ON THE ROAD AGAIN: 2009 GREAT WESTERN ADVENTURE Week Three, Walsenburg, CO to Telluride, CO

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June 9th 2009
Published: September 10th 2009
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Tuesday, June 9

The drive to Le Veta brought us through the wide open spaces of the Front Range giving us a dramatic view of the snow covered Spanish Peaks and the Greenhorn Mountain Wilderness Area. To the north and west were the Sangre de Cristo Mountains . The snow still clung to these mountain peaks surrounding this lovely valley giving us a wonderful taste of what’s to come.

We followed the precise directions up to Valley Winds, Marta and Dave’s llama ranch in the mountains outside the charming little town of Le Veta . As we approached the ranch we saw amazing “dikes”, natural volcanic outcroppings rising from the mountains’ edge looking from a distance like an enormous rock wall snaking its way down the mountain. These ancient dikes seemed to wind for miles reminding us of the Great Wall of China.

The llamas and alpacas greeted us as we drove into Valley Winds. Marta offered us coffee and pastries as we sat on the stone terrace overlooking the beautiful mountain range. She then introduced us to Paul, her garden/water consultant and explained that their water line was broken and the leak needed repairing but the location of the leak (over many acres of mountainous land) was still a mystery. In spite of her troubles at home, Marta took the time to take us to a great lunch at the Bakery in Le Veta followed by a walking tour of this sweet little mountain town. It seemed to me to have more of a New Mexico flavor than that of Colorado . Before leaving the area Marta gave us a tour of the lovely Cuchara mountain pass at 9,941’ elevation.

We drove through the San Luis Valley on our two hour drive from Le Veta to Joyful Journey Hot Springs (highly recommended by Marta) with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as silent sentinels. On the map Joyful Journey, once a sacred healing site to the Utes, is marked as Mineral Hot Springs, which in the early 1900s was the name of this popular resort. The spa was recently renovated and offered a one story ranch “hotel”, yurts, tipis and tent spaces for lodging. We chose the yurt, a cozy round structure with a wooden frame and floor, sturdy white fabric walls and ceiling with a round skylight in the center of the roof. Yurts are inspired by the traditional Mongolian housing so we felt we would be warmer here than in the tipi (which was open at the top and base), or our tent (which did not have a heater.) After dinner we headed to the natural geothermal springs (temps ranged from 101 to 111+ degrees in the three mineral pools) and soaked for a few hours under stormy skies facing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains . A near-full moon was promised to be viewed through our special skylight however by the end of our soak the winds picked up and rain pelted us as we ran in our robes to the yurt. Fortunately the heater and down comforter kept us toasty as we slept to the harmony of the rain and wind buffeting the walls of our little yurt.

Wednesday, June 10 In the chilly early morning I took a 109 degree soak, then we packed up and left for the Great Sand Dunes, about half an hour south and tucked away at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. These magnificent dunes could be seen for miles away. As we approached they seemed other-worldly in the high altitude desert. Over thousands of years sands were blown from the San Juan Mountains across the San Luis Valley to be finally trapped at the base of the Sangre de Critos creating the beautiful wind carved dunes. The dunes rise up to 750 feet high and span more than 30 miles at their base.
We were inadequately dressed for the 47 degree air temp, (wind chill had to be much colder!) But I rolled up my pants and stepped barefoot into the 38 degree Medano Creek, a mountain surge flow (occurring in only a few places on earth) that spanned nearly 1/8 of a mile wide. After fording the Medano we walked ¼ mile more to the base of the dunes to begin the arduous climb in the thick sand. The wind became more intense and it started to rain causing us to turn back from these giant sand waves. If the weather had been more promising we would have spent the whole day here, instead we pushed on through the Saguache Valley toward the mining town of Creede.

The sun came out and cast dark shadows on the soft green foothills of the Rio Grande Forrest on our way to Creede. We were in search of the Saloon where Robert Ford the Coward was shot (Ford had shot his outlaw cousin Jessie James in the back for a sizeable reward.) We discovered that the saloon was long gone so we had lunch in the OMI Saloon on the approximate location of Ford’s saloon. “Kit Carson” (a true-life character from the nearby Fort Garland Museum ) chatted with us at the bar after lunch wearing his full “ Carson ” costume and sporting long blond hair and a healthy Van Dyke.

After a quick look at the underground fire station and mine we left Creede and headed up the Silver Thread Scenic Byway over Slumgullion Pass (11,361’) and to the headwaters of the Rio Grande. I braked too hard on the descent and we now have problems with our ABS system. Not a good thing in the mountains. We picked up the Blue Mesa Cutoff at MM 93 carefully driving and alternately braking on this steep curving dirt road in the rugged mountain pass. The scenery was breathtaking in the late afternoon light but I had to keep my eyes on the road and didn’t dare stop to photograph this wonderful pass. We got into Montrose at 7:30 exhausted and hungry from the stressful drive. Kate had recommended the Camp Robber for dinner and it proved a perfect respite from our journey. After buying a week’s provisions at City Market we left in the dark with sketchy brakes for Running Horse Ranch in Sawpit. The road was mostly uphill which made the night journey a bit less worrisome but my eyes were alert for an elk or deer jumping into our path (with unknown braking ability). We did make it safely to Kate and Nathan’s although we got turned around once in the dark on the eight mile dirt road to their house.

Thursday, June 11 Rest! Running Horse Ranch (www.runninghorse.com) is the perfect mountain retreat. Thanks to Kate and Nathan we are housed in the beautifully appointed contemporary 4 bedroom main house (that actually sleeps 12!) on 159 private acres in the majestic San Juan Mountains. There are several historic buildings on the property including the original caretaker’s house where Kate and Nathan live. We woke this morning with an amazing view of horses grazing in the meadow beneath the rocky snow capped Whipple Mountain and the Sneffles Mountain Wilderness, all from our bedroom window.

Early in the day we had a chance to kick back and relax a little but after regaining our energy, Nathan and Kate took us for a walking tour of the ranch. We hiked up the meadow dotted with blue lupine, larkspur and yellow arrowleaf balsam root, flanked by spring green aspen where we saw a bull elk grazing peacefully (until the dogs announced their arrival.) Kate tried out the zip line at the ranch’s charming little log cabin at the crest of the meadow and I grabbed photos of the lupine and corn husk lilies on the ridge above the ponds. To cap off our day we played bocce on the lawn between our houses and when it got too cold for me we went in to enjoy a wonderful dinner.

Friday, June 12 The sunshine poured in our window over the mountains today promising a warmer day than yesterday. Kate was waiting for us when we arrived and eager to begin planting her organic garden. Gardening at 9,000 feet is definitely a challenge. With only 90 days without frost or freeze, garden hoops and covers are a must. The bluebirds took turns feeding their young in the birdhouse on the garden fence post while hummingbirds performed their mating dance in the air above. Chickens clucked and scratched in the compost, the horses grazed nearby while the dogs waited patiently for us to stop planting and play with them. The day started chilly but by noon I was peeling off layers in the balmy 68 degree weather. We planted and watered rows of blue potatoes, yellow carrots, beets, zucchini, kale, beans, onions, dill and assorted flowers.

Our day ended at an outdoor cookout in Telluride but the adventure of the day was the drive into Telluride. I have travelled on frighteningly scary roads all over the world but this dirt road with a 2,000’ drop and unbelievably tight switchbacks into Sawpit has to be one of the worst I have been on. To make matters worse I learned that Kate drove this road in ice and snow to work every day last winter. More reasons to keep coloring the grey.

Saturday, June 13 I woke this morning to an insistent tapping on our bedroom window from a beautiful mountain bluebird. It’s a sunny Bluebird Day!

Telluride is about half an hour down the aforementioned 2000 foot vertical drop dirt and curvy road which is where we headed for the first annual Telluride Wild West Heritage Festival. (Our brakes survived the test.)
I felt guilty about leaving the garden planting to Kate and Nathan for the day but when we got into Telluride with the lilacs in bloom and the temperature at least 10 degrees warmer, I forgot all about the cold mesa. Main Street was bustling with cowboys, men and women in colorful period costume, Ute Indians in their beautiful beaded clothing and horses, wagons and a stage coach. In spite of the handicap parking signs and tons of spectators, there was an historic feel to the charming old buildings that line Main Street .

The highlight of the day was the dancing by the Utah Ute Indians. Charles Denny, World Champion Hoop Dancer performed his amazing routine accompanied by the Ute Drum Team. We also enjoyed the dancing butterfly by a sweet little 4-year-old Ute dancing champion. Her older brother performed an impressive traditional tribal dance (depicting the dodging of bullets) in a marvelous Ute feather headdress and bustle (made by his father) and beautiful beaded traditional dance apparel (hand made by his mother and grandmother.)

This event was followed by a reenactment of Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch’s famous robbery on the local bank in Telluride. Robert Parker (Butch) worked as a teamster in Telluride and each time he rode out of town he would fire his guns into the air. This served as a foil for the well planned 1889 robbery of the San Miguel Valley Bank that he and his gang pulled off at high noon. On this day however, the robbery was not as well planned. The “ Marshall ” could not control his horse, the Cassidy gang was not as well coordinated but with the aroma of horses and sheep, the stage coach bringing the “gold” to the bank and so many residents dressed in local costume it was all good fun.

The famous Telluride Chocolate Company relocated just off Main Street so of course Dave and I had to go sample. We brought our tasty dessert to Elk Park to listen to a wonderful performer read “Mining at the Bessie G” by Bruce Gillen. Sadly in the middle of his wonderful narration, the wind picked up and a storm blew in sending everyone in town looking for shelter. We decided to call it a day and headed back up to Hastings Mesa to see how Kate and Nathan fared with their garden.

When we arrived at Running Horse, friends of Kate and Nathan’s were still there after helping them plant another third of the large garden. It made me feel better to know they weren’t totally abandoned in the garden today. We thought about planting again but it was getting quite chilly at 3:30 and by 5 it was hailing and snowing on Whipple Mountain so we stayed cozy inside for the night.

Sunday, June 14 My shorts have not been out of my suitcase (much less on my body) since Kansas .
I was slow to arrive in the garden for our final planting today because the sun was under cover of threatening skies and the wind off the mountains was bone chilling. We did manage to finish most of what could be planted before heading into Telluride for a relaxing dinner at Honga’s, one of our favorite restaurants in town.

Monday, June 15 Spa Day! Kate and Nathan treated me to a wonderful massage with Lupe, their favorite Telluride masseuse, for an early birthday present. Afterward Dave and I drove up 145 into Lizard Head Wilderness to see Trout Lake and the famous Lizard Head. We passed Ophir Needles and Matterhorn before heading back to the ranch for lunch and a steam shower. If I had only used the steam shower each morning I am sure I would have survived the snow-chilled wind off the mountains. A tasty farewell dinner with Kate and Nathan followed by a cozy evening with Nathan playing guitar for us in front of the woodstove, brought to a close this wonderful week on the mesa.

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


11th September 2009

FAb Pic
Here is to the person who took all those pictures, CHEERS, hope you go on a new and fab adventure once again and may teh coming one be more FAB than the earlier one, GOODLUCK, Shaun, Shantanu_jay@hotmail.com, IBM Technologies.
13th September 2012

Thank you!
I have been updating my photos from our trips out west on my travel blog and am always appreciative that someone out there enjoys them. I will continue to post more as we travel. Next is Sweden and Denmark. Hope you enjoy them. Kelley
15th April 2010

La Veta
correct spelling is La Veta. Enjoyed your story.

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