“Is anybody in here?” The animated fellow didn’t wait for my answer as he came in the office door. “Nobody around? Don’t you hate it when you want help and where is anybody?” I caught on. It was the twinkle in his eye that had given him away.
“I’m figuring the guy I’ve been looking for just walked in the door.” I said.
He smiled like he liked to smile. “What can I do for you?”
We were in Silverton, Colorado at the A&B RV Park. I explained, “The lady down at the Visitors Center said the Laundromat in town was boarded up, out of business, but that the RV parks had coin laundry and we should try you first.”
“Well follow me; I’ll get you fixed up. Right over here.” I followed him out the door as he talked. The Lady dropped into line behind us. “Can we do laundry?” she asked.
“Of course you can. All it takes is quarters. Right in here.”
All new machines, good ones, and empty, ready for us to go to work.
“Now if you need anything just find me but don’t go looking in the office. I don’t like it in there. You find me out here somewhere helping somebody with something or finding something to do. You guys okay?”
“Yes, this is great! Thanks. How long do the washing machines take?” the Lady asked.
“Twenty nine minutes,” he answered and was out the door.
The washing machines swallowed our quarters and came alive. “Want to walk around town?” the Lady asked. Silverton is small. You can easily park anywhere and be able to thoroughly cover the town on foot. We headed down the street that in the old days was the notorious red light district, a fact now celebrated. Most of the businesses were just opening up as the first train of the day, up from Durango, was arriving soon. We got a cinnamon roll at the Avalanche coffee house. “This is to celebrate Cinnamon Pass,” the Lady said.
It started to rain. Raingear came out. While our clothes were in the dryer we wandered down to the train station and picked up a brochure. We checked out a few shops. I saw a t-shirt with a bear on the front. The bear was sporting a set of antlers. Under the bear was the word “Beer.” I’ll have to be sure of our friend Ted’s t-shirt size next time I see that shirt.
Back at the RV Park the fellow kindly let us toss some trash and fill our water. “Do we owe you anything?” the Lady asked. “Oh no,” the fellow said, “but if you want to give me money I could use fifty bucks!”
“So are you A or B?” the Lady asked him.
We could see his mind was working and then he answered, “I’m A”
“Why are you selling the place?” the Lady asked.
“Yes, there’s a realty sign out front.”
“Oh that! That sign’s been out there for 25 years. It’s just decoration.”
It was still before noon as I started the truck. “Where should we go?” I asked the Lady.
“What are our options?”
“Well north on 550 is Ouray. We’ve been there and it’s probably raining more up that direction. South on 550 is Durango.”
“Have we ever been to Durango?
“No,” I answered, “I don’t think we have”
“Good. Along the way you may be able to see some of the backcountry you want to access from the train.”
Durango scared the crap out of us. It was bigger than we ever imagined, the streets were multi-laned, filled with traffic, and there were signal lights. Our home town doesn’t have any signal lights, only a couple of stop signs so every time I see one I’m carefully refreshing my memory on how they work. Most confusing is the left turn lane. I think I got it figured out that a green arrow and a solid green light mean two different things. A couple of drivers helped with my education.
We found a nice market with good produce and fruit although they were out of Palisade Peaches.
We survived Durango and headed west.
It was mid afternoon. The Lady was navigating, the map on her lap. “Look, Mesa Verde is along this road! You ever been to Mesa Verde?” she asked.
I told her the story about our family driving into the National Park once on a trip. I was 8 or 9 years old. “I remember looking down from an overlook and seeing cliff dwellings. All I wanted to do was go down into the dwellings. I was mesmerized. I yearned to see them up close but we were in a hurry, had to be somewhere, or something. It’s a strong childhood memory, not getting to see the cliff dwelling up close.”
“Well fifty two years later you ought to get to see the cliff dwellings!”
“Really? You want too? We haven’t done any planning. We’ll have to get help at the Visitors Center.”
The Lady added, “Let’s spend a couple days and do something completely unplanned!”
The Visitor Center staff was outstanding, easy to talk with. We announced we were on our way home and saw Mesa Verde on the map and just decided to come.
“First off,” I asked, “is there a place for us to camp?”
“Absolutely,” the woman replied. “We have a big campground that never fills. It’s about 4 miles in. Check in at the general store.”
She then walked us through what we could visit, how tours worked, and offered suggestions for us after she got to know us a bit. In a matter of a few minutes we were set! This was fun.
The folks at the concession run campground were just as nice. A space ran about $26 a night but that included free showers, in private rooms, we could shower together, and help conserve water. The woman asked if our camper had a generator or furnace. “We don’t have a generator but we do have a furnace,” the Lady answered.
“Well, then you can’t go in the tent area. Everybody wants to go in the tent area to get away from the generators. We don’t assign sites so this is what I suggest you do. See these sites across from this line of full hook ups?” She pointed to a campground map. “These sites back up to the tent area. The tents aren’t going to have generators and the full hook up people don’t need them. These sites are nice and they are quiet. Find a spot there and it’s also an easy walk to the showers.”
We settled in and relaxed. I tried to put the excitement of my childhood dream of seeing Mesa Verde cliff dwellings up close out of my mind. It was impossible. The Lady was just as excited as I was.
The next morning (it is an hour drive out to Chapin Mesa) we were on the first tour of Cliff Palace. A light rain was falling. I was (yeah, I know I shouldn’t have been) surprised how ill prepared so many are for weather. I guess that’s why we call ‘em pilgrims.
Ranger Marianna did a nice job handling the crowd and giving a good overview of the culture, time frame, and ruins. My eyes kept getting drawn up to the folks at the overlook………………………
I’ve found kivas to be fascinating, both in architecture and a how they are a central part of the culture continuing to this day.
We also enjoyed the old work done by the CCC’s and the use of ladders on the exit route.
Our next tour was in late afternoon at the end of Wetherill Mesa. We took our time visiting other sites and doing our best to absorb all the information.
This area was occupied, used, farmed (complete with reservoirs and irrigation) for 750 years, a time period equal to the Roman Empire. I was, of course, focused on the cliff dwellings, but the much older ruins and artifacts were equally fascinating.
The Square Tower House is being reinforced and plans are for a trail down to it.
The number of sites visible in this area is astounding.
We stopped at the museum and visitors center on the Chapin Mesa and did the walking tour of the Spruce Tree House ruins.
We slowly rambled over to Wetherill Mesa. The heat of the day was building along with possible thunderstorms. Wetherill Mesa is less impacted by visitor numbers so we really enjoyed the relative quiet. We did the walk out (and down) to the Step House. Here the area shows a longer time frame of habitation.
We had a late afternoon tour of the Long House scheduled. An earlier tour was being organized. There were not many people in the tour and we asked if it would be okay for us to join them with tickets for a later tour. Yes!
Ranger Josh was our tour guide.
The Lady liked Ranger Josh and stuck with him.
Josh was knowledgeable, a bit eccentric with a dry sense of humor. I liked him too. The strongest point that he conveyed was the sophistication of the culture.
The Long House and Ranger Josh’s tour was the highpoint of our visit to Mesa Verde.
The Lady really liked these steep stairs just inside this small door.
It had been an incredible day. “You got to see the cliff dwellings!” the Lady kept coming back to that. Yes I did. We settled into camp for our last night here. We were surrounded by Germans in rental small motorhomes. Europeans are really into the American West and our National Parks. Our foreign visitors are easy to pick out of a crowd because they are thin. We really enjoyed watching the dynamics of family groups. We sat out after dark in our chairs at our campsite. Stars moved in and out of sight with the movement of clouds. A German family was across from us, gathered around a small flickering blaze in the firepit. Each person was bundled up for the refreshing cool evening temps. Their chairs were close together. The father quietly read out loud to the group. No one interrupted. His voice and the story held everyone’s attention. The Lady was cuddled in my arms. “I wish I knew the language so I could follow along, this is wonderful.” I wished I did too.
On to Utah! Continued in Part Seven - Click Here