Placerville, Colorado, to Durango, Colorado
4193 total miles
Day 18 continued our fine streak of sunny skies and mild temperatures. Although we've whined annoyingly on occasion due to rain, wind and cold temperatures, we have enjoyed great weather during this trip.
On our route today we planned to make a short visit to Ouray, Colorado, finish the "Million Dollar Highway," tour the Mesa Verde National Park and finish up in Durango, Colorado.
We left Placerville fairly early and veered toward Ouray. The ride to Ouray was unchallenging but fun. The terrain was wooded and the steep ups and downs were at a minimum. We arrived in Ouray within an hour and decided to stop for a cup of coffee. We found a combination chocolate shop/expresso bar/cybercafe on the main drag in downtown Ouray. There we each enjoyed a double latte and few minutes surfing the web on a broadband connection (something we've missed with motel dial-up connections). At this time I must make it clear that your peripatetic riders have lived on manly, c-store sludge-like coffee for weeks. This foray into the world of latte is temporary and out of character!
Downtown Ouray surrounded by mountains
We left Ouray and continued on toward Durango. Within minutes the "Million Dollar Highway" proved that it has kept up with inflation. We negotiated 30 miles of endless switch-backs, each taking us to higher and higher altitudes. This section of the San Juan Mountains is rugged, with snow-capped peaks well beyond the tree line. It is fall in these mountains and the trees are beginning to turn. Bright yellows were everywhere. In a couple of weeks the bright yellow glow of the aspens will join the display. The views in this section of the mountains are spectacular.
Early fall colors in the valleys
Corvette gathering outside Ouray
The Colorado Department of Transportation maintains a fine set of roads. They are able to do this because all of their highway budget must go to maintaining the road surface. None of it goes for guardrails! After a while you quit obsessing on the lack of protective metal between you and the abyss. Nonetheless, it is something you cannot quite forget.
After an exhilarating ride, we arrived in Durango. We stopped for gas and headed for Mesa Verde National Park, which was 35 miles away.
We reached the park, flashed our park passes and started up the mesa. The 15 mile drive to the park's visitor center was another Colorado spectacular. Switch-backs opened up views that reminded us of those seen from an airplane. Valleys stretched on forever from every side, framed in the distance by high mountains.
Valley views from Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde occupies part of a large plateau rising above the Montezuma and Mancos Valleys. It is the site of hundreds of cliff dwellings built over 1000 years ago by the "Ancestral Puebloans." You've never heard of the "Ancestral Puebloans?" Neither had we. Apparently they are the cliff dwellers formerly known as the Anasazi. Modern archeologists decided the Anasazi needed a new name and that's what they came up with. These people are the ancestors of several modern tribes, among them the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo.
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde
Anyway, we took a really good tour guided by Suzanne, a charming and knowledgeable park ranger. Their dwellings were amazingly intricate and built to last. They had among the most advanced civilizations of the ancient North American people. This was one of the most interesting parts of our trip.
While at Mesa Verde we met four guys from Minnesota who were touring on their bikes. They were all in their mid-fifites and had started riding after their fiftieth birthdays. Apparently we're not the only examples of our species.
The 4 Amigos from Minnesota
We returned to Durango for the night and began to plot a course for our final week of travel. We plan to take Colorado roads east for a while and then dip into New Mexico. From there we will cross into Oklahoma, en-route to southwestern Arkansas. After touring the Ozarks, we plan to take a ferry across the Mississippi River and return to Tennessee.
We have a week left. And we plan to make the most of it.Posted by Bill Thompson at September 21, 2003 05:13 PM GMT
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