“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us” -Anonymous
Being working fulltimers, we never really know where we will end up for important events such as our anniversary. This year we lucked out! We are staying an hour away from the incredible Colorado town of Durango. On Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, for our 27th wedding anniversary we chose to dine at the Mahogany Grille which is part of the historic Strater Hotel. The dinner was a relaxed pace and the atmosphere is of the old west with large rod iron glass ceiling lights. Chef Ward Martin, who worked under Chef Thomas Keller, creates amazing dishes. Mike had the elk and I had the Colorado ruby red trout. When we arrived back at our home on wheels, we sat outside to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower. Dinner and a show, What a treat! That was just the beginning of our anniversary weekend adventure.
On Saturday, Aug. 13th, we were determined to reach “The Notch” near Snowstorm Peak in the La Plata Mountains near Durango, CO. This was our 3rd attempt. Lyra was eager to go. As we made our way through the mountains on the La Plata Canyon trail, we stop to take in the wonderful waterfalls the dot the landscape. Lyra loves to explore. Unfortunately, I am not cat size so I often end up in some compromising situations. I let her tell of her mountain adventures. In the Jeep we always carry a survival bag which was created after we survived the 6.0 Napa, CA earthquake. Mike pulls one of our Lifestraws out and drinks the waterfall water. Brave Man! See video. He is so funny.
The trail splits near Fall Gulch to Kennebec pass trail and Colmbus basin trail. This point in the trail we had to go into 4-wheel drive. We decided to go right onto Colmbus Basin trail. At 11,500 feet we see the Colmbus Mine steam boiler (from 1917). Coal was shipped in by rail to Mayday then hauled up the mountain by pack mules. Check out Olga Little and her pack mules. Established circa 1896 the mine produced gold and silver. It reaches 350 feet into the Earth. The mine has a grate over it which if you are brave you can walk to the center and look straight down into the mine. It is an amazing site.
It was mid-afternoon so we decided to try to reach “The Notch” on Kennebec Pass Trail. The trail is moderate at times so 4-low drive is a must, especially, in our stock Jeep Wrangler. The trail is one vehicle wide so on a busy Summer weekend we had to maneuver to make room for opposite traffic. Right before we made the turn to the summit there is a couple of steam drum boilers and a parking area. The famous Colorado Trail head is located there. The final ascension to The Notch is steep and narrow. We MADE it! Woot! Woot! Lyra made of few fans while we were up there but she was not a fan of the wind at 12,000 feet. She tolerated being held by strangers and getting her photo taken. What a trooper! It was a sunny day so we could see the city of Durango and endless view of the La Plata Mountain range.
Every year we open a special bottle of wine. This year was our 2009 Georges De Latour Cabernet Sauvignon. We found a hiking trail to a secluded spot on a ridge that overlooked Kennebec pass. The perfect place to toast our 27 years together. A deer decided to join us to Lyra’s surprise. It was difficult to leave our little slice of heaven but the light on the mountain was fading and the descent was long.
On Sunday, Aug. 14th, we loaded the kayak and Lyra for another adventure on the Navajo Lake in New Mexico. Another beautiful sunny day in the mid 80’s was perfect for kayaking. Lyra relented to putting on her PFD. Safety first! She struggled to escape as we launched onto the lake. She did relax her death grip on my PFD after a while so I could also paddle. We stayed close to shore and away from other boats to minimize noise and wake waves. Neither Lyra liked. From the shore and water, people were shouting in excitement at seeing a cat in a kayak. She didn’t seem to appreciate her fans either. Then the unavoidable happened, a large boat going fast came close by us. Water spilled over the bow and Lyra climbed on my shoulder. Our trip ended at that point. Next time, we will take her on calmer water. She scrambled to the shore and found a spot of beach to call her own.
After our short kayaking trip, we drove to the nearby winery, Wines of San Juan in Turley, NM. It is, also, a Harvest Hosts member. The winery is open during the Summer months and has outdoor seating under large cottonwood trees. The winery is nestled near the San Juan river and the sandstone canyons rim. Plenty of patio seating and on Sundays they offer live music. New Mexican wine can be hit or miss. This wine is a hit! Tastings are free and not rushed. The Arnold family began as farmers but in 1999 they made the risky choice of becoming vintners. It paid off with award winning wine some of which made its way into our wine cabinet.
We hope that our experiences help you create your own experiences. We do not get compensated for any products or places in this blog.
This was a family friendly adventure
Eleven Mile State Park
On July 2nd, we arrived at Eleven Mile State Park, CO in Rocky Ridge Loop E site 135. There are sites at this park with electricity but the views are not so good. We opted for no hooks and a great views of Lake George and the mountains. With a big rig, getting to the park can be a challenge taking County Road 92 from Lake George as the GPS says to take. It is very curvy and full of potholes. We discovered an easier way to enter the park. From HWY 24 turn onto HWY 23 then take county road 92. It is mostly straight and the road is in slightly improved condition.
On July 4th, Mike’s sister, Mindy, and her son, Brett, flew into Denver from Ohio. With no time to waste we drove into Denver for a 2 hour pedicab tour through the city. Our 8-year-old nephew was bouncing with joy. He had never seen such a large city before. The tour included photos which captured us in all the great places around the city. Our guide, Rick, dropped us off at LoDo's Bar and Grill where we enjoyed the rooftop view of Coors Stadium and the city. The service was slow but the food was excellent.
On day 2 and before we headed down the river for our rafting trip we made a quick stop at the Royal Gorge Bridge. The 1929 suspension bridge spans about .5 miles and 1200 ft. above the gorge. The ticket included a gondola ride across but the line was too long and our young nephew felt it was too dangerous. It’s not for the faint of heart. One could even zipline across but even Mike and I couldn’t do that.
Mike and I love to whitewater but our guests had never been so we found family friendly run down the Arkansas river through Big Horn Canyon. It has a couple of Class 3 rapids but mostly Class 1 and 2. The Rock-N-Row guides made the 2.5-hour trip fun for all of us with water splashing fights and entertaining stories of the canyon. We actually saw Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep! The highlight of the trip was getting to jump off a rock into the river. Our brave nephew had his hand up first to make the leap. Out of all the experiences we had on this vacation, this is the one he will remember for a life time. We ended the day with dinner at the Whitewater Bar and Grill. The food is fresh and everything is made in house.
Horseback Riding and Cave
By day 3 we were up early heading to the M Lazy C ranch just outside Lake George, CO. for an hour ride. The ride was perfect for children. Brett rode little Popeye. I rode Jim which I renamed Big Jim because he was their tallest “horse.” I think he was more mule but being the most experienced rider in our group I could handle the “wee beasty.” Mindy rode a black and white horse that was so beautiful. (I was slightly envious of her.) The trail wound us through the mountain forest. We were able to see Pike’s Peak. I could have ridden all day. As we returned to the stables, the wranglers were asking about my ride on Big Jim. They totally renamed my “horse.” LOL! The short lived reality show ‘Cowboy U’ was filmed at the ranch. If you wanted to stay there, they have a lot of cabins and an RV park with paddocks so you can bring your own horse.
With our bellies grumbling we drove to Old Colorado City for lunch and craft beer at Front Ridge BBQ. The historic area of Colorado Springs is full of shops and restaurants. A favorite place is the original Rocky Mountain Chocolate factory. Right next door was a honey store. I couldn’t resist. It’s not very often one finds a honey store and I have a “Pooh Bear Belly” for honey.
The day’s adventures continued at the Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs. We went spelunking on the Lantern Tour of the cave. The only light is from the lanterns that everyone must carry. Since our group was at the head of the line we led the way into the cave. Immediately I knew this was going to be AWEsome! The cave ceilings were low and tight as we made our way into the first opening. Our guide told silly ghost stories blended with facts about the cave so it was even more exciting for our nephew. At one point to enter a large cavern opening, we had to do deep low lunges for about 200 ft. I felt the burn in my thighs. I’d say one would have to be in moderate shape to do this tour. There were a few in on our tour that were really struggling with the physical excursion especially at 8000 ft. elevation. There were a few who didn’t dress appropriately. When entering any cave, always wear long pants and proper shoes. Most caves are damp cold places with jagged walls of rock. We highly recommend the Lantern Tour especially if you have been on cave tours before. If not, their Discovery tour will give you a similar experience but with less physical stress with lit paths and hand rails. Either tour is worth the stop.
The fun continued on Day 4. The climax of our vacation was Pike’s Peak Mountain. There are several ways to get to the top of this 14er. The winding road with hairpin turns, the hiking trail, or the Cog Railway. We opted for the Cog Railway. The train ascends the mountain at a 25% grade with breathtaking views of the mountains and cities below. Our conductor alerted us to upcoming must see views so we had time to ready the cameras. Even in July there were patches of snow past the tree line. Marmots rule the peak. Scurrying everywhere. With only 50 minutes at the top there wasn’t any time to linger. I hustled to get their world famous donuts while the rest rushed to buy souvenirs. This is the only place to buy donuts made at 14,000 ft. With only a few minutes left, we took in the endless views of 5 states. When the train whistle blew, we hurried back to our train which was the last one of the day.
Bronco Stadium Denver
July 8th, our final day with our family was spent in Denver. We had to make a visit to the Broncos stadium but we didn’t have time for the tour. Mindy and Brett had a plane to catch back to Ohio. The last meal with our family in Denver was lunch at Linger which used to be a mortuary but we couldn’t tell except for the big neon sign on the roof. The food would satisfy any foodie.
What do you do when you have just spent 5 days of nonstop adventure? You go to Pagosa Springs and soak in the hot springs. This hot spring is the deepest in the World. Guinness World book of records proved it. We rolled into Wolf Creek Run Class A Resort which in the RV world is like staying at the Ritz. We couldn’t wait to slide into the private adult only hot spring pools at The Springs Resort and Spa. Ahhh! This is the life!
We have been whitewater rafting and canoeing for many years but this past Spring we decided to purchase a tandem kayak. The Jackson Rivieria T is designed for both lakes and rivers. It's a "crossover" kayak so it doesn't excel at either one. It handles lakes and rivers with class I or II rapids pretty well. Being on the road full time we wanted something that would get maximum usage.
It is easy to transport on our Jeep.
On June 18, 2016 we put the tandem kayak in the Animas River, Durango Co. The river was swollen with Winter melt and moving fast. Within in minutes we knew this was going to be a challenging run. We stayed out of the center of river to avoid the bigger rapids. Hugging the shoreline the tandem was still taking on water but she was able to handle the river. We got hung up on some rocks but that was our fault. Not knowing the river and our kayak we ended up going for a 3 min. swim in frigid water. We pulled to shore with the help of two local river veterans. They gave us beers and offered to stay with us to our pull out at Dallabetta park. We gladly accepted their offer. Banged up by boulders and Kat broke her foot again, we pressed on for another 2 miles. It was more adventure than we bargain for but it was so much fun!
With the crowds of Moab behind us, we turned down UT 211 towards Canyonlands National Park just an hour south of the Arches National Park. The wide open spaces and remote location made the perfect time to unwind and unplug for a week. The spot we found I thought only happened to other people. Beautiful open with panoramic views! A small rock formation behind us helped block the relentless winds of the high desert. Lyra, our cat, was is heaven! She chased lizards, ate beetles, and rolled endlessly in the red sand. Even Stuart, our old boy cat, roamed in his slow swagger around the campsite. Claiming the only tree as his outhouse which slightly hindered Mike’s hammock experience. Being unplugged we realized how chained we are to technology. We had to give our family our grid coordinates! We arrived on Sunday by Tuesday we were making the 45 mile drive down to Monticello, Utah. The Peace Tree Juice Café makes great sandwiches and juice. A very relaxing place to check in with work, family, and post a few of our experiences. For a small town they had everything we needed. I dropped a few postcards in the mail and we headed back out to our oasis of solitude.
Canyonlands is a hiking and mountain climbing mecca, so we “Jeeped” it as much as we could. Lyra, the fearless adventurer, hung halfway out of the Jeep window as we drove through Lavender Canyon. The canyon trail wound through Indian Creek Recreation Area for about 12 miles until it reaches the border of Canyonlands. After entering the code, we opened the gate into the park. Traversing 2 fast flowing creeks we came to our picnic spot. Sitting under the Cleft Arch with utter silence and beauty of nature all around us.
By Wednesday, I could not take the boot and crutches anymore. 3 weeks limping around was just too much for me. I slipped on my hiking boots. I began to limp around the campsite. Determined to rebuild the fire pit, I began my rehabilitation of my wounded limb. For my first ever fire pit, I think it looked awesome! We cooked a chicken in our cast iron pot. Wow! I don’t think chicken ever tasted so good.
Hail! In May! In the desert! What?! When we returned from our second trip into civilization, we were welcomed home by a massive storm fully equipped with hail! Well, at least we don’t have to wash the red mud off the Jeep now.
Next to Canyonlands is the Manti-LaSal National Forest. The center attraction is the Abajos Mountains. The paved road wound up the mountain to 8800 ft. with plenty of off roading trails for further exploration. Nestled in the forest is Buckhead campground surrounded by Aspen trees.
On our last day we ran out of water in our tank! Being Sunday the Needles Outpost was closed. With our water filter pitcher full and a case of sparkling water, we managed.
As we stood out under the sparkling night sky, we knew a piece of this place would always remain with us.
The scenic byway of 128 chased the twists and turns of the Colorado River to Moab. The howling wind blowing through the canyon passes shuttered our home as we careened down the road. Rocks hanging over the road taunted and dared us to go under them. Lucky for us we were heading South and the low jagged rocks were on the other side of the road. “HA! Not today!” I thought as we maneuvered away from them. Campsites littered the Colorado river’s bank as we approached Moab. With hawk eyes we quickly scoured for open sites. Nothing! Then Hurling down UT 191 South to more campsites. Full! There has to be one left?! Driving down UT 313 we found nothing! After 3 hours of chasing a campsite, we gave up and started calling RV parks. Nothing, Nothing, Nothing! Finally, one RV park had a place in their overflow parking lot. We took it! No hook-ups but they let us run the generator. Phew! Much wine was consumed that night.
Moab is a mecca for OHV. Rock crawlers, side-by-sides, 4 wheelers, dirt bikes, and, of course, Jeeps. Lots and lots of Jeeps! ATV Trails everywhere going everywhere! And after all that off roading, we had to stop in at the Moab Brewery to quench our thirst and fill our bellies.
Driving into the entrance of the Arches National Park we noticed a lot of Class C rental RV’s. The parks of Utah would be a perfect trip to rent an RV. Stopping where we could, we did see a few arches from the road. Oh, how I wanted to hike out to them but my broken foot wouldn't allow it and neither would Mike. As we drove to see Delicate Arch, I knew I wouldn’t be able to crutch my way down the path but to our delight there was a 4WD trail at the end of the loop. We took it! I was never more thankful to have a Jeep. We were able to catch a view from a distance. We were not so lucky when we entered Devil’s Garden. Hike in to see the arches or dream about it. Next time!
As we ascended the mountains of the San Juan National forest in Colorado the wet snow speckled the large windshield of our motor coach. We were on the Million Dollar Highway. The narrow winding road hugged the edge of the mountains like its clinging on for its life. Fear could be heard in my breath and deep sighs as I glanced out my passenger window. Mike’s eyes were fiercely affixed to the road. Just before we reached Silverton, road workers were blasting. Blasting what, I don’t know. We sat for 20 minutes as traffic built up behind us. We could read their thoughts “We’re going to be stuck behind that bus!” Probably too their surprise, we let them all go through the construction zone before us. With elevation of over 9,000 ft on a snowy mountain road, no one wants to be stuck behind an RV. We slowly pressed on trying to make it to our Harvest Host, St. Katheryn’s Winery in Palisade near Grand Junction.
They were closed by the time we arrived so the wine tasting would have to wait until morning. That didn’t stop us from opening a bottle of our own! Exhausted but happy to have arrived the in the wine region of Colorado.
The next morning, we explored a few of the wineries. St. Katheryn wines are fruit wines; their sister winery Talon makes wine more to liking. A few bottles made their way into our wine cabinet. Just down the street is the Mead-ery of the Rockies which makes, well, mead! As we stepped into the tasting room, we were greeted with a warm smile and some light honey wine. The fermented honey slid down my throat like silk. Our first mead experience will not be our last. With our palates satisfied we packed up our home and headed for Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction.
As we pulled into the park entrance a big yellow sign read that the Tunnel Height 10’8”. Our hearts sank. We couldn’t make it through that. Now what?! The hunt for a place commenced with a fury. This time we found a little gem, the James Robb Colorado River State Park, located just outside the Monument. The stress of the previous day faded as we watched the sun set over the ridge.
No one plans to break a bone but breaking one in my foot just days before our journey to some of the best hiking in the country was just frustrating. The drive through the Colorado Monument was surprisingly beautiful. The stay was short but well worth it.
One of the greatest places to see our country's natural beauty. We concentrated our time on this beauty and not the tourist town of Sedona. The maps and information at Red Rock visitor center proved to be very useful.
Near Cottonwood, AZ is Tuzigoot National Monument. The ancient Pueblo is situated on a hilltop and had about 110 rooms. It was originally was built in 1000 AD and abandoned around 1400 AD. The Sinagua were not only farmers but traders. The would travel hundreds of miles to trade.
Montezuma Castle became one of the first National Monuments in 1906. It was home to Sinagua who were cliff dwellers for over 300 years. The cliff dwellings rise above Beaver creek. It is unclear for sure why they left their homes high on the cliffs. The Hopi say that the Sinagua assimilated into Hopi tribes. Nearby is the Montezuma Well. With a constant water supply of 1.5 million gallons of water, the peoples of the area have used irrigation ditches dating back over 1000 years to grow crops and water livestock. The water from this massive sink hole is still used today. The water is not drinkable for humans.
In the Coconino National Forest, there are two other cliff dwelling sites open to the public, the Honanki and Palatki heritage sites. The roads to theses sites are unpaved but accessible by car. They have some of the best preserved pictographs that date back to the Archaic period. Every known native culture has called these dwellings home. During high tourist season, it is best to make reservations ahead of time at Palatki.
We took the Jeep for 3 miles down a Forest Service road and a strenuous hike up the mountain lead us to the Devil's Bridge. Most hiked in from the main road, since the Forest Service road is not passable for most cars. You can walk across the bridge buy many visitors take a few steps out for photos. I was suffering from a severe head cold and the hike up made me slightly dizzy so we stayed safely on the mountain trail. When hiking even a short distance, it is important to bring plenty of water and wear proper footwear. It is amazing to me that many of the visitors to this place had neither.
As we trekked in our Jeep through the rugged terrain, we often passed the Pink Jeep Tours and rented ATV's. On one such trail, we told of a frozen stream. We hiked through the wilderness to find the stream. The best found places are the ones off the beaten path. The frozen stream was smooth as glass.
The Chapel of the Holy Cross, Roman Catholic chapel, is worth a visit. The architets, Richard Heins and August Strotz, of this structure were students of Frank Lloyd Wright.
We traveled seeking the magnificent rock formations, names known and unknown to us, are scattered throughout the region. The Red Rocks of Arizona are among the most beautiful places that we have seen thus far in our country.
From high above and on the ground we binged on the beauty surrounding us. The Red Rocks of Arizona are breathtaking! We loved it so much that we stayed two more days. We highly recommend stopping at the Red Rocks Visitor center to get a park pass and information about the area.
We were interesting in trying some Arizona wine, so after the hot air balloon ride, we followed the Verde Valley wine trail in search of some delectable juice. Our first stop was Javalina Leap, a small local winery across from Page Springs hatchery. Our first sips of Arizona wine didn't disappoint. Even though the wine that was served was young, it was worth buying a bottle to add to collection. We stopped down the trail at Page Springs winery. This was more of a corporate winery with higher volume and I must say lower quality than Javelina Leap. We left the wine trail for Jerome, AZ. This was at one time the largest copper mine in the USA. Built on the mountain side this tiered little town only has one road in and out. Wine tasting rooms, restaurants, and art galleries line the streets. The main street loops through the town center. It is an unusual art mecca. We popped into one of the many art galleries,the Raku Gallery, to discover T. Weisel was about to do a glass blowing demonstration. Every space in his small studio was used. Old random stools and chairs we crammed in behind the safety rope. We climbed in and watched this master glass artist create beauty. Glass blowing usually takes at least two people but he was a one man show. For us this was the highlight of Jerome.
After arriving back at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, we sat by the campfire and watched the sun set on Jerome and Cottonwood in the distance.
When we were in Sedona, we had stopped at an ATV rental store to pick up a map of the approved OHV trails. We mapped out our trek through the Mingus Mountains, packed a picnic lunch and plenty of water. We set out for what we thought was going to be a 2-3 hour trail turned into a lot more. After we slowly climbed the first hill, we debated if we should press forward or turn back. We didn't turn back. The winding rocky trail through cattle grazing land was slow going. At times Lyra and I would walk the trail ahead of Mike. We actually could walk faster than he could go in the Jeep. As we were nearing the end of our 6 hour trek through the mountains, we spotted a black bear whom must have spotted us. The bear quickly turned in the opposite direction. We didn't see where it was going and we surely wasn't going to try to find out. Bears are nothing to mess with. We went back to the visitor center to tell the rangers about the bear sighting.
On New Year's Day, we met Moe and JT at the Trail Horse Adventures riding center that is situated on Dead Horse Ranch State Park. We signed up for the high desert trail ride. Moe was our guide and we were the only two people in the group. Our painted horses, Hawaii and Mohawk, took us on an hour and half ride across the Verde River and up the rocky hills of the park.
The frigid air seared our lungs as we waited at the shopping center parking lot in Sedona, AZ. Then our ride, Red Rock Hot Air Balloon Co., arrived to take us on an unforgettable experience. We drove out to the desert before sunrise. The balloon crew worked feverishly to get the massive balloon inflated. Then we climbed in. Before we knew it we were rising above the desert floor. Floating through the red rocks watching the sun pierce the morning sky and cascading its brilliant light over the land was pure joy. For a moment our pilot's voice faded and even though the basket was full, it felt like we were all alone drifting over this magnificent landscape. Then some one yelled, Deer!" Thrust back into reality, we looked down to the ground to see a family of deer darting through the trees. The warmth from the flames would blast heat down on us which helped keep us from freezing. A side benefit. It was quite a thrill when we headed straight for a hill and the wind lifted us over the top. As we ascended over the hill, I imagined that's what a bird must feel like when it uses the wind to go aloft. Mike noticed the spot vehicles on the ground, so we knew our ride would soon be over. The ground was coming close to early. We didn't want it to end. The flight lasted just over an hour but it seemed like minutes. With our feet on the ground, new friends, and a Champagne toast we felt thankful for having this experience.
Mike & Kat
Kat left teaching after 18 years to travel throughout the USA with her husband, Mike, who is an engineer for a Power generation company.