Thursday, May 31, 2012

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Zapata Falls

It’s been windy for a few days here in Colorado, so we took advantage of a lull on Wednesday and took a drive to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.  It was about a 60 mile drive for us west on US 160 then north on CO 150. From a distance, they don’t look terribly impressive. They looked like a sandbox at the base of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.

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The further down CO 150 we went, however, they started to really look impressive.

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Once we reached the park and got our free senior admission, (have I mentioned how much I LOVE the Senior Pass? :) ) it was just a short drive to the parking area. We climbed a few steps on a small boardwalk and we were there!

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Huge! Impressive is a good word.

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I was amazed at how many people were actually headed toward the dunes or already climbing them. It’s not something either of us wanted to tackle. From the base straight up is 750’ but climbing would be much, much further.

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This place was a child’s dream. The water that you see here is actually the Medano Creek. There isn’t a lot of water right now but it sure was enough to give these kids plenty to play in and build sand castles with. In wet years, there is more water and the kids can even raft in that creek. How’s that for a beach?!

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On our way back on CO 150 we stopped at the Zapata Falls Recreation area. We turned left between mile marker 10 and 11 onto a washboard dirt road which gave us quite the ride. This has to be the very worst dirt road we’ve ever been on and the longest 3.5 miles we’ve done :)  We eventually hit the parking lot noticing that this must be a very popular place. We got the last open spot. I changed into my tennis shoes (flip flops don’t work well climbing), grabbed my hiking poles giving one to Rick and we headed up the 1/2 mile trail to the falls. The trail was very rocky and had a steady incline to the top. Those hiking poles sure came in handy!

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When we arrived at the top, there were people all over. (I cut them out of my photos :)) The stream was beautiful with crystal clear water flowing quickly over the rocks and the sound of the water rushing was so peaceful. It would have been better if you could have experienced it alone instead of with a crowd :)

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This is part of the feed to the stream, but in order to see the actual falls, you had to hike through the water and climb the rocks to enter a gorge.

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Rick was game, but I wasn’t :) First, that water was COLD! Second, the rocks were slippery and I’m scared I’ll fall and reinjure my leg or worse, break my good one! I’m klutzy enough on solid ground! So, I sent him in alone.

This may look like he’s just walking on rocks, but believe me, that’s some cold water he’s in!

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Because I was afraid to let him take the camera, feeling certain he’d get soaked, I had to borrow this photo of the falls from Wikipedia.

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As it turned out, the only thing that got wet was his feet/shoes. He said his toes were a bit numb but it was a great experience. Here he is after the fact, looking no worse for wear. I almost sent him back with the camera but I didn’t think that would go over so well :)

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We took a short detour off US 160 on the way home taking another dirt road (and a sheer pleasure to drive after the Zapata Falls road) that led us up “Old La Veta Pass” and some spectacular views.

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I’m not sure what we’ll get into the rest of our time here. We may just kick back and enjoy the I Love Lucy RV Park! We’ve been treated like family since we’ve been here.

Thanks for stopping by. Turtle

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend and Rio Grande Scenic Railroad Ride

I hope all of you had a good Memorial Day and celebrated our freedom for which many gave their lives. Thank you to all our veterans and active military.

The Memorial Day weekend started out Saturday with a Yard Sale at I Love Lucy’s and about 30 other places in town. It’s an annual event that was started at Lucy’s and has grown. We didn’t participate in the selling but we probably should have :) I checked out all the goods for sale in the park but did not venture any further. I was afraid I might find something I didn’t know I needed :)

Later in the day on Saturday, all the galleries in town hosted an open house with wine and cheese.  A person could just wander from one to the next. We did walk to town and stopped by one gallery but our major destination was the train station for information about the scenic train rides leaving from La Veta every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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What a wealth of information we received from the lady working there! Not only did she set us up with a train ticket, she turned us on to a couple other attractions we wouldn’t have even known about. More on them in another post :)

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This Colorado train ride gave us options of outdoor seating, coach, dome (supposedly really good views) and club car (the most expensive but they wine you and dine you) We chose coach tickets. Pretty basic but more expensive than the outdoor seating because, if it was cold, at least you were inside! This time of year, in the higher elevations, that’s a very good thing :) As it turned out, we probably should have bought the less expensive open-air seating. No one checked tickets to see where you were supposed to be seated and the outbound train didn’t even have an outdoor car. People just went where they wanted. Seemed a bit disorganized but this was the first weekend run of the season, so I’ll have to give them the benefit of the doubt :)

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We left the La Veta train station at 10:00 Sunday morning bound for Fir, CO. This route took us over La Veta Pass, which, you may remember, we had driven over coming in. On this train ride, Rick was even able to enjoy the scenery and not have to keep his eyes on the road. Spectacular!

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We were told that there were plenty of wildlife to be seen, particularly elk and bear. I had the camera ready…but I didn’t even see a squirrel :(

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When we reached Fir (elevation 9400’) , which is just a train stop in the middle of nowhere, we got off to wait for the train coming from the opposite direction (Alamosa). The wind was whipping and it was cold!

Fir is the concert spot of the area and starting mid-June, the trains take concert goers out to Fir and bring them back when it’s all over. Fir is all “green”. They have their own wind turbine and several solar panels. The concerts, mostly country western, are held every weekend until labor Day.

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We could have continued on to Alamosa and made it a full day excursion for the same price, but chose the half day trip specifically so we could come back on a steam locomotive :)

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Here’s old #18 which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2011. That’s quite some service! We found out that they no longer use wood or coal to power the steam engine. Today its power comes from used motor oil. I always wondered what they did with all that oil. Now I know what they do with some of it :)

Old #18 did not have all the creature comforts of the diesel (like padded seats and heat!) but it was an experience and we can cross that off our list. The scenery was beautiful but I doubt we’d do it again. Once was enough.

Today, Memorial Day, we took the Jeep south on CO 12 otherwise known as Highway of Legends. This drive left little doubt that we can see scenery as gorgeous on our own as we can from the train :) We were scouting out lakes to take the kayak later in the week. We checked out 3, but they were “brrrrr” chilly up there! I’m not so sure this is a good idea :)

People were fishing at all the lakes. It’s a popular sport in Colorado. This is Blue Lake and the water was crystal clear. Notice all the jackets…I was in short sleeves…I didn’t stay any longer than to snap a couple pictures either!

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It was a beautiful drive and a nice way to spend the afternoon.                 (We didn’t see any wild life today either!)

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We finished off the day with homemade ice cream courtesy of Lucy’s…Yum!

Thanks for stopping by. Turtle

Friday, May 25, 2012

First Impressions of La Veta, Colorado

We had a beautiful drive to Colorado yesterday.

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The highlight of the trip was going through La Veta Pass. Well, at least it was for me :) Rick said “Thank God for the engine brake!” :) Gorgeous but steep!

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We arrived at the I Love Lucy RV Park in La Veta, CO yesterday afternoon.

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After having spent the past month in COE and State parks, we took a chance on this small little park right on the edge of  town in La Veta. While researching parks in this area, I just couldn't resist taking Lucy to Lucy's :) The park is small and the sites are close together but the owners are warm and friendly, the view is excellent and we were made to feel right at home.

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Rick was looking forward to having TV again as we'd gone without for the previous week at Abiquiu Lake. Well, we do have TV signal here...4 channels...all PBS...one in Spanish :) Nothing against PBS. They have some excellent programming. It's just not what he had in mind :) We have not been able to justify the expense of satellite since the majority of the time (95%+) we either have free cable or can pull in several off air stations. Of course, we haven't spent any time in the west until now either. If this continues, I imagine we'll justify it one way or another :)

Poppy growning on the side of the street downtown

One of the first things we noticed here at Lucy's were the 2 deer grazing on the lawn of the house across the street. We were told to expect them to come graze by us also and to keep and eye out for the bears that also like to come visit :) Fine with me as long as I'm inside when the bears show up!

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After setting up and getting a bite to eat, we took a walk around town. La Veta is only around 1000 people, so you can walk to anything. This is a very cute little town, artsy and friendly.

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We were told that if we wanted to check out a book or video at the library to just come on in, pick out what we wanted and give them our name. That was about it...pretty easy :)

We checked out Main Street and then some of the side streets, many of which are not even paved. The locals call it "character" :)  We eventually spotted a cute little building across the street that said "Wine" and "Open" so we walked over to check it out. Imagine that :)

I borrowed this picture from their website as I neglected to take one of my own. No, there is no longer snow here. It's 75 and sunny!

It was a little place, Deerprint  Wine and Bistro,  that served wine by the bottle or glass along with a short menu of cheese plates, hummus and chocolate. It was small and cozy inside but because it was gorgeous outside, the owner led us around back to a charming patio area. We visited with him for awhile and shared a really good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. It was a wonderful way to wind down on travel day. We may just have to go back another day while we're here :)

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The park is filling up with Memorial Day Weekenders. Soon we’ll be sitting pretty tight in here :) Today, we are staying close to home. I have a weeks worth of laundry to do and Rick has a project of his own in progress.

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He has the dash of the Jeep torn apart so he can replace our radio/CD player. The CD player on the old one no longer worked so when he found a good deal on one online, he had it shipped here to Lucy’s so he could install it while we were here. It was waiting for him when we arrived. Looks like it’s going to be a ‘most of the day’ job :)

Thanks for stopping by. Turtle

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Surprise Visitor and a Day Trip to Taos

“I think anyone that writes a blog should know that she has readers out there”. That’s what Dione P said to me after she came knocking at our door last evening. We probably hadn’t been home more than 10 minutes when she knocked. Rick answered and I could hear conversation but couldn’t make out what was being said. I thought it was our next door neighbors :) Soon Rick called me to the door and there was Dione explaining that she was a “lurker” on my blog and had been without internet for 3 weeks until this morning when her phone had really good signal so she went to catch up on some blog reading. That’s when she saw Gypsy Turtles and Abiquiu Lake…which is exactly where she was! So she came to say “hi”. Turns out, she’s 2 sites down from us but they left today. We are headed out tomorrow and in the same general direction. Who knows, our paths may cross again and if they do, I hope you’ll knock on our door again, Dione. You really made my day! Thank you!

I know of several friends and family members that read my blog and never comment or follow, which is fine, but I am always amazed when a perfect stranger comes up to me and says they read it. It makes me feel 10 feet tall and I am humbled by all of you that take the time to read my thoughts. Thank you so much!

Now, back to my regularly scheduled post :)

Yesterday morning was our 2nd to last day in New Mexico. We thought we should make one last day trip. Our choices were Los Alamos or Taos. Hmmm.  Los Alamos-nuclear stuff. Taos-skiing, touristy, cute shops, good restaurants. Let me toss a coin. Surprise! Taos it is ;)

The drive was about 65 miles. Once we got to Taos, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center but they were so busy we just grabbed a Taos Tourist Magazine and left. After consulting the magazine and finding good maps in it, we headed downtown into the historic area where there are lots of shops, galleries, and restaurants.

Finding parking was an issue. For off season skiing, there sure were a lot of tourists milling around :) We turned off the main drag and found a metered parking lot. Ok, the sign had said “Free Parking” but there were meters all over. What’s up with that? More importantly, where is an open space? We took the only available space…and it had a broken meter! Guess that means it IS free :) The person or persons before us had wrapped an orange ribbon around the meter with a note that in effect said “Meter took my money and didn’t give me any minutes!” It wouldn’t have made much sense to feed more quarters in the thing so we left the orange tape and went exploring. It soon became obvious that many meters were broken. There were handwritten signs all over the place explaining that money had been put in and no minutes given. Maybe it’s cheaper to just ignore the problem than to fix the meters?

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I wasn’t going to let a silly meter ruin the day. So off we went. This area of Taos reminded me of the downtown area of Santa Fe. Lots of cute shops, pottery, jewelry. We wandered in and out of shops for awhile until it became obvious to Rick that the cheesy granola bar I gave him on our way out the door just wasn’t cutting it anymore :)

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It just so happened we found ourselves right by The Gorge Bar and Grill :)  We got a table outside and had a nice cold beer while we waited for our food, which was excellent. They make a mean green chili cheeseburger and an awesome pastrami Reuben.  We split our sandwiches and shared :)

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We took a different route home. The wind had picked up and we got to see our second sighting of a New Mexico “dust devil”. These are like miniature tornadoes that just pop up and spin. This picture isn’t very impressive. We were too far away and I didn’t zoom in at a very impressive moment. The first one we saw, a few days ago, was much better formed  and quite impressive. Naturally, I didn’t have my camera handy :(

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We made it home safe and sound :) Oh, and no parking ticket at the broken meter :)  Today we got things ready to move on in the morning. It was too windy to do anything else. It’s gusting at 50 mph out there! Hope it stops before tomorrow :)  Next stop: La Veta, Colorado.

Thanks for stopping by. Turtle

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A 13 Mile Ride , A Monastery and an Amphitheatre. More of the Eclipse

We rolled out of bed Monday morning but we weren’t moving very quickly. (I never move very quickly in the morning!) After coffee and brunch we decided to take a Jeep ride through the Santa Fe National Forest. One of our camp hosts, Wenche (pronounced Venka), highly recommended a 13 mile single lane dirt road through the Forest following the Rio Chama River. She said it was beautiful, and she was right!

The entrance via FR (Forest Road) 151 was about 8-10 miles from us just past the Ghost Ranch which we had seen on Saturday. The Forest road is rough and rutted but it was a doable trip even for a car. The Jeep thought it was a piece of cake :)  I did read, though, where even 4 wheel drive vehicles were discouraged from using the road in inclement weather. Seems like you would need a lot of rain to make it impassable for them though.

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Although only one lane, there are plenty of pull off areas to use, if need be, when meeting traffic from the opposite direction. That really wasn’t much of a problem as we only met 2 cars coming and 2 cars going back.

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The entire drive in you are surrounded by multi-colored canyon cliffs. Part of the way you can see the Rio Chama on your left. When you can’t see her, you can still hear her. She’s not far away.

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Right around mile marker 12, we came to the Rio Chama Campground. This is strictly a primitive campground, no water, no electric, no sewer. The campsites sit right on the Rio Chama and it was a very nice, peaceful and beautiful place. Although we drove through, I did not take any photos of the campsites; most were occupied and I didn’t want to invade anyone’s privacy. It would be a wonderful place if you are a tent camper. RV’s such as Lucy would never make it there. She’d be vibrating so hard on that road coming in that I’m sure she’d spring leaks all over! :)

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Continuing past the campground, we saw a sign that let us know we were almost to the end of the road.

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Yes, there is a monastery at the very end of the 13 mile road. Monastery of Christ in the Desert is where a group of Benedictine Monks live, work and pray.

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As we came around the bend, there was a parking area off on the left with instructions that all visitor’s should park there. We did as we were told :)  Although they are open to visitor’s daily, we did not go in. We walked down the road a bit further so I could get a photo of the building. It’s right at the base of the mountain and seems to blend in with its surroundings. There were several solar panels mounted on the property. I imagine they are pretty self-sustained.

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After making the 13 mile trek in reverse, we stopped at the Echo Amphitheatre in Carson National Forest. Sure seems like there are a lot of National Forests around here, doesn’t it?  They seem to run into each other :) This was just a couple miles further on Hwy 84 once we left the Forest road.

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This 'theater' is naturally hollowed out of sandstone by ages of erosion. The concave sandstone cliffs create echoes.

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The trail into the amphitheater is totally paved and takes about 10 minutes and a few stairs. Here’s Rick waiting on me again :)

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Once inside, everything was really too close to get a good photo. Rick had to do his Rock Star thing and make a few worthy echoes :)  It was very impressive and beautiful. Both of these excursions were very enjoyable. I think you’d enjoy them too.

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Finally, I wanted to share one more photo I took of the Solar Eclipse on Sunday evening. I didn’t share this one initially because I thought the colors were all wrong, but the more I look at it, the more I like it. I hope you do too.

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Today, we had a fun day in Taos but I’ll save that for the next blog. Thanks for stopping by. Turtle