Monday, September 21, 2020

Seeing Pagosa Springs on Lockdown

Even though we have been social-distancing all summer, somehow Mark managed to get sick. So we went into lockdown mode for the rest of our stay at Lake Vallecito Resort. He was still very tired when we left, but at least he was fever-free. He said he felt good enough to make the hour-long drive to our next stop in Pagosa Springs. Or perhaps he thought that he might get sick again if he had to watch Denisa drive the motor home down the narrow little road the first 13 miles of the trip. Anyway, he made the drive to Happy Camper RV Park outside of Pagosa Springs, and then spent the rest of the day in bed. We are still on lockdown!

Denisa has been sleeping on the couch and trying to stay as far away as a 35-foot motor home will allow. But she feels like a ticking time bomb, just waiting to start that awful fever. We are taking temperatures throughout the day, but there is no sign of fever from either of us for now. But we are on lockdown while we wait for Mark to recover more fully. We did get some drive-by pictures of the town of Pagosa Springs, which includes the Mother Spring in downtown.

Sulfur-laden hot water is coming out of the ground under the Mother Spring, and many other holes around Pagosa Springs. The yellow sulfur has left its rotten-egg smell and color in this most elite part of town. We could drive by to see the spa guests enjoying the hot water baths. Like other facilities this summer, we assume the number of guests is strictly controlled.

The main spas are right on the San Juan River that flows through town. We read that tubing is a popular sport in early summer, but by now the low water and the high rocks would make tubing very painful.

For those that can't get a spa appointment, or can't afford an appointment, there is a cheaper option. On the other side of the river, we saw the handmade little pools of water, surrounded by circles of river rock. If it's like natural hot springs that we have been to, the pools get cooler the closer they are to the river water.

This area has another tourist attraction that we also only saw from the road. We are big fans of national parks and monuments, so we would have normally visited Chimney Rock National Monument just a few miles from our campground. Even from a distance, we could see that it has been a landmark that native Americans and pioneers have used for centuries.

In our drive-by touring mode, as we got closer we could see that Chimney Rock is just one of the rock formations high on that lone mountain. Between the two are Indian ruins, and we were surprised to find that they charge $12 per person to walk around them. A week ago, we spent two days touring all the Indian ruins in Mesa Verde National Park and the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument for free with our national park pass. So we wouldn't have spent the money for Chimney Rock National Monument even if we weren't on lockdown.

When trying to book a campground for this area, we found Pagosa Springs is an expensive place to visit. We are staying at the cheapest option in town, and we can't say that we would recommend the Happy Camper RV Park. So we're a little sad that we didn't get to really experience this area during this stop. We saw some great roads that head north out of Pagosa Springs into the mountains. We read about some good hikes and lakes to kayak in this area. But Mark isn't ready for activities like that, and we're still on lockdown. So we'll have to return another time to really get a feel for this area. For now we're just getting a feel for the inside of the motor home, as we saw Pagosa Springs from a distance while we're on lockdown.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Why is Mark so tired on such an easy trail?

We are enjoying the cool temperatures here at Vallecito Resort, at an elevation of 7,500 feet. But we're going to hike even higher today, on the Vallecito Trail.

After driving the car further up into the mountains to the trail head, we started on the hike that took us up into the Weminuche wilderness.

This was an unusual trail, in that a couple times it split into two trails. Horses were supposed to go one way, while hikers went another.

We're pretty sure that's because much of the hiker trail is out on rocky ledges with sheer drop offs. We're not sure if a horse and rider could even fit on some of these narrow ledges. During this high ledge part of the trail, the Vallecito River is running beside us, but so far below that we can't even see it.

In other parts of the trail, the river ran right beside us. Then it was easy to take great pictures of the clear  water and the big boulders that Mark usually loves to climb. Denisa convinced him to sit on one of those boulders for the picture below. 

A few flowers are still blooming along the trail, including these tiny white straw flowers.

We also found a few purple asters still blooming here. These flowers are everywhere, and normally Denisa wouldn't stop to picture such a common flower. But she was recently on a Colorado wildflower web site, trying to learn more of the names of the flowers we see. 

She found several purple asters, but it was particularly interesting to find that one of them was named the Engelmann aster. Just like we have found very common Engelmann spruce on the mountains tops and Engelmann cactus in the desert, the botanist in the family has also named an aster.

The second half of the hike was a nice walk along a babbling brook. With little elevation gain, this is one of the easiest hikes we've done in a while.

Even though the trail actually goes on for many miles, we decided to stop after four miles at this bridge.

Mark went to the other side of the river to enjoy the views of the clear water of the Vallecito River. It is that Coca-cola-glass-pop-bottle-green that we've seen on another hike this summer. 

Before long, Denisa snapped this picture of Mark, napping on that comfy boulder.

While Mark is napping, Denisa is finding all kinds of wonders on her side of the river. She is busy taking butterfly pictures.

For some reason, the butterflies were drawn to this rock in the shade. There are no flowers in sight, but they are congregating here.

It's mostly the black and white butterflies, but some more colorful examples also like this particular rock.

It was time for a snack, so we went further upstream for a different view while we ate our picnic.

After we ate, Denisa went exploring again and took this picture from the bridge.

Mark had found another cozy boulder and was taking another nap!?! This is certainly unusual!

It was time to head back for the four-mile hike back to the car. We were hiking pretty quickly now, as the sky has clouded and we got an occasional sprinkling of rain. We heard thunder that echoed through the canyon, and we were sure hoping to get to the car before we got caught in a lightning-laced down pour on these rock ledges.

Denisa did stop to take more butterfly pictures, but Mark was really struggling as we hurried home. This is just an 8-mile hike, and we've certainly done more. Why is he so tired?

We got the answer to that question after we got home. He was feeling bad enough that he took his temperature. It was already well over 100. That fever didn't respond to acetaminophen, and it would continue to climb for the next 36 hours. He was one sick puppy by the next day when we saw thermometer readings of 103.6 and 103.9. It's nice to have medical advice over the phone from our son, who coached us through the worst of the fever. We were so glad when it finally came down! We were in lockdown mode, which we continued until we left Vallecito Resort. The fever really zapped Mark's stamina and we want to make sure that no one else gets this! But this certainly explains why Mark was so tired on such an easy trail!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Vallecito Resort and the Pie Party

When we first arrived at our campground near Mesa Verde National Park, Denisa snapped a picture of the "Sleeping Ute" mountains that she described in the last blog. The skies were blue and we could see the mountains clearly.

After our four-night stay, we are leaving this southwest corner of Colorado. The smoke has really crept into this part of the state during those four days. As we drove the same road to leave the area, Denisa snapped a picture from the same place to show the difference in the view of the Sleeping Ute. This summer we have been blessed to stay away from the forest fires that are now the biggest in this state's history. So it must be time to move further away from them once again.

Our destination today is just 68 miles away, but the air is much clearer here. We are staying at Vallecito Resort--another Passport America park that allows four nights at the half-price rate. It's a lovely park among the tall pine trees. With 150 camp sites, we got the worst one in the park. We're on the corner right beside the highway and furthest from the facilities. This is one of the few campgrounds in the last five and a half years that had absolutely no AT&T cell phone service. So Denisa has the computer in her arms, making the quarter-mile walk to the office where the only wifi is available. She's a dedicated blogger that needs a cell phone signal or wifi, and she's just happy that the 70-degree temperatures make blogging outside so comfortable.

Also near the office is one of the tree carvings that can be found throughout the Vallecito valley.

In 2002, a fire swept through this area. The charred trunks of that serious fire are evidence of the magnitude of the flames and the damage done. But firefighters fought the flames, and even though 28 houses were burned, they saved most of the village of Vallecito Lake. The wood carvings are a tribute to the emergency workers that served through the fire, and the animals that perished when they lost their natural habitat.

We drove the entire circle around Vallecito Lake, finding many of the wood carvings. We also found that the lake was down severely in water volume because of the drought. Our campground owner suggested we launch our kayak at the north end of the lake at the public boat ramp. We decided that he needs to stop working so hard and drive to that north end, where the receding water was about a quarter mile away from that boat ramp. So we won't be kayaking here after all. Besides, all the area around the lake is a "fee area," so we would have to pay to walk or kayak or park anywhere close to the lake. We didn't even take a picture because we were disappointed with Lake Vallecito.

But we did see that the logging industry is alive and well here in these mountains. We stopped and watched the process of loading these big logs into trucks.

Just a few minutes after we arrived, we were taking our first walk around our new campground. We saw a little lady wearing an apron, driving a golf cart toward us. She stopped beside us and asked, "Have you been invited to the pie party?" We explained that we had just arrived, but when she mentioned "pie" she was obviously speaking our language. She had to leave in a hurry, because she had a meringue pie in the oven. But she convinced us we should come to the party tomorrow. Frannie had baked ten pies, and several friends had helped her with more. They had them all laid out for people to pick their favorite. It was a beautiful sight to see!

Most of the campers here at Vallecito stay for the entire summer season, and have been coming back for many years. This pie party has evolved from having a few friends over for dessert, to about 100 people coming by for a piece of pie this year. So we enjoyed the invitation to a social-distancing party, and we can report that the pie was delicious! We also went to the social-distancing concert that evening, where the local jam group entertained for an hour and a half. They did some good two-step music, so now we will be remembered as that new couple that danced during the concert.

It's a very friendly park, and we even found one person that spends summers here, and winters at the same park we've gone to for the cold months of the year. He gave us advice for a hike tomorrow, and we think we're going to like it here!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Fighting the Heat at the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Sometimes we are up early to beat the crowds, or to get a parking place at a crowded trail head. But this morning we are up early to beat the heat. Now that we are at a lower elevation, we see temperatures forecast for the 90s today. After our very cool summer, that sounds stifling to us! We had already made the thirty minute drive to the trail head of the Sand Canyon Trail, and the sun wasn't yet up. The first picture of the day is in front of the Sand Castle rock formation, still in the shadows of the rising sun this early morning.

When it did rise, the sun was an eerie florescent orange ball in these smoky skies. It looks like the smoke from the forest fires in northwest Colorado has drifted down to this southwest corner of the state.

It was fun to catch that florescent ball behind some of the plants in this dry desert landscape.


It was unusual lighting as we started the Sand Canyon hike through some of the strange-shaped rock formations that this canyon is known for.


It certainly added another dimension to our walk in the canyon. But we are glad to report that we were amazingly cool this morning.

These neat rock formations have brought people to enjoy this canyon for centuries. In fact, some made their homes here in the protection of these rock alcoves.

The hiking trail has arrows that point to many of the Pueblo Indian ruins, and we took all of those extra trail spurs to see them.


Hikers aren't allowed to enter into the dwellings, so we kept our distance.

Beside those dwellings can be tall cliffs with holes and markings that look like melting ice cream dripping down their face. We can imagine young Puebloan children playing in the holes in the side of this cliff.

We know that the little boy in our group enjoyed climbing into those holes.

This 8.3-mile round trip trail took us to the edge of the deeper canyon that runs through this desert.


On our way back to the car, we took more pictures of the unique qualities of this desert-scape. Our flower picture of the day is different from all the mountain wildflowers Denisa has been photographing this summer.

Likewise, these rocks are different than those we've been hiking around in the mountains. It's yet another type of God's wonders that we get to wander through.

Mark lovingly calls the base of these rock formations, "caramel bubble loaf rocks." That's one of his favorite deserts, so he has good taste in rock formations.

After touring the entire Sand Canyon and all the Indian ruins, Denisa has picked her favorite neighborhood. If they were building a new cliff dwelling 800 years ago, she and Mark would have built here.

This group of rocks looks like something that Dr. Seuss would have drawn, and the Pueblo Indians lived here 800 years before Dr. Seuss was writing books.

It was warming up by the time we got back to the car at the trail head. But it's only 10:45 a.m., and we're just starting our circle drive through the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. This 170,000 acre monument includes much of the southwest corner of Colorado, and is here to protect the many Indian ruins that were abandoned here. We will be driving over 100 miles today--largely on dirt roads--with points of interest every 30 miles or so. So after our hike we were back on the road again, on the way to Hovenweep National Monument. This is another high-concentration collection of Indian ruins that encircle another canyon.

The Hovenweep National Monument is actually over the state line in Utah. As we traveled down the gravel road close to the monument, we crossed a cattle guard as the GPS announced, "Welcome to Utah." We've crossed many state lines and taken pictures of many state signs, but this cattle guard crossing in the middle of a desert was a first for us.

We were the only car in the Hovenweep National Monument parking lot for a little while. No rangers are on duty here during the Covid closures, but the 2-mile loop trail is open to get a close-up view of the ruins. One of the most famous are the Twin Towers.

These are not to be confused with the New York City Twin Towers. It's not known why this ancient group built upwards into towers, but these two twins are so big they barely fit into one photo.

The other most famous structure is the Hovenweep Castle, that is perched on the canyon rim and continues with more towers down inside the canyon.

After our stop at Hovenweep, it was time to continue our circular drive of the Canyons of the Ancients. We crossed another cattle guard to the announcement that we were back in Colorado. Then a sketchy drive down more dirt roads took us to the Painted Hand Pueblo in the middle of no where. A half-mile hike down into the canyon took us to the main ruins of this stop.

We can get a close-up of the rock construction used by these building engineers 800 years ago. 

The afternoon is warming up, and Denisa has changed from her long sleeve blouse worn for the cool morning, to a short-sleeve one. We are not used to this kind of heat, and Denisa doesn't like it! We hiked around this hot area looking for the hand-shaped pictographs that give this site its name, but never found them.

We were needing some air-conditioning by the time we hiked back to the car! Then it was another 30 mile drive to another stop at Lowry Pueblo.

Most of this site is preserved under a roof, but visitors can still walk inside the other parts of this large Indian ruin. As we can see from the picture, Denisa has now zipped off the legs of her hiking pants and traded her boots for sandals. We better get her home and cooled off before she takes off too many layers of clothing!

To provide for insulation from the summer heat and winter cold, the ancients used thick wall construction techniques. Most of the walls employed three layers of rock to make the walls around three feet thick.

The site also included a giant kiva. After 800 years in the desert, these walls need some refurbishment. Like many of the ruins we have seen in our tour of the Canyons of the Ancients, these walls have been rebuilt and upgraded by teams of workers.

The ranger explained that they were working today to shore up the mortar between bricks. It looks like a hot job in full summer sun.

Normally, the first stop on this loop tour would be at the visitor center and museum just outside the town of Dolores. But it is closed because of Covid, so it was our last stop. In fact, we waited to go until sunset because it is just a few miles from our campground. Even though the museum is closed, the half-mile hike will take visitors to the top of the mesa to see the pueblo ruins there.

From the top we can look over Lake McPhee where we were kayaking earlier.

This is Ute Indian country, and the legend of the Sleeping Ute is told to their children. A sign on our hike to the top explained the legend and provided a sketch of the Sleeping Ute.

From our view along the trail, we can see that mountain range to view the outline of the Sleeping Ute during the sunset.

It was a long hot day in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument today. We hiked 11.7 miles, drove 127 miles, and saw more Indian ruins than we can count. To top it all off, we enjoyed a smoky sunset at the end of another great day of wandering God's wonders.