Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend at Chalk Creek

We had a busy weekend here at the campground. We were almost at capacity, with only a few regular sites open for walk-ins, as well as some primitive, overflow sites. Friday we were all hands on deck, prepared for over 50 check-ins. We fully expected them to ALL show up within a couple hours of each other, :-), but in actuality it was staggered throughout the day. We have a pretty good system set up here, where all the expected check-ins have their arrival packets made up in advance, labeled with their site and last name, filed in alphabetical order. The packets consist of a campground map, the policies, car tags, and a flier of the weekend's special events. After the guest checks in, we call for an escort, and one of the guys takes them to their site, spots them while backing in, and brings ice and firewood to the site if they've purchased it. Things went very smoothly, and we only had one no-show by 10PM. The best part of the night for us was the pizza party the bosses had for us workampers :-). Since everyone was on duty, they don't like for anyone to worry about dinner, so they have pizza brought in...cool!

Saturday was an interesting day; it was extremely windy here for one thing, and when I walked Chelsea early in the morning it was so hazy and smoky I thought there was a fire nearby. It turned out to be the wind direction was coming from the south, and carried the smoke and even some ash from the New Mexico wildfire at Gila National Forest. We didn't go in until after lunch as we had the late shift, and we tried to take the dogs out for a walk up in the forest. The air quality was so bad, though, that we just couldn't go very far. It simply wasn't worth it. The air did clear for awhile in the afternoon, but the wind just never stopped. An interesting tidbit...I received a few phone calls about availability of sites from folks who had been staying down at the Great Sand Dunes National Park about two hours south of here. Seems they had had enough of being sandblasted, packed up and left. I guess I don't blame them, and we were able to accommodate them for the night.

Candy Bar Bingo was our big event on Saturday night. Present a candy bar for admission, and you received a sheet of 7 Bingo cards. We had over 40 folks show up, and it was a bit crowded in our game room, but we squeezed them all in and we had a great time! I split the candy bars into 4 small piles, and one big pile for the grand prize blackout round. The competition was fierce, and the anticipation was high, but we finally had a winner, and all I'll say is I feel sorry for the parents of the boy that won that bag of candy :-).

Sunday was our centerpiece event, the Rubber Duckie Races. What a hoot!
We had it advertised all day.

The duckies are lined up and ready to race. Anyone can sponsor a duckie, $5.00 for an adult and $3.00 for children. You sign up for a number, and come out and cheer for your duckie. 50% of the money raised goes to the Buena Vista Humane Society and the other 50% get splits up as prize monies.

Joe gets the duckies in place for the first heat. The race takes place in the irrigation canal that runs through the upper campground.

And they're off! Which duckie will take the lead? We had twenty duckies entered into the children's race, so we ran two heats, and the top 3 of each heat competed in the final for the prizes. Otherwise, there are too many duckies trying to head down the canal :-).

They encountered some severe headwinds at the tail end of the race, but we finally had our duckie winners. I was in the office during the race, calculating prize monies and assisting guests, but it was fun listening to the play-by-play over the radio!

Our three winners from the children's division...13 years old and younger.

Then it was off on the adult's division...it was close to start...

The cheers intensified as one duckie pulled away from the pack....

We have a winner by several duckie lengths!..The net is to scoop our valiant duckies out of the canal before they head under the road and off down the mountain, never to be seen again!

Our three adult winners, two of which came promptly into the store to wisely spend their earnings :-).

We did very well over the first big holiday weekend, especially considering that the owners and two pairs of workampers were brand new at this :-). It seemed like everyone had a great weekend, in spite of the out-of-control winds we were experiencing, and the night-time temperatures did fall into the 30's Saturday night. All part of the outdoor experience. We did have pretty much of a mass exodus Monday morning, which kept the Monday crew quite busy. We're finding out as well, that Mondays are also busy with folks who were camping in the National Forest campgrounds coming in to dump their tanks. We still have several folks staying on through the week, and a decently busy weekend ahead. School gets out around here in another couple of weeks, and by Father's Day weekend, we're rocking most of the week through Labor Day. Its good to be busy!

I still have pictures from the last day of our side trip last week, so stay tuned for some interesting stuff coming up. I'm keeping very busy finding stuff to keep all of my faithful readers entertained!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Visit to Mesa Verde National Park

Those who know me, know that I am an East Coast girl. Born and raised on  Eastern Long Island, NY, I have lived there for the first 49 years of my life. Those who know me also know that our only vacation time each year was exclusively two weeks in the month of February. My very first National Park was actually Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island of Hawaii...you can't really get much further from New York to visit a National Park. For many, many, way too many years, this was my one and only National Park that I ever visited. Sad. Living in the Northeast did limit our possibilities, though. We finally did visit Acadia National Park three years ago, and loved it. Far too short a time there, though, as we spent our four-day anniversary trip there, and driving back and forth took up two of those days!

So you can imagine the excitement I feel over the wealth of National Parks we are now amongst, out here in the west, and at a time of year that is wonderful to visit...February was not so good! Mesa Verde National Park has always fascinated me since history class way back, longer than I care to mention :-). So it was with a sense of anticipation that I planned this adventure when our work schedules revealed we had three days off in a row just before Memorial Day weekend. The only downside to visiting the park now was that the Wetherill  Mesa was not opened to visitors yet, but the upside was a reduced entry fee,as well as fewer visitors :-).

Wednesday we dropped the dogs off at their daycare center, Happy Hounds and Fat Cats (love the name), in Durango, and headed west to the park entrance. It was a 35 minute drive just to the entrance where we paid our fee to enter. From there, it is another 15 miles to the Far View Visitor Center. 15 very windey, beautiful, switch-backing, jaw-dropping miles. Its been estimated it takes an average driver approximately one hour to make the drive; it took us almost two! The road is fully paved, and easy to drive, with care of course, but we had to stop at every turnout to take in the view as well as read the history boards.
Mesa Verde as seen from the park entrance.

At Mesa Verde, Spanish for "green table", multi-storied cliff dwellings fill the rock-cliff alcoves that rise 2,000 feet above the Montezuma Valley. What is amazing to me is, looking at this massive formation, it looks like a huge, solid, impenetrable hunk of rock. But there are canyons running throughout the structure, extremely deep, and I wonder what brought these people to this spot. How on earth did they stand at the bottom, and say "we should go up there, and make our homes up there". Completely baffling to me. Anyway, these cliff dwellings cluster in canyons that slice the mesa into narrow tablelands. Between the cliff dwellings and the village remains located on the mesa top, archaeologists have located more than 4800 archaeological sites, 600 of which are cliff dwellings, dating from about A.D. 550 to 1300.

Our major stop on the way to Far View Visitor Center was called Park Point. Park Point is the highest elevation on the Mesa, and offers an unobstructed 360 degree panoramic view of the area. Unfortunately, due to atmospheric conditions, namely air pollution (creating a haze all the time) compounded with smoke haze from the fires burning to the south, and very windy conditions causing a lot of sand and debris in the air, the visibility was not as good as it should have been. It was still outstanding, though.
View to the west, Sleeping Ute Mountain on the left hand side. Today, the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation borders the park on three sides. One Ute legend depicts this formation as one of their gods who, at some remote time, became angered with his people, gathered all the rain clouds together in his pockets and laid down on his back and went to sleep. It is said that when the clouds are hanging about the peaks as they often do in times of a storm, that the clouds are slipping out of the rain god's pockets....There is further belief that the god will arise some day to lead the Ute Indians.

Part of the original horse/mule trail leading up to the Mesa. In January of 1905, as Congress deliberated the proposal to establish Mesa Verde as a National Park, its attention focused on the magnificent view seen from this point. In reference to the trail that at that time left the Mancos-Cortez highway, the 58th Congress stated, "This backbone or ridge is rolling in outline and from the highest hill over which the trail runs is one of the grandest and most extensive views in the country".

Wildfire is always a threat at Mesa Verde, and major wildfires have struck the park 7 times. Of these fires, the most devastating were the Bircher and Pony Fires of 2000, which together burned more than 29,000 acres. The Bircher Fire began July 20, 2000 when lightning struck the Bircher farm just east of Mesa Verde. The fire sped westward into the park, and in three days had blown out of control. Flames surrounded Park Point, and the historic fire lookout tower there was saved only by a wrapping of fire-resistant material. 12 years later, the damage is still here, in the eerie bare bones of the trees, bleached white, and the new growth underneath.

We finally made it to Far View Visitor's Center, where we purchased tickets for two ranger led tours into the archaeological sites of Cliff Palace and Balcony House. Realizing that it was another 5 miles to the Chapin Mesa complex, and once in the two loop drives it would be a ways back to the cafeteria for lunch, we opted to have an early lunch, and do our tours in the afternoon. Each tour is approximately an hour long, and one runs each hour and the other on the half hour. So we gave ourselves enough time to have lunch, and drive the Mesa Top Loop Road before our first tour at 1:30. We opted to have lunch right at the Far View Visitor's Center cafe, where we had their specialty item, Navajo Tacos. The staff there was very friendly, and we were glad to have taken their recommendation, as the tacos were very tasty. In retrospect, though, we would probably pack our own lunch next time, and eat at a picnic site as it would have given us more time to visit some areas we didn't get to.

The Mesa Top Loop Road is a six mile loop, and takes us on an overall discovery of the Ancestral Puebloans who came here around A.D. 550 to make a life for themselves. Through a series 12 stops we are 
shown the full range of architecture at Mesa verde, from the earliest pithouses to the latest cliff dwellings. We see the progression of the homes and religious structures of the Ancestral Puebloans (often referred to as Anasazi) who lived here for more than six centuries, from about A.D. 550 until 1300. Ten excavated sites and a number of cliff dwellings are visible. I find it fascinating that we have something this old so well preserved in the United States! The views are awesome up here as well!
One of the oldest dwellings found, a pithouse. A.D.550 to 600. These are modest dwellings, shallow pits dug into the top of the mesa, covered with pole and mud roofs and walls, with entrances through the roofs.

A magnificent view of the canyon from the rim of the mesa.

Mesa Top Sites A.D.900-1100. Buildings are becoming more sophisticated, and "kivas" are making an appearance now. Their significance is unknown, although most theories revolve around them being of religious significance.

Square Tower House. This site is not open to the public, but an overlook has been provided at the end of a short walk. A.D.1200-1300. The name comes from the beautiful four story high structure still standing against the curving back of the alcove. This site has been a treasure trove of artifacts for archaeologists. Square Tower House is representative of the last phase of building at Mesa Verde, but there are signs of much earlier habitation in pithouses under this alcove.

A close-up of the four story square tower. Simply beautiful.

A view inside the Sun Temple, A.D.1250, a fascinating structure believed to have been constructed purely for worship. 

My favorite view...I love the way the mesa tops seemed to be geometrically positioned.

At last...a beautiful view of Cliff Palace, the site of our first ranger-led tour into the site.It is unbelievable to me how these dwellings have been built into the sides of a cliff...whatever possessed these people to do this? How on earth did they get down there??

Inside Cliff Palace. It is 120 feet below the top of the mesa. Recent studies have shown that there are 150 rooms, 23 kivas, and approximately 100 people inhabited it at any one time. It is thought that Cliff Palace was a social, administrative site with high ceremonial usage. Construction: "Sandstone, mortar and wooden beams were the three primary construction materials for the cliff dwellings. The Ancestral Puebloans shaped each sandstone block using harder stones collected from nearby river beds. The mortar between the blocks is a mixture of local soil, water and ash. Fitted in the mortar are tiny pieces of stone called "chinking." Chinking stones filled the gaps within the mortar and added structural stability to the walls. Over the surface of many walls, the people decorated with earthen plasters of pink, brown, red, yellow, or white -- the first things to erode with time."
Looking at the windows and doorways, and noting that they are so small, we wondered about the size of the occupants. An average man was about 5'4" to 5'5" (163cm) tall, while an average woman was 5' to 5'1" (152cm). If you compare them with European people of the same time period, they would have been about the same size. Compared with today, the Ancestral Puebloan's average life span was relatively short, due, in part, to the high infant mortality rate. Most people lived an average of 32-34 years, however some people did live into their 50s and 60s. Approximately 50% of the children died before they reached the age of five. I am not surprised by this, just look at the step out their front doors...its a dilly! I wonder how many children simply fell off the edge?!

Cliff House was an awesome experience, as was the exit....climbing five, 8-10 foot (2.6-3m) ladders on a 100 foot (30m) vertical climb. Um, no, I did NOT look down as I was climbing up. 

Next up was our tour of Balcony House, another ranger-led tour of a beautifully preserved site. I must say here, that even though we had about 50 folks on each tour, the rangers were very good, reminding folks not to touch anything, lean on anything, and tried to impart that these areas are still considered sacred ground by the current descendants of these original people. And the folks on the tour were very well behaved and appropriately solemn while viewing the sites. I was pleasantly surprised :-).

With 40 rooms, Balcony House is considered a medium size cliff dwelling. Only 10 sites in the park have more. Evidence of how room and passageway construction in the alcove evolved through time can easily be seen in Balcony House. Our entrance to balcony House was stunning...a short walk down a park-constructed trail led to this 32 foot high ladder...yes, this is the entrance to Balcony House!
After climbing the ladder...
and stooping through a low tunnel...

we made it inside! This is the first section of Balcony House, and to get to the second section you climb that short ladder, and disappear into the small opening seen at the back of the photo.

The second section of Balcony House. As I've said, that first step is a doozy!

Structure to the rear of the alcove

Can you see the handprint on the wall??

Ah yes, the exit...of course, what went down must go up! But first was an exciting crawl on hands and knees through a very small narrow tunnel to reach the outside of the cliff alcove...I still don't know how these people did this! Ok, so we have this ladder first.....

Then this really interesting walk up the rock face, I think the park service was pretty smart putting in the chains to help the walk up :-)!...

Then this last ladder to the top...see the ranger at the top, waiting to help? :-).

Yes, it was scary, but I did it! I'm very glad I did, as it was so interesting to visit these sites. Unfortunately, it was now already after 4PM. We had an hour ride out of the park, and then another half hour back to Durango to pick up the dogs at daycare by 6PM. So, sadly, we had to make haste away without visiting the wonderful Chapin Mesa museum, a self-guided tour of Spruce Tree House, which is the park's best preserved site, or doing the 3 mile round-trip hike to Petroglyph Point, where the park's largest petroglyph panel (12 feet across) is located. Bear in mind that a whole other section of the park, Wetherill Mesa, wasn't even opened! So, I think you could easily spend two, if not three days, visiting this park, and we will return again someday. I have to laugh at the guide put out by the National Park Service that says, "Plan to spend at least half a day exploring the unique opportunities in the park". !!I guess they don't know those of us that take HOURS longer every place than the average tourist :-). 

Well, I apologize for the length of this post, but I really wanted to express how enjoyable I found the experience. My entire roster of photos can be seen here at Flickr if you wish to see them. I will let you all go now, with the promise of pictures from our drive back to Chalk Creek along the Silverthread Scenic Byway, and also pictures of our big (Sherry this is for you) rubber duckie races over Memorial Day here at the campground. Thanks for hanging in there until the end!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Drive to Vallecito Lake

Tuesday we headed out for our three days off! We had a packed schedule planned, and got the trucked packed up and ready to go by 9AM. We headed south on Hwy. 285, over Poncha Pass and towards Del Norte, which would be our turning point onto Hwy. 160 west. The scenery was similar to what we encountered on our drive here in April, as 285 parallels Rt. 17 most of the way. Everything was quite a bit greener, though! Once on 160 heading west, we drove until reaching South Fork, where we stopped to stretch our legs for a few minutes. Funny thing, I've had people check in at the campground who have told me that they "drove and drove miles on roads with nothing around to reach here"...I guess I know what they mean! If you're looking for McDonald's, or fancy service areas, you aren't going to find them here! Several towns are of the "don't blink or you'll miss it" variety :-).

From South Fork we resumed our trek west, and prepared for the crossing at Wolf Creek Pass. I've read a lot about this pass on the RV forums, with some folks claiming it's the worst pass in Colorado, and others extolling it's beauty and down-playing the knuckle-biting qualities. Well, I'm falling on the side of exceptional beauty, and it's not so bad :-).
The top of the pass...the sign shows all the snowmobile trails available here. The trail was quite wet and mucky, however, so we didn't go too far down it.

Views from an overlook on the western side of the pass. 

Close to the bottom of the pass is a waterfall called Treasure Falls. As the story goes...." in the late 1700's, an expedition of 300 Frenchmen secretly entered the San Juan Mountains in search of gold in what was then Spanish territory.Over a period of years they encountered disease, brutal winters, and battles with the Ute Indians. Of the 300 Frenchmen, only two returned to Leavenworth, Kansas. They told an intriguing tale of about how the leaders of the expedition had cached a fortune in gold near Treasure Mountain. Many have looked for the gold, but failed to locate the cache. Most of the clues have been lost or destroyed...and the lost French gold remains the Legend of Treasure Mountain."
The view of Treasure Falls from the overlook. There's a short, 1/4 mile trail leading to a bridge that crosses the falls at the bottom, and then climbs to an overlook called "Misty Overlook". 

After huffing and puffing our way up, we came to the bridge :-).

Chelsea went right in to cool off!

The trail and views on the way to the falls.

Misty Overlook...it was way to wet for me to take my camera in there so this is as close as you get :-)

Final view of the falls as we headed down.

We came to Pagosa Springs after coming down off the pass, and decided to stop there for a quick sandwich at The Malt Shop, an old-fashioned burger joint that had outside seating..something we always look for with the dogs :-). The grilled cheese sandwiches were good, made on sourdough bread. Just enough to keep us until dinner. At the town of Bayfield, we turned off Hwy 160 onto CR 105, which took us up to our cabin for the next couple of nights on Lake Vallecito. We had booked a small cabin at Lone Wolf Lodge, a dog-friendly spot in Lake Vallecito. I was looking for someplace to stay near Durango, where the kids had daycare set up for the next day, when we were going to Mesa Verde National Park. Sometimes, you just need to go someplace where the pups are not welcome, so thankfully there's day care services available. I keep thinking this would be a service that National Parks could offer and make some money at, as surely we are not the only folks who struggle with where to safely put our "furkids" for the day while we visit these parks. Anyway, after we checked in and put our stuff away, it was time to head back out, as we had been invited to dinner by some old friends from back in New York. They had moved out here almost ten years ago, and got in touch with us when they read we would be in the Durango area. So we had a lovely dinner with Kevin and his dad, talking about how things were back east and gathering much information about where to go in Colorado. So a great big thank you for a great evening to Kevin and his dad...we appreciated it very much! And yes, we did find our way off of the mountain, although it did take two loops to do it :-).

Next up will be Mesa Verde National Park, with a warning that there will be a lot of pictures! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Castle Gardens Walk

Well, Saturday turned out to be an odd day weather-wise. Al had left early in the morning to go to his fly-fishing class, and it was beautiful and sunny. As I was writing the previous post, I saw the boy scout troop heading out on a rafting trip, in their shorts and t-shirts. By the time I got out of the shower (it was a very lazy, slow morning for me), the clouds and wind had rolled in, and all of a sudden there was rain coming down! But wait..it wasn't supposed to rain today! But sure as the pundits say around here...if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes, it will change....out rolled the clouds and the sun was out again. This happened several times yesterday. But down in Salida, where Al was fishing, no rain whatsoever! And, for the record, he caught his first trout ever...a cutthroat trout. Congratulations! (sorry, no pictures).

Sunday morning we did a few chores, one of which was dismantling the screen room and putting it away. Yes, the wind has won this round. We had it staked down, extra ropes attached and tied down all to no avail...the winds here come up on the drop of a dime. It will be dead calm, and within minutes be blowing 30mph and higher. Incredible. We hardly ever have the awning down, and never leave it down if we leave the site. But Friday the wind finally beat us...one of the screen room poles bent slightly, and one screen tore slightly. So down it came and is put away for now. We'll see if the wind ever stops...we've been told it doesn't!

We needed to do some grocery shopping, so we decided after lunch to head towards Salida, investigate a new hike called Castle Gardens, and then head on over to WalMart. I don't usually do the bulk of groceries there, but we didn't need much, and we also needed to look for a new propane campstove for outside...our old one ended up with a broken tube inside...don't even ask how Al found that out! Suffice to say no damage was done to him or the camp kitchen :-).

Castle Gardens is slightly to the east of Salida, a short 2 mile walk along a dry sandy streambed. There are a maze of trails here, meandering among fantastic eroded dirt cliffs. Its the only landform of this type in the area, and different from the other walks we've done so far.
Starting out. Its best not to do this walk on too hot of a day, as it is all in direct sun. Or go early in the morning before the sun comes up too high!

The trail is wide and well-defined. There used to be a lot of ATV traffic through here, but has been banned due to the damage it has inflicted upon the area.

Plant life along the trail. The area is looking so different already, only a month since we've arrived. Everything is really greening up!

One of the many dirt cliffs we wandered past

Happy wanderers!

Headed back. We normally like loop trails better, but I'm finding it interesting how I see different things on the way back on a one way trail.

After shopping, and making modifications to my menu ( I have to remember where I am, the fellow at the deli counter looked at me like I had two heads when I asked for prosciutto), we headed back home. Its back to work tomorrow for a day, and then off on our adventure to Mesa Verde National Park.