To Durango and Beyond

After hovering in Westcliffe, visiting old friends and making new ones, and enjoying some heartwarming animal encounters, it was time to shove off and continue on my journey. I couldn’t leave town before visiting the Paca Peace Farm though. I went to photograph their Akbash Guard Dogs (part of my book collection) and fell in LOVE with the Alpaca! What adorable creatures. I want one!!!! (Boy do I sound like Elissa! 🙂 ) Seriously, if I could figure out how to travel with one in an RV the girls would be sharing their seat with a baby Alpaca now! These cuties had been sheered only days before I arrived, but they were still enchanting to me. Bella and Buddy, their guardians, were precious as well.

Akbash Guard Dog, Bella

Dinner time!

Akbash Guard Dogs, Bella and Buddy

Guarding the herd

From Westcliffe I drove back to Salida, down to South Fork, and over Wolf Creek Pass. This is a long, steep pass (10, 857 ft), but a stunning drive. Once again, few places to pull over in a 35′ motorhome, so when I was just shy of the summit I pulled out into the empty ski area parking lot, unhooked “Zippy”, and headed back down the mountain. Yep! Sometimes it’s just gotta be done!

South Fork of the Rio Grande

Wolf Creek Pass, Hwy 160

After hooking back up and continuing on over the summit I went into sensory overload. First of all, the drive back down the other side was at least as steep and probably more windy. The new breaking system I added to my tow car a few weeks ago became well worth the expense on this drive alone!

From Wolf Creek Pass looking south toward Pagosa Springs

This pass was made famous by country artist CW McCall. In his song (written by Bill Fries and Chip Davis) he fondly described the pass as “37 miles o’ hell — which is up on the Great Divide.” In the song, two truckers drive an out-of-control down the highway into Pagosa Springs — a 5,000-foot drop in elevation.

I looked at Earl and his eyes was wide
His lip was curled, and his leg was fried.
And his hand was froze to the wheel like a tongue to a sled in the middle of a blizzard.
I says, “Earl, I’m not the type to complain
But the time has come for me to explain
That if you don’t apply some brake real soon, they’re gonna have to pick us up with a stick and a spoon…”
(This info taken from Wikipedia at the link above)

It was an intense drive down, I have to admit, but absolutely breathtaking (in more ways than one!) If I hadn’t had an appointment to photograph a dog in Durango that evening I’d have found a place to ditch The Beast again, and drive back up with some stops along the way. Not just the pass itself, but the landscape and ranch land between there and town was just beautiful. Chalk it up to one more place I’ll have to get back to one day.

While in Durango I met up with several dog owners to gather more images for my book. One morning I hiked with two “dog moms” up the same trail. I met Kathleen and Roscoe (Great Dane) when I was here for my winter shoot. LeeAnn is the owner of Healthy Hounds and Fat Cats in Durango, and she brought along Pipsqueak (pom/corgi mix) and Bobo (tri color corgi). And I, of course, had Jazzy and Sadie along for the hike. The combination of dogs made for an interesting, challenging, and sometimes humorous “session” to say the least. It was a fun morning, and beautiful hike.

Junction Creek

Water dogs?

Since the trail didn't need marking I assume these cairn are just for fun

I met up with Kathleen and Roscoe one last time while in Durango, to get the ultimate shot of him. I understand (from several folks) that this is a common site around town. 🙂

Roscoe!

I finally got another chance to put my kayak in the water in a calm area of the Anamas River, and paddled upstream… away from the rapids. It was a hot afternoon, and there were lots of people out paddling and floating downstream in every kind of contraption.

A boy and his dog. Precious!

It’s funny how one connection leads to another. While hiking with Kathleen and LeeAnn, Kathleen mentioned a guy she sees skateboarding with his dog in her neighborhood, and had even been watching for him on my behalf. LeeAnn knew of him as well, and told me he owned a bike shop on Main Street, so I stopped by after the hike. Turned out he’d recently sold the bike shop but the new owner gave me his name and number. After my kayak excursion I drove about half a mile down the road and met Jeff and his dog Atlas, and photographed them skateboarding together, and THEN we went rafting down the rapids I’d avoided in my kayak, right through downtown Durango. What a great way to spend a hot afternoon!

Jeff and his dog Atlas.

What can you expect from a happy river dog?

Next stop on my journey was Mesa Verde National Park. I’d been reading about this place for awhile, and had to drive right by it on my way through the area last winter. You can easily spend an entire day in this park if you want to see it all. I did a shortened, self-guided tour since the dogs were locked in my RV with the AC running. I don’t like to leave them for long just in case the electricity went down or something, but I knew they would not be allowed on the hiking trails in the park either.

Entering Mesa Verde National Park

The Park was dedicated as one of our national treasures in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world, or as he said, “preserve the works of man”. It occupies 81.4 square miles and features numerous ruins built by the Ancestral Puebloan people, sometimes called the Anasazi.

Dwellings in Spruce Tree House

Down a ladder in Spruce Tree House

View from above of Cliff Palace

Balcony House very top, slightly right of center of the image. You can see how it got it's name!

I had planned on Telluride being my next destination, but failed to realize their big annual Bluegrass Festival was going on the weekend I was to arrive. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive from Mesa Verde through Delores and up over Lizard Head Pass, and was really looking forward to seeing Telluride (one of my favorite ski areas) for the first time in the summer, but had to keep on driving… to Gunnison. That story to come!

 

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  • Fran
    been remiss in not commenting before – too often a lurker on most sites 🙂 but saw this post about nearby Durango and the surrounding area and wanted to say how much I enjoyed the images – you captured the scale, beauty, and remarkable places of this area. I arrived in Ouray – up the the road from you – planned to spend a week – have extended my stay a couple of times now and won’t leave for another couple of weeks – this whole old mining and mountain region is incredible – thanks for sharing your stories and remarkable images – safe travels

    • fran

      Thank you for the note Stephen. I wish I’d known we were so close. It would have been fun to meet. Since then I’ve been to Gunnison, Telluride, Aspen, Breckenridge and now Steamboat Springs. I’m moving much faster than I would like, but have a deadline (and much to see) keeping me moving right now. Will be able to slow my pace down next month. Just in time to head into a part of the country I’ve seen too little of.

      Safe travels to you as well. When I have steady internet access again I’ll have to lurk at your blog! 🙂

  • John T S

    I’m glad to hear that you now have the additional braking power when towing. What great adventures! Cool that the kayak is getting good use, too. It sounds as if you’ve become a pro at driving that big rig up and down near vertical terrain. Happy that you made it in one piece.

    • fran

      I’ve logged 14,000 miles in this beast. Not sure how that would translate to a pilot’s hours, but I’m guessing it would put me in the experienced category. I am glad for the extra stopping power though, especially in the mountains.

      And always happy when I find a place to drop my kayak in the water. 🙂