Santa Fe Skies Campground to United Campground, CO

Santa Fe Skies Campground to United Campground, Durango, CO

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 … 244 Camper Miles – Total 3,637

Breezy, partly sunny, threat of t’storms

Santa Fe is lovely but Bill needed a green fix! We checked tire pressures, filled the car with gasoline and our cups with coffee and headed north to Durango. We stopped in town at the Post Office and Wal Mart and got groceries at the local Whole Foods.

The drive was interesting, transitioning from dry flat areas around Santa Fe to lots of trees and mountains further north. We encountered several instances of road construction where they were making two lane roads into four lane roads. There really doesn’t seem to be much traffic, here, and we wondered why they need to do this work. In one area we had to travel over dirt road for seven miles due to the construction.

Crossing into Colorado saw lots of daisies along the road in addition to the welcomed green hills. We drove directly to United Campground just north of Durango and set up next to another Aliner. The two Tin Tents garnered quite a bit of attention from passersby, wondering about the strange campers and whether there was to be a convention of them.

Later, we went to town to pick up tickets for the 8:15 steam train ride to Silverton.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 3,637

Beautiful, sunny morning, sunny, high 80s, afternoon t’storm

We had an early rise and quick breakfast to get to the train station by 7:45. The Durango to Silverton railroad is an old narrow-gauge affair running antique or reconstructed cars pulled by steam locomotives. The trip is about 3½ hours each way and travel through deep canyons that can’t be seen from any other vantage point. We’d chosen to take seats on an open gondola car to get the best possible view. We were not disappointed.

Our Train Follows Animas River On Way To Silverton

The ride is one that nearly everyone would enjoy. The canyons are beautiful and the views spectacular. Of course, you have to wear glasses to protect you eyes from the cinders from the coal-burning engine and everyone gets a bit sooty, but that’s all part of the adventure. The train has to stop a few times to take on water for the engine. It also drops off and picks up hikers at a few stops along the way. Eventually we arrived in Silverton. This small town sits in a beautiful valley. There are many old, original buildings, most of which have been recycled to gift and gear shops and small eateries designed to appeal to we tourists. They still manage to confer upon the town a pretty realistic, old-time western feeling. You really expect to see the likes of Matt Dillon to appear, walking down the street.

Sliverton’s Western-Style Main Street Nestled In Valley
Rain Pours Off Train Roof On Return Trip

Too soon, it was time to reboard the train for the ride home. Shortly after we got started, though, the clouds that had been threatening for some time decided to let loose with a first-class thunderstorm. It was during that storm that we understood a prime disadvantage of the open cars we’d chosen to ride in. They did have roofs but the open sides let in lots of rain. We put on our rain jackets but the seats got pretty wet. After the rain had passed they handed out rolls of paper towels with which to dry ourselves and the seats. All was soon well and we had a beautiful ride home.

We Wind Along High Above Animas River Canyon

At day’s end we found ourselves really beat and in dire need of showers to remove all the soot and grit from the ride. Would we do it all over? You bet!

Durango to Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Thursday, July 20, 2006 … 45 Camper Miles – Total 3,682

Rain overnight, very windy, clear and cool morning, overall hot, low 90s

Looking At The Drive Up Onto Mesa Verde

Since we’d gotten our green fix, it must be time to return to the dry country. We were on the road at 10:00 and were soon setting up camp in Mesa Verde National Park. This area is known for the outstanding cliff dwellings, as well as excavations of mesa-top structures, where most of the people lived during the Ancestral Puebloan history. (In fact, most large cliff sites were used for less than 100 years before being abandoned during an extended drought when the inhabitants migrated south toward the Rio Grande and more reliable water.) We drove deep into the park to the Visitor Center and by 1:30 had purchased our tour tickets and were headed further into the quiet side of the park, Wetherill Mesa, for a tour of Long House.

Guide, John, Poses With Sandy

Long House is the second largest of the park’s cliff dwellings. Our tour guide, John, was a retired Alaskan high school science teacher and was a terrific tour guide. After the tour we walked through several surface ruins where people lived who were working to farm the land. On our way back to the campground, we stopped at all lookouts and took lots more pictures.

Tour Group Visiting Long House
Squirrel Has Lunch Among Surface House Ruins

We prepared a late dinner of shrimp scampi, asparagus and tomatoes with fresh mozzarella. (Tough duty, this camping stuff, huh?), Then took quick showers and headed off to the nightly ranger program. This night there was a ranger/archeologist doing an excellent job impersonating and telling the story of Richard Wetherill, who first started bringing visitors to these ruins. Wetherill was a pioneer explorer of ancient Southwestern ruins but has a checkered reputation. Some regard him as a hero, others as a scalawag. In any event, it is he who is ultimately responsible for the fact that Mesa Verde was declared a National Park and that ain’t all bad.

Mesa Verde National Park

Friday, July 21, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 3,682

Bright sunshine, low 90s with threat of t’showers, cloudy late

We wanted to beat the crowds so we were up at 6:15, got coffee at the campground store and headed for the Chapin Mesa, the other, busier side of the park. While driving through this park, and particularly to Chapin Mesa, you see the remnants of many large forest fires. Most of the fires are started by lightning. The trees and shrubs are all extremely slow growing and it will take hundreds of years for them to recover to any semblance of the state they were in before they burned.

Ranger Makes A Point During Cliff Palace Tour
Climbing Ladder Into Balcony House Ruin

We were bound for the 8:30 tour of Cliff Palace and the 10:30 tour of Balcony House. These are both huge complexes built into alcoves in the canyon cliffs. We took the two excellent guided tours and, between tours, stopped at several wayside ruin sites on the mesa tops. Afterwards, we hiked the short Soda Canyon Overlook Trail to see yet another large cliff complex.

Sandy Poses By A Remaining Balcony
Want To Leave?  Climb Another Ladder!

Lunch was at the Chapin Mesa Visitor Center after which we did the self-guided Spruce Tree House tour and the 2.8 mile Petroglyph Point Trail while praying that the thunderstorms that threatened didn’t direct lightning our way.

Petroglyphs Along Petroglyph Trail

By the end of the day we both agreed that we were both RUINED! We’d toured and hiked nearly all the ruins and short trails that Mesa Verde had to offer in 1½ intense days. We got back to camp about 6:00 and, after showers, relaxed and put together a chicken and veggie stir-fry with sweet and sour sauce. It was an enjoyable, cool evening and we slept well, indeed!

Mesa Verde National Park to Canyonlands National Park, UT

Saturday, July 22, 2006 … 126 Camper Miles – Total 3,808

Sunny, hit 102 by late afternoon, a record for trip, so far!

Before leaving Mesa Verde we spent a couple of hours updating our expense log and recording the hikes we’ve taken. (About $100/day total expenses, including repairs, new tires, etc. and about 175 miles of hiking so far.) We then drove the 34 miles into Canyonlands National Park’s Needles District. The drive, itself, is spectacular, as you head down into beautiful canyons, some with lush, irrigated fields. Arriving at the park, itself, we found the facilities were quite modest. Since the elevation is low the temperatures are high and the park doesn’t get many mid-summer visitors. We picked a beautiful isolated campsite, the only one for RVs with afternoon shade. There were a couple of trees and a huge rock.

All Alone In Canyonlands Campsite

Since it was so hot, about 102, we decided against a long hike and did a scenic drive instead. We first drove to the Elephant Hill area via a long, gravel road. The road ends at a trailhead and the beginning of what the Park Service modestly claims is the most challenging 4WD road in all of Utah. We walked the first ¼ mile and were convinced. Here, you needed some serious ground clearance and lots of spare tires. What’s more, we also spotted a crisp new Land Rover Discovery attempting to navigate the road. It seemed a quick way to trash a $30K automobile.

“Smooth” Section Of Elephant Hill 4WD Road
Land Rover Doing Its Thing On Elephant Hill 4WD Road

We decided not to risk Sandy’s Lexus RX300 and took a short, half-mile hike to visit an old cowboy camp and a pictograph panel. These were protected in relatively cool alcoves below a huge rock. Good thing that they were in the shade because there was not a breath of air!

Old Cowboy Camp

Back at the campsite we made a quick chili dish before heading to listen to the nightly ranger program. Turns out that the presentation was by the same gal who was at the fee station when we entered the park and we were the only attendees! Returning to the camper, we passed a small rattlesnake warming itself in the middle of the road. This would be the hottest night yet on our trip. To boot, it was in a primitive campsite with no power for the air conditioner. We do have a 12V ceiling fan, though, and we ran it all night. We slept just fine!