Thursday, September 22, 2016

Summary of the 2016 Western Trip - Part Eight - The Rockies & Mesa Verde

I woke up when it was still mostly dark, and still under the mystifying influence of the dream that I had been having while asleep, which was dizzying and disorienting. It took a few moments for me to realize fully where we were, and what the situation was.

Indeed, it was still dark, but upon closer inspection, it clearly was now just mostly dark, not entirely dark. Dawn was on the horizon, although it was still off to the side enough that it felt merely like a rumor, rather than the beginnings of a new day about to invade the peacefulness of the night.

At first, my fatigue was still very strong, and I just rolled over and tried to get comfortable, to catch a few more hours of sleep.

But sleep did not come.

Indeed, the realization that I was awake, and in the Rockies really for the first time in my life, prevented any further sleep. Within a few minutes, my eyes opened, and it was then that the realization that the night was over, the sleep was done with, came.

I could drive the remaining twenty or so minutes to Durango, and perhaps find some spectacular pictures to snap of dawn rising in the Rockies! How wild would that be?

So, that is what I did, turning to make sure that my son's belt was still on, then regretfully waking him up in order to put the belt on, so that we could proceed. He woke up just enough to put the belt on, and then promptly went right back to sleep, which I took as a good thing.

The drive up there was uneventful, and after snapping a few pictures, I realized it was light enough for me to drive much more comfortably than I had the previous night. After all, when you almost run over two wild horses on the road, you might not be so willing to drive long distances in the dark, in unfamiliar countryside, to boot.

It was basically fully light when we got up to Durango, but my first thought was of how shockingly slight these hills were. These were the Rockies?

Of course, I knew that somewhere, the Rockies were a lot taller and more imposing, although where in relation to where we were those kinds of towering mountains were remained a mystery. On the online research that I had done, Durango had seemed to clearly be well within the taller mountains of the Rockies, but where in the hell were they?

Well, we were about to find out. For now, however, I just drove around and took some early morning pictures of the mountains bathed in early morning light, and upon driving up over a hill where our KOA was located (we passed in purposely), we drove basically right out of Durango and back into the countryside. Here, there were farms and forests, and that provided some opportunities for picture taking, which I made a point of capitalizing on.

After the picture taking, we went to the KOA. Despite not having actually slept there, the reservations were solid and had been made quite some before, so since I had paid, we might as well make the most of it. Surely, we could shower, but maybe we could also swim at the pool, and have a decent breakfast. Indeed, we did all of this, and more, as we played a couple of rounds of miniature golf, which was included in the cost! We had a lot of fun in the few hours that we stayed there, and it was enough to recommend this place, despite the fact that we had not actually spent the night. The people all seemed friendly there, as everyone we passed smiled and said hello. We got to talking to some dog owners by the dog park, and one of the women there tried to get us to adopt one of the dogs! But she was nice, and also told us a little bit about the local area, telling us to go to someplace called "The Million Dollar Highway." Not sure why it was named thus, but when we did go (it was actually Route 550), it indeed was as spectacular as she had said! Now, here were the real mountains!

We explored this road for a couple hours, and I snapped a bunch of pictures, of course. Tried to take a few deep breaths of that fresh, mountain air, as well! Now, this was what I had pictured of our short trip to the Rockies.

But we had to cut that short, because one of the things that we wanted to do while out there was visit Mesa Verde, which is one of the most amazing sites in the entire country! These are cliff dwellings from Native Americans dating back to around 1,000 years back! That had been the original attraction that made a trip to Colorado feel like a must during last summer's trip, although we ultimately did not quite get there. This time, we wanted to make sure that we got there.

One thing about Mesa Verde is that you still have quite a bit of driving to do once you arrive at the Visitor's Center, which was not something that I knew. It is the better part of an hour, even though it is not huge in terms of actual miles driven. But the dwellings are on Ute Mountain, and you have to drive up there. We got tours of the Balcony House and Cliff Palace, and again, indeed, it was a remarkable place to visit! However, be aware that you pay for the tours at the visitor's center, and then pay an entrance fee once you get to the park itself (the entrance is a short drive from the visitor's center, although the sites themselves are considerably farther).

This is one of the most historically rich places in the country, and it is set in one of the most incredible natural settings in the country, as well! So, it was definitely something that I wanted to make sure that my son got a chance to see. Indeed, it was well worth it!

Climbing up the ladders was not as dangerous as the guides kept suggesting, although some parts may be a little scary for anyone with a fear of heights. But being within these incredible living quarters of people who lived a very long time ago, and learning more about how they actually lived, was simply amazing! Being able to look into the living quarters, and being up close and personal at such a historically rich site was something that had been a dream of mine for many years now, and I could not have been more pleased to share these educational experiences with my son.

We were not all that low on gas as we entered, although by the time that we were leaving, the light went on (an indication of how long this trip can be). So, we had to go straight to the gas station. I asked one of the Parks people where the nearest gas station was, and it was in the nearby town of Cortes. So, we went straight there and got the cheapest gas that I had seen yet on this trip, which was nice.

Then, we were on our way, as we drove to Gallup, New Mexico, where our long day of traveling through the Rockies ended. 

Rocky Mountain Dawn:

Engineer Mountain:

The San Juan Mountains:

Engineer Mountain Elevation: 12968 ft / 3953 m:

One of my favorite pictures below. Flowers beside a lake in the shadow of a forest, with some incredible mountain peaks towering over the entire scene! I believe this picture includes Windom Peak (14,082 ft./, Sunlight Peak (14,059 ft.), Mt. Eolus (14,083 ft.) and North Eolus, although I cannot say this with absolute certainty:

Mesa Verde:

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