|Ruins at Chaco Canyon|
A few weeks ago our good friend Diane came into town from San Fransisco. She loves to bike and have adventures more than we do, so we took a week off of work, loaded up the bikes and camping gear and headed north. Our first stop was Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The weather was beautiful and, as you can see by the photos, the sky was an incredible shade of blue. We arrived in the late afternoon and available sunlight restricted our hike to about 4 miles. We saw ruins, petroglyphs and some interesting lizards.
The thing which most surprised me was that the buildings were not made of adobe brick. I had assumed they were because that is what is predominantly found in and around Albuquerque. True, Chaco Canyon is not anywhere near Albuquerque, but I had become accustomed to that building style. The Chaco buildings were, in fact, built of rocks with what resembled an adobe-esque mortar. They were stunning and I wish we had seen some truly great great houses which are present in the park. Our time was limited and we are definitely planning another trip back. Although camping was allowed at the designated campground, it was far busier than we expected so we continued to Durango and made camp in the national forest.
Bright and early the next morning we broke camp and headed out of town. Desintation: Fruita, Colorado. Fruita is renowned for it's miles and miles of singletrack mountain biking. It is in the high desert with incredible scenery and the people who live in Fruita are welcoming to cyclists. The drive took us through golden aspen forests and old mining towns until the landscape began to change. The aspens gave way to red rocks and sage. Here is our campsite, which was just a few pedal strokes to several trailheads.
This was Diane's first time on a mountain bike and she was fantastic! She even rode clipped in. As would become our routine, we arrived at the trails around 3:30. With daylight running short, we made the most of it, getting in about 10 miles and returning to camp just as the sun set. After a meal of homemade pita bread and commercially made Tasty Bite Indian, we crawled into our sleeping bags and slept soundly, dreaming of more rolling singletrack with sweeping vistas.
The next morning we drove over to the Kokopelli trail system just outside Fruita. This was some of the most incredible riding I have ever done due to both the scenery and the quality of the trails. The Kokopelli trails are right along the Colorado River, atop and within red rock canyons.
My newish digital camera is on the fritz, so I brought along my old camera that has seen better days. Of course a point and shoot can never capture the true beauty of a place. The first few trails we rode were undulating and pretty fast. Pure fun. Diane felt more at ease on the bike and Lane and I could not keep up with her.
Here she is about to take off toward the canyon wall.
As the hours ticked by, the sun rose higher and we started to cook. This trail system is very exposed and luckily we had enough water to keep us going. Unfortunately, the glaring sun was no match for my point and shoot and all of the gorgeous views became washed-out.
You'll have to use your imagination.
Although Fruita was fantastic, the road called. We broke camp and headed east. After a few hours' drive we decided to camp at Black Canyon National Park. Never heard of it? Neither had I. It is pretty small, by national park standards, but is packed with beauty. The Black Canyon rises over 2,000 feet off the floor of the Colorado River. The river continues to carve it even deeper each year. Early the next morning we walked the interpretive chasm trail to Painted Rock and the canyon's edge.
Thanks to the interpretive brochure, we learned that the metamorphic rock of the canyon walls was formed by two volcanic events. The first created the black rock. The second was of a thicker lava that squeezed in the cracks like toothpaste. It is pink and crystalline, sort of like granite. We watched the canyon change as the sun rose.
|Can you tell that it was cold? Temperatures were forecast to be around freezing.|
|A birthday kiss|
My birthday dinner was at the Laughing Lady in downtown Salida. Many of the dishes used locally-sourced items and all of it was incredibly delicious. We started with a lightly dressed salad since we were all having nutrient withdraw. Road food tends to be heavy on the carbs, low on the greens. A duck eggroll appetizer with a light and spicy dipping sauce was just the right amount of crispy, spicy and sweet. Diane sweet talked our server into a side of the hot potato and green bean salad that was covered in soft goat cheese and swimming in garlicky butter. Lane had a buffalo burger with homemade shoestring fries. I had a pork chop with creamy mashed potatoes over an ancho-squash sauce with grilled vegetables and a cranberry apple slaw and Diane had the chicken papparadelle pasta that had a rich, garlicky broth and roasted squash. We felt ok with this meat fest since all of their meat comes from humanely-raised, local farmers who feed their animals the way nature intended.
This meal came after a long day on the road and a great 6 miles of singletrack on part of the rainbow trail. With our bellies full and our down parkas at the ready, we climbed into bed along Bear Creek, hoping the eponymous creature wouldn't make an appearance.
With frost on the ground and a need to warm up we hit Cafe at Dawn, a former auto shop, complete with roll-up garage doors, for a very strong cup of coffee. After consulting the trail guide we decided to take a jaunt north to ride an abandoned rail road track that serviced the silver mines. Most of our rides began after 3pm and this one was no different. The drive to the trail head passed by a ghost town. We were excited to check it out but once we arrived were incredibly disappointed. The "ghost town" was privately owned and in various stages of being renovated. There was a small hotel and an oddly large number of tourists. We had hoped for authentic ruins but would have to find those further up the road. At various points on the drive we passed by what remained of the mining industry, including a building that leaned very precariously into the road. We couldn't figure out what kept it from falling into the canyon.
This was the view that greeted us at the trail head. Note the snow.
|This may have been a view of a peak in the Collegiate range. Many of these mountains are over 14,000 ft.|
This trail was supposed to be an easy ride complete with interpretive signs describing the railway and the mining industry. What we experienced lived up to those expectations but what we didn't anticipate was that the trail would also be covered in snow. Initially we thought that was because we were in the shade but the snow continued, sometimes obscuring the remains of the wooded railroad ties. The ride was slick and it's never a good idea to ride on wet ground as it can cause ruts. So, feeling slightly defeated, we headed back after 2 miles and had a delightful picnic watching the moon rise.
In desperate need for a shower we thought about hitting one of the many hot springs in the area. The two spots we called were a bit pricey and in a resort-type environment so we headed back to town to give the Salida Hot Springs Community Aquatic Center a try. This was not a disappointment. The Aquatic center pipes in water from a mineral hot springs about 7 miles away and has been in operation since the 1930s. Part of the building originates from that time. Truly a community space, this felt better to us than some touristy resort. The showers were fantastic and the soak in the large pool was even better.
After another cool-night's sleep we started our journey back to Albuquerque. At around 3:00 we started the slog up Aspen Vista and miraculously made it to the car before sunset. I say miraculously because the start of the trail was clogged with leaf-peepers and we stopped near the top to help someone with a flat. His companion was incredulous that we don't have "modern" mountain bikes at home. Truth be told, after 7 miles uphill on a rocky, gravelly road and 2 fast, steep miles down similar terrain, I was starting to think he had a point.
Tired, we piled back into the car for the final stretch back home. While we love camping and a life on the road, it was great to be in our little house-with a kitchen, a shower, and a non-mesh roof over our heads. The next morning we couldn't see our breath after getting out of bed and could make coffee without wearing gloves.
Life's little pleasures.
Diane, we miss you and hope you'll be back for more adventures this spring!