Thursday, October 26, 2017

Autumn in Colorado and Utah - Silverton and Mesa Verde

Sunet from Terry and Johnny's
The next two days with Terry and Johnny saw us off to adventures by ourselves while we returned to their peaceful and beautiful casa in the Pagosa Lakes area.  Johnny is an excellent cook and we never wanted to miss dinner and the pleasant conversation.

Our first adventure was aboard the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  I remember this well from my time in Colorado.  We took a memorable trip on the train with the three oldest and Liam who unfortunately stuck his head out the window and lost his railroad engineer cap which we had purchased at the Durango station.

 On that trip, we took the train to Silverton and then drove home.  This time we took a bus on US 550 over  two  and then the train down to Durango, a three and a half hour trip.  On the trip up as our motor coach was cresting Molas Pass at 10,900 feet, a car pulled out of the crest viewpoint area and right into the side of our coach.  The driver pulled over about 100 yards down from the site of the crash and the sedan pulled in behind us.  When the driver, walked back to the car, the driver was out and yelling, "How could you not stop?  Didn't you see my turn signal?"  It is interesting what nonsense we are capable of when we are embarrassed by our own mistakes.  I offer these two photographs as irrefutable evidence of the cause of the crash, confirmed by the Deputy Sheriff in Silverton.

Upside of the incident was a 15 minute break so we could get off the bus and view the high country and get a few photos.

View of the San Juan Mountains from Molas Pass
We got back on the bus and about 30 minutes later, we descended into the valley and saw Silverton for the first time.  Located at 9,300 feet, Silverton gets 150 inches of snow a year with January through March lows below zero.  Founded as a mining town, it now exists as a tourist destination.  In fact, without the narrow gauge, it probably would have become a ghost town as did the other mining towns in the region.

Lunch time at the Grand Imperial Hotel
We found our usual activities:  I wandered around town taking what I hoped would be interesting photos and Marilyn cruised through several shops.  Some of the restaurants and shops were already closed for the season but we were able to grab lunch in the Grand Imperial Hotel.  We had a delicious lunch and glasses of crisp wines after our walk around town.

After lunch, I did some more walking and Marilyn--you guessed it--did some shopping while we waited for the train.  You might notice something a bit different in the video below as the train leaves the station.  If you want to see another version, click here.

Once we got underway, we experienced views for the next two hours that we could not have seen any other way.  The last hour and half we were out of the mountains and often running along US 550.

By the time we got back to Durango, the sun was setting and we drove the hour plus back to Pasoga Springs in the dark.

The next day we said goodbye to Terry and Johnny and drove west a couple of hours to Mesa Verde on our way to Moab Utah where we spent the next two nights.  Mesa Verde National Park is a place I had also visited before, actually on a trip with my three oldest children when we lived in San Diego.  "Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States."  (From MVNP website.)  The park has an excellent six minute video overview of the park.  Click here to view.
Cliff Palace (Note men in yellow jackets working on the left just at
the beginning of the ruins for scale.)
We were not able to enter any of the cliff dwellings wither because they were closed due to heavy use or required tickets which were not available.  Nonetheless, the views from across canyons provided a spectacular visual of the complexity and size of these.  Most of the photos almost look like models.  In some, however, you can spot park employees in yellow safety jackets to give a sense of scale.

"About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. 

"Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture. Archeologists have called these people Anasazi, from a Navajo word sometimes translated as “the ancient ones” or “ancient enemies.” We now call them Ancestral Puebloans, reflecting their modern descendants. " (Quote from document on these Ancestral Puebloans.)  Click here to download entire document.  During that time period, it is estimated that 30,000 people lived in the area which is more than currently live there.
There were also a number of surface sites that were much more accessible.  In fact, we were able walk in and around some of these ruins.

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