National Park Road Trip…April/May/June 2016

Happy 100th Birthday to our National Parks!  It’s spring & I’m ready to hit the road!  Who am I kidding?  I’m always ready to hit the road!  The planning for this trip has been kind of crazy.  I’ve only figured out I’ll go west—Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California, Oregon & Nevada-trying to visit as many National Parks as I can & also to see Luke & Pete.  Once I figured out where I was going, the route changed back & forth…west then south?  west then north?  Then a big snow storm hit Colorado at the same time I moved my trip up a week & I haven’t researched this trip as much as I normally do, figuring I’d just do it along the way.

day 1…4.20
I left home in the morning heading towards a small place in Colorado called Calhan looking for a natural feature called the Paint Mines.  Arrived in Colorado  Calhan is about 45 minutes east of Colorado Springs.  Still plenty of snow on the ground & where it’s melted there’s mud.  But I found the spot, grabbed my camera & made the short hike to the Paint Mines.


It was a short trip into the Springs & I went to Shuga’s near downtown for a late lunch.  I’ve been here several times…the food it good, the atmosphere is wonderful & the memories I have from my first time here make me smile.  I enjoyed a Cuban sandwich (I’ve done extensive Cuban sandwich research in the past.  I’ve also have my Ph.D of research in Cinnamon rolls & Margaritas) with a side of jalapeño bacon mac & cheese…wow!  super yummy!

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The weather was cool & overcast with periods of rain & sunshine.  I decided to go visit Garden of the Gods & walk off lunch.  I think these colorful formations are super cool.  There was tons of snow up on Pikes Peak & the incline was covered too.



Luke called a couple of his buddies who offered to put me up for the night, but after my hike I still felt like putting some driving miles in.  He’s got some great friends for sure!  I drove south then finally made the turn to begin my long journey heading west!  I was so surprised how much snow there was this far south.  I’d been keeping an eye on the weather & the Wolf Creek Pass webcam.  It had been snow packed & icy the past two days.  I was hoping by tomorrow it would be clear.

I found a spot off the road to park & camp for the night.  A beautiful view looking towards the snow covered Spanish Peaks with a full moon overhead!

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day 2…4.21
It got down into the low 20’s overnight…cold for my 4:30am pee call, but I was cozy warm inside my down bag all night!  I left at the crack of dawn heading towards my first National Park…the Great Sand Dunes.  

This isn’t my first time to this park, but first time when pretty much I was the only one around.  I drove into the park a little before 7am…there were two cars in the lot.  One was a photographer, which left soon after I arrived & who ever owned the other car was never seen.  I bundled up & walked out on the frozen sand.  Mendano Creek was wider than I remembered…of course I’m sure that changes with the flow of the snowmelt.  The top layer of the water was frozen & I inched my way across, not quite making it to the other side before the flow was wider & deeper than I cared to step in to.  I took some photos…hardly any snow lingered on top of the dunes, went back to the parking lot & made coffee, then ventured out again for a bit.  It wasn’t in my plan to hike the two plus hours to the top of the dunes…too cold for me this morning.  The sun felt warm, but the temps must have still be in the high 20’s.  It was a beautiful morning & I enjoyed the quiet solitary opportunity you rarely get in National Parks.


The roads were clear & I was happy about that as I climbed then descended Wolf Creek Pass.  Near the bottom of the pass is Treasure Falls…it was flowing heavy with lots of snow still around.


I made a brief stop in Pagosa Springs to check out the hot springs, but the really cool ones down near the river were super expensive.  The ones I could afford had no view at all….so I passed.  As I was barely leaving town, had a wonderful Facetime chat with our little Claire…she said “Apple”…so amazingly smart!

My next stop was Durango where I’ve done a fair amount of hiking over the past years & a fair amount of beer drinking.  I parked at the Visitors Center; asked a few questions then unloaded my bike & took off on the bike trail that follows the super beautiful & sometimes scary Animas River.

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It took me straight to the newest brewery in town named after the river.  It was slow so the staff was really chatty, the beer was good & the bar was really neat.  I LOVE ROCKS!  And there was a ‘stream’ of rocks inlaid in the bar…so cool!

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My next stop was the tiny town of Delores & the Delores River Brewery.  I happened upon this place a few years ago when I met the owner out on one of their mountain bike trails.  I was wearing a Boulevard shirt & he told me he owned the brewery in town & invited me to come that night for beer & live music.  It was great.  It’s small but they have a super fun outdoor space & the band was good too.  I remember visiting with a few folks & looking around at all the slightly-grungy-looking chaco-wearing crowd & thought “these are my people!”.  It was a great night.  And my second trip was no less enjoyable.  While there was no outdoor music…it’s still cold here & it’s only Thursday, the beer was excellent & the pizza just okay.  But as I was looking up at all the beer coasters from other breweries tacked to the wall, I noticed one for FreeState….the brewery in Lawrence.  I mentioned to the bartender that’s where I’m from & the guy next to me mouth fell open, he stuck out his hand & said “I’m from Lawrence”.  Trip Magic!  We ended up visiting for about an hour; him telling me a funny story about Freestate & giving me the name of a woman I “just had to look up!”  He assured me we’d become great friends.  I’m game!  

After awhile I said good bye to my new friend & headed up the road only about 15 miles.  I had free camped off a road near Mesa Verde National Park the last time I was through here & found it easily.  It was warm out & still light, so I played with my new hammock.  I love it!  I wasn’t planning on sleeping in it tonight (the temps are still dropping at night) but it was great to sit in, read & swing!  I LOVE TO SWING!  Thank you Sara & Kevin! (It was a birthday gift & I love it!)

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day 3…4.22
I was up early the next morning, made my coffee & drove the mile up to Mesa Verde National Park.  I stopped at the Visitors Center & bought a ticket for the first morning tour of Balcony House.  Last time I was here I took the Cliff House tour, but I’ve never done Balcony House before. It’s listed as their most “adventurous” tour with multiple ladders to climb & a tunnel to crawl through.  I made my way through the park the 20 miles to Balcony House parking lot.  This was a super fantastic tour!  Our Park Ranger was not only extremely knowledgable about the Indians & the cliff dwellings, but funny & very enthusiastic.  I loved the ladders & the tunnel & the chains too.  But, mostly, I’m always amazed at how the Indians built these places high on the face of the cliffs & survived here.  If you get the opportunity to take this tour someday…do it!



The group was super stoked by the end of the tour…we had all enjoyed the Ranger’s excitement & several who were initially scared about the ladders felt great having overcome their fears.  

These are a couple photos I took of the other ruins on the drive to Spruce House…& wildlife crossing the road.





I’ve done the Petroglyph Point hike before, but it’s pretty fun so I thought I’d do it again.  It’s alot of climbing up & down rock steps & in between rock walls until you reach some fantastic petroglyphs.  The day was warming up, the sun was shining brightly & I felt so grateful to be here!




It had been a magnificent day!  I stopped in Cortez at the brewery for a couple of samples of beer—yummy! before I left town.  Before I finished my beers, a woman about my age came in, sat down & started visiting.  She told me the short story of her life & about her kids.  She’d recently moved from New York to be near one of her daughters & grandkids.  She was super friendly but seemed bored by Cortez.  I asked her if she’d ever been to the Delores brewery?  She said she had.  I suggested she go look up the guy I’d met the other night from Lawrence.  So I gave her his name & she said she would.  Maybe he'll get a new friend too!

Now I had a long drive ahead of me (thankful for audio books!) on a fairly lonely highway.  The road from Cortez, CO to Page, AZ is through some magnificent scenery, but its one long stretch of highway.  Leaving Utah…Now in Arizona There are times for as far as you can see in front of you & behind you, you are the only car.  Note:  the only thing bad that’s been happening on this trip is I’ve had super crappy cell service.  I’d switched carriers last fall from AT&T to Sprint…now it was seeming like a bad choice in regards to my travels.  Sometimes I’d have cell service, but never internet service.  I rely heavily on it using Mapquest, Weather & Google to plan & during my trips.  I was able to Mapquest the route before I left Cortez, but soon after it was gone.  I kept checking the road signs, but missed the exit to Page overshooting it by alot.  I was not a happy person when I realized my mistake (just chill Vicki, chill).  It added about an hour to my drive, but since there is great scenery in this part of the country, I relaxed quickly enough, but kept a close eye on my paper maps.  

I stopped at a lone gas station in the middle of nowhere confused about the highway sign that didnt match up with the map.  Im not shy about stopping to ask directions.  I had a new map from AAA, yet it didnt show the highway I was about ready to take.  I decided to follow the road signs to Page instead of looking at the map.  Ive been on this magnificent stretch of highway beforeits all just breathtaking!  I was hoping to get to Page before nightfall, but 20 miles away pulled over to appreciate this sunset! (Too bad you cant see all the colors of red & orange in the rocks in this valley.)

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I pulled into Page as it got dark & remembered the last time I stayed here was in the Walmart parking lot.  It’s conveniently off the highway & it was a party of overnighters tonight!   The first part of my day had been so great with all the hikes in Mesa Verde, but the drive to Page was sort of frustrating.  I wasn’t about to go looking for some better place to stay (I knew I hadn’t found one when I was here previously).  It was a warm night, so I cracked the windows, pulled the sleeping bag over my head to shut out the lights & said goodnight.

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