Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Getting Higher in Colorado

Just when we thought we were through with the uncomfortably high elevations in Utah we encountered Colorado. While short-term visitors such as ourselves whine of headaches from just being in the valleys, Coloradans discuss which “Fourteen-er” they will ascend in the following climbing season. This is what locals call the peaks of 14,000 feet or more that the rest of us call the Rocky Mountains. Our entire time in Colorado was spent swilling Smart Water and pacing our exertions. But the weather was sunny and crisp, fall was in the air everywhere we went and the cottonwoods and aspens were brilliant on the mountain landscapes.  

Spruce House across from Museum in Mesa Verde
We entered Colorado at the southwest corner of the state and made our way to the various Ancestral Pueblo sites near Cortez. The Anasazi Heritage Center there gave us a good timeline on cliff and high-desert dwellers in the area and an overview of the evolution of archeology as it struggled to become a science. Armed with that orientation we tackled the formidable road up to Mesa Verde National Park. We loved seeing the cliff houses from the Mesa Top Loop Road and the Spruce House overlook at the museum. Due to the elevation and warm weather we passed on the ranger-led tours that involved long walks and climbing up primitive ladders. We shared the museum with an energetic multi-age school group and it was fun to see the kids scurry from exhibit to window, documenting their discoveries in their notebooks.
Fall Colors on the Skyway

From Cortez we followed the San Juan Skyway, an All American Road, to Durango. We were disappointed to find Durango quite inaccessible for the RV. This bustling little town, perched on a hill, hosts many intact buildings in its historic downtown. Unfortunately there is no accommodation for large vehicle parking and we had to keep moving. We happily ended up in the hot mineral waters of Pagosa Springs (at the budget place, not the fancy one across the street) and enjoyed swims both evening and morning in the huge outdoor pool.
Lucky the yak seemed to like the low notes on the fiddle
Our premier destination in Colorado was the elk and yak ranch owned by shirt-tail relatives Doug and Kathryn near Westcliffe and the San Isobel National Forest. Perched at 8,500 feet, the ranch supplies all of their meat and most of their vegetables, and produces an annual crop of calves for the domestic elk market. Both early retirees from engineering-related fields, Doug and Kathryn happily maintain their off-the-grid home and ranch which includes both wind and solar power. Also present are a few impressive innovations like the wood-fired boiler for their radiant floor heating. We enjoyed the delicious elk steaks and home-made salsa, and had fun spending time with the two of them as well as their many animals.  It was fun to talk about their eventual plans to travel in an RV and they jumped right in to diagnose a few electrical problems in Lilypad.
Amazing playground in the backyard of Colorado Springs
On their recommendation, we continued north along a beautiful drive to the town of Salida and to the hot springs at Mt Princeton where we swam in the outdoor pool and Liz ventured down to the creek to a wonderful soak with her right side in cold water and her left side in hot water. Coming over another incredibly high pass (9,475 feet) we descended down to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. This prodigious site has produced the greatest density of plant, insect and fish fossils in the world. However the weather was starting to turn on us and we managed only the visitors center and a short walk to marvel at the petrified redwood stumps nearby.  As we came into the city of Colorado Springs we briefly toured the spectacular Garden of the Gods, a spectacular series of red and gray sandstone spires connected by paved bicycle and running paths. If the weather hadn’t been spitting hail we might have lingered longer. That night we boondocked next to Costco and Trader Joe's in a huge mall that is adjacent to a campus of Colorado State University, and woke up to freezing temperatures. 

Our last major encounter with Colorado civilization was lunch with Kathryn and Doug in the town of  Pueblo. They say the city is booming mainly because of the legalization of marijuana and the proliferation of small businesses associated with it. Although we never encountered any indication, other than a few establishments with a green cross indication the availability of medical marijuana, we can certainly attest to the economic upsurge, especially from accounts in the local papers. Now we are in the southeastern corner of the  state, headed for unknown adventures in Kansas, our 48th state to visit in an RV and the 50th state to visit overall. What does one do in Kansas?

1 comment:

  1. A grad student acquaintance of mine in Boston, in the 80s, looked just like the youngish Robert Redford and was from Kansas. He was laconic like the Sundance Kid. We palled around together for a while. He said to me a few times, "You just keep thinkin', Butch, that's what you're good at." Once he said, sort of out of the blue: "I don't care what anyone says. Kansas is the biggest state in the Union." He wasn't bragging; he was explaining/complaining.