Colorado 2009


Colorado 2009

Mike and I made a 3000+ mile driving trip thru Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico visiting new places and exploring some old favorites. We had a short family reunion at his brother Pat's home near the Brazos Cliffs of northern  New Mexico  before beginning our long trek homeward. Part of our mission on this journey was to explore cities and neighborhoods of places we always dream of retiring.  Our borrowed GPS, "Tom", (from my sister Debbie) was overworked locating literally scores of addresses we found in real estate magazines!  We found lots of places we'd love to move to  but few that we can afford. Oh well. In the end the fun is in our time shared together...and we had hours.

"Tom" the master navigator of our trip.

Our first stop is Palo Duro Canyon.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park opened on July 4, 1934 and contains 29,182 acres of the scenic, northern most portion of the Palo Duro Canyon. The Civilian Conservation Corp of the 1930's constructed most of the buildings and roads still in use by park staff and visitors.

The Canyon is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. Its elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level. It is often claimed that Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States. The largest, the Grand Canyon, is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,000 ft. deep.

Early Spanish Explorers are believed to have discovered the area and dubbed the canyon "Palo Duro" which is Spanish for "hard wood" in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees.

The colors of the canyon become more vivid as evening nears.


Canyon views...

  Overlook near lodge and visitor center.

Night #1-Best Western in Canyon, Texas

Our second day is spent driving to Colorado Springs. We visit the well known and spectacular Garden of the Gods, just a short drive from interstate 25. The garden contains narrow bands of red (and white) Lyons sandstone inclined at 90°, surrounded by lush green vegetation of a contrasting deep green color. The tilting of the strata was a byproduct of geological uplift associated with creation of Pikes Peak (9 miles southwest) and other nearby mountains. The rocks are quite angular and eroded, and those in the Central Garden area rise to heights of 300 feet, forming several lines of thin, jagged peaks poking out of the ground like the plates of a stegosaurus. Away from here, most of the park's 480 acres contain smaller rocks and thicker undergrowth. Rock climbing here is recognized as one of the best, most easily accessed climbing sites in the state, and has over 100 named routes. We saw several men and women climbing these shear walls of red rock.

Central Garden

 More Red Rock.

White limestone cliffs
Balancing Rock

Mike near the visitor entrance.

Air Force Academy


Institution for the training of commissioned officers for the U.S. Air Force, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Created by an act of Congress in 1954, it opened in 1955. Graduates receive a bachelor's degree and a second lieutenant's commission. Most physically qualified graduates go on to Air Force pilot-training schools. Candidates may come from the ranks of the U.S. Army or Air Force, may be children of deceased veterans of the armed forces, or may be nominated by U.S. senators or representatives or by the president or vice president. All applicants must take a competitive entrance examination

We visit the Air Force Academy. This is a T-38 used by the Thunderbirds until 1982.

The famous Air Force Chapel.

Sanctuary. Looking back at the magnificent pipe organ.

The main sanctuary.

Close up of the  pipe organ.

The altar in the Catholic Chapel.

The Chapel with its mountain backdrop.
Air Force Academy Chapel

Both inside and out‚ the chapel is known for its striking detail and extraordinary design complete with 17 silver‚ triangular spires that jut into the Colorado sky. The Catholic Chapel’s “Stations of the Cross” are made of marble originating from the same quarries as Michelangelo’s sculptures and of olive wood from the sacred Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The Protestant Chapel has a 46-foot aluminum cross suspended from the ceiling and windows decorated with 24 shades of stained glass – 24‚000 pieces of glass in all.

We visit Cave of the Winds outside of Manitou Springs. We take the Discovery Tour, an hour walk thru some awesome cave formations. In the late 1800s, two young brothers, George and John Pickett, stumbled onto these Colorado Caves. Just out for a day’s exploration with a church group, the boys never expected to stumble upon what would become one of America’s greatest show caves and a premier Colorado Natural Attraction!


View near Cave of the Winds overlooking Manitou Springs.

Night #2,3. Best Western in Manitou Springs.

Sunday we leave Colorado Springs and begin the drive west to Salida, Colorado. 
We pass thru wide valleys, high mountains, Buena Vista, and even a storm or two.

Edge of the storm.

Salida's river walk. White water kayaking takes place here in the spring.

Eating place along river walk.

Night #4 . Salida, Co
Salida, Co little mountain town.

Located in the Upper Arkansas River Valley, Salida is below the Continental Divide in the Banana Belt. The Sawatch Mt. Range to the Northwest, Sangre de Cristo Mt. Range to the South, and the Mosquito Mt. Range to the North provide a mild climate for Salida known as the Banana Belt; creating ideal conditions for year-round outdoor recreation.

Boasting 12 Peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation, Salida is known for its hiking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, skiing, hot springs, fly fishing, zipline tours.

Salida main street. Note the "S" on the mountain.

Monday, we head west on Hwy 50 toward Gunnison, Co

Monarch Pass
The pass is located at the southern end of the Sawatch Range  between Gunnison and  Salida. The pass is traversable by all vehicles and is generally open year-round although prone to heavy winter snowfall. The pass is considered one of the most scenic in Colorado, offering a panoramic view of the southern end of the Sawatch Range from the summit.
Blue Mesa Reservoir -Elevation 7,519 ft.
West of Gunnison we arrive at this beautiful lake. Picture perfect. This is Colorado's largest body of water, and is the largest lake trout and Kokanee Salmon fishery in the United States. It is 26 miles long and has 96 miles of shoreline. We seemed to have the place to ourselves!

Blue Mesa views.....



We continue west thru Montrose and on to Telluride, Co.

Uncompahgre  National Forest is located on the
western slope of the Colorado Rockies.

Mountain views of Uncompaghre on drive to Telluride.

Telluride from the FREE gondola.
Telluride, Colorado

Telluride sits in  a box canyon at an elevation of 8,750 ft.  Only one road reaches Telluride year round, but there are also two off-road routes requiring four wheel. Steep forested mountains and cliffs surround it. Bridal Veil Falls is at the head of the canyon the longest free-falling waterfall in Colorado. . Numerous weathered ruins of old mining operations dot the hillsides. A free gondola connects the town with its companion town Mountain Village, Colorado at the base of the ski area where we stayed.  Telluride Ski Resort is definitely the main attraction in the winter. But when summer comes around, Telluride has plenty of outdoor recreation including hiking, jeeping, sightseeing, and shopping at the PRICEY exclusive shops. Mike and I spent lots of time in the many art galleries filled with all sorts of paintings and photographs reflecting the beauty of the area. We have our "eyes" on a picture of Mt. Snuffels.


Bridal Veil Falls WAY up there.

A storm moves in...

Telluride "downtown". Colorful and picturesque.

Lots of history here and VERY expensive.

Night #5,6. Mountain Resort Lodge

The gondola as scene from the lodge.

We take the gondola to the top of the mountain for a hike.

Steep but easy hike on a ski run. GREAT VIEWS!

A storm in the distance heading our way.


The angle of  the ski run.

Hiking trail/ski road....uphill.

We leave the next morning for  Durango thru the mountains.

Scenic view point along highway near Lizard pass.

Clouds and snow on the peaks.

Highway switchbacks

Jagged peaks

Trout Lake  near Telluride, Colorado
 Found near Milepost 49 on Colorado Highway 145, Trout Lake was once a part of the route of the
Rio Grande Southern Railroad. Once a completely natural lake, it was dammed to increase
its water capacity and to facilitate the generation of power at the Ames Power Plant.

The clouds move on.

Nights #7,8,9,10. Iron Horse Inn in Durango.
Durango, Colorado...our retirement dream...
Durango is southwest Colorado's largest town, with a population of approximately 15,000, (45,000 in La Plata County). Mike and I dream of being among the lucky ones who can retire here. So much beauty and things to do, yet not the crowded highways and fast paced life of Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Durango is near the Four Corners junction with New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, and is perched at 6,512 feet, nestled between red sandstone bluffs in the vast Animas River Valley. To the north lie the peaks of the San Juan and Needles Mountains, which rise to an average elevation above 10,500 feet providing lots of hiking and jeeping opportunities.  To the west are arid desert lands, and to the south lies the southern border of the two million acre San Juan National Forest, and stark canyon country. Purgatory ski resort (one of our favorites) is just north of the city.

We spend the next four days checking out real estate in the various neighborhoods and small towns nearby. Lots of homes and land for sale.

Million Dollar Highway

We head north to Ouray via the Million Dollar Highway stopping in Silverton. The scenery was awesome, BUT the drive was SCARY !!

Coal Bank Pass (el. 10,640 ft.) The pass is traversed by the Million Dollar Highway, U.S. Highway 550 which is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. The descent on the south side is very steep (6.5%), and has a runaway truck ramp for trucks that lose control. It is basically downhill the entire way to Durango or north to Ouray. 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 "S" curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic- many cut directly into the sides of mountains. 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.

The highway near Red Mountain guard rails !!!

Not a place for beginner drivers.

A "tamer" area along the highway....

Curves in the road.
Silverton, Colorado

We stop here to have lunch and browse the many gift shops. This was once the stomping ground of silver kings and railroad giants, and survives today as quaint and picturesque mountain town and also one of the highest towns in the United States, at 9,305 feet.

The Silverton district opened legally to miners in 1874. An estimated 2000 men moved into the region that year. They came from across the U.S., many parts of Europe and even China, to endure severe winters and dangerous mining conditions in their pursuit of the minerals they hoped would make them rich. It is hard to believe they could make it over the mountains back then without paved highways.
Silverton is linked to Durango by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a National Historic Landmark.

The narrow gauge train pulls into town full of tourists.

More scenes from the Million Dollar highway. A storm in the distance.

Red Mountain. Old trestle from days of mining.

The Chalet Inn in Ouray where we spend nights #11,12. Clouds and rain arrive just as we do.
 This little town with a population of  813 has been a special destination to world travelers for more than 100 years. At 7,760 ft. it is nestled in some of the most rugged and towering peaks of the Rockies. Set at the narrow head of a valley and surrounded on three sides with 13,000 feet snowcapped peaks - Ouray has been eloquently nicknamed the "Switzerland of America."
Lots of jeep roads are found nearby ready for us to explore! We walk around the town and shops as the rain and clouds move out.
(This is picture is not mine, but really shows how the city sits in the narrow valley. )


We stroll thru the city as the clouds begin to leave.

We pick up our jeep for our "adventure" the next day.

Mike is in heaven as we take off up the mountain to Corkscrew Gulch.
Corkscrew Gulch Road
 This road provides some beautiful scenic views of the San Juan region. The road climbs up between the Red Mountains where it joins with a road to Hurricane pass and then on to California pass. From there we head thru some old mining ghost towns to Animas Fork. Here the road gets much better (as well as the weather) and we continue to Silverton and then back to Ouray. The original route was a rough trail built in 1883 to provide access between the Red Mountain mining district and Gladstone. The current road is steep and rough in spots with several sharp switchbacks. The road is suitable only for 4 wheel drive vehicles.

Trail/Road map

Notice how nice and sunny it is as we start our drive.


We take a break at a scenic "outhouse".

Red Mountain.

Near the top it is COLD!

The evidence of the name Red Mountain.

Breathtaking view from the top. Notice the clouds moving in and snow on the ground.

Under the clouds. Jeep road in the distance.

Mountain wall in the distance.

Mike wearing gloves and gortex in the cold.

Still sunny looking south.
As we got closer to "Hurricane Pass" the wind picked
up and clouds and snow enveloped us. I wasn't able
to get any pictures. I was scared. Mike
did a great job navigating the tight switchbacks that
were getting icy. Once over the pass and  below
the clouds again, visibility returned and we
continued to Animas Fork. I was happy and warm
once again when the sun came out.

The weather was bizarre, clouds and snow cover the pass looking north.

Looking south- pretty sunny and clear. Weird.

View of snow covered peaks as clouds lift momentarily.


Animas Fork area.

Animas Forks once boasted to be the "largest city in the world", with small print saying "at this altitude". The mining camp started in 1877. Ore extracted was galena and silver-bearing gray copper and there were 5-7 mines surrounding the town. . The original town contained several stores, a hotel, saloons, two assay offices, shops and many other buildings. One problem that plagued this town was avalanches, which frequently destroyed buildings and stopped incoming travelers. Not much left to see today. 10-11 structures still standing, although falling apart. Hard to imagine lots of people living here in this remote area.

We head south to Silverton where weather is sunny

Drive back to Ouray in the sun-end of an exciting day.

We pack up Tuesday an head to New Mexico via Lizard pass

Wilson Peak on the way.

Highway map showing our driving route

Nights 13,14. Coops fishing camp near Pat's in New Mexico

Our cabin.

Sign near camp

Pat's place

Goose "pond" in back yard

Pat's "Pets"

Cool antique tractor. It still works!

Mike and Robyn

Smith siblings. Mike, Pat, and Deb

El Vado lake
El Vado Lake is near Pat's home in New Mexico's northern mountains. We spend the day exploring the area. Not many people around so we have the place to ourselves. This lake offers fishing, boating, water-skiing, and winter cross-country skiing. A five and one-half mile scenic trail along the Rio Chama connects El Vado with nearby Heron Lake.

Area we explore. Full of old Indian artifacts.

Old Indian "Pit House" 

Thursday we leave Pat's and head for Taos. It has snowed in the
mountains during the night.

Snow covered pine trees.

Brazos Cliffs visible from US 64. They are composed of granite. This area is part of the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant and is mostly private land

Colorful snack bus at the Rio Grand Gorge. Reminds me of "Hippies".

Rio Grande Gorge.
From this photo it is hard to tell that it has a depth of 800 feet.

Mike on the bridge that crosses the gorge.

Taos, night #15. Mike, Deb and I  prowl the art galleries and shops.

We find and interesting art piece for our

Friday (night #16)we spend in Midland
 with our  friends  Susan and David.
Saturday we make it back to Arlington to pick up our much
missed Biskit and Cookie!


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