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Published: November 6th 2011
Our return visit to Colorado was mainly about catching up with people we had missed on our first run through. On that occasion we had scuttled pretty quickly out of Denver up to the Rocky Mountains National Park and points north. This time we wanted to give Denver more of a go and work south and west. We had vague plans of ending up in Utah at Zion National Park or in Arizona at Monument Valley and quite specific plans of not being too caught up with the snow they tend to receive in this part of the world.
Apart from our kids, we have seen little of relations on this trip – oh, and of course, Janet who travelled through Africa with us. Catching up with Jeanne in Denver was a special treat. The city will always be special for us, but not necessarily for the city. We simply talked flat out for the whole couple of days. We were able to discuss a lot of what we had found in the US in between dissecting or, more diplomatically, discussing, members of the family not present. All in good humour and with a lot of affection. It was a
Kiowa County, Colorado
very enjoyable time and a highlight of the trip.
In between chatting, or perhaps while we continued to do so, we headed to the local cemetery to participate in the Dia de los Muertos celebration. The day had been organised by the Mexican community. They had stalls selling arts and crafts, Dia de los Muertos and Halloween gear and food operating, and a number of displays and exhibitions. Aztec dancers in full regalia put on a great show and were successful in having most of the audience on their feet joining in the dancing in the final stages. A full blown Mariachi band came on a little later on. Mariachi is not really my cup of tea but this band were very good. Slick and professional and very good musicians. They put in a lot of work but really couldn't move much of the crowd to dance. It was late in the day when they came on and people were either tired or had left.
One must-see in Denver is the Red Rock Amphitheatre, a magnificent natural amphitheatre that had been developed into a world class venue overlooking Denver by a Civilian Conservation Corps Team in the 1930s.
Not Central Australia
but strongly reminiscent of it
We have, by-the-by, come across more than a few great examples of the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps on our travels. You do wonder what would be so wrong with doing something similar again in a country that seems to need to put people to work in the construction industry. But I digress.
The Red Rock Amphitheatre seats about 9,000 I think. The acoustics seem to be very good. Standing off to the side at about row 50, we could hear the people on the stage speaking. Every major artist and orchestra seems to have been here and many operas staged. I am prepared to put Red Rock on the Comeback List when we spot the right act.
Meeting fellow travel bloggers is always good. We have followed Bob and Linda since they started putting comments on our posts. We caught up with them at their place near Colorado Springs. We had expected to ride the inter-State down to Colorado Springs and then head up into the hills to Bob and Linda's. But, coming from Red Rock on the fastest route according to TomTom, we came the back way through the hills and forests. Actually, there used
Unexpected for us
We thought Colorado would be all mountains and hills
to be a lot more forest on this route but they had had a major fire a couple of years ago. Bob told us that the fire was lit when a forest ranger was burning a 'dear John' letter from her boyfriend. Bob had very kindly done a lot of very useful work on a route that we might be able to take from here to Sand Francisco. We have been particularly impressed with the AAA books. They are an excellent resource.
The Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs was as spectacular as the reports predict. Not as crowded as it would normally be apparently and it would be a very good place to spend a few hours. We enjoyed the film about the geology and history of the area and the drive through. We particularly liked that the family who had owned the land deeded it to the state on the condition that it be freely available to all of the people of the world forever. The park did charge for the film but only $5.00.
We made it to Walsenburg down the I-25 and stayed in another motel that would have suited Jack Reacher. Cheap
and clean. What more do you need? Our route then took us west on Highway 160 towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park across what I suppose would be the high plains of Colorado. Large farms, small towns and relatively bleak country.
In our ignorance we had no real idea what to expect at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, although there was a fair chance that sand would be involved. The park contains the largest dunes in North America. Without being too precise, basically the wind and rain have been working for more than a few years to wear down the San Juan mountains, and the wind has been working to blow this sand across the flat and pile it up against the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Result, sand spread over an area of 3,000 acres and the great sand dunes stacked up over an area of 30 acres. Impressive, but if you really want to see large sand dunes, then this is an appetizer. Peru has some large ones but Namibia had the biggest and most spectacular we have seen. We weren't ready to camp but, if we had been, the camping area at the Great Sand
for El Dia de los Muertos
Dunes National Park would have done the job very nicely.
We picked up 160 again and back into large, flat farmland again on towards Wolf Creek Pass which, by the way, is another point on the Continental Divide. The Pass was over 8,000 feet up. Beautiful country. We had decided to pull up at either Papago Springs, Durango or Cortez. Papago Springs seemed to be a modern, developing community perhaps with a decent population of retirees. Durango these days is a big town in a setting that even a big town can't really ruin. We stopped there only because it was the right time of day and travelling into a setting sun is not fun.
Mesa Verde National Park is a spectacular – and I know that I am in grave danger of overusing that word – part of the world. This is the place where you see the cliff houses of the people who were there when a lot of the Native Americans arrived. A lot of it was closed for the season but we were able to have a look at cliff houses of people who lived in them back around 1,000 years. One was a
Great Sand Dunes National Park
4 or 5 story place with over 100 rooms but there were many houses along the gorges/canyons on top of the mesa. I had not been aware that the people who lived in the cliffs had previously lived in houses on top of the mesa and that these people were only a small part of the population of the area. The Montezuma valley below had a population in those days estimated at over 20,000 people.
Further along 160 we stopped to have a look at the 4 Corners memorial. It isn't clear to us what this memorialises. It is the only place in the US where 4 States meet. Many of the states have straight line boundaries drawn by surveyors without too much regard to communities of interest or the like. The 4 corners is where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet. The local people are the Navajo. Navajoland covers an area of 71,000 square kilometres. At the 4 corners they have carefully set up the memorial in the middle of a quadrangle of well set up stalls for traders. We tend not to look too closely at such markets and the quality at these was variable but
there was some very nice stuff on sale. We made our contribution to the Navajo economy, pretty confident that the people who took our money would spend it.
The country became increasingly interesting as we headed for Bluff. We pulled up for fuel there. Fuel is becoming less common around this area. A 17 mile trip through the Valley of the Gods was a very worthwhile run with some spectacular rock formations.
Then we moved into Monument Valley and let me just confirm that it lives up to the billing. We knew it was going to be cold at night but we sucked it up and pitched the tent because we needed to try to remove some of the San Antone pecan sap. Our special new sleeping bags worked well and we were snug as a bug in a rug. It was also handy to have our little heater for the tent. Not wonderfully comfortable but we were pretty good.
Monument Valley is a place where you wander around gaping at the rock and the landscape. You can walk, ride a bike, ride a horse or drive in a car. It was bloody cold so we drove.
Celebrating the dead
El Dia de los Muertos activities at the cemetery
The pictures can tell the story better than me. The place was formed by the force, this time, primarily of water. A lot of water over a long period that washed away a lot of land and left some. It is, of course, the bits that are left that we all look at in wonder.
The Navajo own this area and we decided to take a trip through the Tribal Park which was roughly adjacent to the camping area where were camped. The Visitors Centre was not a particularly welcoming place, although it did have a reasonable exhibition. Unfortunately, the gift shop was full of pretty much the worst of the tourist stuff. The run around through the Park was on a rough road that a conventional, low clearance vehicle would have had some interesting moments with, but the views were great. Wonderful country to look around. A little bit of a pity that they haven't done more with the road so that the environment is better protected. All of the signs ask tourists to take care. It would be good to see the management doing the same thing.
They are forecasting snow at the Grand Canyon and
pretty generally around the region. The Northern Rim was our target but it seems that most of the accommodation is shut down there. More importanly, the road is likely to be closed shortly. We have decided that it would be more sensible to head for the Southern Rim where there may be less snow and more available accommodation.
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