Marble & McClure Pass, and Buzzard Divide Road

Prepare yourself for another long post. Due to lack of decent cell/internet coverage, We’ve been unable to post any updates for the last several days. Take it in small doses, there’s a lot of photos.

Thursday, October 9
The short drive from Erickson campground to the Redstone area was pretty uneventful but very scenic. We could see the foliage was also in great shape all the way up to McClure Pass, where we drove through the campground up there again just to check it out. Lovely as ever and completely deserted. How I’d love to stay here a few days again, but we have chores to do and the tanks, while not full, need to be emptied soon.

On the outskirts of Marble.

On the outskirts of Marble.

We decided on the Redstone KOA. We’ve avoided KOA’s lately because they are usually the most expensive RV parks around, but there is little choice around here right now, and it’s better than driving further into town when we can get everything done here except grocery shop. I made a wrong turn too early when I didn’t read the KOA sign fully, and ended up on a dirt road dead end street – haven’t done that in a while. Had to disconnect to turn around, but the KOA was just 400 ft. further up 133, so we just drove separately to the park. At $34, it is pricy, but it has a laundry and is in a very nice setting along the Crystal River. We got everything done we needed to, and were now ready for the next few days of leaf peeping.

Friday, October 10
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In the morning, we moved 15 miles from the KOA to another forest service campground called Redstone. This is one of the few that have water and electric hookups in one of the loops. There are quite a few very open sites and it is in a beautiful setting. We were a little confused about the cost per night – $36 if you want electricity! I thought it looked like perhaps the forest service and contracted to a private vendor to run the campground and that probably meant no discounts – that Mary’s geezer pass wouldn’t work here. Mary insisted we should only give $18 because nothing was stated to the contrary.
4102_Redstone2We had all afternoon open to us, so we took a drive to the town of Marble. The town gets it’s name for a quarry way up on the mountain behind it. All through town you will see large blocks of white marble used in countless ways, both practical and creative ways. Sometimes, it just looks like that’s where the block landed.4107_Redstone34117_Redstone5We moved through town as fast as the 15 MPH limit would allow. Driving around the edge of a very reflective lake, we stopped for some images and to admire this amazing scene. But we wanted to get up higher for better views of the surrounding mountains, so we reversed course and headed back through town, up the narrow dirt road to where the quarry resides.4127_Redstone6 4135_Redstone8 4130_Redstone7Once leaving town, the road rises sharply up the mountain. We got nice views of the sedgy beaver ponds outside of town, and a little higher up the views began to open up even more.4136_Redstone9 4153_Redstone104147_Redstone10Much of the lower part of the road is lined with trees that block the best of the views, but as we moved higher, the trees parted and an amazing panoramic of the valley was before us. We sat and watched in awe as a rain shower moved through.
4189_Redstone16It was mostly overcast with intermittent light rain. Breaks in the clouds would allow sunshine to get through to light up portions of the mountains and hillsides. This was pretty nice, but just a little more sun getting through in the foregrounds of my images would have been nice.4164_Redstone124156_Redstone11We drove up to a parking area for hikers and hunters. Our goal was coffee. This spot sits at the furthest, highest view site on the mountain. It overlooks an entire canyon full of aspen and mountain views in the distant. We sat and sipped for a time, stepped out for photos and talked with several backpacker/bow hunters. The sky wasn’t looking like it would lighten any time soon, so we decided to head back.
4170_Redstone13 4183_Redstone15 4223_McClure2 4225_McClure3Back in camp, we got a visit from the Camp Host. She said we owed more for camping. So the geezer pass isn’t good here? “Oh yes”,  she says, “The senior pass gets you 50% off the camp fee, but the electric fee ($5) is not discounted”. So we owed another $2.50 for a total of $20.50. Still, good enough for being where we are with lots of heavy cloud cover and cold temps.

Saturday, October 11
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Today was supposed to be the nicest of the week. What that turned out to be was lingering clouds and fog hovering in the low valleys. We got out quickly and were on our way up to McClure Pass to see how things look. Fog usually dissipates quickly once the sun is up, so by the time we got the 5 miles up to the top, much was already gone. Still, there was plenty to gawk at and photograph.4283_Buzzard2 4229_McClure4 4243_McClure6 4253_McClure74262_Buzzard1Our main destination for today was an improved dirt road named Buzzard Divide. In 2012, we found this backroad (actually CR 265) but only followed it for 5 miles or so. The foliage was gone by then, and while the landscape was really nice, the lack of color convinced us to turn back. This time though, tree color is still great.4296_Buzzard4

Typical fauna to be seen along Buzzard Divide Rd.

Typical fauna to be seen along Buzzard Divide Rd.

We almost turned back before even starting. We pulled onto the road, and were faced with easily 40 large semi trucks with trailers lined up along the side of the narrow road. A bunch of the drivers were huddling in one spot, so we stopped to ask what was going on. Fracking we were told.

It’s not much of a cross section I guess, but Mary and I talked with a local couple we met while goofing around in McClure Campground. He felt the fracking companies have been “good neighbors” in the time they have been there. Yes, the trucks lined up and rumbling down the road are annoying, but one of the things they also do, is provide funds to keep the McClure Campground open. As much as I love this spot, I think it probably not worth the potential damage it may do.
4299_Buzzard54310_Buzzard64324_Buzzard7Driving the road was a dream. A few potholes here,  a few muddy areas there, but all in all, a great road to drive. It first runs through some beautiful ranch and pasture land. Eventually the road rises and begins to twist and turn up into the surrounding mountains where bunches of aspen greeted us. The beauty here was that, compared to Kebler Pass, Buzzard Divide road was nearly as good, with only a handful of other cars.4375_Buzzard12 4366_Buzzard11The still partly cloudy skis continue to cast light and shadow, changing the contours of the landscape. We stopped for long periods waiting for the light to shine on just the right leaves or tree to make the composition. It is always a challenge, and not often successful to make an image that convincingly conveys the scene. But we try.

We ran into another cow-jam a little further up the road. At first it was just a handful of cows standing in the middle of the road. They didn’t seem eager to move aside. As we sat there waiting, a few more came trotting down the road. Then a dozen more, then more still. Bringing up the rear, a couple of wranglers and a pack of dogs. They stopped right in front of us, opened the fence to the grazing area, and herded them in.4332_Buzzard8 4335_Buzzard9We could have kept going, but after 13 miles, we turned around for the ride home. Of course, the light had changed and made every thing we’d seen before look different. An afternoon wind had come up and began blowing leaves across the road. We tried capturing it in photos, but leaves didn’t show up well.
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Shot through the sunroof.

Shot through the sunroof.

4398_Buzzard14Just before getting back to 133, we passed all the fracking trucks again. They had moved up about a mile. Just waiting.

We finished our day with our favorite ballpark food: kielbasa sandwiches, potato chips and pasta, and watching the Giants beat the Cardinals in game 1 of the NLCS.

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Back to Kebler Pass

Sunday, October 53737_kebler3We had a long leisurely breakfast Sunday morning. We figured the dispersed campground we are planning to stay at would be busy with picnickers or campers getting ready to clear out. The campground is officially closed, but all that means at this point in the year is the pit toilets and garbage cans will probably be locked. I didn’t really expect the place to have many people staying. We did our chores in Montrose, then headed out on the 120 mile drive.3733_kebler2Soon we were bouncing up the dusty road to Erickson Springs, a USFS campground. A nice little spot this is. It is in a narrow part of the canyon though, so doesn’t get much sun till afternoon. There are just 16 sites, a pit toilet and water (turned off). Most of the sites are short-ish and too much under cover of trees or brush, but 3 or 4 toward the back of the loop are open enough to get good afternoon sun to the panels. I could even get a satellite signal to watch the Giants WIN their series!3764_kebler5 3781_kebler6 3788_kebler7Erickson is located just off CR 12, and sits at the base of the West Elk Mountains and Kebler Pass. It is a perfect location for a base. Just 4.5 miles up the road, the show begins with panoramic views of aspen and mountains. We can get into the mountains early, or stay late and not worry too much about animals on the road.

In San Francisco, we lose cats and dogs. Usually not mules.

In San Francisco, we lose cats and dogs. Usually not mules.

3806_kebler9 3809_kebler10We arrived to discover the campground to be completely empty. We had our choice of sites and quickly found the one most open to the sky. Having the portable panel has come in very handy here as well. The afternoon was quite, clear and warm and we just sat out for a while. Tomorrow we make our first run over Kebler Pass.

Monday, October 6
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A perfectly sunny day greeted us this morning. In the canyon it felt predawn, but looking up the mountainside on either side it was definitely post. We were up quickly-ish and out the door. As we headed up the hill, we wondered what the mountainsides would look like. There are few aspen down at camp level, so we really didn’t know what shape the foliage would be in. We’d heard last weekend was peak, and saw that Silverton was past, but were blown away when we hit the first overlook. Thick swaths of yellows, golds, browns, oranges, and even greens for as far as we could see. We are here AT peak.
3824_kebler2_12 3756_kebler4 3819_kebler12We spent the next 4 hours stopping, and driving and stopping. We revisited many favorite spots and found new ones to work. It’s really amazing how many photo sites we remember from last visit in 2012. We got back to camp and relaxed until the next Giants game that night – a tough loss.

Tuesday, October 7
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Another early morning, up and out. Our plan was to zoom through the first 10 miles so we could have better light on the areas further back in. But that didn’t work. As opposed to yesterdays bright sunny skies, today we have some light high clouds. Having those clouds helps soften the light on the big panorama’s so we ended up shooting the same sort of scenes, but in different light, and again playing with blurs.
3836_kebler2_14 3904_kebler2_16 3866_kebler2_15We also planned to be out all day. We would drive the 30 miles to Crested Butte, do a few internet catch-ups (I forgot to mention Erickson has no connectivity). Crested Butte is an outdoor playground  in summer and a ski town in winter, so it was the “quiet before the storm” in town for them right now. We had a wonderful lunch in a cafe  before heading back over the mountain, only this time in afternoon light.
3918_kebler2_17 3925_kebler2_18 3930_kebler2_19 3944_kebler2_20Again, we stopped at many familiar places, taking many of the same images, but in different light. It is going to be really tough picking out images to show. Way too many will be included. I may get sick of them myself.3952_kebler2_21 3968_kebler2_22

Wednesday, October 8
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Today we thought we would try something we hadn’t done in a while – Hike! There is a nice little trail that leaves from very near the campground. It goes for many miles, but we only wanted to do maybe 3-4. It is called the Dark Canyon hike since it runs through the deepest canyon folds, but by the time we got out, sun was reaching the bottom and lighting up both water and trees.
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Mary on the trail.

Mary on the trail.

3981_DarkCan4While the scenery is really wonderful, both high and low, the trail itself is a bit messy. It is a horse trail, but didn’t really smell like on. However, the horses tend not to care much about mud and so tromp right through the soft center of the trail. This makes extremely muddy sections that are often really difficult to get around.

Where the trail was dry, the hiking was superb.

Where the trail was dry, the hiking was superb.

3997_DarkCan6 4008_DarkCan7That was my lasting impression of the hike in 2012. This time around, the mud holes and wet sections were still here, but much less in severity. Us both with hiking poles now also help tons – especially Mary. She virtually flew thorough some sections. We hiked up almost 2 miles before deciding to return. A nice morning.

Not sure what these deer/elk stencils on the road mean.

Not sure what these deer/elk stencils on the road mean.

Later in the afternoon, we wanted to do one last drive up and across the mountain. We headed up, but stopped first at a spot on the road just outside the campground. We’d been seeing this stencil on the pavement in several areas and wonder what exactly they were for. Kill spot? Pick-up spot? I don’t know, but I did enjoy the embellishment on this one.
4031_Keb3_24The day became quite cloudy with moments of sunshine across the panoramas we saw again while driving through. This being our third time through, we only stopped a few times to look over scenes. It’s hard to decide when enough is enough. It’s really great just to see it all one last time.
4040_Keb3_25 4053_Keb3_26 4068_Keb3_27 4087_Keb3_28 4089_Keb3_29We are moving on to another area a bit north of Kebler Pass. In 2012, our last time here, we found a forest service campground named McClure. It is situated about a mile below 10,000 ft. McClure Pass on US 133, and is in the middle of a wonderful aspen grove. Again, no services except a pit toilet, but the location is perfect for exploring either side of the mountain. Unfortunately, the weather is supposed to turn very cold and wet the next couple of days, so we decided it would be best to camp down 1,500 ft and avoid snow showers and freezing temperatures.

We will again be out of internet/cell range for a few days. More updates including our time in the McClure Pass/Marble area.

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Ridgway State Park and More Aspen

3459_RidgwayCR7-1Friday, October 3
Friday dawned clear and crisp and it was time to move again. Because of the steep narrow curvedness of the Million Dollar Highway, we decided to drive separately over Red Mountain Pass and down into Ouray. Once there, we hooked up again and drove north to Ridgway State Park. Driving this route down from Silverton once again reinforced how far past peak most of the trees were, so while I would have loved to linger around this whole area another several days, it was best to move on.3459_RidgwayCR7-2 3459_RidgwayCR7-3We drove passed Ridgway SP 2 years ago on our last aspen tour and thought it looked like a nice central spot to camp while we explored the surrounding mountain roads. The sites are widely spaced and include electricity, nearby water and a dump for $20 per night. There are several loops in this campground – all were hardly populated.3487_RidgwayCR7-5 3494_RidgwayCR7-6 3497_RidgwayCR7-7We talked with a ranger at the visitor center who gave us an update on road conditions and made some recommendations for drives. We cross-referenced those with what Mary has collected and decided on CR 7 for an afternoon look. We had to drive up almost 7 miles through a rural landscape before the color started getting nice and the views nicer.3499_RidgwayCR7-93504_RidgwayCR7-10 3518_RidgwayCR7-12Eventually we came round a bend and saw one of the iconic views in the area. Mt. Sneffels looming over a beautiful aspen encrusted valley and pasture. A few horses completed the scene in the foreground. Unfortunately, this time of day makes the light too harsh for great images, so we continued on. There were quite a few nice groves along the way, and as we often do, we stopped whenever the muse struck.3477_RidgwayCR7-4 3530_RidgwayCR7-12 3536_RidgwayCR7-13We headed back earlier than we might have. We both wanted to watch Game 1 of the National League Wildcard playoff game. The Giants just barely made it into the playoffs and have to play the best team in the National League – The Washington Nationals. They won resoundingly!3549_RidgwayCR7-14

Saturday, October 4
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I was pretty sure the backroads would be crammed with leaf peepers today, it being Saturday, but much to our relief, there was relatively little traffic on our chosen route of Owl Creek Pass. Today was going to be quite long because the route we want to take makes a long 80 mile loop through the mountains, then back down highway 50 through Montrose and back to camp in Ridgway. We decided to wait until about the halfway point before deciding to turn around or continue on and do the loop.3555_OwlPass2 3564_OwlPass3 3578_OwlPass4 3582_OwlPass5We got an early start and headed up the mountain. Bright sunlight meant we had to be a little more resourceful for make interesting photos. Backlighting was the best option, but I would also tend to walk into a grove to photograph so that the harsh light would be diffused in the tree canopy.3621_OwlPass6 3634_OwlPass7 3639_OwlPass8The road was in pretty good shape despite recent bouts of rain and snow up here. There were a few wet patches and mud/pot holes, but it was easy to drive all the way. And the scenery just kept getting better. We made thea decision to drive the loop back to camp, and we continued on all the way around back US 50.3615_mary3596_ice13604_ice23608_ice3By now it was mid afternoon and the light was beginning to get nice again. We stopped often of course, but also looked at other things beside trees. We found interesting ice formations along the road, and played with camera motion to blur trees and light. It is pretty easy to use up the day like this. But all good things end, so soon we were descending back down to highway level and zooming home.3663_OwlPass9 3675_OwlPass10 3678_OwlPass11 3711_OwlPass12We will be pretty much out of touch for a few days. Here in the Kebler area, there is no phone/internet connections. To post our blogs and check email, we came into Crested Butte for the day.

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First Days in Colorado

Sunday, September 283113_toDurango Today we set out of Colorado. Durango to be specific. Rain showers are supposed to be moving in, and the early morning sunrise gave way to quickly overcast skies. We were packed up and out of Bandelier by our usual 10 AM departing time and on the road. It was easy going for a while, but we could see the rain up ahead as we drove further north, and in no time we were in it. Rain always makes driving a little more stressful, but when it’s a 230 mile driving day, it gets worse. By the time we reached Durango, I was a grouchy as a new 60 year old has a right to be.

We first pulled into the county fairgrounds, looking for a place to stay. No go. There was no one in the administration building to talk with, no RV’ers parked anywhere in any of the lots to ask, and nothing to give a clue as to where we should park. So much for the cheap camping. We decided to stay at one of the RV parks around town. We stopped at Alpen Rose, about 6 miles north of town. We’ve stayed there before and it was fine. This time, all the unoccupied lower sites were flooded from the thundershowers. All the rest were up in the trees. It being Sunday, we wanted satellite for watching the season ending episodes of a couple of shows we watch. We decided to stay at the United Campgrounds, a little closer to town. Five bucks more, but we were right next to the Silverton train and the Animas River. Even though there were trees here also, I was pretty sure it was open enough to get a signal on the dish. Nope. I must have just been on the edge. But there was a very nice laundry right near our site, and we were only going to be here a couple of days for chores, so it was alright. We ended the day watching the trains rumble through the campground on their way back from Silverton.3122_Durango13125_Durango2

Monday, September 29
Still raining, so Mary did the laundry and grocery shopping. We worked up a list of thing to do. We both needed haircuts, I wanted new hiking poles for my birthday (the freebie’s from Jim & Gayle had come to the end of their lives), and we needed propane. I also wanted to check out Open Shutter Photography Gallery. I met Margy Dudly, the owner, at the Santa Fe portfolio reviews and she’d offered me a show in one of the 2 galleries in her space. But things did not go smoothly.

We set out in the afternoon, first for haircuts. The Great Clips Mary had found no longer existed. Walmart had a shop and was right next door, but the wait there would be an hour and a half for the first appointment. But she did give us coupons. We found another salon, but the first appointment wouldn’t have been till 6 PM. Only one person on duty at each. On to hiking poles. The big beautiful REI that I remembered being here was not. What was in its place, was now a Big 5 or something like that. They only had really cheap poles. The other large sports store had exactly the same poles. We moved on to Open Shutter.

This worked out better. Located in a prime location of Main Street, she has a big beautiful space with loads of walk-in street traffic. Margy toured us around the gallery and showed us what she had in mind for my Nomads work. It is a smaller separate space, but well lit and open for easy browsing. The show may be as much as a year off in the future, but it will be nice! We also managed to find a nice little local sports store right across the street from the gallery where I found some acceptable poles. Now we just have to find some trails. Not necessarily and easy task with all the rain. We finished the day at the liquor store where Mary was NOT pleased with the prices. On the plus side, there was cake for evening dessert.

Tuesday, September 30
3130_ToSilverton1The skies were partially clearing this morning as we packed up getting ready to head up to Silverton. We’d finally found propane at a CoOp near the south end of town, but since we were on the north end, we had to drive all the way through and out of town to get there. But we were done now and headed up. More rain showers were predicted for later, but mostly it was just gray. As soon as we started rising, the aspens began looking good. We were a little worried the storms of the past 2 days would wreak havoc on the fall color, but here, it was looking great. The ride up was a thrilling blend of twisty roads and brilliant color and really sweetened our moods.3132_ToSilverton2 3140_ToSilverton3 3197_Silverton-Durango11We reached Silverton and dropped the RV at the visitor to check out campgrounds. Don & Dorothy Malpas told me about their favorite dispersed campground just outside of town, so that was our first – and last – stop. It is a lovely location that has plenty of wide open spots to park. We backed the Lazy Daze right up to Mineral Creek and enjoyed the views all around us and the sound of the rushing creek. Thanks D & D!3142_Silverton-Durango1 3148_Silverton-Durango2As soon as we were set-up, we were back out on the road to retrace our ride up on 550 in the RAV. We drove back toward Durango for about 15 miles, stopping often for pictures. It was very cloudy, but sun peeked out occasionally. If you’ve read my blogs in the past, you know how much I prefer this. You don’t get the brilliant backlit colors so much, but my preference has always been the more subtle pastels that can be achieved with the even lighting clouds provide. It can backfire when the clouds get too heavy and dark – then everything just gets dull. We found plenty of great spots to stop and photograph, but as we progressed further down the mountain, it got progressively  cloudier, so we turned around and headed back to camp. Turns out, the best lighting was all around the Silverton area. The low temperature for the evening was supposed to be 18˚, so we piled on our extra queen sized sleeping bag half and prepared ourselves for a cold night. It was actually too much because it never got that cold.3150_Silverton-Durango3 3152_Silverton-Durango4 3163_Silverton-Durango5 3164_Silverton-Durango6 3166_Silverton-Durango7 3179_Silverton-Durango8 3186_Silverton-Durango9 3189_Silverton-Durango10

Wednesday, October 13201_SilvertonCamp1Upon waking, we found the inside temp to be 45˚ – cold, but not that bad. The reason was the evening clouds hung around and actually dropped about an inch of snow on the ground. As much as I wanted to stay under the covers, I just had to get up to photograph the camp. I was rewarded with some great moody lighting on the mountains and a nice little rainbow right in camp.3208_SilvertonCamp33205_SilvertonCamp23211_SilvertonCamp4 3227_SilvertonCamp5 3232_SilvertonCamp6It was supposed to stay cloudy with an 80% chance of showers later in the day, so we were up and out to photograph the Silverton/Ouray side of US 550. Again, it started out mostly cloudy with occasional breaks of sun, but as we got up over the pass, it got cloudier. Much of the foliage was past peak around  Silverton, but after getting up over the pass, we began seeing trees in better condition.
3240_550-1 3258_550-2 3261_550-3We found a couple of extraordinary mountainsides covered in turing aspen. For a good while, the lighting was dramatic once again. Occasional snow showers would send us scurrying back to the warmth of the car and our coffee cups, but we were out again as soon as the snow diminished and our fingers thawed. I know that doesn’t exactly sound like fun to many, but we just love being out in this kind of weather – as long as warmth is close at hand.3262_550-4 3263_550-5 3265_550-6 3272_550-7When we hit the long canyon road down to Ouray, the fog got really thick – like 20’ visibility thick. There wasn’t much point in continuing like this, so we turned around and headed back. The afternoon rain (and thunder/lighting) had picked up, and up on the pass, snow had begun to accumulate on the road. It was looking slippery, so we were both happy to be getting down lower to our camp. Again, back at camp, the sun was still peaking out, but soon, even here it was more rainy than sunny. Tomorrow is supposed to be clear. We shall see.
3275_550-8 3285_550-9 3292_550-10 3309_550-11Thursday, October 2

Our resident Blue Jay.

Our resident Blue Jay.

It was actually colder last night. We were still cozy warm inside, but with not a cloud in the sky now, the outside temps must have been in the low 20’s – judging by the thick ice coating on the RAV anyway. I had to move it into the sun to thaw it out. We also had a little problem with the generator starting up. It would turnover and begin to start up, then kind of weakly run for 30 seconds, then stop, leaving a blinking green light error on the panel. I feared it was the dreaded cracked fuel line that so many LD’er deal with. It continued to do this for several more attempts, until we just left it alone for awhile. Looking at the LD manual, I relearned about the altitude adjustment on the generator. We have never camped at 9000’ ft. before, so it seemed probable this was the problem. I decided to try starting it up again before messing with any controls and viola’, it started right up. We’d also been having problems with getting the burners to light with the ignition nobs. Both problems are altitude related I believe.3348_Silverton-Durango1So for our morning drive, we decided to go once again drive the Silverton/Durango side of US 550 again – this time in full beautiful sunlight. While the sun did provide wonderful warmth, it also wreaked the lighting on the hills. I think many of the leaves had also fallen, because it certainly looked much less dense than 2 days before. A little disappointing, but still a nice drive and look see.3350_Silverton-Durango2 3354_Silverton-Durango3 3370_Silverton-Durango4 3376_Silverton-Durango5 3388_Silverton-Durango6 3394_Silverton-Durango7After stopping in Silverton for a few items, we were back in camp for a couple of hours, then headed out again to look over the Ouray/Silverton side of US 550 again. We keep retracing our earlier routes because many of the off road routes we might have taken are a bit too muddy for our RAV. The results here again were disappointing. The sun is just not workin’ for us right now, plus this side now looks rather spent. I think we are ready to move on to the Ridgway area a little further north.3400_Silverton-Ouray8 3419_Silverton-Ouray9 3427_Silverton-Ouray10 3428_Silverton-Ouray11 3432_Silverton-Ouray123455_Silverton-Ouray143445_Silverton-Ouray13

 

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Big Changes at Bandelier National Monument

Friday, September 263061_Bandolier1From Santa Fe to Bandelier National Monument is only about 45 miles, so we had another short driving day. We haven’t been here in quite a few years, but it has been a longtime favorite for hiking and scenery. We noticed as we got close that changes had occurred. Several miles before we arrived, we started seeing the Shuttle Only warning signs for getting into the canyon – that no cars were allowed in anymore. At 6 miles before the entrance was a big new visitor center, complete with a large concrete parking lot/RV park.

Talking with a volunteer inside, we learned about the flood of 2013. Because of a devastating fire that burned 75% of the upper canyon watershed, there was nothing to slow down and absorb the thunderstorm waters that were dumped on the area one afternoon. As a result, the rather diminutive Frijoles river that runs down the canyon to the Rio Grande, became a thundering torrent taking out much of the parking and picnicking areas that lined the stream around the visitor center. It also took out the bridges that led to those areas.3063_Bandolier2We were dismayed, but not deterred. We also learned that it was still possible to drive in before 9 AM and 3 PM. Another option is to hike down to the canyon – about 700’ – from the Juniper campground on the canyon rim near the entrance to the park, then take the shuttle out. I like that option for times when we would stay for more than 2 days. We motored on to the campground and felt lucky to find a nice space to stay. There is water and a dump station and the sites are not too close together. There are quite a few sites in the 3 loops of spaces, but only a small number of larger level sites that would accommodate us. Most were already taken. This campground has usually been empty when we’ve been here before.
3072_Bandolier43077_Bandolier53066_Bandolier33079_Bandolier6On Saturday, we loaded up the car with hiking gear and lunches and headed down to the canyon. It’s a short but scenic drive with a couple of turnouts to stop for views. Our goal was to hike the Main Loop trail that passes the cliff dwellings, then on to the Alcove House trail. We’ve done this hike many times, and always enjoy it. This portion of the trail was unaffected by the flood. The damage was really evident along the river trail up to the kiva. What was once a nice meandering shady tree-lined stream with lovely oak, elm and pine, was now a scoured muddy mess. There is so much stream damage and debris, I don’t think the park service will ever be able to clear it all out. Because of the long period the burn scar will take to repair itself, I don’t think they even plan on much in the way of repairs for quite some time. The area is now too prone to repeat floods.3084_Bandolier7 3105_Bandolier9We hiked on to the Alcove Kiva, about another 1/2 mile up the canyon. To reach the kiva, you must climb a series on wood ladders up a steep cliff. Two of the ladders are quite long, but as long as you don’t look down, it’s really not scary. Upon reaching the top, we discovered even more changes. It used to be possible to climb down into the kiva. There really wasn’t much in there, but it made for a nice photograph of sun beaming into the space from the rooftop entrance. Not anymore. A sign warns about walking on the roof of the kiva. It is still a wonderful view from the alcove, so we sat and enjoyed the quiet of this special place.

Daredevil Mary's one handed accent.

Daredevil Mary’s one handed accent.

3093_Bandolier8After climbing down again, we though we’d continue up the canyon trail a while to see how the upper canyon faired during the flood. What we saw was not encouraging. In place of an pleasant meandering path, we now had to negotiate around huge tree snags – some as high as 10’. The path is overgrown in many places and now requires quite a few stream crossings and scrambling. Maybe at some point the park service will get around to repairing this as well, but I tend to doubt it.31010_Bandolier11So our stay was a little disappointing. It is still very nice here, but options for hiking have been impacted. The Falls trail that goes from the visitor center down the canyon to the Rio Grande, has be halved by the flood. It used to pass two waterfalls, but now ends at Upper Falls. At about that point, the trails moved closer to the river, and so it was also scoured from existence. I’m sure we will return in the future, and it will be interesting to see if the park comes back or continues to suffer damage from future storms.

It’s off to Durango and Colorado now for us. We look forward to several weeks of fall color in the mountains of southwestern portion of the state.

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Two days in Santa Fe

Wednesday, September 240983_Coyote3Another short drive day of 25 miles or so found us in Santa Fe. We are only going to be here for a couple of days. We found an RV park called Los Suenos de Santa Fe. A fancy name for a gravel parking lot, but it is off the road enough so noise is not a big issue (except for the garbage truck that rumbled past on the other side of the fence from us. It is just 4 miles from town center on Cerillos Rd, so for 2 nights, it’s quite bearable.
1791_Coyote2Also, just enough time to celebrate the impending loss of my 50’s. I am dangerously close to geezerdom now. So what to do? Eat of course. I emailed a photography friend of mine who lives in Santa Fe for recommendations for great dinner places. She responded with 4 or 5 fine restaurants. We opted for one we ate at during an earlier visit, Coyote Cafe, right near the main square of Santa Fe center. We both remember it as being terrific, and it did not disappoint this time either.1789_Coyote1I ordered a lemon drop for a starting cocktail, but our server came back and suggested a Heat Wave. This was vodka with a small scoop of lemon sobet dropped in. Not nearly as sweet as a Lemon Drop, but it actually went better with an amazing appetizer we shared of fried squash blossoms filled with crab. Heaven! Mary went on to order a grilled salmon dish and I had the elk (again). So good. Of course there was dessert. Mary had a Chocolate Terrine and mine was a banana cream pie-like dish. We split a bottle of Bucklin Zinfandel from Sonoma. It was all very good. Before heading back to camp, we strolled around the square for a while. I really like that the city restricts traffic in the area. Makes for pleasant walking.

Thursday, September 252959_SantaFe1We were up and out early in the morning. We like to walk Canyon Road, a little north of the square when we are in town. The road is lined with art galleries of all kinds. Much of the work really isn’t too appealing to me, but the buildings and grounds make for some fun investigations. This early in the morning, the busy road is relatively quiet and since it it quite narrow, it is easier to walk at this time.
2976_SantaFe3 2981_SantaFe4 2983_SantaFe5The slowly rising sun casts wonderfully long shadows across many of the faux and real adobe buildings. We really just go a little nuts with making pictures, but it is fun isolating elements, making unique images that scream “Place”.2988_SantaFe6 2992_SantaFe7 3004_SantaFe8 3009_SantaFe9 3014_SantaFe11 3024_SantaFe13 3030_SantaFe14 3039_SantaFe15 3045_SantaFe171796_art1After a couple hours of this, we tired and decided it was finally breakfast time. Back down to the square, we stopped in at the Plaza Cafe. We both had the Chile Rellenos omelets. Pretty spicy, but hey, chili is the thing to have while here. After returning to camp and resting up a bit, we were out again. There were a couple of galleries we wanted to visit. The first was SITE Santa Fe. Unsettled Landscapes a conceptual exhibit featuring sculpture, video and photography. Most of it was a bit too conceptual for me, but it is always interesting trying to figure out what the hell the artists are trying to say. Even their statements often don’t help.1798_art2 1799_art3Any ideas about what a transvestite indian, riding an Indian motorcycle could mean? His full make-up and dream catcher bra didn’t help. There was some nice photography at Verve Gallery – our next stop, but it was getting late in the afternoon and we still wanted to take a drive into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe. We could see some nice color up there – the aspens turing. The clouds were quite heavy over the mountains, and by the time we got up to 10,000 feet where the color was the best, it had started raining. It got pretty heavy, and while there were some nice scenes, we weren’t about to get soaked making photos. We drove on a bit admiring the views, but decided to head back. By the time we got back down to the 7000 ft level, we were also out from under the clouds and rain and back into the low 80’s heat. We’ll be back another time for fall here, but we are on our way to Colorado after 2 days at Bandelier National Monument.

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Cochiti Lake Campground and Tent Rocks (again)

Monday, September 222955_cochiti7After making the short 30 mile jump up from Bernadillo, we arrived at Cochiti Lake Campground. We liked this spot so much when we checked it out the day before, we decided a couple of days here would be nice before hitting Santa Fe. The fee here for water and electric turned out to be only $5 a night with the geezer pass. All of the sites closest to the rim seemed to be either reserved or taken at first look, but reading the reserved tags a little closer showed that actually, a couple of sites were available for the next 2 nights. Perfect. We set up, and in no time were in our chairs enjoying the lovely view all around.2838_cochiti1When we arrived, there was practically not a cloud in the sky, but soon the thunderheads began forming and growing. As this continued to develop over the course of a few hours, the camera came out and I began photographing these amazing clouds as they blossomed. We were perched almost at the highest point in the campground, so had a view all around.2844_cochiti2 2846_cochiti3Around 6 PM, we broke for dinner, and after finishing, we came out again to watch sunset with our wine. The clouds by now had really expanded and moved over us. As the sun dropped behind clouds near the horizon, I could see a gap of sky just above the horizon. I was sure it would peek out again just before setting for good. In the meantime, we had to put down the wine because the scene before us just kept getting better. There was some lightning, but it was so far away we couldn’t even hear the thunder.2852_cochiti3 2856_cochiti4We just kept shooting pictures as each passing minute made the scene more extraordinary. Thunderheads would bloom above dark, dark clouds below. The sun by now was very low and turning the surrounding clouds and landscape various shades of pink and orange. The sun finally reached the gap of blue at the horizon, and for a brief moment, the hills lit up.2861_cochiti5 2864_cochiti6The sun eventually illuminated the undersides of the clouds just before finally setting for the evening. Being in a campground with such a great view seems pretty rare. Usually they are off in trees that obscure the views, or down in low points between hills. The extra added treat was being able to observe the action without having to face severe winds, or rain or lightning. It was all happening around us at far distances. We were safe and comfortable. Once the sun went down, we returned to our wine. Soon after finishing, I noticed behind us that rain was approaching quickly from the south. We went inside just before it started pouring – but only for about 10 minutes – then it passed and we enjoyed a nice cool evening.

Tuesday, September 232882_tentD2_1It was so nice being just 7 miles from Tent Rocks National Monument. We woke around 7 AM, had coffee and a quick breakfast and were off to the rocks. We were on the trail by 8 AM and with only one small group there before us, felt like we had plenty of time to walk and photograph the areas we had to rush through before.2889_tentD2_2 2892_tentD2_3But it wasn’t long before other groups caught up to us and needed to pass. This place is just really popular! We were able to spend more time in the narrow spots though and really, there weren’t nearly as many people as Sunday. The downside was that the sun wasn’t as high either, making the light not nearly as sweet in the narrows. It wasn’t bouncing off the walls or creating the nice glows of Sunday afternoon.2897_tentD2_4 2907_tentD2_5Oh well, the shapes were still nice and it was great just to be here again. While the light wasn’t as good, it did create some other nice lighting situations that weren’t available before. We made due. We only hiked up part way to our favorite vantage points this time. We didn’t need to see the grand view again.2926_tentD2_6 2946_tentD2_7On the way back, we took the .7 mile cave loop trail. The cave itself was nothing much, but there were some other tent rocks further on that were kind of interesting. We still managed to spend a good 3 hours on these short 3 mile total trails.2952_tentD2_8

As to the story of Cochiti Lake and Dam. In terms of volume of material used, it is the 23rd largest in the world, one of the 10 largest in the U.S. It was sold to the indian nation as flood and sediment control on the Rio Grande, with the added benefit of development of fish and wildlife resources as well as recreational resources – boating, camping, hiking.

Construction was opposed by the Cochiti Pueble Indians, who lost significant tracts of agricultural land as a result of the construction and subsequent pool filling. They filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, winning the suit. The award? The Corp made a public apology.

But the story doesn’t end there. Once filling the dam commenced, it was evident that it leaked. It was decided that the dam would never be filled and stands today far below it’s capacity. The promised recreational and wildlife improvements were never realized.

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