Saturday, August 6, 2016

Our Colorado vacation

Dana's birthday is July 29, and mine is July 27. We try to take a trip/vacation around our birthdays, and this year I talked her into the mountains instead of a beach! I made reservations for a cabin NE of Durango, and planned a few things for us to do and allowed a lot of relaxation time.

We left out at 6:30 am, which is early for us. The plan was to drive to raton across the great state and panhandle of Oklahoma.

It's pretty boring from Stillwater on. It's flat--not Relatively Flat--just FLAT.  But Gloss Mountains are a welcome sight and a break from the miles of boredom.

If only there were miles and miles of trails here--or even some gravel roads--this could be a great running destination. But to my knowledge, there is only the trail and stairs to the top, and that's it.

Mount Capulin--an extinct volcano between Clayton NM and Raton. I've been to the top several times.
It's a great side excursion, but we were ready to get to our motel and relax after 10 hours of driving.

We stayed at the Raton Pass Inn--an old roadside inn that was bought by some folks who really dolled it up. The rooms were clean, quaint, decorated with retro-art. They served a good continental breakfast, and were just the nicest people. Plus, the room was cheap (which is usually not a good sign.) I'd stay here again.

Day 2. The Highway of Legends
 56 degrees when we got up. Awesome.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip. It's my Facebook background. The highway took us through a little saddle, and we eventually popped out on 160 west.

We'd really consider coming back and camping of finding a cabin around this lake. There are supposedly some good trailz here, and it's such a peaceful area.

Mostly if not all black bears. There are not supposed to be any Grizzlies in Colorado. Some black bears can be brown, or so I have been told. I guess it makes sense since labs can have black and chocolate in the same little. Bear DNA is juts like dog DNA--right?

  A lunch break at Alamosa.

Wolf Creek Pass
This was our first time on the trip being over 10,000 feet. We topped out at just under 11,000. There was a roadside pull off with bathrooms, and we took full advantage.

My trail radar picked right up on this, and while Dana was in the girls room, I rook off for a 1/4 mile out and back. In no time I was on a wooden bridge over a boulder-ridden stream, and I sprinted back to talk Dana into coming up to see.

Our first tunnel. We actually went through 4 tunnels on our trip--got to where it seemed like old hat.

Our home at Lake Vallecito

Well, I'd LIKE to say it was my home. The cabin was small, kind of primitive, but the setting was amazing. This back deck had a great view of the lake through the tall trees, with peace and quiet--only the whispering of the pines to break the silence.

 I vaguely remember what these things were....

The Vallecito Creek trail
This trail was part of a huge loop some 42 miles around. I was intrigued, but knew it wasn't possible since it would be a three day trip with full back packing gear. I did meet a group of kids who were going for it. I was a little jealous.

The mule deer were abundant in Colorado. They had no fear of humans, and in fact seemed a little disappointed that we didn't feed them.

We decided that we'd do an out-and-back to a bridge which in the trail description was supposed to be a real Kodak opportunity. Three miles out--but they were TZ miles. I became a little discouraged, yet definitely wanted to keep on going. Dana was a good sport, but was really tired. But it was my birthday, and she said this was my present--so I milked it for all it was worth.

We just kept following this river--sometimes a few hundred feet above it, and sometimes right at the edge. I did take my shoes off and waded just a little, I lost all feeling in my feet, and my blue toes ached for a half mile after I shoed and socked my cold dogs.

Every hiker we saw coming back we'd asked if they had made it to the bridge. None had. Some thought they missed it, some thought it was maybe just a little further, and one guy said the mileage was way off--it was 6 miles to it. 

Finally we passed a group coming back who said it was just a half mile away. I told Dana it was just a 1/4 mile further (my nose grew a little here) and she agreed to go on.

We saw one last hiker returning who had passed us on the way up, and she hadn't found it. We told her the group behind us had said it was just around the corner, and at that moment I saw it through some trees. She was glad we told her, and she agreed to take our picture by the elusive bridge.

We covered 7.6 miles for the day and over 1200 feet of gain. It was well worth the trip. Our pace amped up a little on the way back when we got into some lightning, rain, and brisk wind. Fortunately, it was mostly downhill and if we had not been moving well, we might have been in trouble. It was actually--maybe low 50s, but we felt blessed to not have 108 heat indexes like they were having in Tulsa.

The trail to Eileen Lake

It was a 2.1 mile climb, with 1200 feet of gain. More pristine single track with a great view of Lake Vallecito and the valley below. This area had a massive forest fire in 2002, and thousands of mature pine trees were lost yet the area is still beautiful in it's own way. Since then, many of the pines have fallen, but the aspens are thriving. Aspens are the worlds largest living organism. Seems like I heard this once in a John Travolta movie--that the trees in a grove all share common roots. WOW. So cut down one tree you are hurting a hundred. And you don't wanna make 100+ aspen trees mad at you!

The lake itself was amazing. At 9200 feet, there were bull frogs croaking. The lake was covered with lilli pads, and we tried to spot the croakers, but could not find them.

The picture above and below are from a solo run I did across from our cabin on a gravel road that went straight up and overlooked the valley. There were houses with great views, and some were for sale.  I'm moving back up here as soon as I get the right lottery ticket. I climbed over 500 feet, and actually shuffled most of the way up and screamed back down the hill at my my top speed. Passed an athletic turtle on the way down and kicked dust on him. 

The Durango/Silverton narrow gauge train
I rode this train a few times as a kid, and again in my 20s. This is Colorado at it's best--as far as summer vacations go.

We were on a train car which had a narrator (yes, that cost extra.) It was entertaining from a historical standpoint. I suppose being a history buff added to the experience. a hundred years ago, this train once was the only transportation from Durango to Silverton. In the 1800s there were no highways or even roads to Silverton from Durango.  Since silver and iron are no longer mined, the train has been a passenger train, and has done quite well.

The train made a few stops along the way to take more water, and to drop off and pick up hikers. Backpackers with full gear take the train to 3 or 4 different stops for a few hours or few days of exploring the mountain wilds. Dana and I can't stop talking about this. I see us taking on the challenge of one of these stops in the next year or so--at least a long day.

After 3 1/2 hours of scenic bliss we reached Silverton, an old mining town turned tourist trap. We strolled around town, ate a good lunch, bought some souvenirs, and barely made the train before it departed.

Leftover from the worlds toughest 100 miler (except for Barkley.)
I think this was an older Hardrock finisher's rock. It looked like it needed some touch up painting. (No, I did not kiss it.)

This was near the start/finish of the Silverton 1000, which my friends Brandon and Cameron Plate have competed in 3 times. They have run 72 hours, and they actually won it at least one of those years.

Dana enjoyed the train trip although we both agreed that if we do it again (which we will) we'll take the bus ride back. It's a 3 1/2 hour trip up, but seems quicker because of the excitement of everything. Going back down, they could easily make the trip in 2 hours, but they make several stops, and slowed to a crawl the last 5 miles because I think they were ahead of schedule.

 I'd highly recommend this train excursion.

It was 850 miles home, and we drove all the way to Ada to see our kids and grandkids. Going from 78 degree weather to 100 and high humidity just sucks. I hate coming home from Colorado. But it kind of good to be back into the normal grind.