Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Colorado and New Mexico, March-April 2010, part 2

From Alamosa, Colorado, which is a somewhat grim town in the middle of the San Luis Valley, I drove west towards Durango, with a detour up the Rio Grande to Creede, CO. I saw a photograph taken about 70 years ago, during this color photographic survey of the U.S. during World War II, and decided to visit the town. It’s a tiny town of Victorian structures in a magnificent setting, shoved up against a deep canyon, and probably has changed little in the intervening years. The road to Creede, CO 149, is mostly flat, following the meander of the Rio Grande as it winds through a very colorful canyon before opening up further upstream.

Creede, CO, 1942, from the Library of Congress

Creede, CO, 2010

Abandoned church above Creede

I spent the night in Durango, which had grown quite a bit since my last visit in 2003. It’s on the verge of getting overdeveloped and has started to acquire that urban sprawl that shouldn’t belong in the Colorado mountains, but the downtown area is quite pretty, and the setting is also quite beautiful. The winds were ferocious, and it was awfully dusty, though.

Durango, CO

My destination was Santa Fe for the evening, via Chaco Canyon, formally Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a little-visited national park and UNESCO site that’s quite a ways off the paved, but not-so-beaten path. It’s just over two hours driving south of Durango. The landscape changes quickly, and becomes the familiar wide open land associated with New Mexico, blue skies, mesas, and ashy gray cottonwood trees.

I stopped first at Aztec Ruins National Monument, which is located in the not-so-Aztec styled town of Aztec, New Mexico. The ruins were the termination of one of the ‘roads’ that led to Chaco Canyon, while the town itself is cute in a Victorian, wild West sort of way.

The road into the park defines the kind of place it is, quite isolated, with one recommended route into the park, which involves more then 20 miles of driving, most of it on dirt and gravel roads. So with the difficulty of access, none of my friends based in New Mexico have actually visited, and on this weekday, there were perhaps 20-30 people total in the park.

Chaco Canyon is an unlikely place for a large human settlement. The ruins are extensive, the landscape not so spectacular as much as it is forbidding and unforgiving. Temperatures that day were in the 40’s, with a stiff wind and plenty of dust, and this place is known for temperature extremes, from 102 F to -38 F. The source of water on the canyon floor was dried up. I’d say that it’s not visually beautiful, but atmospheric in the odd shapes and geometry of the ruins, and geologically fascinating as well. This used to be prime beachfront property tens of millions of years ago, so the rocks are filled with fossils of everything from shrimp burrows to shellfish.

Chaco Canyon, we're not in Kansas anymore

I took a tour of the large Pueblo Bonito ruins, then hiked up to the top of the canyon for a 6 mile loop that gave me a birds-eye view of the various houses and ruins along the way. The layout of the large ‘houses’ are difficult to grasp from ground level. The trail up to the canyon rim is quite interesting, squeezing in through a very narrow cut in the rock, in places barely 2 feet wide, and after about 300 feet of climbing, you reach the top of the canyon. The vistas are not one of overwhelming beauty, for a state of superlatives, this is relatively drab. But for an already sparsely populated state, this is a remote, silent, isolated place.

Pueblo Bonito, the rockfall on the right happened in the 1940s

Pueblo Alto

Pueblo Bonito from above, note the D shape, the numerous kivas, and the rockslide that took out a good chunk of the ruins

And finally, one of my personal favorite vistas, from White Rock Overlook in Los Alamos. The view extends from Sandia Crest to Taos.

White Rock Overlook, looking northeast

Colorado and New Mexico, March-April 2010, part 1

Now that I’m unemployed (anyone want to hire a highly qualified biochemist?), I seem to have plenty of time on my hands.

So with the help of an Epic Pass, the string of Colorado resorts along or near the I-70 corridor are within financial reach.

March 30- After a 90 minute drive the night before from Albuquerque to Espanola, I drove the last 60 miles to Taos. This was my first legitimate spring riding day this season, with a cool breeze on the ridgeline, slush at the bottom, and one lousy last run down an icy Al’s run. I got on the road by around 4:30 PM and drove north along the spine of the Sangre de Cristos to Salida, CO. This is the wickedest range in Colorado, a jagged ridgeline rising 6000 feet from the San Luis Valley, somewhat reminiscent of the Sierras and the Owens Valley in California.

The Sangre de Cristos

March 31- Breckenridge, turned out to be the only nice day, packed powder at the top, with moderate winds, a bit icy in the middle and windy, and spring slush and warm temps at the bottom. It was a smooth drive from Salida with great views of the University Range, with the exception of a near wipeout on an icy spot on the hairpin turns of Hoosier Pass. Good times otherwise. They groom the resort perfectly, and the various rollers and hits are fun to bomb down. It’s not a steep mountain overall, though.

Mt. Princeton and Buena Vista, CO

Top of Imperial Express, Breckenridge, looking north

April 1- Beaver Creek, dust on some very rough crust in the morning, which became a whiteout by late morning, and continual snowfall and winds in the afternoon. The snowfall turned a crappy day into a great one, despite a broken binding that needed fixing. The bonus was getting over Vail Pass during that 45 minute window of being open, otherwise I would have been stuck in a shelter in Vail for the night. But the driving was downright hazardous.

Mid-afternoon break in the weather, Beaver Creek

April 2- Breckenridge, powder day in early April. No, not bottomless stuff, but still excellent. It was downright cold, though, luckily I packed the cold weather gear.

April 3- Breckenridge, this time it lived up to its moniker Breckenfridge. Rode the top lifts until it was shut down due to high winds in early afternoon. The crowds were minimal, nobody was riding the top lift, although the snow was excellent. Oh, and I think the reason why was the beerfest in town.

April 4- Keystone, okay half day, since I went all out the past five days. The sun finally came out, although it was still somewhat unsettled. Hooked up with another solo rider who showed me some of the goods in the woods. And he proceeded to take multiple bong hits, Keystoned indeed. Then it was back south towards New Mexico, via Climax, Leadville, Alamosa. . .

Leadville, CO

April 10- An afternoon at Ski Santa Fe, probably my last day this season, nothing exceptional, but it was outstanding snow cover for New Mexico, which had an excellent season, and I hiked the peak behind the top lift. It’s a 15 minute walk or so at 12,000+ feet, and, it looks like excellent backcountry / sidecountry descents back there, but well, I’ll save it for another day and do it with a partner.

Obligatory self-portrait at the summit, showing off my $2 beanie purchased in Morocco

Sangre de Cristos in New Mexico, Santa Fe Baldy and Truchas Peaks

So that’s my season, 21 days. I was hoping for more, but who knows?

Updates soon!

Yes, I’m still alive here, and I will be updating things shortly.

Coming soon, a season wrap-up with stuff from the Rockies, and some goodness from the Middle East!