It’s been 3 weeks since Barb wrote her last (and the first) email. She’s developed writer’s (keyboard) cramp so I’ll give it a go.
We left Grand Junction, Colorado and Colorado National Monument, heading down scenic byway 141 in a beautiful canyon abandoned by the Gunnison River millions of years ago when the Colorado Plateau uplifted. In the middle was a spectacular destination resort, Gateway Canyons, being built by the owner of the Discovery Channel. His 100+ American car museum was a real treat including the 1955 F88 Oldsmobile, a prototype one of a kind that he paid $3.2 million for.
A side trip to Telluride showed the high-end of American culture. The size of Rossland, the renovated houses on the main street were worth an average of $1.7 million. There were 200 real estate agents in town. One need make only one sale per year. We took the free gondola up to the huge condo village mid mountain.
In Durango, for my birthday present to myself, we picked up the Feathercraft K2 expedition 2 man, folding kayak (built on Granville Island, I had ordered it at home and had it shipped to a dealer in Durango, inadvertently saving a lot of tax). This will allow Barb to kayak on the way down and especially in the Baja. It weighs 87 lbs, carries 700 lbs, is 20’ long and can be carried on the rack on top of the camper. It now takes up most of the back seat.
We then spent the next 18 days in NW New Mexico. As we drove through the town of Chamas, throngs of people were boarding the Cumbras – Toltec narrow gauge steam railway for the last trip of the season. We got tickets and spent the day getting hit by cinders on one of the open cars. We met a couple from London, Ontario who had made their reservations in August. There were many more people following the train in cars taking pictures.
On the way to Taos, we visited Earthships, houses that are completely self-sustaining and off the grid. They are built into earthen berms using recycled tires, solar and rainwater collected on the roofs. Barb wants to build one. Taos also has a very famous pueblo and many trendy galleries.
We spent 4 days in Santa Fe, one of the most spectacular cities anywhere. The building code is strict (everything is adobe and rarely over 2 stories). New Mexico is a relatively poor state except in Santa Fe. $20 buys a pass to 6 State monuments and 4 museums, the highlight of which is The Museum of Folk Art which showcases the collection of Alexander Girard – only 10% is displayed and it is huge – a collector gone mad. The Museum of Fine Art had originals by Picasso, Matisse and Dali. Again there are more galleries than what one can believe. Georgia O’Keefe was an iconic American painter. The downtown square is surrounded by history with the original state capital building, another fine museum elucidating the history of New Mexico which had changed hands many times between the Spanish, Mexicans and Americans. Every day the front of the building was filled with Natives selling very nice jewelry.
On the way back north, we hit Bandolier National Monument (great Anasazi ruins with a ceremonial cave) and Los Alamos (they wouldn’t give me all the details on how to make a nuclear bomb).
We spent the next 4 days at Chaco Culture National Historic Site, the most amazing set of ruins in the southwest. It was built from 900 to 1200 AD and was the centre of the Anasazi world (it could be compared to Mecca). Consisting of several great houses, the largest is Pueblo Bonito – a D shaped structures 2 1/2 acres in size with back walls 3 stories high. The bottom of the walls are 3’ thick and covered with beautiful veneer rock-work. Taking 200 years to build, it wa amazing to see the change in architecture and the planning it took to build the whole structure. 225,000 logs, all brought from up to 40 miles away were used to form the roofs and floors. The book ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond details the resulting ecological collapse of the area. With all the trees gone, they were unable to withstand drought and big storms caused excessive erosion. This is a story repeated through millennia. Many of the ruins have crumbled into the landscape and are distributed along astronomical lines over a huge area. They could calculate all the solstices and the 19 year lunar cycles. Ancient roads extend perfectly straight for up to forty miles in several directions. Midden heaps are covered in pottery shards. The Super Nova pictograph details an actual occurrence in 1054. We had the fortune to meet and hike with a wonderful 67 year man from Jackson Hole. He had a gallery there and is an expert on Indian artifacts. Hopefully we will be able to connect in the future. We found a few original beads in anthills.
Directly north of Chaco is a large area of badlands. We camped in the De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area parking lot and experienced the most incredible thunderstorm. After watching it roll toward us across the entire northern horizon (and taking some good photos), we were thankful for the refuge provided by the camper as the wind attempted to blow us over. The entire side of the truck and camper was covered with an inch of snow. We explored the weird rock formations while the road dried out, bundled up in three layers, touques and mitts against the brisk wind and subzero temperatures. We then drove 16 miles down the dirt road to Bisti Badlands and camped at that trailhead. We hiked for about seven hours seeing thousands of hoodoos and incredible formations including lots of petrified wood. One log was at least 40’ long and elevated on a bentonite pedestal.
The next day we went through two ruin sites – Salmon ruins and Aztec National Monument – I think we’re getting ruined out. We passed through Durango again on the way to Mesa Verde National Park. It was Mesa Verde’s 100th anniversary and special ranger led tours of ruins not visited for 40 years were being offered. These were by reservation only and sold out months ago. Hoping for some no shows in the group of 14, we hung around and not surprisingly two didn’t show. We had an incredible day hiking out to Spring House ruin on a trail built in the 30’s. The next day we did the routine tour of Cliff House Ruin, one of the biggest ruins in the Colorado Plateau. It was the first tour of the day and Barb and I were the only ones on it! Instead of having 40 people in the ruin just before and just after us, the ruin was completely empty and the photo opportunities were great.
Life on the road is relatively busy but still relaxing. We feel absolutely no time pressure and rarely know the day of the week or date. The truck is performing flawlessly but the camper has had its excitement. We completely tore off one of the jacks and significantly loosened the other when we crossed a wash on the way to Fantasy Canyon south of Vernal, Utah. After reattaching both brackets that hold the jacks, we now store them in the basement. We then developed a leak in the potable water tank filling hose that took all our ingenuity to fix. We stopped in a state campground outside of Santa Fe that had been closed for 2 years for a complete renovation (the gate was closed but not locked…), we dropped the camper, removed the big plastic panel on the bottom, and discovered that the attachments for the nylon slings that supported the water tank had broken and the filler hose had detached from the tank. I bought a new hose, reattached it, resuspended the tank, and put everything back together. A park ranger drove by and asked politely what we doing in his closed park. We explained, he shook his head and drove off. The solar panels work great and have allowed us to dry camp on all but two nights. We’ve camped in some very unusual places including the closed state campground. Churchyards, picnic sites, and the state legislature parking lots have all worked out well. Last night we were behind the closed for the season Far View Hotel at 7000 feet on the top of Mesa Verde (quite illegal). As Barb wants to soak in a tub, we’re actually thinking of staying in a motel tonight in Cortez, Colorado.