"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Week in Southwest Colorado

For the past week we've been about 30 miles east of Dolores, Colorado, at the Priest Gulch RV Park. Dolores is a really small town, but it does have a few basic services.  We were in a beautiful area and the park itself is very nice, but because it's very far from any town, we had no cell service, and very unreliable internet. After a couple of days we moved to site 36, where we got satellite TV reception. Thank goodness, because it is football and The Voice season. : )

The trip from Moab to Priest Gulch shifted us into a vastly different geographic and climate zone.  It was probably the most dramatic change we've made in one day since we've stared full-timing. Moab was all red rocks and desert. This part of Colorado is a more temperate area of the mountains, with lots of water, evergreens and aspens. Moab felt like summer, maybe verging on late summer as we were leaving. But in southwest Colorado it was just past peak fall color season. The nights were below freezing and the days were cool, crisp and clear.  We had the heat on every night. This location is very close to the Rocky Mountains and we could already see snow on the peaks.

We didn't do as much sight seeing as we sometimes do, because we were pretty far from most everything. We did go to Mesa Verde National Park one day, and up to Telluride another.  Mesa Verde is just outside of the town of Cortez (where we also went for a real grocery store, hardware store, barber, etc.).  To get to the park you drive up onto the huge mesa, which was not green (verde), but was a rich tapestry of the golds, rusts and oranges of the Gambel shrub oak. 

There were spectacular overlooks from the top of the mesa looking northwest, but my camera couldn't really do the big views justice. The rocks here are not the red sandstone of Moab, but another layer of sandstone called Cliffhouse. I imagine it was named after the dwellings built by the Ancestral Pueblo people that are the reason for this national park.  

The dwellings date from about 500 to 1300 AD.  The earliest ones are small and are on the mesa top. The later structures were built in the alcoves of the cliffs and are what most people come to see.  There are over 4000 archeological sites in the park, though not all of them are dwellings, and only a small percentage of them are accessible to visitors. The Square Tower House, below, is the tallest of the cliff houses.  It looks to me as if it's at least four stories high.

The largest dwelling that we saw was the Cliff Palace. It is immense, even though in this picture it looks kind of miniature. It has 150 rooms and 23 kivas, the round rooms you can see near the front. It's estimated that about 100 people may have lived there.  We viewed it from above, but I think the best way to see any of these dwellings is by taking the ranger led tours. We had Kona with us, so we had to pass on that option.

Another day we drove north to Telluride, a ski area and town. It took us awhile to get there because we had to stop so often to take pictures. One of our stops was Trout Lake.

Another was at the base of this mountain; I think it might be Sneffels Mountain. (It's kind of hard to tell from the map which mountain is which.) It was a cloudy day but we got lucky and caught a little sun shining on its rocky peak.

Telluride itself is in a gorgeous river valley surrounded by snowcapped mountains and golden aspens. 

It was just a sleepy little mountain town until 1972 when the locals, encouraged by a recent influx of back to the earth hippie types and a few wealthy entrepreneurs, decided to change the image of the town, and a ski center phenomenon was born.  They were just about to start their 40 year Teluride reunion the weekend we were there, to celebrate the beginnings of this wildly successful place.  It's kind of like Park City, in that it still has its original cowboy feeling, but has developed a very trendy collection of galleries, boutiques and restaurants as well. We had a great lunch at the Brown Dog Brewery.

Telluride felt like a real town, with a lot of locals still living and working there - not just all for tourists. Above the town there is a massive seasonal residential area with grand houses, hotels and condos nicely tucked away in the woods so that they don't dominate the landscape. The architecture and craftsmanship of these places was very impressive, and now that I think of it, an interesting contrast to all the dwellings we saw at Mesa Verde. Certainly a different aesthetic, but each integrated into the environment in their own way. 

Other than a few local hikes and a trip into Cortez, that was about all that went on. It was a pleasant, quiet week in Colorado and now we're in Chama, New Mexico.  More on that next time.

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