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Mesa Verde National Park and return of winter (Colorado)

Friday, May 27th, 2011

May 17th-May 19th

Mesa Verde is unique among the National Parks because it is the only one fully devoted to archeology. The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, built by the Ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi, are spectacular. We had an”adventurous” time visiting the park. When we arrived in Mesa Verde, we drove straight into a weather front that was pushing across the West. In spite of the impending weather, we set up camp. It rained hard overnight and was still raining the next morning. The drive from the campground to the Visitors’ Center climbed a little bit in altitude and the rain turned into a wet snow. We ended up having breakfast in the car and lunch in the car. To see the cliff dwellings, we did two ranger guided tours. For the first one to the Cliff Palace, the weather let up a little bit. We followed a steep set of stone stairs down from the rim, into the ancient site. The ranger explained to us that the original inhabitants used a series of toe and finger holes to climb in and out of the site, often balancing heavy loads. The Cliff Palace is quite well preserved thanks to its protected location, and we can see many of the original 100 rooms and several large kivas, or ceremonial rooms.  From the Cliff Palace, we did another ranger guided tour to the Balcony House. This tour, nicknamed the Indiana Jones Tour was made even more authentic by the rain falling overhead. On this one, we had to climb a series of ladders to get into the dwelling, which is named the Balcony House because of the curious log and plaster balconies. To get out, we had to crawl on our hands and knees through a tunnel. That was a fun one! We explored the other sites, like the Spruce Tree House and the Far View aboveground sites on our own. Though we had a little sun towards the end of our last hike, the drive back to the campsite was in a dense fog. When we got back to the tent, there was about an inch of snow on the tent. The snow let up and we got a little sunshine for dinner. We ate early and went straight in tent. It stormed again overnight and the next morning we had several inches of snow on our tent and on our car. When I opened the tent, I burst out laughing. We thought we had escaped a Romanian winter, but here we were at the end of May shoveling snow off our tent. We packed up our wet stuff and went to Denny’s for breakfast.

Rocky Mountain High: Ridgway, Ouray, Silverton, and Durango

Friday, May 27th, 2011

May 16th-May 17th

As we left the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, we descended onto a fertile plateau, irrigated by Gunnison River water that had been piped through the mountain. We made a stop in civilization to restock our groceries and then continued west to a small mountain town called Ouray. Ouray is a little mountain resort town beautifully wedged in between two mountains on the beginning of the “million dollar highway.” We camped in Ridgway State Park, about 10 miles outside of Ouray, which had a lovely area for tent camping- the only catch was that we had to cross the river to get to it. Luckily, they provided us with wheelbarrows to cart our stuff out. (We weren’t in the mood to get out our backpacking gear that night.) We spent the afternoon in the Ouray Hot Springs, which consist of several pools of different temperature waters. This was exactly what our tired muscles needed after a strenuous hike and a long drive.  Back at the campground, we could see the storms building in the distance and after dinner (and laundry) we hunkered down for a night of possible rain storms.

The night was surprisingly calm, and we awoke early the next morning to sunshine. By the time we finished breakfast and packing up, the weather turned and it started to rain. These weren’t ideal conditions for sightseeing and driving through the mountains, but sometimes you have to go with it. We started with a walk down Ouray’s Main Street, which still has some charming architecture from the end of the 19th century when Ouray became a boom town. We did a small hike to see the falls and ice park (no ice left, but it must be beautiful in the winter.) Then we drove on what must be one of the highest roads in the U.S. The rain quickly turned to snow, which stuck to the north-facing trees, quickly creating a winter wonderland. By the time we reached the summit, at 3,300m , the snow was coming down hard.

Our next stop was in Silverton, an old mining town that was virtually abandoned, and then was revived in the 1990s as a tourist destination on the Durango-Silverton Scenic Railroad. Today it resembles a “wild west” theme park with old style saloons. It was still snowing when we got there. So after a quick visit of the town, we chose one of the old saloons for a hot lunch. After Silverton the road descended, and we passed several ski areas (closed for the season, although they had a fresh blanket of snow) before we arrived in sunny and warm Durango. Durango is a mix of Wild West and hippy outdoors- with a nice little main street. We visited the train museum, of course, and picked up some souvenirs for Fab’s dad. It was a fun day filled with beautiful mountain views and crazy weather. We continued the road a little further from Durango to Mesa Verde National Park.

Black Canyon National Park, Colorado

Friday, May 27th, 2011
May 14th-16th The weather was warm and sunny when we woke up, but there were black clouds and storms rolling in by the time we left. We could see rain falling in the distance, but managed to avoid it for most ... [Continue reading this entry]

Colorado bound: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Friday, May 27th, 2011
May 13th-14th We left Taos early in the morning to begin our journey towards Colorado. Neither Fabien nor I had ever been to this beautiful mountainous state. The road followed the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and was relatively flat despite its ... [Continue reading this entry]

24 Mai : le voyage est la destination… voire plus

Friday, May 27th, 2011
La journée démarre avec un temps record pour le petit déjeuner, le démontage de la tente et le rangement : en moins d'une heure et demi, l'affaire est pliée. En effet, nous commençons à comprendre la leçon et souhaitons profiter ... [Continue reading this entry]

23 Mai : marathon des Parcs Nationaux suite : Capitol Reef

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
L'avantage dans ces visites du sud de l'Utah est que je peux réutiliser le titre de mes posts plusieurs fois. Cette fois, nous arrivons à Capitol Reef après une route scénique qui nous conforte dans l'idée que l'Utah est vraiment ... [Continue reading this entry]

22 Mai : marathon des Parcs Nationaux suite : Canyonlands

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
Nous poursuivons notre enchaînement des parcs nationaux avec un parc peu connu : Canyonlands. Divisés en trois secteurs dont un ne peut être accédé que par 4*4, c'est sans doute l'un des parcs les plus difficiles à accéder. La partie ... [Continue reading this entry]

21 Mai : quelques arches de plus

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
Avec le bruit des grenouilles ayant aimé les dernières pluies, nous avons finalement passé une bonne nuit, pas trop froide, ni trop dur. Nous profitons des premiers rayons du soleil pour plier la tente et reprendre nos sacs à dos ... [Continue reading this entry]

20 Mai : arches et pluies

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
Après une bonne nuit, nous commençons la journée par un grand rangement de la voiture et une réorganisation de nos nombreuses boîtes qui s'empilent comme des légos dans la voiture (même si à la fin, il reste toujours trop de ... [Continue reading this entry]

19 Mai : encore plus de neige = direction Utah !

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
Un drôle de bruit se fait entendre dans la nuit... Il tombe quelque chose mais ce n'est pas de la pluie : la neige fait son retour. Au petit matin, il n'y a plus de bruit mais les parois de ... [Continue reading this entry]