Day 24 – Snow

Snow Capped Majestic Mountains

 

We started the day in awe of the beautiful views of snow-covered mountain to the north.  I’m not sure we would have enjoyed their beauty as much had we known we were going to drive over them.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  They were in stark contrast to the desert monuments we’ve been seeing the past few days.

Our primary goal today was to visit Mesa Verde National Park and to see the cliff dwellings there.  The park was only 9 miles from our hotel so we were quickly there.  No sooner than we turned into the park we saw a deer in the road.  She quickly got off the road and “hid” beside a tree about 20 feet from our car.  This was a great start to our day!

 

After our visit with Bambi we stop at the entrance and learn that it’s a twenty mile drive through the park to the museum and to get information on the places we can visit today.  On we go…but the thing is, they didn’t tell us that most of that twenty miles is up…and for 11 of the miles there are avalanche warnings and you’re not allowed to stop anywhere on the road.  This is a new kind of driving for me, but luckily, Mona is the one driving!  The roads are twisty turny with few guardrails, but Mona takes it like a trooper…she and Red were like one and they skillfully got us through the danger areas and we soon found ourselves on the downslope of the mesa, heading for the museum.

 

All of a sudden, Mona stops the car and points to the left.  It’s horses…wild horses!  We’re both thrilled!  (I might have been a tad less thrilled because I lost the $50 bet, but I was thrilled…some.)  We drove down a ways and turned around so we could stop and get better pictures…they were still there and let me approach and take a few shots.  So cool!

 

We land at the museum just in time to watch a movie about the history of the mesas and their inhabitants.  Interesting stuff, but we’re chomping at the bit to actually visit a cliff dwelling.  Unfortunately, most of the dwellings are inaccessible due to snow and melting snow mess.  Luckily, the Spruce Tree House can be visited and it’s just a short hike away.

Early into the hike, we get a glimpse of Spruce Tree House…it’s on the mesa next to the one we’re on and we can see it across the canyon.  It simply doesn’t look real….massive cliffs with a huge overhang…and under this overhang are these pueblo buildings, tucked neatly into every available space.  We can’t wait to get there and see these up close!

 

We go down the side of our mesa and up the side of the other mesa and suddenly we’re there!  The Anasazi had cleverly built this little community into the side of the cliff.  There were bedrooms, balconies, kivas (for religious ceremonies), and everything one would need to live comfortably. Their engineering was remarkable as they tailored everything to fit with the existing structure of the overhang.  It was multi-story and we even got to use a wooden ladder to go down into a kiva. Absolutely fascinating and amazing!

 

After “oohing” and “ahhing” at Spruce Tree we climbed back up and took a drive through the park. There were numerous overlooks where we could get a look at more cliff dwellings.  We lost count of how many we saw, The Cliff Palace, The Fire House, the new Fire House and on and on.  This fascinating place is definitely a do-over!

Have we mentioned how retirement seems to be making us dumb and dumber? Case in point, we’re at 9000 feet in the Mesa Verde wilderness and we suddenly remember we haven’t checked out out of our hotel!  DUH!  As we are driving out of the park we finally get a connection and call to check out.  Geeze!

Time now to head north. We decided to go to Durango and then head north on 550 to Grand Junction, Colorado.  Looks pretty easy on the map. NOT!  Remember those snow-capped mountains mentioned in the first paragraph?  Turns out our route takes us over the top of those mountains.  Literally.

The first driver was Mona.  She drovecover 80 miles up, up and up to over 10,500 feet, through hairpin turns and twisty turny roads with avalanche warnings virtually every mile.  Now is a little too late to remember that friend Paul warned us that this is the most dangerous road in Colorado.  But, in spite of the gut wrenching turns and twists, it’s beautiful!  Snow-capped mountains with pine trees and birches providing beautiful accents at every view.

Mona gets us up to Silverton, Colorado where we relax over lunch.  Afterwards, we tried to grab a quick geocache, but there was too much snow.  They were hauling it away in dump trucks while we were there.

 

Now, it’s my turn to drive.  Gulp! Up we climb from Silverton’s 9200 feet elevation.  Up and up to over 11,000 feet.  We’re not believing our altimeter, but it keeps going up!  The roads are twisting and turning and there are no guardrails….who forgot the flipping guardrails!?!?  This turn is 20 mph, the next is 15 with a double-back loop…finally we see a sign that says “Road Narrows”.  Road narrows?!?!?!  We’re over 11,000 feet up, slippery wet roads from the snow slides and the freaking road NARROWS???? Give me a break!

No matter, on we must go.  We’re down to 10 mph…then 5 mph….it’s still too fast!!!

We make it through the narrow road and breathe a sigh of relief.  Up ahead we see a flagman…now all traffic (all four cars) are stopped.

Apparently, there has been an avalanche ahead and the road crews are clearing it.  Thankfully, we stopped for lunch otherwise the timing would not have worked out so well.  We wait patiently and finally they get one lane cleared…we’re moving.  Well at least three of us.  Apparently something happened to the fourth car because we never saw it come down.

After 25 miles of hairpin turns, snow and small rocks falling around us…and white knuckled driving we were finally down to 6000 feet!  Whew!!!!  Hit the gas and head for Grand Junction.  Loving the flats!  We drive around a huge mountain, instead of over it, and land at our lodging for the night. It’s good to see no snow again!

Our hotel has terrible WiFi.  We’ve just gone through this incredible experience and can’t share it because of the bad WiFi.  Argh!  As stated before, we’ve decided we can’t live anywhere without 3G.  Techno-snobs we might be, but so be it!  We are indeed addicted to iDevices and high speed connections.  We realize that you can’t be connected everywhere and we always carry our Rand McNally Road Atlas as a backup, but we need our 3G! (I found good WiFi in the hotel lobby early in the morning; hence this post.)

 

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One Response to Day 24 – Snow

  1. Carol Lucas March 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    Wish I would have read this earlier: my sister Janet lives in Grand Junction! It might have been fun to meet up with Janet and her son Seth. Jim and I visited after Christmas 2010.