Dilly-Dallying Around Durango

Hello again!  Apologies for the big gap since I last posted an update.  Just a few distractions….  We are home now after a few detours through Alabama and Georgia for family issues.  After almost 4 months on the road, we have a long “to-do” list that is keeping us busy now that we are home.  We have to finish house repairs from the squirrel damage earlier this summer, and get the house back in shape.  Then our basement is LOOMING–we always intend to clean it out so that we can move forward with selling the house and downsizing.  But we seem to give out of time before our next trip.  It’s such a huge task we will have to commit a lot of time for it–and you know how busy retirees are!!

Before we arrived home the last week in August, we had heard we were going to have some challenges transitioning back to the old homestead.  Routine maintenance was becoming not so routine as the summer progressed with lots of rain.  Ashley gave me a heads up that there were some unusual plants growing between the bricks leading up to our front door that almost reached her knees.  She said she told her friend who was with her that if she was a good daughter she would probably pull those weeds.  Her friend, Sonja, said well if I was a good friend I would help you.  But then they decided that maybe I didn’t want them pulled–that maybe I liked them that way (I didn’t).  Ash said it was the “delightful overgrown English garden look.”  She said Sonja said it was just weeds.  I think most likely Sonja was right unless we had an unexpected visit from Martha Stewart while we were gone!

Anyway, THAT has been taken care of now, we have had a new floor installed upstairs as part of our lovely squirrel renovations, and I’ve had knee surgery since I arrived home.  So we’ve been just a tad busy!

But getting back to Durango where I left you the last time I posted… After our lengthy stay in Utah’s deserts, arriving in Durango, CO located at 6,500 feet elevation was (literally) a breath of fresh, cool air with a soft, misty sprinkling of rain at least once a day.  Needless to say, everything was very green and sparkly.  Thankfully, the Hamners had given us a list of “must-see-do” things, so we started out our first day making plans so that we would not miss anything important.  Durango is a favorite of theirs from their 10 gypsy years of RV traveling and they shared with us all the wonderful things they had experienced while visiting here.

Durango Dallying.  First of all, let me set the stage.  Durango is in the southwest corner of Colorado.  Even the word “Durango” means “water town,” and we very much enjoyed the beautiful Animas River that flowed down the mountains and through the town, with surprises almost at every twist in the river.  We followed the river much of the way when we took the Durango-Silverton train into Silverton and back so we saw how this river dishes out surprises at every turn.  One thing that surprised me about Durango–and that is the fact that  it didn’t come into existence because of the gold rush–it was because of the railroad!  The historians love to talk about how the railroad created Durango as a boomtown and still sustains it today.  The Durango-Silverton Railroad was a new kind of gold for Durango and it is still a staple attraction for residents and tourists alike.  With its’ coal-fired engine and coal-tenders shoveling coal to keep  the black smoke billowing, it climbs steep hills and rounds breathtaking cliffs on its’ daily trips to the small but hardy village of Silverton in the upmost reaches of the mountains north of Durango.  The trip gives you a taste of history in a very beautiful setting.  But more about that in a few minutes!

We also found Durango to be a great hub for taking day trips in almost any direction, or just settling down for a day or two and relaxing.  We did a little of that too, since Bob was tired from all the mountain driving we had been up to, and my bum knee was begging for a break (not literally!).  With neat museums, shopping and a diverse mixture of great restaurants, Durango was not a tough place to hang out.  And we enjoyed our campground too, meeting lots of people criss-crossing the United States visiting family and friends, exploring the countryside and generally just having a good time. We were camped next to the karaoke tent which was put to good use on Saturday night–some folks could really sing all the “oldies but goldies,” but others made a caterwauling cat sound good.  But all in good fun–and once we pump up the A/C, we can’t hear a thing outside anyway!  A very relaxed but active week!

Our first day in Durango, we accidentally found the train station (cute, historic, with a very interesting museum next to the tracks), and decided we had better go on and book our trip to Silverton so we could make sure we didn’t miss that very important “to-do.”

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Bob in line booking tickets for the Durango-Silverton train trip. He has become quite fond of my Vera Bradley bags since he’s been carrying them for me while I negotiate obstacle courses with the crutches.

After standing in line for a while, we had so many options to choose from it took a little time to sort through them.  But we finally chose the San Juan car, since it had a historian/narrator on both legs who re-enacted an actual person who lived there during the early days of the railroad.  We found out later that the re-enactors were actually curators at the Durango museum, so they knew their stuff!

Stopping in for lunch at the Diamond Belle Saloon on our first day in Durango, we felt like we had stepped back in time.  One of the most famous original ragtime piano bars in the Wild West, the Diamond Belle features not only piano playing, but also costumed dance hall girls (waitresses) and old time bartenders.

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On our first day in Durango, we had lunch at the Diamond Belle Saloon in the historic Strater Hotel.
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Bob is checking out the parlor of the historic Strater Hotel, which contains the world’s largest collections of American Victorian Walnut Antiques.

Over the next couple days we explored Durango when not resting at the campground.  Then on Saturday, we headed for the train depot for our full day trip aboard the historic railroad.

Riding the Rails:  Durango-Silverton Railroad

Riding this historic train was something I will never forget.  It was very easy to sit back and lose yourself in the story–focusing on the people, the times, and the history of this area and the very important role this little train played in it.  The pictures below will give you a glimpse of our mountain-bound trip.

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Riding the rails! Our trip on the Durango-Silverton Railroad provided a great history lesson from the historian/narrator who accompanied us on our trip north to Silverton. We learned a lot about the area while riding in comfort for several hours enjoying the amazing views.
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Here we go! The changing scenery kept things exciting!
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The train route sticks with the valley most of the way and runs along the Animas River.
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Each turn in the road reveals more beautiful scenery–and history.
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We passed some magnificent horses grazing in a field.
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Some of the twists and turns were breathtaking.
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We passed a lonely hiker who seemed to crave a bit of human companionship even if it was fleeting.
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Can you see the lake in the distance?
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As the lake came into view, we realized how quietly tranquil this isolated area appeared–no noisy boats here!
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I loved to watch the train hug the mountainside as we twisted and turned on our trip upwards.
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With the Animas River far below us, the views changed constantly with one breathtaking moment after another.
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It was fascinating to watch this little train snake around hairpin curves and chug up steep slopes–all powered by a young fella’ shoveling coal into the train’s boiler.
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Watch the rocks–you can almost touch them!
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The water of the Animas River changes colors depending on its location and where the water is draining from–greens, blues, and muddy reds almost the color of chocolate.
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The alpine plants growing alongside the tracks were vivid and unusually hardy.
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If you don’t like heights, this is not the place to be! It’s not very reassuring when our narrator explained that floods, rock and snow slides consistently block or destroy the tracks, resulting in interrupted service until the tracks are repaired or completely re-built.
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The river changed colors often–sometimes the color of chocolate and then quickly turned to a clear green reflecting the mountains towering over it.
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Crossing the river, now the folks on the other side of the train can enjoy the water views.
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Railway cars abandoned on the siding are ghostly in their loneliness.
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Looks like this one was abandoned a very long time ago!
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The siding comes to an abrupt end. I wonder how many hikers have sought refuge in the cars when the weather turned unexpectedly contrary.  I wonder how many other wild critters also take refuge?  Could be an interesting situation…
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The Animas River not only changes colors–it also changes personalities. From turbulent rapids to a placid river full of tubers, the river is never predictable.
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This may be a challenge for a kayaker.
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Does this remind you of the old TV show “Green Acres” or not? Actually, this is a vital stop for the little coal-fired locomotive–we stopped to re-fill our water tanks for the rest of our trip.

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Leaving the gorge behind for now, we focused on the distant snow-covered mountains.
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We began easing into the town of Silverton, where the train runs into the main part of town and sits there as if it owns the whole place. Maybe it does!  It owns their hearts at the very least!

As we pulled into Silverton, it was almost as if we had time traveled. The lady in the picture below (our new narrator for the return trip) was an apparition from another era.  We discovered that she is very authentic in many ways–she even made her own costume, including her hat, using patterns designed for that period of time! She’s also a curator for a local Durango museum.

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This lady was our narrator for the return trip. She consistently stayed in character and gave us some fascinating insights into life at the time of the booming railroad from a woman’s perspective.

As we walked around Silverton exploring each corner, square and historical buildings (many of dubious backgrounds–albeit colorful), it was easy to feel a little displaced.  Geographically speaking, we were in a very out of the way place, where when winter comes around the train quits running all the way to Silverton since they would have to dig ice tunnels for the train to get through.  There is a highway, but that is problematic too when winter weather really hits.  So if you are a fulltime resident of Silverton, you have to like yourself–and the other fulltime residents–a LOT!

Since we arrived home, I have been reading some of the books I bought in the places we traveled.  One story, “Colorado Pioneer Women” was about a little girl growing up in Silverton.  It gives hardship a new name.

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In front of this taffy shop was the site of a long-ago shootout between the sheriff and the local marshall. It did not turn out too well! You can see the train runs right up to the pot-holed Main Street–and then stops! No place to go but backwards.
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The mountains dwarf this little town in every direction.  Notice the dirt roads?  This is the main street!
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This pup seems quite at home in back of a pickup truck!
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We had lunch in this old bordello. Notice the sign in the window…
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Just to make sure all is clear to potential customers.
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An old mining cart–re-purposed.
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I do love the names on the business establishments.
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The old town square.
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More old town square pictures.
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The town square had intense warnings for potential gunfighters.
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Stagecoaches played a huge role in isolated outposts. The stagecoach routes were precarious and exhausting–we saw the remnants of stagecoach roads from the train windows–our narrator said that back then it would take at least 3 1/2 days to get to Silverton from Durango if your luck held. You would have to sleep in a bed each night with up to 7 other people.
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Bob is watching for our homeward bound train to pull in.
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Good name for a saloon–don’t you think?
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This hungry pooch was waiting for a jerky treat. The vendor said he had already had a daily treat from her so he should leave for his next begging stop. Just one treat a day she said!

 

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The coal-powered locomotive was dependent on this fellow, who shoveled coal into the engine’s boiler at a furious rate to keep just the right amount of fuel for the little engine to make it up steep climbs, cross rickety bridges, and snake along precarious cliffs overlooking gorges hundreds of feet below.
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As you can see, the train pulls into the middle of downtown Silverton with much fanfare, black smoke billowing, whistles blowing, and tourists snapping pictures.
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Leaving Silverton, we had varied views of the Animas River and feeder creeks and streams.
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Our new narrator impersonated a very well known settler whose family spread out through the valley. Her husband was stricken with wanderlust, so she moved around quite a bit while raising a large family.  Funny thing–she was originally from Georgia!  The characters they impersonate are taken from the area’s historical records.
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Our train pulls in while Bob observes to make sure they are doing it right.
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The conductor puts on a good show!

Silverton has a personality all its own. Most of the buildings have been there since during the early years of the town even though possibly not in the same role as today.  We had lunch in an ex-bordello, bought postcards in the old saloon, and cruised the fresh made fudge in front of the intersection where numerous infamous gunfights took place.  It was all very fascinating.

It became even more fascinating when we discovered that our train was delayed for our homeward trip because (ye gads!) the hydraulic system had failed almost immediately after we arrived in Silverton.  Well, all we can say was that the timing was good–at least we weren’t hanging over a gorge, on a steep climb, or drifting slowly over a rickety bridge when the hydraulics failed!!  And what’s the chances this could happen–once in a lifetime, right?  Or maybe never in a lifetime.  Hmmm…

Our train was the last train of the day, so we were offered a ride back to Durango on the train before ours, but it was so crowded we decided to wait and ride our original train since repairs were being made.  As it turned out, the coal-fired engine was replaced by a spare diesel engine which just happened to be in the Silverton railroad yard, so we made our way back to Durango minus the black smoke and spitting coal particles (darn it!).  A little lost romance, but we made good time even though we left very late–and the diesel engine was kind of cute too.

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Bob is ready to head back to Durango  We were offered a ride back on this earlier train but we would have missed our lady narrator–and she was fascinating!
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As we were leaving Silverton, we passed our sweet little locomotive, “the engine that could”–and did! What a brave little soul–holding that hydraulic system together until we were safely off the train!!
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This old abandoned mine sits below a steep slope leading up to the scenic byway that comes over the peaks into Silverton. When cars fly off the curve above, the local officials just leave the wreckage on the rocks. Perhaps it serves a dual purpose: avoids cleanup costs and warns folks to slow down on the curves!
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This is one of my favorite visual memories!
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Multiple waterfalls glimpsed as our train trundled past.
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We saw beautiful stands of aspen trees rustling and murmuring in the breeze.
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Here’s a glimpse of the Animas River in chocolate mode.
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The water is really more fudgsicle colored here.
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The train goes by a remote ziplining center. This fellow just appeared out of nowhere and flew past my window.
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Prairie dogs populate long strips of land along the train tracks. See the curious fellow in the top left corner?

 

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Beautiful views of Animas River. See the narrow ledge we are traveling on?
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Getting close to our campground. Love the barn!
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AAArrrgh! The train comes to a screeching stop here! The brakes on the back car had locked up. Repairs were quickly made and off we went toward Durango. Notice the Animas River flowing placidly around the gentle curves.
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A favorite view!

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Above are pictures of the train station in Durango.  Note:  The restaurant next door had FAB-ulous chicken and dumpling soup which we supped on when we got back from our train ride.

Trimble Hot Springs:  The next day I visited the Trimble Hot Springs which was only a couple of miles from our campground.  Now this place I could get really used to.  It had a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by perennials of every color—AND two hot spring pools that melt all your aches and pains away!  I spent the whole day here, trying for a miracle cure for my knee.  Then next door is the spa—massages are also fabulous—especially while listening to a major thunderstorm outside.  I think the whole building could have blown away and I would have never noticed.

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Sunny days are here to stay–for a while anyway. Lots of rain keeps things green.
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I loved all the flowers!
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This is one of the hot springs at 105 degrees. The other one was even hotter–I couldn’t manage that one.

Mesa Verde National Park:  One of our big sightseeing days was visiting Mesa Verde National Park–it was a revelation.   How? Why? When?  The more we saw the more questions we had.  The park was different from any other park we had seen in so many ways.  Even the Visitor Center was fascinating.

Located in Mentezuma County, CO (about 45 miles from Durango), Mesa Verde NP is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States. The park was created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world and covers 81.4 square miles.  Featuring numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancient Pueblo (or Anasazi) people, there are over 4000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people at the site.  Since I was on crutches and not up to the vigorous hikes required to visit some of these sites, I had to be content with the long range views–and there were a lot of them.  There was so much to be seen and absorbed here I feel like we barely touched it–another for the bucket list!

The Anasazi inhabited Mesa Verde between 600 to 1300, though there is evidence they left before the start of the 15th century. They were mainly subsistence farmers, growing crops on nearby mesas. Their primary crop was corn, the major part of their diet.  By the year 750 the people were building mesa-top villages made of adobe. In the late 1190s they began to build the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is famous. These cliff dwellings are structures built within caves and under outcroppings in cliffs.

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Entrance to Mesa Verde NP Visitor Center.
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Re-creations of ancient occupants of MVNP.
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Woman’s work is never done–even when you live in Mesa Verde!
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This is what the villages look like tucked in caves and giant overhangs hundreds of feet above the valley floor.
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How did they get up to their homes in the cliffs? Yep, you climbed while holding baskets, food, children, anything…. Forget the climbing towers at your local sports facility. This is the real thing. Notice the toe/hand niches. You CANNOT have a bad day…
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Driving up to the ancient cities was a long beautiful drive–but well worth it!
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Views are forever…
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A city with a view! And not just one city–they are sprinkled around the canyons. I found myself scanning the cliffs to catch sight of more cliff dwellings. They blend in so well it must have been difficult going home after a long day (or after partying all night!).
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A beautiful drive through Mesa Verde NP.
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Just a few examples of cliff dwellings. Just trying to fit your mind around living there is impossible. For example, how did the moms keep their toddlers from falling off the cliffs, while doing all their other chores? Obviously, they did not choose the real estate!
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Cliff dwellings tucked away in niches and cliffs made it very difficult to be invaded.
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More…
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And why did the cliff dwellers finally leave? That’s another big question…
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The people in the tour group gives you an idea of the size of these caves.
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This dwelling was set up for many families–almost hotel-like.
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These are the canyons below the cliff dwellings.
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The Sun Temple used for ceremonies.
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Looking inside of a dwelling presumably built for ceremonies or community gatherings. No one knows for sure.

 

San Juan Scenic Skyway:  Our last big adventure prior to leaving the Durango area was driving the San Juan Scenic Highway.  This is an alternative way of getting to Silverton, as well as points beyond.  The drive is a miracle, especially with the short summer seasons.  It takes you over breathtaking (literally–if you have breathing issues, take an oxygen tank!) vistas, majestic peaks that give a new definition to mountains, and curls around rivers, canyons, and mountain towns that make you wonder how people adapt to this type of seclusion (especially in Silverton and Ouray).  After visiting Silverton and Ouray (a very sweet alpine village) we circled back northwest and passed by Mesa Verde again on the way home.  A full day!  Below are some of our views and meanderings.

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Peaceful valleys soon gave way to mountains cascading into the distance.
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A road disappears into a cloudy twist in the road.
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The scenic San Juan Skyway is a favorite of antique car clubs.
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More views…
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Coming over the mountains into Silverton on the Skyway.
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A “peak” into the distance.
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Silverton views of the mountains hemming them in from the outside world.
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Silverton.
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An abandoned ore mine on the way to Ouray.
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A stop at the Silverton Post Office.
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A man and his dog in Silverton.
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Driving through a canyon on the way to Ouray.
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Leftovers from carving the Skyway out of a mountain.
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Exploring a Skyway canyon tunnel on the way to Ouray.
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The Ouray welcoming committee.
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Ouray–a beautiful village hidden away from the maddening crowd.
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Ouray
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Continuing on the Skyway, we explored several little towns.
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I particularly enjoyed this mural on the wayside.
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Shopping anyone????
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Fairytale land.
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A beautiul road ….
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Loved this house in Telluride.
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A peceful cloud-filled afternoon in Telluride.
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A Telluride vignette.
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The tip tops of some VERY BIG mountains.
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I would like to put these clouds in my pocket.

 

Leaving Durango we stopped in Albuquerque to get Baby’s oil changed before hitting the road in a big way–7 states in 3 days.  Our first stop was Texas–and of course Bob had to check the Big Texan Restaurant out—72 ounce steak and all.  This is the place (you may have seen it on tv) where if you can eat a 72 ounce steak with all the trimmings in less than an hour you get it free.  No–we weren’t crazy enough to try that since we didn’t fancy a night in the hospital, but Bob watched a young guy from Australia make an attempt for the prize–and he did it!  Bob was up there cheering him on throughout the night when he wasn’t in the store section talking to the (very large) LIVE rattlesnake.  I really don’t know what attracts Bob to rattlers–it seems like if he’s not eating them he’s chatting them up  Hmmmm….

Just a note here… Bob was cruising the Net tonight and found a story and YouTube videos of a young woman who entered the steak eating contest at the Big Texan and ate the entire steak dinner in under 4 MINUTES.  Then, she ate another steak dinner, thus consuming 2 of these very large meals within 15 minutes.  Check her out on YouTube.  She is now the World Wide champion on steak gorging–and the champ for eating a 7-lb burrito in a little over 2 MINUTES.  Interestingly enough, she appears to be normal-sized.  She said she goes around Texas eating free steak.  Unfortunately, she eats like a wolverine, stuffing it in with both hands.  After watching the video, I don’t know if I can ever eat a filet mignon again….

 

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You have to be very BRAVE and very HUNGRY to walk out of here with a free meal!
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Bob’s new buddy! Mikaela, you need to have another talk with your Pappaw!
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If you are in Texas and hungry, don’t miss this sign in Amarillo!
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This young Australian guy ate a steak the size of a kangaroo with Bob cheering him on and snapping his picture every two minutes. He looks a lot older (and greener) than he did when he started.

Well, we are safely out of Texas and headed for home at this point so I will follow up from here on the next post.  It seems like it doesn’t matter where you go in an RV, there are adventures to be found.

I will catch up with you on down the road!  And thanks for keeping us company on our adventures for the last few months–sharing with friends and family make our adventures even more special!  Happy Trails!