We stayed at Lake Vallecito, a small community about 30 minutes northeast of Durango. I had found a small, pet-friendly cabin available for rent at Lone Wolf Lodge.
It was very nice, and comfortable here, the cabin provided everything you needed for a stay. There's even a small general store/restaurant a few steps away which was very convenient, except for the fact that it was closed on Wednesdays...of course, while we were there :-). We did get breakfast there before leaving Thursday morning, which was quite yummy...french toast for me and an egg sandwich for Al. Oh and I have to mention that Wednesday night, since the restaurant next door was closed, we ate at a very nice little place in Durango after picking up the dogs from daycare. I had asked the girl there if she could recommend a dog-friendly spot for dinner, and she told me the Cyprus Cafe. It was more expensive than we usually do, but the food was excellent and the patio was such a nice calm spot..even with the dogs :-). We also had our first experience with a bear while at the lodge Wednesday night! Al always takes the dogs out between 10 and 11PM for their evening duties. Well, he put on his headlight, and headed out the door of the cabin. He saw two eyes looking back at him from behind the cabin in front of us, and as he shined the light that way, a full sized bear gazed back at him. Of course Casey wanted to go after it, but Al dragged both of them immediately back into the cabin...bears are not anything to play with :-)! Needless to say, no evening walk was done!
I had stumbled across this area while looking for interesting things in the Durango area. I can't remember how I found it, but I read about a Tour of Carvings around Vallecito Lake. It sounded interesting, and I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce for a map of the tour. Even though it was a Sunday, a very nice man named Bob Smith replied to my message and said he would have the brochure out right away. I noticed in his sign-off message was a link to Lone Wolf Lodge, which he and his wife owned. So its pretty neat how you find good things, in a convoluted way, while doing research online :-).
So, what is this Tour of Carvings you ask? "The Tour of Carvings project is a comeback story of the Vallecito community following the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002 near the city of Durango. Between June 9th and July 28th, over 70,000 acres were burned at a cost of $40.8 million dollars. Over 4,000 firefighters and support personnel helped extinguish the fire. The participants and equipment included 87 fire-fighting crews, 18 helicopters and 10 slurry bombers. One life was lost when an experienced tree feller was cutting one tree when another nearby tree fell on him.
The fire swept both sides of the Vallecito Valley turning tens of thousands of trees into black poles. Following a suggestion by his son, the late David McGinnis embarked on a mission to pay tribute to the firefighters and help restore tourism to the Vallecito Lake area. The mission was to have a local wood carver using actual photos taken during the fire to carve images of fire fighting personnel, animals and equipment. Most of the carvings are mounted on concrete pedestals and can be found at various locations around the lake. Each carving has a number and name assigned to aid identification. They stand 18 feet tall and weigh up to 2600 pounds. Funds came from local businesses, contractors, banks and merchants and were installed with the help of volunteers."
Carving #5 is a memorial to Alan Wyatt, the firefighter who lost his life in the fire.It was carved from a photo of him and does closely resemble him. He now stands looking at the burnt forest in a valley for which he gave his life trying to save.
Close-up of the Alan Wyatt carving
Carving #10 Firefighter with Racoon...Rocky was rescued from the forest after her parents were killed in the fire....the racoon came to the door for food every night during the following winter.
Carving #9 Firefighter and Slurry Bomber....this firefighter is waiting with her Pulaski fire fighting tool for the slurry bomber to suppress the fire around her.
Carving #2 Black bear and cubs....animals were greatly impacted by the fire
Carving #7 Rebirth of Vallecito...The sun is represented rather than flames, and the return of animals, trees and ground cover after the fire.
There are 14 carvings in all. Its very interesting to drive around the lake and find all of the carvings. I thought it was a neat little bit of Americana to see and share with everyone!
After driving around the lake looking at the carvings, it was time to start back towards Chalk Creek. Rather than heading back the quick way :-), we decided to take the Silver Thread Scenic Byway. "A 75-mile drive between Lake City and South Fork, the Silver Thread Scenic Byway offers not only scenic beauty and natural wonders, but also a deep history forged through abandoned gold and silver mines and boomtowns found along Highway 149. At the height of Colorado's mineral rush, this byway was once a thoroughfare of prospectors and entrepreneurs, boasting towns of thousands of people and thriving businesses. Now only a shadow of its crowning glory, this stretch of highway still attracts visitors with alluring vistas, wild adventures, lively recreation, and fascinating historical sites." It sounded interesting so off we went. You turn off Highway 160 at South Fork and drive Highway 149 north until it meets with Highway 50 at Mesa lake Reservoir, just west of Gunnison. It was a longer drive, but sounded much more scenic than the fast route we took down to Durango. We had picked up sandwiches in Pagosa Springs, and pulled into a fishing access area along the Rio Grande river to have our lunch while watching kayakers getting ready to head out for the afternoon. The drive was very nice, and we stopped several times along the way to take pictures.
Bighorn Sheep...far in the distance, but we can finally say we saw them!
Now privately owned San Juan Ranch, which in the 1800's was San Juan City, a primary freight center for the San Juan Mountains, the Stony Pass Freight Center. I love this quote: "It is called a wagon road; but the only means of using it is to take your wagon to pieces and let it down several steep places by rope". Today Stony Pass is a rugged, four-wheel drive trail.
Next up is North Clear Creek Falls. Supposedly it is the most photographed waterfall in Colorado. It is certainly one of the easiest to see, being right off of Highway 149. We did take a "back way" to get to it though, as there is a road through the forest from the south....a skinny dirt road that during portions of it you were praying no-one was coming in the other direction :-). If you stay on the highway, no problems :-).
There's a short trail leading away from the falls, around to the other side of the valley...what a view!
I love the jagged peaks in this picture. These mountain peaks, 15 miles away, are within the Uncompahgre Wilderness and are part of the San Juan Wilderness.
Around 700 years ago, volcanic tuff and breccia on the south slope of Mesa Seco became saturated with heavy rain. The material broke loose and oozed its way down the mountain, descending 3,000 feet and traveling more than four miles. The flow dammed up the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and created Lake San Cristobal, Colorado's second largest natural lake. A second flow began about 350 years ago and is still moving at a rate of about twenty feet per year. This is the bare rocky area you see in the middle of the picture.
Lake San Cristobal
The beautiful views we had while following the river back up to Highway 50.
It was a really nice ride, and as always, we wish we had even more time to explore places as we passed by. As it was, we poked along so slowly that we completely missed pot-luck, arriving home way past dinner time. Our "week-end" was over, and time to get ready to work the Memorial Day holiday, which, as you know we had a great time doing.
Our next adventure that I'll be blogging about, is the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area near Aspen. Last week on our day off we drove over Independence Pass to Aspen, and spent the afternoon at The Maroon Bells. I have a couple hundred pictures to go through, so stay tuned for this beautiful spot.