Monthly Archives: July 2019

Ridgway, CO July 28, 2019

After a wonderful time in Rico and Telluride we headed north on the San Juan Skyway to Ridgway State Park. Even though we were going north, we were dropping from 9,000 feet to just under 7,000 feet which meant warmer temperatures. We sure were going to miss the cool temperatures!

Ridgway State Park is located in Ridgway (yes, it doesn’t have an e). Ridgway, Colorado has a population of around 1,000 and an elevation of 6,985.  Beginning in 1891 it was a railroad town until part of the rail line was abandoned in 1953 and then completely abandoned due to a reservoir being built. The original location of the dam for the reservoir would have placed Ridgway underwater. A 1975 decision to put the dam further downstream saved the town, earning it the nickname “The Town That Refused to Die”. Ridgway has the only stop light in Ouray County. 

The Grammy Awards trophy is handcrafted by Billings Artworks in Ridgway. The trophies are hand cast in an alloy called grammium and then hand filed, ground and polished before being plated in 24k gold.

Ridgway and the surrounding area was the setting for John Wayne’s “True Grit” and “How the West Was Won”. In fact more than 100 films have been made in southwestern Colorado. 

Actor Dennis Weaver, from Gunsmoke and McCloud fame had a home in Ridgway and died there in 2006. Weaver was committed to preserving the environment and commissioned an architect to design and build his home from recycled materials such as old automobile tires and discarded cans. The Dennis Weaver Memorial Park in Ridgway is a sixty acre wildlife preserve with several walking trails. 

Ridgway State Park has three campgrounds and our campsite was located in the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk section with full hookups. 

We stopped by the park’s Visitors Center where they had a large display of animals native to the area. IMG_20190727_140437IMG_4836

The highlight of our stay here was the drive we took on the US Highway 550, also called “The Million Dollar Highway”.  I thought it was called this because of the million dollar views but research says the reason is disputed. Some say it is because it took a million dollars to build it in the late 1880’s, while others say it is because the fill dirt contains a million dollars in gold ore. Another idea is that people say you couldn’t pay them a million dollars to drive it during bad winter weather. Regardless of the reason, it is known as one of the most scenic drives in America but is also known as one of the 25 most dangerous roads in America. IMG_4729

US Highway 550 runs from New Mexico and ends/starts at Montrose  Colorado but the most scenic, and dangerous part runs 25 miles between Ouray and Silverton that goes over Red Mountain Pass, elevation 11,018. And that is the part we drove!

The road is cut into the side of a mountain with steep drop offs, narrow lanes, hair pin curves and no guardrails. It takes 100% of the driver’s concentration while passengers hold their breath as they look over the side. Along with 8% grades there are 153 curves! IMG_4742IMG_4778IMG_4755IMG_4811

We first passed through Ouray, known as the “Switzerland of America” and the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Colorado”. It is a picturesque mountain town at the base of the San Juan Mountains with one main street and no traffic lights. IMG_4715IMG_4707IMG_4710IMG_4717

We stopped by Cascade Falls Park with a lovely waterfall. IMG_4833

Red Mountain Pass at 11,018 feet is one of Colorado’s highest paved passes. IMG_4777

We saw avalanche signs and could see damage to trees that happened during an avalanche. IMG_4766IMG_4765

Along the way we saw waterfalls such as Bear Creek Falls, tunnels and evidence of once active mining in the area. IMG_4730IMG_4720IMG_4827IMG_4762IMG_4764

This area was used by gold and silver miners in the 1870’s.  It produced four million ounces of gold, 21 million ounces of silver and twelve million tons of lead, zinc and copper. It helped fuel the industrial revolution and supplied raw materials to support America’s involvement in two World Wars. 20190728_122602IMG_4822IMG_4770IMG_4824

Our turn around point was Silverton, a former silver mining camp. With a population of 630, its main source of income today is tourism, like Ouray. IMG_4781IMG_20190728_13484520190728_125802IMG_4785IMG_4786

We drove a dirt road that took us to a nice spot overlooking the town and the Christ of the Mines Shrine. 20190728_115943IMG_4791

After lunch at a little barbecue restaurant we headed back home. The road wasn’t quite as scary going the other direction, but we still had the hairpin turns and the occasional steep drop offs. It was the lack of guardrails that made it very unsettling.

Another day we drove a short distance from our campsite to the Dallas Divide Summit, elevation 8,970 ft, to take pictures of the mountains. So beautiful! IMG_4843IMG_4846IMG_4847

One evening we had visitors stop by our campsite. IMG_4854

Next stop: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Rico & Telluride, CO July 26, 2019

Leaving McPhee Reservoir Recreation Area, we drove an hour on the San Juan Skyway, called “Road to the Sky” to our next destination. Along the way we had beautiful views of the towering 14,000 foot San Juan Mountains and green rolling hillsides. 

We arrived at our campground, Cayton Campground in the San Juan National Forest for a six night stay. We had a very nice electric site along the Dolores River. At night we were lulled to sleep by the sound of softly flowing water. IMG_20190725_153505

The only drawback to this campground was we had absolutely no cell phone service which meant no internet. We were able to get satellite TV so we had news and weather. At an elevation of 9,400 feet, the daytime highs were in the low 70’s and nighttime lows in the mid 40’s.  A wonderful respite from the hot weather we had recently experienced. Each afternoon we had a brief thunderstorm or rain shower. IMG_20190725_153045

Our campsite had 50 AMP power and even though it worked, the 50 AMP power connector was cracked and potentially unsafe. The camp host brought a new one by and Bill offered to replace it. 20190723_123955

Six miles south of our campground was the tiny town of Rico. Twice we drove into town to use the internet access at the public library. Thank heavens for these friendly public libraries that are a big help to travelers like us. IMG_20190725_124100-EFFECTS

Rico was settled in 1879 as a silver mining town. At its peak Rico had a population of nearly 5,000. It had two dozen saloons and a thriving red light district. IMG_20190725_150448IMG_20190725_150425No longer a mining town, today it has a population of 266 and is made up of a main street with an inn, gas station, post office and town hall. 20190725_12072720190725_120802The public library is open four hours a day Monday through Saturday and is located in two rooms of the town hall building. I talked a bit with the librarian who said the public school in Rico closed last year due to declining enrollment. Today the parents have to take their children either 35 minutes north to the town of Telluride or an hour south to Dolores. Parents are responsible for getting their children to and from school. She said most parents work in Telluride and therefore their children go to school there. Quite different from most towns and cities in the United States where children just walk a block or less to catch the local school bus. The librarian said she wonders if the Rico library would ever close and expressed sadness that she no longer has children come by after school. She said the library summer reading program ended a couple years ago. Now she averages six or seven people who visit the library each day, less than fifty a week. The two times we visited we only saw two locals come in to use the library internet. I never saw anyone return a book or check one out. Very sad. We did note that after many many years of significant declining population, the population did rise by 65 people between 2000 and 2010. Maybe there is hope for this sweet little town. 

We visited the Rico post office while we were there and noticed it is also open only four hours a day but it had a steadier stream of traffic. 20190725_120743

On Friday we drove our car north to Telluride for the day. IMG_4611IMG_4622IMG_4625Also once a mining town, what a difference from Rico. With a population of 2,400, Telluride is a busy, active resort community similar to Vail. In the winter it is crowded with skiers staying in the many condominiums, resorts and hotels. In the summer people visit to enjoy the cool weather and gorgeous views. It is nicknamed the “Festival of the Rockies” because of the vast array of cultural events each summer. The name Telluride came from gold telluride minerals found in parts of Colorado. Strangely, telluride minerals were never found in Telluride but zinc, lead, copper, silver and other gold ores were mined there. IMG_4687

One of the best things about Telluride was the FREE gondola rides. We have been on several gondola rides in our travels and they are usually pretty pricey. This is the first free gondola ride we have ever seen and according to Telluride it is the first and only free gondola public transportation in the United States. It was begun in 1996 to address air quality concerns by keeping cars off the eight mile route between Mountain Village and Telluride. Since 1996 it has transported over forty million people. 20190726_142021

We read it is best to park at the free parking garage at Station Village and ride a gondola down to Telluride because street parking is very limited in Telluride. We parked the car at Station Village, elevation 9,545 and rode a gondola to Mountain Village Resort, elevation 9,540. IMG_4664IMG_4632We got off there and got another gondola which took us to Station St Sophia, elevation 10,535 and then continued down to Telluride, elevation 8,750. The whole trip took about thirty minutes. All the gondola workers were extremely friendly and helpful. The tricky thing about gondolas is they never completely come to a stop so you have to quickly jump on and off. Pets, bikes and skis are all allowed on the gondolas. It was interesting to see how the bikes are attached to the outside of the gondolas. 20190726_155906The Big Mountain Enduro bike event was going on during our visit. Bikers ride the gondola up the mountain and they ride bike trails to the bottom. IMG_4636IMG_4639

As we descended to Telluride we could see the town In the distance IMG_464820190726_15273220190726_153028IMG_4649as well as beautiful Bridal Veil Falls, at 365 feet the tallest waterfall in Colorado. IMG_4667IMG_4669

Every Friday they have a Farmers Market with fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods and beautiful flowers. 20190726_14453020190726_144920We found a geocache at the Galloping Goose, a unique hybrid vehicle that was a truck and train combination.  It was powered by a truck engine that rode on train tracks beginning around 1930. It ran on gasoline and carried both passengers and freight until 1951. We noticed the hybrid buses around town today are nicknamed Galloping Goose.  IMG_4665We really enjoyed walking around Telluride! IMG_467220190726_144419

We caught the gondola back from Telluride to Station St Sophia and got off and walked around the area. In the summer this is a popular area for bike riders to ride up and down the steep slopes. IMG_4676IMG_4679IMG_4686We went in the Nature Center where they had the biggest container of sunscreen I have ever seen. It was freely available to everyone. At 10,535 feet, you burn quickly. By this time our ears were stopped up and I was starting to feel some altitude sickness. I was lightheaded, slightly nauseous and my skin was clammy. We still had to ride two more gondolas to get back to the parking garage. I was dragging by the time we got back to the car. But after drinking an entire bottle of cold water from the cooler, I was feeling much better. We drove into Telluride and had a nice dinner. I think just the act of chewing food helped our ears recover. We both agreed this was the most fun we have had in awhile! 

The mountain views and alpine meadows were beautiful. IMG_4696IMG_4697IMG_4703


Lizard Head Peak

Next up: Ridgway, CO

Canyons of the Ancients NM, CO July 20, 2019

During our time at McPhee Reservoir Recreation Area, along with visiting Mesa Verde National Park, we also visited other nearby Pueblo dwellings. Down the road from our campground was the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument Visitors Center. We stopped there and watched a movie and picked up a map of Pueblo dwellings within driving distance. IMG_20190716_141257IMG_20190716_14021820190720_122133

The next morning we set out for a day of exploring along part of the 116 mile road named Trail of the Ancients, the only National Scenic Byway in America dedicated solely to archaeology. The first place we visited was Lowry Pueblo, an ancient pueblo site with forty rooms and eight circular kivas. IMG_4540IMG_4541IMG_4551IMG_4555IMG_4557

A roof has been placed over the main dwelling to preserve it. We were able to walk inside for a close up view. IMG_4543IMG_4544IMG_4548IMG_4549

Next we drove to Hovenweep National Monument which lies in both Colorado and Utah.  Hovenweep is a Ute Indian word meaning “deserted valley” which adequately describes the area. There are many multi room dwellings, small cliff dwellings and towers scattered over the canyon slopes. These were constructed by Ancestral Puebloans more than 700 years ago, around the same time as Mesa Verde. Like at Mesa Verde, extended droughts forced the people to abandon the area around 1300 A.D. IMG_455920190720_115011IMG_4562IMG_456020190720_130335

We first stopped at the Visitors Center and watched a movie before taking the Little Ruin Trail to see some of the dwellings and towers. They believe the towers could have been used as storage silos for crops, defensive forts or for ceremonies. IMG_4575IMG_4573IMG_4572IMG_4582IMG_4584IMG_4591IMG_4589IMG_4590IMG_4595IMG_4597IMG_4598

When we returned from our hike we saw a very interesting talk on coyotes by a Ranger. 20190720_122255

We certainly enjoyed our time in southwestern Colorado. IMG_4602IMG_4603IMG_4605IMG_4610

Next up: Rico, CO and cooler temperatures at last

Colorado Tidbits:

  • There are 58 peaks in Colorado 14,000 feet above sea level, more than any other state.
  • Colorado’s nickname is the Centennial State because Colorado was admitted into the union in 1876, the centennial anniversary of the United States.

Mesa Verde NP, CO July 16, 2019

We left Monument Valley and headed to Colorado and hopefully cooler temperatures. It was a beautiful drive with more rock formations and occasional farmland with horses and cattle. We were surprised to see some working oil pumps. 20190714_12572320190714_130203

Our destination was the McPhee Reservoir Recreation Area in the San Juan National Forest for a seven night stay. We had a lovely, private campsite with electric only located at an elevation of 7,200 feet. In the distance we saw snow capped mountains. IMG_20190715_155701

Near our campsite is an overlook of the reservoir.  Where you see water now is where at one time the lumber company town of McPhee stood. In the late 1920’s McPhee was Colorado’s largest lumber mill town with a population of 1,400 and produced over half of the state’s lumber output. In 1948 after a second major fire in a decade destroyed the sawmill, it was not rebuilt. Today the former lumber town is submerged by reservoir waters. 20190719_201653

One day we drove over to Mesa Verde National Park. As we were leaving our campground early in the morning we saw a very large herd of cattle being led down the road to another pasture. It was hard to get a good picture of the large herd because we were facing into the sun. IMG_20190716_070819

We were last at Mesa Verde National Park in 2015 (see link: Mesa Verde National Park, CO).  The 52,000 acre park is one of the country’s major archeological preserves with almost 5,000 archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, was the home of Ancestral Pueblo people for more than 750 years. IMG_20150517_110223 IMG_4506

They lived in the area from around 500 A.D. to 1276 A.D. It was approximately around 1200 when they began to build the cliff dwellings that Mesa Verde is best known for today. When a drought struck that lasted for twenty-four years, it eventually forced the people to leave the area and migrate to New Mexico and Arizona in search of water and better living conditions. IMG_4509

Last time we were here we drove the loop road where some of the larger cliff dwellings are viewed from a distance. In order to see the cliff dwellings up close you have to go on a park ranger led tour for the very reasonable fee of $5.00. IMG_20190716_095017IMG_20190716_095042IMG_20190716_100143IMG_20190716_094632IMG_4516

This time Bill decided he wanted to take the hour long tour of the largest cliff dwelling in the United States, Cliff Palace. He had a reservation for 9:30 A.M. in order to avoid the hottest part of the day. Even though we were now in southwestern Colorado we were still having afternoon temperatures in the upper 80’s. The tour was labeled as strenuous with steep, uneven stone stairs both going and coming and you had to climb four steep ten foot wooden ladders to access the cliff dwelling. I decided not to go and waited in a shady seating area while he was gone. It was the idea of the four steep ten foot wooden ladders that got to me. IMG_20190716_094517IMG_20190716_103253IMG_20190716_103247

Bill had a great time but he did say the walk out was pretty strenuous. He said the ranger did a nice job describing what everyday life was like at the Cliff Palace over 800 years ago. Cliff Palace consisted of about 150 rooms made of sandstone and mortar made of sand, clay and ash. Water had to be hauled in to make the mortar. It is almost inconceivable to imagine how they accomplished this herculean effort in twenty years. In addition to the 150 rooms they had 75 open spaces and 21 kivas, below ground circular rooms used for ceremonies and gatherings. IMG_20190716_101341IMG_20190716_101239


Kiva – Round Room Without Roof


Picture Taken From Window Of Three Story Tower – Shows Floor Logs


After Bill’s tour we stopped at the archeological museum to see a movie about the park and view exhibits and artifacts on the Ancestral Puebloans. IMG_4524
We stopped by the Far View Sites where homes were built on the top of mesas.


Far View House


Far View House Walls


Kiva at Far View House


Unique Stone In Outer Wall Of Pipe Shrine House

After a late lunch it was starting to get quite hot and we were very glad we had gotten an early start.

Mesa Verde National Park is an amazing place!

Next up: more exploring in southwestern Colorado

Monument Valley, UT July 13, 2019

We left Prescott, AZ and headed toward Monument Valley. After an overnight stop in Flagstaff we left Arizona and entered Utah. Even before we reached Monument Valley we began to see the majestic rock formations. 20190712_145822

The campground for our two night stay was a pricey, dusty campground with no shade. The choice of campgrounds is very limited in the area so they can all charge high prices for very basic services. At least it was a full hookup campground and when we saw the beautiful view of the formations from our site, it definitely took away some of the pain from the high cost. 20190712_183708

The last time we were here was in the fall of 2015 and we just drove up for the day.


Looks Like A Indian Head With Feathers?


Looks Like A Rabbit On The Right?


Looks Like A Chicken On A Nest?


Monument Valley is located on Navajo land and is part of the Navajo Tribal Park which was established in 1958 to preserve the environment.  Monument Valley sits at 5,564 feet above sea level and its 91,696 acres is located in both Arizona and Utah. The monuments or rock formations are natural structures created by erosion and range from 100 to 1,500 feet tall.  There was a $20 fee per car to enter the park and make the seventeen mile loop drive. The road is made of soft sand and dirt with deep ruts making it almost necessary to have a four wheel drive vehicle.


Elephant Butte – Trunk On The Left


Rain God Mesa – This Is Where Water Flowed Occasionally


We Saw Horses In Many Areas




Merrick Mesa


Camel Butte


East Mitten Butte, West Mitten Butte and Merrick Butte


Totem Pole


Balance Rock






West Mitten Butte

It was fun as we drove around to see the names of the various formations, some reasons for the names more obvious than others. More popular formations are the mittens and the three sisters. The three sisters are supposed to be three nuns, with one nun being the teacher talking to her two pupils. IMG_20190713_124146-EFFECTSIMG_20190713_12445720190713_124651IMG_20190713_124238

We stopped by a couple visitors centers. One center had a nice display on the western movies directed by John Ford, many starring John Wayne. IMG_20190713_111522IMG_20190713_111508IMG_20190713_111847IMG_20190713_111719

The other center had an excellent display featuring the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. The Navajo Code Talkers provided accurate, fast, sophisticated and secure means of communication during WWII. There were nearly 400 Navajo Code Talkers spanning six Marine divisions. They spoke in a code derived from their native language which baffled the Japanese and greatly helped win WWII in the Pacific.

Another popular place is located on the road leading away from Monument Valley. It is the setting of a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump” when Forrest was running through Monument Valley. There were many people who had stopped their cars on the side of the road so they could stand in the middle of the road and reenact the scene from the movie. Some stood in the road with cars and trucks approaching waiting until the last minute to get out of the way! I was glad Bill wisely chose to stand on the side of the road! 20190713_104541IMG_20190713_104304IMG_20190713_110319


Mexican Hat

It was very hot in Monument Valley and we are headed next to Colorado and hopefully cooler temperatures! 20190714_12451220190714_115726  


Sunset From Our Campsite