Southern Colorado & New Mexico – National Parks Road Trip – Day 17 – Great Sand Dunes National Park, Hot Air Balloons & Santa Fe

Our morning in Pagosa Springs, Colorado started out with a beautiful sunny morning, perfect for the dozen hot air balloons to take flight to the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. We spent a couple of hours running around the town and surrounding countryside for the best views.

2015 09 20 11 Pagosa Springs CO.JPG

Nearly all the balloons had come up from New Mexico, which is famous for hot air ballooning. Our best views came from a small neighborhood park with a view across a pond with the aforementioned mountains in the background.

2015 09 20 15 Pagosa Springs CO.JPG

Leaving town to the east you quickly start to ascend Wolf Creek Pass, eventually reaching the pass summit at 10,870 feet, our highest altitude of the road trip. In addition to the usual collection of impressive switchbacks, and far mountain views U.S. 160 has an impressive ‘S’ curve tunnel. Once you drop down the eastern side and arrive in Del Norte, Colorado, you have reached an extensive, perfectly flat prairie that is the San Luis Valley.

2015 09 20 56 Pagosa Springs CO.JPG

As you leave Del Norte and start across the flatland you see the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance, seemingly just a short distance away, but in reality they are 50 miles off. While the valley was filled with farms on this Sunday morning there was nobody out on the roads, so we were able to blast across the small country roads in rapid fashion, arriving at our destination in about 40 minutes.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park has dunes reach as high as 700 feet high, with the mountains behind them rising 3000′ and more up from the valley floor. As mentioned we could see the mountains from 50 miles away, and started seeing the white of the sand dunes from 30 miles away. The dunes were created by loose soil from nearby flat farm land carried by the wind and deposited at the foot of the mountains creating a wide tall dune with many ridges.

2015 09 20 61 Great Sand Dunes National Park CO.JPG

Finally reaching the visitor center, we once again received some excellent guidance from the rangers and set off on a walk up to the first ridge of dunes. There was a scene of young men sand boarding down the dune just beyond us, children trying to sled, and people trekking the high dunes. The dunes were so high that people at the top looked like specks on a giant wall. The sand was difficult to walk in because we sunk with each step. Without a doubt walking in sand feels 10 times harder than walking on a dirt path, the pain in my knees noticeable.

2015 09 20 71 Great Sand Dunes National Park CO.JPG

While there are options for going into the mountainous portion of the park, it is restricted to 4 wheel high clearance vehicles, so we opted to continue on our trip. About an hour south we arrived in Manassas, Colorado to see the statue of Jack Dempsey, a famous boxer, which the small town exploits to the fullest with a bronze statue and a museum of Jack Dempsey.

We quickly moved on toward New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. The landscape of southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico is desert, exemplified by a group of tumbleweeds barely missed our car as we drove. Travelling down the road exposed us to pastures and hills but no towns or homes for a long time. Just north of Taos we stopped to experience the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, part of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, that spans over a very deep 650 foot gorge. Since the area just off the bridge is on state land, and not in the National Park Service land, we found a number of vendors selling trinkets and jewelry. Sadly since this bridge does not have extremely high railing, it is a popular spot for people committing suicide, as a result there are telephone hotlines to suicide prevention on each of the observation points on the bridge.

2015 09 20 113 Rio Grande Gorge Bridge NM.JPG

We passed briefly through Taos, a ski and artist colony as we continued through the canyon to Santa Fe, stopping at our first Roadside America type place in days, the Classical Gas Museum along the way. We did not go into the museum but we did see old gas pumps and other weird items outside the building such as a pole of stacked tricycles as art.

We arrived at our hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Drury Inn, giving the dusty car over to the valet. Santa Fe is a very walkable town, so we headed off to tour the old town, taking in the sights of Spanish Puebloan style architecture and the abundance of art throughout the city. Since the early 1900s Santa Fe has been very strict with architecture laws controlling the look of all the houses, buildings and public works resulting in what is generally thought of as one of the best towns in America.

2015 09 20 152 Santa Fe NM.JPG

Even the bridges and underpasses are decorated with art and more bronze statues dotting gardens and nooks for everyone to enjoy.

2015 09 20 134 Santa Fe NM.JPG

Nearly every building and street had an artistic touch to it. Large churches, many galleries and a governor’s palace built in the 17th century when Spain controlled this area of North America were here. We walked through the town square as an artist fair was wrapping up and a Christian band played on stage.

2015 09 20 171 Santa Fe NM.JPG

Our dinner in Santa Fe was in a courtyard of the Palace Restaurant and Saloon on Palace Street, which specialized in Italian and Mexican cuisine. While waiting for dinner we decided to name the coolest person from each state. We thought Dean Martin was the coolest personality for Ohio trumping Paul Newman. Arnie Palmer was crowned coolest person for Pennsylvania. James Dean coolest for Indiana and so on. It was fun to find a cool famous personality for nearly every state before the arrival of dinner. After dinner we strolled the streets of town admiring the clean contemporary native style of Santa Fe.

2015 09 20 172 Santa Fe NM.JPG

We got cups of gelato and walked a while longer through the city on a very pleasant night taking photos. Soon after getting back to the hotel, the fire alarm sounded but soon shut off. There did not seem to be a problem or it necessary for us to leave. We enjoyed our day and looked forward to seeing more tomorrow.

Mesa Verde – National Parks Road Trip – Day 16

Just east of Cortez, Colorado is Mesa Verde National Park. With the brief drive, we ended up arriving before the Visitor Center opened so we drove to Park Point, the highest point at 8,572 ft in the park. From the observation tower you could see for miles to the distant mountains.

2015 09 19 4 Mesa Verde National Park CO.JPG

Returning to the visitor center promptly at 9 am we bought tickets at the Visitor’s Center for the 10:30 am ranger tour of the Balcony House, the only tour available that day. It is a 24 mile, 45 minute drive back to the Balcony House so we set out directly for our tour. Since we did arrive with some time to spare we spent a bit of time at the overlooks for the other houses in the cliff faces of the canyons.

Our tour took us into the pueblo cliff dwellings within the canyon. The one-hour Balcony House tour is one of the most intimate yet adventurous tours at Mesa Verde. A visit to Balcony House will challenge your fear of ladders, heights, and small spaces, and will give you the opportunity to explore the common areas of a mid-sized, 40-room dwelling.

2015 09 19 16 Mesa Verde National Park CO.JPG

The Balcony House tour requires visitors to descend a 100 foot staircase into the canyon; climb a 32 foot ladder; crawl through a 12 foot, 18 inches wide tunnel; and clamber up an additional 60 feet on ladders and stone steps. About 50 people hiked the path, down  and climbed the two-person wooden ladder as part of the journey to get into the dwelling.

As noted we also squeezed through crevices and crawled through tunnels to get to the ruins. We learned that the ancient cliff dwellers lived on top of the mesa for 700 years then moved to the cliffs of the canyon for another 100 years. It is thought that the cliff dwellers lived in these homes nested on the cliffs to give them an advantage from their enemies. No one knows what happened to these people but many artifacts and some graves were found at Cliff Palace.

2015 09 19 57 Mesa Verde National Park CO.JPG

The tour guide led the group to a kiva in excellent condition that was used for socializing for the Puebloans. Some of the dwellings had multiple stories with the wood and stone materials still visibly solid. An archeology group from the 1920’s set steel supports in some of the dwellings to preserve the structures while others buildings were left untouched. We moved along a ledge of the structure and climbed a very steep ladder to stone steps cut into the cliff. A chain railing along the steps helped us pull ourselves up to the next ladder to reach the top of the mesa again. I am not fond of heights but made it through the whole tour.

2015 09 19 66 Mesa Verde National Park CO.JPG

We drove the loop around the mesa to view the Cliff Palace from the overlook at the opposite side of the canyon. We could see the Cliff Palace with more rooms and kivas tucked into caves and hidden along the cliff. This site is very special, it sparks a thought to how these people survived and thrived for so many years by being so resourceful.

Lunch was at the park service’s Far View Cafe, with the company of two bus loads of French tourists. Later we drove to Step House where we walked downhill to see dwellings in a shady canyon. This cliff dwelling had upper and lower rooms and a kiva. Primitive steps made by the Puebloans rose out of the far side of the canyon but were not open to the public for use since these steps were not restored and dangerous.

2015 09 19 186 Mesa Verde National Park CO.JPG

Our next stop was the Spruce Tree pueblo, with a downhill on a path to ruins of 115 rooms and 8 kivas. There were rooms deeper into the cliff but we did not have access to go deep inside. The ancient Puebloans farmed small patches of corn and squash. We saw three flat stones with hand sized round stones set at the front of the dwelling as the ranger explained that these stones were used to grind grain such as corn. Juniper, a native tree, along with sandstone were used to build the dwellings. It was evident that the dwellings at this site still had original juniper wood and stone held together with their mud mix. The tall two-story construction had small square windows and small square doors. Spruce Tree dwelling also had a lower level where we climbed down a narrow ladder to a round stone room. The opening from above was so small that when a person stood at the opening he blocked all light into the room below. The ceiling was about eight feet high and about 20 people could stand inside.

2015 09 19 185 Mesa Verde National Park CO.JPG

By late afternoon we were ready for 1 more hike, so we went back to a trail near the Balcony House Overlook at Soda Canyon. We walked the trail to the edge of the canyon to see the Balcony House from across the canyon. This view showed exactly how high up on the cliff face the dwelling that we toured was, and from afar we could see the entire dwelling from one viewpoint. In addition we saw the ladders anchored against the cliff that we scaled down and up again. This view made the tour seem even more spectacular seeing the location of the dwelling and its height on the canyon wall, and made me glad I went on the tour before seeing this view.

2015 09 19 211 Mesa Verde National Park CO.JPG

We made our way off the mesa down the hill through switchbacks and a tunnel toward Durango, Colorado. As we neared Durango a rock hit the windshield and put a crack into the lower left side. A truck with a trailer carrying an ATV was ahead of us but we did not see how anything could discharge from the truck on a paved highway. We were only passing through Durango, a ski town, to get to Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

2015 09 19 229 Pagosa Springs CO.JPG

It was about 6 pm when we arrived at the High Country Inn on the outskirts of Pagosa Springs. High Country Inn did not have our reservation so we opted to find lodging in the town of Pagosa Springs closer to restaurants. We had trouble finding a place to stay the night but ended up at the Pagosa Springs Inn. We followed a bus of elderly tourist who were hassling the desk manager about their luggage and wake up calls. Those elderly patrons caused such a fuss that the desk manager threw up his hands to say he had no more rooms to avoid dealing with them anymore. The hotel was also bus due to a Corvette convention held as part of a town festival. As usual, I found that being polite helps, as I politely asked for a room for us and the manager obliged. Given the entire town was busy, we opted to walk next door to eat dinner at Pizza Hut.

Southeastern Utah – National Parks Road Trip – Day 15 – Natural Bridges, Hovenweep & Four Corners

The Spanish Valley is south of Moab, and our initial scenery leaving in the morning.  As we made our way down US 191 we passed a natural bridge arch before coming to a giant rock with ‘Hole In the Rock‘ painted in 30’ letters on the side of it. Apparently it is a 5000 square foot house someone carved into this giant rock, but we were too early in the day for them to be open, so we continued on our way.

2015 09 18 1 Moab UT.JPG

South of Blanding we reached Utah 95, a narrow state highway  that runs out through the desert up and down small hills. As I turned onto this road a dirty old 4 wheel drive pickup passed me, which of course I took as a challenge to keep up with. It is 38 miles from Blanding to Natural Bridge National Park, and according to the GPS should’ve taken us 45 minutes to make the drive, but following Deliverance Boy I did it in 30 minutes.

Once we did land at the park headquarters we received instructions from the ranger on the best option for a couple of hours of time that we had. As with many parks they have a auto tour loop that we took, providing views of three natural bridges and as well as a view of Native American ruins. The trails were steep and strenuous so we skipped the longer hikes and soaked in the view from the overlook. The first natural bridge named Sipapu was large and had a lot of rock above it with trees and a river below it.

2015 09 18 23 Natural Bridges National Monument UT.JPG

Our next stop was at the Horsecollar Ruin overlook. Here pottery was once found that dates these ruins between 1 AD and 13 AD. The ruins were well preserved but accessed was denied to them. These ruins are considered to be the best preserved ancient Puebloan ruins ,mostly due to their isolation. Horsecollar Ruin earned its name because the doorways to two structures resemble horsecollars, the site was abandoned more than 700 years ago.

We moved on to see the Kachina Bridge where the White Canyon and Armstrong Canyon meet. Kachina Bridge, known as the middle bridge which spans the canyon equally from both Owachomo and Sipapu bridges, is named for the petroglyphs of dancing figures resembling Kachina dolls. Kachina Bridge is larger than Owachomo but smaller than Sipapu. Owachomo Bridge is a natural bridge 180 feet high and spans 106 feet across thin stone and is older than any other bridge. Erosion through the years has thinned the span of the bridge. It was beautiful and we were happy to see it since it will not last forever.

2015 09 18 31 Natural Bridges National Monument UT.JPG

Leaving Natural Bridges we continued south on Utah 261 another nondescript highway across the desert – for about 30 miles – then you come to the Moki Dugway, a dangerous road to drive made of dirt and gravel carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. It consists of 3 miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11% grade), which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the valley floor near Valley of the Gods. A nerve racking but really cool drive down the mountain side.

2015 09 18 44 Moki Dugway UT.JPG

Just beyond Moki Dugway we arrived in the Navajo Nation to the town of Mexican Hat, Utah, where we stopped for lunch at the Olde Bridge Grille. The town is named after a large flat rock 60 feet in diameter perched precariously on a much smaller base at the top of a small hill. The village itself is small, home to fewer than 100 people We had a burger and vegetarian taco on Navajo bread. The Navajo bread was delicious.

2015 09 18 50 Mexican Hat UT.JPG

Just south of Mexican Hat is the Monument Valley, a place of mammoth rocks in the desert with beautiful thin spires on the Arizona border. The rock formation resembled a city from a distance and it is also the site where Forrest Gump stopped running in the movie of the same name, which of course I needed to recreate, much to the amusement of the European tourists parked along the road. Returning back through Mexican Hat we had gone just a few miles before we were stopped by the Sherriff’s Department while a Toyota commercial was being filmed on the road ahead.

By mid afternoon we arrrived at the Hovenweep National Monument. There are Pueblo ruins of a culture there that thrived from 1 AD to late 1200 AD. A variety of structures, including multistory towers are perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders. We hiked the Little Run Trail to tour the ruins at Little Ruin Canyon which is made up of Square Tower, Tower Point, and Twin Towers. Towers at Hovenweep were built in a variety of shapes- D-shapes, squares, ovals and circles.

2015 09 18 79 Hovenweep National Monument UT.JPG

These towers had different purposes, including tool and grinding work areas, kivas (for ritual/social functions), living rooms and storage. We started at the overlook to see the stronghold house which is the upper story of a large structure with well-shaped stones. Then we climbed down the trail for a close-up view of more buildings. The Holly group is at the head of Keeley Canyon. The five buildings at the site are known for a rock art panel that has been interpreted as a summer solstice marker.

2015 09 18 90 Hovenweep National Monument UT.JPG

The Hackberry group was a medium sized Pueblo III village in the east fork of Bridge Canyon. The Horseshoe House is a D-shaped structure containing three rooms surrounding a possible central kiva. The architectural style suggests ceremonial or public use

As we hiked the loop we saw Rim Rock House that had peepholes built into the walls; the purpose of these peepholes is unknown. We continued down the trail to Hovenweep House which is one of the largest structures in the community. Next we saw Hovenweep Castle in the Square Tower Group. The Cajon Group is at the head of Allen Canyon, is primarily a remains of a tower, estimated to house 80–100 people, that was constructed on a boulder that sits below the rim of the canyon

2015 09 18 89 Hovenweep National Monument UT.JPG

Cutthroat Castle group is in an offshoot of Hovenweep Canyon. Cutthroat Castle, the largest of the remains, is on the north side of the stream. Cutthroat is unique among the units due to the lack of a spring, the numerous kivas and the fact that much of the architecture sits below the rim.

Goodman Point group contains small and large clusters of pueblo buildings built partially underground.

Finally the Square Tower group, with the largest collection of pueblo buildings at Hovenweep. These towers still have lintels showing that these were some of the most carefully built structures in the southwest

2015 09 18 98 Hovenweep National Monument UT.JPG

Leaving Hovenweep we passed Palomino horses roaming freely on our drive to the Four Corners. We arrived at the entrance to the Navajo Nation being required to pay the $5 entry fee per person to enter their tribal lands to get to the Four Corners monument. Prior to the trip I had read that with modern survey techniques the actual marker is really not at the point of the four corners, the original surveyor, using 19th century tools, missed where the spot should have been by about 1800 feet. The marker was placed in its current position and accepted by the U.S. Congress. From that time forward, the marker has been the legal divider among the four states.

We took turns standing on the spot of the Four Corners at the center where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah meet, contorting ourselves to place a body part in each quadrant of the circle. After our Twister exercise we strolled the booths of vendors with their souvenirs that surrounded the monument. There was no food available here so we went to headed back onto the road to Cortez, Colorado, where we came upon the Sky Ute Casino on a suggestion that someone had given us. The large casino had a restaurant but it was an hour wait before we could eat so we drove on to Cortez to spend the night.

2015 09 18 127 Four Corners UT CO AZ NM.JPG

Checking into our hotel we found a nice casual restaurant called Destination Grill next door. We sat on the deck in the cool evening and enjoyed a very good dinner.

Favorite Photos 2004-2014

Trier, Germany – February 27, 2006 – Imperial Baths

1 2006 02 27 Trier Germany Rosenmontagszug 164.JPG

Cleveland – December 27, 2010 – Frozen Pier on Lake Erie

10 2010 12 27 Frozen Cleveland 1.jpg

Louisville – October 27, 2013 – Foggy Ohio River Bridge

18 2013 10 27 55 Louisville.JPG

Pittsburgh – June 28, 2008 – PNC Park

22 2008 06 28 143 PNC Park.jpg

Cleveland – June 15, 2009 – Progressive Field

24 2009 06 15 Cleveland Indians 39.jpg

Columbus, Indiana – October 25, 2013 – Cummins Engines Corporate Office

26 2013 10 25 19 Columbus Indiana.JPG

Scottsbluff, Nebraska – July 9, 2012 – Scotts Bluff National Monument

32 2012 07 09 45 Scottsbluff Nebraska.JPG

Clermont, Kentucky – October 26, 2013 – Jim Beam Factory Tour

40 2013 10 26 1 Jim Beam Tour Clermont KY.JPG

Marblehead, Ohio – August 09, 2014 – Sandusky Bay & Cedar Point

42 2014 08 09 81 Marblehead Ohio.JPG

Cleveland – August 2, 2007 – Jacobs Field Restaurant

43 2007 08 02 10 Jacobs Field Cleveland.jpg

Arapahoe Basin, Colorado – June 20, 2010

62 2010 05 20 Colorado 23 Arapahoe Basin Skiing.jpg

Augusta, Georgia – April 10, 2013 – The Masters

67 2013 04 10 Augusta GA Masters Tournament 34.JPG

Pittsburgh – January 28, 2012 – Bill Mazeroski Statue

70 2012 01 28 50 Pittsburgh Mazeroski Statue.JPG

Mansfield, Ohio – June 2, 2012 – Shawshank Redemption Prison Tour (Ohio Reformatory)

82 2012 06 02 Shawshank Tour Ohio 70.JPG

Fayette County, Pennsylvania – October 9, 2011 – Kentuck Knob

88 2011 10 09 Kentuck Knob PA FLW 26.JPG

Pittsburgh – August 2004 – Kennywood Park

89 2004 08 Kennywood Park 6.JPG

Cambridge, Massachusetts – June 22, 2012 – Charles River

90 2012 06 22 Day in Boston 44.JPG

Outside of Barstow, California – March 14, 2012 – Route 66

94 2012 03 14 Route 66 Road Trip 1 California Desert.JPG

Colorado Mountains – 2012 Road Trip – Day 9 & 10 – Greeley & Rocky Mountain National Park

Saturday was spent travelling from Colorado Spring through Denver to Greeley. Once in Greeley we checked out the sights of the town, including an amusing pot themed sub sandwich shop called Cheba Hut.

2012 07 07 17 Greeley.JPG

 

The afternoon was spent at Centennial Village, a restored turn of the century village in Greeley.

2012 07 07 23 Greeley Centennial Village.JPG

 

Greeley is home to a large rodeo.

2012 07 07 73 Greeley.JPG

 

Sunday was the day of the wedding we had gone to Colorado for, but it wasn’t scheduled until late afternoon so we decided to spend the morning in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

2012 07 08 25 Rocky Mountain National Park.JPG

 

The park is 415 square miles of mountains on both sides of the Continental Divide, which gives the eastern and western portions of the park a different character. The east side of the park tends to be drier. The west side of the park is wetter and more lush, with deep forests dominating

 

2012 07 08 85 Rocky Mountain National Park.JPG

We took the Old Fall River Road up the mountain. This road earned the distinction of being the first auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park offering access to the park’s high country when it was completed in 1920.

Primarily gravel, one-way uphill and punctuated by switchbacks, it is a slower-paced, 11-mile-long uphill, leading from Horseshoe Park to Fall River Pass, 11,796 feet above sea level. There are no guard rails along this road, and the road itself is very rutted, making the trip up in the Mercedes tricky.

2012 07 08 13 Rocky Mountain National Park.JPG

 

As we ascended through the clouds, we spotted elk and other wildlife, and the view at the Alpine Visitor’s Center at the top is spectacular.

2012-07-08-42-rocky-mountain-national-park

 

2012 07 08 125 Rocky Mountain National Park.JPG

Eventually though we had to head back down through Big Thompson Canyon to get ready for the wedding, to be held at the ‘Ellis Wedding Ranch’ in the appropriately named town of Loveland, which seems to have a free spirit attitude as well.

2012 07 08 150 Loveland Colorado.JPG

 

2012 07 08 151 Loveland Colorado.JPG

 

2012 07 08 155 Loveland Colorado.JPG

Ellis Wedding Ranch was an actual ranch, with a few metal barns that are used to house the receptions. The weather fortunately was nice and the wedding was held outside.

The wedding and reception went off without a hitch, and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening with the Colorado relatives.

Colorado Mountains – 2012 Road Trip – Day 8 – Independence Pass & Royal Gorge Railroad

Glenwood Springs was our western most point on this trip, and we ‘started home’. We were heading in a southeast direction for Aspen. I had been in Aspen many years earlier, during the winter, so it seemed like a totally different place.

2012 07 06 5 Aspen.JPG

 

Far too much traffic, and too little for us to do so we continued on through Aspen for Independence Pass.

2012 07 06 15 Aspen.JPG

 

Colorado Highway 82 is the road from Aspen to Independence Pass. As you leave town the valley narrows into a canyon as the road begins to climb. From this point most of the land is part of White River National Forest. There are several short sections where past rockslides have forced the road to narrow to one lane and access is controlled via traffic lights.

2012 07 06 19 Independence Pass Colorado.JPG

 

Shortly afterwards, Highway 82 crosses the Roaring Fork for the last time, a few miles below its source at Independence Lake. The road then turns along the canyon’s headwall to the south. After a switchback it climbs above the tree line and into the high-elevation alpine tundra landscape of  Independence Pass.

2012 07 06 40 Independence Pass Colorado.JPG

2012 07 06 67 Independence Pass Colorado.JPG

 

Continuing east, we passed Twin Lakes on the way to Salida.

2012 07 06 82 Twin Lakes Colorado.JPG

 

Beyond Salida we began to run in the Arkansas River Canyon, which continued all the way to Canon City, the home of the Royal Gorge.

2012 07 06 116 US 50 Arkansas River Canyon Colorado.JPG

 

The gorge begins at the mouth of Grape Creek a mile upstream from downtown Canon City and continues upstream for six miles. With a width of 50 feet at its base and a few hundred feet at its top, and a depth of 1,250 feet in places, the canyon is a narrow, steep gorge through the granite of Fremont Peak. It is one of the deepest canyons in Colorado.

2012 07 06 186 Royal Gorge Railroad Colorado.JPG

 

One of the peak attractions of the area is the Royal Gorge Bridge. The bridge crosses the gorge 955 feet above the Arkansas River, and held the record of highest bridge in the world from 1929 until 2001, when it was surpassed by a in China. It is a 1,260’ long suspension bridge with a wooden walkway with 1292 planks.

2012 07 06 190 Royal Gorge Railroad Colorado.JPG

 

Below this is the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. The railroad transits the royal Gorge on a 2-hour scenic and historic train ride along what is considered to be the most famed portion of the former Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. The 1950s-era train departs the Santa Fe Depot in Canon City.

2012 07 06 157 Royal Gorge Railroad Colorado.JPG

 

We chose to ride in one of the open cars, and it was well worth it. Running through the canyon directly next to the river we passed by rafters, under the bridge and close enough to the cliffs to reach out and touch them.

2012 07 06 210 Royal Gorge Railroad Colorado.JPG

 

2012 07 06 253 Royal Gorge Railroad Colorado.JPG

 

Our next stop, and home for the night, was Colorado Springs. The drive from Canon City was only 45 minutes, and passed along the Front Range until we reached the edge of town.

The area had been experiencing forest fires in the days before, up to the day we arrived, but that afternoon they had strong thunderstorms with significant rainfall so the fires had been put out, but the entire town smelled like a campfire that someone had doused with water.

2012 07 06 259 Canon City to Colorado Springs.JPG

 

The thunderstorms literally had cleared about 30 minutes before we arrived, and when we went to the Garden of Gods we were the only people there.

2012 07 06 266 Garden of the Gods Colorado.JPG

 

The geologic features of the park are the ancient sedimentary beds of deep-red, pink and white sandstones that were deposited horizontally, but have now been pushed vertically into fins caused by the uplift of the Rocky Mountains. The following ice age resulted in erosion and glaciation of the rock, creating the present rock formations.

2012 07 06 299 Garden of the Gods Colorado.JPG

 

We spent the rest of the evening driving around Colorado Springs.

2012 07 06 312 Colorado Springs.JPG

Colorado Mountains – 2012 Road Trip – Day 7 – Mount Evans and Glenwood Canyon

Thursday had plans for really getting into the mountains. Just west of Denver is Mount Evans. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway climbs more than 7,000 feet in just 28 miles, reaching an altitude of 14,130 feet.

2012 07 05 28 Mt Evans Colorado.JPG

 

2012 07 05 50 Mt Evans Colorado.JPG

 

2012 07 05 51 Mt Evans Colorado.JPG

 

At the summit you’ll enjoy the big picture – the entire Front Range sprawls at your feet. From here we saw mountain goats, marmots, and alpine lakes off in the distance. Not to mention the opportunity to take a photo of my GPS saying the altitude was 14,000, in my car!

2012 07 05 37 Mt Evans Colorado.JPG

 

2012 07 05 98 Mt Evans Colorado.JPG

 

2012 07 05 141 Mt Evans Colorado.JPG

 

After going back down the mountain we continued west on I-70 to Loveland Pass. Rather than continue on the freeway through the tunnel, we exited and took US Route 6 over Loveland Pass.

It is located on the Continental Divide in the Front Range, reach by a twisty road that is considered to be especially treacherous during the winter months. A steep, steady 6.7% grade with numerous hairpin turns on either side. Loveland is the highest mountain pass in the world that regularly stays open during a snowy winter season.

When the Eisenhower Tunnel opened in March 1973, it allowed motorists on Interstate 70 to avoid crossing the pass directly. Large or hazardous material trucks that cannot pass through the tunnel must still take US 6 across Loveland Pass, 800 vertical feet above the tunnel. I have been across Loveland Pass numerous times, and enjoy it more each time.

2012 07 05 164 Loveland Pass.JPG

 

Stopping in Dillon for lunch, our westward path continued through Glenwood Canyon. This canyon is a rugged scenic 12 mile long canyon on the Colorado River. Its walls climb as high as 1,300’ above the river. It is the largest such canyon on the Upper Colorado. The canyon, which has historically provided the routes of railroads and highways through western Colorado.

2012 07 05 201 Colorado Mountains.JPG

 

The final link of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon has been hailed as an engineering marvel because of the care taken to incorporate the interstate improvements into the fragile canyon environment while leaving as much of the flora and fauna intact as possible.

2012 07 05 256 Glenwood Canyon.JPG

 

Construction of three tunnels, 15 miles of retaining walls, and numerous other structures, comprised a challenging but very rewarding project. The Glenwood Canyon project required 30 million points of structural steel, 30 million pounds of reinforcing steel, and 400,000 cubic yards of concrete weighing 1.62 billion pounds.

2012 07 05 226 Glenwood Canyon.JPG

 

Our stop for the night was Glenwood Springs, with our hotel setting at the edge of town. The next morning we woke to a beautiful red rocks mountain next door, which we totally missed the night before.

2012 07 06 1 Glenwood Springs.JPG