Boulder, UT (pop. 250), located about 80 miles east of Bryce Canyon.  The drive across UT 12 is through mostly empty but very scenic landscape.

The road winds down below us

At one point the road goes across a narrow strip of land with steep drop-offs on either side.

It is difficult to capture in a photo how steep the drops on either side of the road are

We parked outside the restaurant, Hell’s Backbone Grill, and headed to the newly constructed outdoor patio.


The inside dining area is closed, but the new patio is designed to accommodate social distancing.  Guests are instructed to wash hands at an outdoor sink before being escorted to a table.  Each table had a small placard that you use to indicate if you need attention from the server, helping to cut down on unnecessary interaction.  And everyone must where a face mask unless they are eating.

We haven’t eaten at a restaurant for months, but the design of the deck and the procedures followed made us feel very comfortable.  It is so cool to find a gourmet, farm to table restaurant in such a small, isolated community.  This is the fourth time we have eaten here, and we have never been disappointed!

Powell Point

The next day we made another trip up the road to Pine Lake.  But instead of turning on the road leading to the lake, we continued up Pine Lake Road, also called Forest Road 132, for another six miles.

One of the nice sections of the road

We turned right (south) on to an unnamed but well marked narrow forest service road and drove another 3.7 miles. There the road ended in a parking area and the trailhead for what’s known as Powell Point.  With the road condition the drive takes well over an hour.

Parking near a high cliff with a great view

Heading to Powell Point

That’s the point way out in front of us

We made it!

Members of John Wesley Powell’s second exploration of the Grand Canyon made a treck up to this spot in 1871, led by Powell’s second in command, A.H. Thompson.  At an elevation of 10,115′, the view from the point is breathtaking.

Another morning we drove a few miles west on UT 12 almost to the red rock tunnels we drove through arriving at Bryce.  We parked in a paved parking lot on the north side of the road headed up a path called the Cassidy Trail in Red Canyon.  According to western lore, the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy used sections of this trail to escape the law after getting in a fight in nearby Panguitch, Utah.

We followed the Cassidy Trail for about 2 miles, where it joins the upper end of the Rich Trail and loops around colorful hills to return to the Cassidy Trail for a five mile hike.  We stopped for a snack at a high overlook called Brayton Point at just under 8,000′.

Lunch with a view

The view from the overlook

Back down through rocks and pines with no one around


Brian Head is a ski resort located between Cedar City and Panguitch, about 60 miles from Bryce Canyon.  We had driven by Brian Head before but never stopped to look around, so we decided to drive over for a look.  The ski area is named for a high, rocky peak that looms over the slopes.  A maintained dirt road leads up to the top of the peak where there is an observation point constructed by the CCC during the Great Depression.

Approaching Brian Head Observation Peak from the east

Looking west over the ski area with smoke from a wildfire in the distance

Looking east toward Cedar Breaks National Monument with smoke obscuring the view

Approaching the ski area

Cassidy Wash

For our last adventure we drove back to the west on UT 12 to a small parking area just east of the one for the Cassidy Trailhead, for a hike up Butch Cassidy Draw.  Next to the parking area is a placard about Cassidy and his gang that probably should have been located at the nearby trailhead, since that trail is one he used, as opposed to the wash.

You can hike up the wash for over five miles, but we turned around after going a bit over two miles.  The numerous red rock formations made for an interesting journey.

Must be quite a waterfall during heavy rains!

After a great 10 day respite from the heat of the desert, we returned to our home in Boulder City where we will continue our self imposed quarantine.  We intended to take a month long trip in September but with the virus still around, despite the rosy picture presented by a certain delusional national office holder, we will probably remain at home for the near future.

That’s all for now.  Be smart about keeping your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask!

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A Little Winter Trip

Borrego Springs, CA

It’s been quite a while since our last blog so we thought a little update would be in order.  After returning from Colorado late in October we stayed home in Boulder City through the holidays.  At the beginning of January we headed south for a month long stay in Tucson, AZ.

An early morning start heading toward Lake Mead

Sunrise over the Colorado River

Back to the land of Saguaros

The nimble hiker still has a sharp eye out for a Crested Saguaro!

We left Boulder City at dawn and drove straight through to Tucson so that we could see Steve and MonaLiza (Lowe’s Travels) as they would leave early the next morning for an extensive (4 months) cruise.  We were joined by their friends Mark and Joodi (Chasing Dirt).  We enjoyed a hike with Mark and Joodi a few days later but failed to get even one picture of them.

We’ve stayed at the KOA/Lazydays in Tucson a number of times and have explored the area extensively, so much of what we did was a repeat of things covered in previous blogs.

At 9,100′ above the city, Mt. Lemmon has a nice little ski area

We did get to visit with friends during our stay.  One day we drove about 70 miles to the southwest to visit with Janna and Michael.  They split their time between their main home in Big Timber, MT ( where we saw them last spring) and Pearce, AZ where they are completely renovating a house they purchased a few years ago.  Jodee and Bill (On the Road Abode) joined us for this visit,  just like they did two years ago when we last visited Janna and Michael in Pearce.  The transformation of the house is quite incredible.  Check out their blog (Renovation Cowboy Style) to see the entire process).

827 E Newland, Pearce, AZ 85625

Before . . .

. . . and after

About half way through the month Dave and Sue (Beluga’s Adventures) arrived here after spending the holidays in Florida.  After not seeing them since the previous March, Lewis immediately recognized our motorhome.  He loves to come in and play ball with us.

We were away, but Lewis knew who lived there!

Finding the ball in our rug is his favorite activity

Dave and Sue joined us on a day trip to Tombstone to check out the house Jodee and Bill recently purchased there.  We had a great visit and loved their new digs, especially the 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains.  Unfortunately, no photos were taken.

At the end of the month we made the long (375 miles) drive into southern California to spend a couple of weeks in the little town of Borrego Springs, located in the heart of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  We love to stay in The Spring at Borrego, a beautiful park surrounded by a very nice nine hole golf course.

Work campers always decorate the sites with cool artwork in the sand

Hey, somebody has to do it. Right?

A Jeep ride into the badlands to Inspiration Point

One day Dave and Sue joined us for a long drive to the east side of the Salton Sea.  Along the way we stopped on the west side of the sea just north of Salton City.  There we drove west into the desert a couple miles on a narrow dirt path to check out a small arch in the Coral Wash.

Returning back to the highway we continued north towards the town of Mecca where we rounded the end of the sea and headed south.  After about ten miles we turned to the east and drove to a parking area for a visit to the Dos Palmas Preserve, a small oasis of palm trees.  There we enjoyed a short walk on a designated path through the palms, which towered over our heads.

Look closely, the tree goes horizontally, then turns 90 degrees vertically!

Looking up!

Leaving the preserve, we continued down the east side of the sea for about 20 miles to visit the tiny community of Bombay Beach.  We were here a few years ago and thought it to be one of the saddest communities we had ever seen.  Recently a volunteer at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park said that artists had moved into the town and were attempting to revitalize it.

We didn’t see any real “revitalization” going on but we did enjoy some of the artwork covering many of the abandoned buildings.

The Toy House


The Drive-In

Lodestar, which has also appeared at Burning Man and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

The night before we left Borrego Springs we joined Dave and Sue for a ride out to Fonts Point for snacks and to enjoy the sunset.  Fonts Point is a high, rocky point east of Borrego Springs with fantastic views of the Borrego Badlands to the south and Borrego Springs to the west.  You need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get there as it is a four mile drive off the main highway on a narrow road of soft sand.

The perfect evening spot

Borrego Badlands

More Badlands

We are now heading back to Boulder City for a few months.   In May we’ll hit the road again for a trip north into Oregon and Washington.

More on that later . . .

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Return To Kanab, UT

Kanab, UT

After a one night stay in Bluff, UT we had a 240 mile drive to our  next destination, Kanab,UT.  We visited Kanab last May but still have a couple of things we want to do or see.

We left Bluff and headed south on US 163.  This route takes you past two beautiful areas in Utah and Arizona.  The first is Valley of the Gods, a scenic sandstone valley that has rock formations with tall, reddish brown mesas, buttes, towers and mushroom rocks.  The Valley of the Gods can be toured via a 17 mile gravel road that winds around the formations, many of which have been given names.

The Seven Sailors

About 30 miles south of the Valley of the Gods we drove through the beautiful, iconic Monument Valley.  One of the first things you see as you enter the area from the north is the famous scene from the movie Forrest Gump.

Run Forrest, run!

We turned west in Kayenta, AZ and drove another 125 miles to Page, AZ.  We crossed over the Colorado River next to the Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell.

The Glen Canyon Dam Bridge

Lake Powell backs up behind the dam

Lake Powell is the second largest man-made reservoir by maximum water capacity in the U. S. behind Lake Mead.  However, due to high water withdrawals for human and agricultural consumption, and because of droughts in the area, Lake Mead has fallen below Lake Powell in size several times in the last 20 years in terms of volume of water, depth and surface area.

A small portion of Lake Powell

Wahweap Bay section of Lake Powell

From the dam it was a 75 mile drive to Kanab.  Along the way we passed sections of the many vermilion cliffs in this area.  The cliffs are made up of deposited silt and desert dunes, cemented by infiltrated carbonates and colored by red iron oxide and other minerals, particularly bluish manganese (as most of you well know!).

Vermilion cliffs north of US 89

After a long drive, made considerably longer by a 30 mph headwind we had to fight almost the entire way, we arrived at J and J RV Park in Kanab and set up in our assigned site.

The next day we did a hike that we missed during our previous stay here in May.  The Squaw Trail begins on the north side of Kanab next to Hamblin Park.

We’re going to climb up there!

The trail goes up 800 feet in just over a mile and a half.  It is not a real difficult hike but the elevation gain and steep climbs in some sections gives a hiker a good workout.  But the great views of Kanab below make the effort well worth it.

The trailhead

The trail first goes through a rocky canyon

The railing is a welcome assist through this section

Going up!

Hamblin Park has four ball fields located around a central building.  As we drove into the parking lot there were many vehicles parked there and the ball fields were filled with tents.  When we gained enough elevation on the trail, we got a great view of the tent city on the ball fields but thought it strange that there were no people around.

A little research revealed what was going on.  The Grand Circle Trailfest is a three day/four night event for runners.  On each of the three days runners are shuttled from Kanab to a different location for a race.  On day one they went to Zion National Park for a 13 mile race.  Day two was another 13 mile race, this time at Bryce Canyon National Park.  On day three they went to Page, AZ for an 11 mile run along the Colorado River at what is called Horseshoe Bend.  The event is run by a company called Vacation Races, who provide everything needed, including food, a shower trailer, and the tents.

Our trail continued up through a series of switchbacks until we could no longer see the tents in the ball fields.  But the views to the south were still impressive.

At the top there is a small bench where we enjoyed lunch and a nice view to the north.  But a couple of other hikers were there and the conversation distracted us (not a difficult task) and we forgot to get any photos.  But the best views are on the trail going up and back down anyway.

For the second day of our two day visit to Kanab we checked out two nearby places, one new to us and the other a spot we have visited before.  The first spot was the Belly of the Dragon.  Although the name implies something very exciting, it is really just a large drainage tunnel for the upper canyons that feed into the nearby North Fork River.  But it is a really cool drainage tunnel!

Lower entrance to the Belly of the Dragon

The tunnel is only about a tenth of a mile long, but you can’t see the other end from the entrance.

Upper entrance

If you hike four or five miles up the canyon there is suppose to be a nice slot canyon.  But the deep sand in the wash discouraged us from that adventure.

After checking out the tunnel we drove back through Kanab and headed east on US 89 for about 30 miles.  At that point we turned north and drove up a maintained dirt road a few miles to visit the ghost town of Paria.  There is not much left of the old town but that’s not why we wanted to make a return visit.  What draws us back to Paria are the colorful rock formations that surround it.

Heading north on the dirt road (with new bugs on the windshield)

The Paria River

Well, this blog concludes our fall trek through Utah and Colorado.  We had planned to stop for a short time in Mesquite, NV to hike in the nearby Gold Butte National Monument.  But with temperatures in Mesquite still in the 90s we’ve decided to skip that for now and continue back to our home in Boulder City.  We don’t have anything planned for a few months so the blog may be a bit quiet for a while, but we will definitely be back after the holidays.

But who knows what may arise between now and then?

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A Visit to Mesa Verde NP

Cortez, CO

We visited Mesa Verde for a few days last October, but rain and cold limited our exploration.  We returned this year to blue skies and warm temperatures, allowing us to visit a section of the park we missed last year.

Mesa Verde Visitor Center

After a stop at the visitor center to check on conditions in the park we headed up the entrance road.  Mesa Verde is a huge park and we had a drive of about 25 miles to reach our destination, the Wetherill Mesa (the least visited section), named after a family of local ranchers who explored the area in the late 1800s.

Lone Cone towers over the park entrance

Driving up on the mesa reveals great vistas of the valley to the north

After a drive of about 27 miles we came to the end of the road on Wetherill Mesa.  From the parking area you can hike or bike to a number of ruins left by the Ancestral Pueblo  cultures.  During the summer a tram takes visitors around a loop road to all the sites, but it was not operating during our visit.  Once parked, the first thing we did was hike about a mile down a paved trail to the Step House Ruins.

Approaching the Step House Ruins


The alcove containing the ruins

The ruins are named for a series of steps built by the ancients

A reconstructed pit house which was standard housing for centuries

In 1891 Swedish scientist Gustaf Nordenskiöld carved “No21” in a rock, his identification number for the Step House as he and other were exploring and digging here.  Grooves near the number were used by the residents to shape and sharpen stone tools.

No 21 in the rock

A short ladder allows access to the upper level of the ruins.

Looking down from the upper level

Large kiva in the upper level

Marks from grinding grain

We returned to the parking area and picked up a trail leading to the south.  After a half mile we took a side trail to the right and hiked almost a mile to the Nordenskiöld Overlook.  The trail went through an area that had burned in the 2000 Pony Fire.  Fire is a frequent visitor to the mesa, mostly caused by lightning strikes.

Approaching the overlook

Across the canyon from the overlook is what is called Nordenskiöld Site #16.  There is no access to this site for visitors.

The upper area was used as storage


Looking south from the overlook

We hiked back to the main trail and continued south for about a mile to the Badger House Community.  The Badger House Community consists of mesa top dwellings.  There are  four covered sites along a paved and graveled trail.  Each of the sets of ruins in this area are protected by a metal building. The first building houses some Basketmaker pithouse ruins.

The next site is a pueblo village which is followed by the Badger House ruins. One of the nice aspects of these various sites is how they show the progression of the Ancestral Puebloan people over hundreds and thousands of years from the archaic nomadic type lifestyle through the Basketmaker and Pueblo times.

In the Kiva pictured below you can see an opening to a tunnel.  The tunnel ran into the remains of tower pictured above.

We left the Badger House Community and hiked a short distance to an overlook where we could look down at the Long House Ruins.  The Long House village includes about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms.  It may have been home to as many as 175 people.  You can purchase tickets for a ranger led tour of this site.



After hiking over five miles through the various sites we returned to the Jeep and headed back toward the park entrance.  A number of viewpoints along the way provide great views of the valley to the north.

Looking down on Cortez

The next day we moved about 75 miles west into Utah to visit the little community of Bluff.  We’ve stayed here many times before to hike the many canyons in the area, but this visit is just a one night stop.  What we really came here for was to have a bowl of delicious chicken noodle soup at the Twin Rocks Diner.  Unfortunately they have their off season menu and don’t have the soup now!

Oh well, tomorrow we’re off to Kanab, UT.  More on that later . . .

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Another Trip Over the Last Dollar Road to Telluride

Ridgway, CO

Two weeks ago we left Ridgway State Park after a four day stay.  During our time there we drove a one lane dirt road up over the mountains from Telluride back to the highway leading to Ridgway.  Now that the leaves are changing colors, especially at high elevations, we decided to return to Ridgway and do that drive again.  While it is only 20 miles from where we were staying in Montrose back to Ridgway, and we were already planning to go right by the state park when we moved the motorhome over the mountains to Cortez, CO,  we decided to stop at the state park for a quick two night stay and a return drive over the Last Dollar Road.

View of the San Juan Mountains from near Ridgway, CO

The next day we headed south on US 550 to Ridgway, where we turned west on CO 62.  From Ridgway we drove 12 miles on CO 62 and turned south on the Last Dollar Road.  The dirt road is well maintained for 2.5 miles as it rolls through beautiful ranch country.  The bright colors of the Aspens brightened up the scenery.

About a mile south of  the highway we pulled over next to a driveway to wash the bugs off the windshield.  As we looked at the nearby house being renovated we noticed a sign on the fence.

How cool!  A John Wayne movie filmed right here.

The movie site from further down the road

We continued along the road while enjoying the beautiful vistas surrounding us.

Soon the Last Dollar Road makes a left turn and is no longer maintained.  While the road is a bit rough we didn’t need four wheel drive, but a bit of high clearance is needed.

We crossed over the highest point on the road (around 10,000′) and headed down toward Telluride, again taking in the beautiful views.

After about 20 miles, the Last Dollar Road goes by the Telluride airport and meets the main road into the town.

Looking west into Telluride

Downtown Telluride

We drove straight through the town to the end of of what is a box canyon.  At that point the road becomes dirt and makes its way steeply up the face of the canyon in a series of sharp switchbacks.  You can see the road zigzagging up the canyon in the green on the left of the photo below.

Our goal was to drive up the road to where you have to turn around (it becomes one way) near an old power plant building next to Bridle Veil Falls.

The white dot center left is the power plant

Getting closer, Bridle Veil Falls gives off a cool cloud of mist

Looking up at the power plant and the falls

Made it to the top!

Looking back toward Telluride

The road up to the power plant definitely requires four wheel drive and high clearance.  The road is steep and the switchback turns are very sharp.  Those with a fear of heights should not attempt this drive.  If you don’t have the proper vehicle or don’t like heights you can park below and hike up the road 1.8 miles, something many people did.

We drove back through Telluride and turned south onto CO 145 at the traffic circle.  From there it was two miles steeply uphill to a left turn leading into the community of Mountain Village.  There you can park for free in a parking garage and take two gondolas up over the mountain and back down into Telluride.  We did this ride two weeks ago, but that was before the leaves changed colors.

The first gondola takes you on a fairly level ride from the parking garage into the main area of Mountain Village.

The second gondola takes you up to the top of the San Sophia Overlook (10,540 ft.) then down steeply into Telluride

Looking down into Telluride

Moving through the San Sophia Station at the peak of the mountain

Heading back down to Mountain Village

The Telluride airport in the distance

The next morning we left Ridgway State Park and headed south.  Our route would follow the same one we took back from Telluride yesterday, but we would continue past Mountain Village on CO 145 to Cortez, CO about 115 miles from Ridgway.  Since the route would take us up and over Lizard Head Pass (10,222′) we decided to lighten the load on the motorhome and have Pam drive the Jeep following John in the motorhome.

The light traffic and slow speeds allowed both of us (the Jeep driver more than the motorhome driver) to enjoy the spectacular beauty all around us.

Trout Lake


We arrived at our destination, West View RV in Cortez, and set up for a two night stay.  We’re here for a one day visit to Mesa Verdi National Park.

More on that later . . .

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Owl Creek Pass and Silver Jack Reservoir

Montrose, CO

When we first arrived in Montrose, we stopped in at the visitor center to inquire about interesting things to do or see in the area.  While there we met the perfect person to talk enthusiastically and knowledgeably about his city.  One of the things he told us we must do was to take a long, circuitous route through the mountains southeast of town.  The trip, mostly on narrow, dusty roads, would take us up and over Owl Creek Pass and along the shore of Silver Jack Reservoir.

Heading south on US 550 toward Ridgway with the San Juan Mts. in the distance

We began the loop drive by heading south from Montrose on US 550 for 23 miles.  Just south of the day use area of Ridgway State Park we turned to the east at a sign designating the way to the pass and reservoir.

The dirt road was nicely maintained as we headed into the mountains, with typical Colorado mountain scenes all around us.

As we rose in elevation we began to see Aspens starting to turn colors.

Chimney Rock

After about 15 miles of dusty, winding roads we came to Owl Creek Pass.

Winding down the road on the north side of the pass we could see more leaves beginning to change in the high country of Colorado.

After descending for about eight miles we could see the Silver Jack Reservoir through the trees.  After all the twisting and turning we did going up and down the mountains we finally came to a stretch of flat, smooth road.  But we had to stop for a few minutes while someone in a pick-up gave assistance to two ladies in an SUV.

It seems that while maneuvering her car for that perfect fall picture (on the flat part of the road), she forgot to look in her mirror and backed right into a steep drainage ditch.  Fortunately, the truck was able to pull her out with little difficulty and no apparent damage to the vehicle.

We continued past the lake and pulled into the Silver Jack Campground and Picnic Area parking lot.  Right next to the bathrooms a trail leads down to an access road going to the dam.

The trail, which is paved for a short distance, leads to a handicapped accessible lookout with a nice view of the reservoir.  It then becomes dirt and heads downhill through a stand of Aspens.

View from the Lookout

Trail beyond Lookout

Once down on the road it is a short walk to the top of the Silver Jack Dam.  The earthen dam was constructed between 1966 and 1971 by the Bureau of Reclamation.  At a height of 173 feet, it is 1050 feet long at its crest.  It impounds the East Fork Cimarron River for irrigation storage.

Going over the wide top of the dam

As with all the reservoirs in the area, the water level is down in preparation for the winter.

Looking down at the Cimarron River below the dam

From the dam it was an 18 mile drive through Colorado farm land to US 50 near the little community of  Cimarron, then 20 miles back to Montrose.  This is a very scenic 84 mile loop that can be completed in any vehicle with a little clearance.

That completes our visit to Montrose.  We stayed nine days and found many things to do and see.  It is a good central location if you don’t want to move locations often, as places like Crested Butte, Gunnison, Ouray, and Telluride are within a day’s drive.  Next up for us is a return stay at nearby Ridgway State Park.  The leaves have really begun to change so we want to repeat a drive in the mountains we did two weeks ago.  More on that later . . .

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The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Montrose, CO

One of the main reasons we wanted to visit this part of Colorado was to explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  We left the town of Gunnison and drove back east on US 50 for a stay in the town of Montrose so we would be closer to the park entrance.

The Black Canyon is a 48 mile long section of the Gunnison River.  The deepest section of the canyon is the 12 miles that are within the national park. The canyon’s name owes itself to the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day.  The park is basically in three sections: the East Portal, the South Rim, and the North Rim.  While you could see almost everything in one day, we took three days and visited one section each day.

The East Portal

The East Portal is a small section of the park right along the Gunnison River.  It is accessed by a narrow, paved road that begins just past the park entrance.  The road is extremely steep (16% grades) with hairpin curves. Vehicles with an overall length greater than 22 feet are prohibited.

Going down

After a five mile drive steeply down and around numerous curves, we arrived at the fairly tranquil Gunnison River.

The main feature of East Portal is the Gunnison Tunnel.  The Gunnison Tunnel is an irrigation tunnel constructed between 1905 and 1909 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.  At the time of its completion, it was the longest irrigation tunnel in the world and quickly made the area around Montrose into profitable agricultural lands.  The 5.8-mile tunnel cut right through the sheer cliffs of the famed Black Canyon, taking water from the Gunnison River and funneling it to the semiarid Uncompahgre  (Un-come-PAH-gray) Valley to the west.

The diversion dam pushes water to the tunnel entrance on the right

The tunnel is 5.8 miles long and is 11 by 12 feet in cross-section, with square corners at the bottom and an arched roof.  It drops about 40 feet over its length.  At the deepest, it is about 2,200 feet beneath the surface of Vernal Mesa.

The ripples in the water show it flowing into the tunnel

There is a trail along the river downstream from the diversion dam.  It is mainly used for people fishing, but we decided to hike it to find a spot to have lunch.

We only hiked about a mile before large areas of rock slides made the going a bit too rough.  Time to turn around.

The South Rim

The South Rim Drive is 7 miles from Tomichi Point to High Point, and has 12 overlooks. Most are reached by walking a short trail.  There is a nice visitor center at the beginning of the drive where they show an informative video about the canyon.  After enjoying the video we did the drive and visited all the view points.

The first overlook behind the Visitors Center – Gunnison Point

Lunch with a view

Painted Wall

Most of the paths to the observation points were fairly short, about a quarter mile round trip.  But the last one required a hike of a bit over a mile to Warner Point.  We did every view point and ended up hiking about four miles total.

Near Warner Point at the north end of the national park

The North Rim

While the South Rim is easily accessed from Montrose by a 12 mile drive,  to reach the North Rim requires a 65 mile loop around the canyon. The North Rim Road provides access to 6 overlooks. The canyon walls on the North Rim are almost vertical, offering some of the most impressive views found in the park.

North Rim Entrance

Although there are less observation points, we thought most were more impressive than those on the South Rim, and there were very few people sharing them with us.

While most of the viewpoints on the North Rim are very near the road, Exclamation Point requires a hike of a mile and a half along the North Vista Trail.

Our final adventure in the Montrose area was a drive up through the mountains to Owl Pass.  We’ll share that in our next blog.

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Paradise Divide Drive – Crested Butte, CO

Gunnison, CO

On Tuesday we drove the Jeep over to the repair shop and returned the rental car.  We then walked into Gunnison and enjoyed breakfast at the W Cafe.  Thanks Joe and Gay for the recommendation as the food was delicious.

The Jeep repairs were completed that afternoon and the next day we headed back north from Gunnison to Crested Butte for a beautiful drive up over two high mountain passes.  The Paradise Loop Drive begins and ends in Mt. Crested Butte.  We followed Joe and Gay’s experience (good-times-rollin) and did the drive in a clockwise direction beginning on Slate River Road, between Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.

One of the locals keeps an eye on any visitors

The road begins as a wide graded road.  At about 9 miles it narrows and begins a steep climb.

Autumn is in the air

Going up . . .

. . . and up . . .

. . . and up . . .

. . . to the top

Beautiful small lake at the divide

Lunch with a view (ok, we cheated and ate in the jeep)

Continuing down past the divide

Schofield Pass

After going up and over Schofield Pass we turned east (left) on to CR 317 heading back down toward Mt. Crested Butte.  We soon passed beautiful little Emerald Lake.

The road’s a bit steep and narrow near the lake

The water was crystal clear

Continuing down past the lake

As we continued down toward Mt. Crested Butte we drove through the former silver boomtown of Gothic, now home to  the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

Established in the 1880s, Gothic’s heyday was short lived.  By 1890 prospectors seeking the motherlode had moved on.  In the 1920s Dr. John Johnson, a biology professor at Western Colorado College in Gunnison, led his students on field trips near Gothic.  Recognizing the rare and rich ecology of the remote high valley,  he set up a field station in 1928 within the ruins of the old mining town. Since then the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory has become an internationally renowned center for scientific research on high-altitude ecosystems.

Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory Visitor Center

One of the few original buildings (now a coffee house open in the summer)

After perusing the well done visitor center and spending time with a very informative docent there we continued down the road, enjoying the early fall colors all around us.

Crested Butte (12,168′) comes into view

This 26 mile loop is an absolutely beautiful drive that can be completed in most vehicles.  We wouldn’t do it in our Lamborghini, but any vehicle with a bit of clearance could complete the drive.  But those with a fear of heights might want to avoid it, as the road is often steep and narrow with no guard rails.

Well, that completes our visit to Gunnison and Crested Butte.  Next up is a week long stay in Montrose, about 60 miles to the west, for a visit to the lower section of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  More on that later . . .

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