In the week since we left Mesa Verde, we’ve covered hundreds of miles as we finally make a serious attempt to head back toward Michigan. The hours spent in the truck are not the fun part of the trip by any means, and we keep finding places we’d like to linger. All of the sudden, there’s no time for that.
We left Mesa Verde in a blizzard of snow and sleet. It seemed like a great idea to wait out the bad weather for a day or two in Durango, a picturesque cowboy town not far away, but at a substantially lower elevation. We spent one day checking out the brewpubs and walking the streets of this gorgeous (tourist trap) town. It’s the kind of place in which you can instantly picture yourself leading an idyllic life. Trees and flowers were performing their spring blooming act, and it couldn’t have been more pleasant. We watched the Durango Narrow Guage Railroad Train pull into the station. What a thrill.
Getting back to our roots on Day 2, we decided to hike a portion of the Colorado Trail, which stretches nearly 500 miles from Durango to Denver. Although there were probably 20 cars at the trailhead, the Trail itself was pretty quiet. With Jezzy in tow, we wandered along a very fast-moving creek, up and up to Gudy’s Rest at about 9000′ – a perfect lunch spot. By the time we got back to the truck, we had covered just over eight miles – a good workout for us, especially in thin air.
Weather once again thwarted our travel plans to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Getting there would have involved crossing the 12,000′ Wolf Creek Pass. Predictions were for 4-7″ of blowing snow on our travel day, which would likely require us to install our tire chains to cross the Pass. We carry chains, as required, but have successfully avoided having to use them. So, we poured over our maps for an hour, and elected to go with Plan B – a run south to Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. It turned out to be a great decision.
An excellent campsite in an empty campground was ours for three nights for the grand total of $18 (love our National Parks Senior Pass). There’s a big population of Abert’s Squirrels here, which drove Jezzy nuts! I’ve never seen anything like these critters with their big white chests and long ears. I tried to get a photo, but these were always chasing each other around, so here’s a photo of a photo from the Visitor Center.Here, there are cliff dwellings, talus houses, petroglyphs and an excellent museum housed in a beautiful CCC-era building. We scrambled up 140′ ladders to visit Alcove House. Our first day of exploration was finished off with a four mile hike to a high waterfall in a narrow canyon. I was baffled by these big dots on this tree until I realized that it was resin or sap from the injury of limb removal. Maybe it’s just my newfound interest in trees, but this really intrigued me.One of the other reasons we wanted to visit Bandelier is that it’s located in Los Alamos, NM, site of the Manhattan Project. Teams of scientists worked secretly to develop the atomic bomb in the 1940s. We figured there HAD to be a great museum there, as well as many related sights. Well……no and yes.
The Bradbury Science Museum is devoted to the exploration of nuclear physics. Of course, a big historical portion of that is the Manhattan Project. The pale guy is Robert Oppenheimer. Parts of the Museum were interesting, but most of the Museum required a very high level of knowledge to explore. I will admit to understanding about 1% of what I saw. John definitely scored higher – having taken some college physics classes. But it was baffling – here are a couple of photos to back me up on this. We decided that it should be called the Bradbury Science Museum for Scientists.
But, the history of Los Alamos is intriguing. Basically, the US Government commandeered the property in the town under eminent domain, and established the Los Alamos National Laboratory. A full-scale building project began, and scientists and their families were gathered. We viewed the homes of Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi, which are now both private residences. The entire town of Los Alamos seems to be offices of the Department of Energy. There are dozens of Tech Centers scattered around, and many super-fit, military types are seen everywhere. There’s a feeling of being on high alert. I rode my bike in from Bandelier, and had to pass through a security checkpoint on the highway. Stuff like that…But, what other town will have live images from Mars posted on a video board next to a brewery? You gotta love that!Leaving Bandelier, we stormed through northern New Mexico and into Oklahoma for a brief one-night stay at Black Mesa State Park. Petrified wood, dinosaur tracks, and a deserted campground were the highlights – temps in the mid 70s!
One more long day on the road brought us into Kansas to Cheney State Park. We made several interesting stops along the way. Liberal, Kansas (the city, not the ideology) has promoted itself as the Land of Oz. We visited Dorothy’s house, and John listed for the Tin Man’s heart. They get points for effort, but it was pretty lame.
Our second stop was even sillier – the sight of the secret tunnel of the Dalton Gang of the 1880s. We didn’t open our wallets to visit the secret tunnel (re-created, not original), but I did get a photo of the dead Daltons after the big shootout. Our last stop of the day was more interesting. Greensburg is the home of the Big Well, the biggest, deepest well in the world dug by hand. It’s 109′ deep and about 32′ across. Stairs allow you to climb down about 50′ into the well, which is rather creepy. But, it is overshadowed by the story of the destruction of the entire town of Greensburg by a Force 5 tornado on May 4, 2007. Everything was demolished. The Visitor Center highlights the reconstruction – all the homes, schools, churches here are less than 10 years old. It’s amazing. This is one of those crazy little places that I’m very happy to have visited.
After a super long day on the road, we were delighted to find an entire loop at Cheney State Park with no other campers. Everyone is jammed down in the sites with electric and water, and we’re hanging out by ourselves in the tent section. It’s a great ending to a busy day.If you’ve stuck with this post to the end – thanks. It’s rather disjointed – I realize that the longer I go between posts, the less sense everything seems to make when I try to put it together. So, a few photos pasted together with a bit of commentary is all I can manage. It’s been a great trip – we’re both anxious to get home, but not quite ready yet to get back to real life. So, we race on to the Big Finish.