Colorado, a western U.S. state, has a diverse landscape of arid desert, river canyons and snow-covered Rocky Mountains, which are partly protected by Rocky Mountain National Park.
Denver, Colorado’s capital and largest city, features a vibrant downtown area. But the larger cities are places we like to avoid.
As we entered southwest Colorado from the Canyonlands National Park in Utah, we noticed again the reddish rocks found in much of the state, particularly in the southwest, giving Colorado its name.
The region’s history and people are as colourful as the landscape.
Our first stop was Mesa Verde National Park just past the town of Cortez.
The park sits on an altitude of more than 2600 meters. Mesa Verde is known for its hundreds of cliff dwellings, a bit comparable to what we have seen in Mali (Africa) in the Dogon Area.
Mesa Verde National Park features Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. Perched a mile above sea level,
Ancestral Puebloans built these fascinating cliff dwellings in the late 12th and 13th centuries. The park also has many prehistoric villages and archaeological sites. Rangers told us more than 4100 archaeological sites have been identified. New findings are constantly made.
The most famous sites in the park are Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Spruce Tree House build from sandstone and mud mortar.
Cliff Palace has over 150 individual rooms and more than 20 kivas (rooms for religious rituals). It is amazing how well preserved this Palace is after 700 years.
Compared with today, the Ancestral Puebloan’s average life span was short, due, in part, to the high infant mortality rate. Most people lived an average of 32-34 years; however, some people did live into their 50s and 60s. Approximately 50% of the children died before they reached the age of five.
Bush camping just outside the park we saw little wildlife. Despite the comments made by the ranger that Black Bears roam for food and were around we did not even see any Mule Deer…
Next, we followed the San Juan Scenic Skyway. The San Juan Skyway is known everywhere for its million-dollar views. This wild and woolly region, dotted with rowdy mining camps and boomtowns, also witnessed the antics of such notorious outlaws as Butch Cassidy, who embarked on his storied career by robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride in 1889.
Driving along the towering peaks of the San Juan range, taking in alpine scenery along the way, as well as the eerie remains of old mining camps, before winding through striking desert landscapes and Old West railroad towns, we came through popular mountain towns like Rico, Telluride, Ridgway, Ouray, Silverton and Durango.
Rico just 77km North of Cortez was our first stop. The old mining town with a population of just under 300 today survives as a historic and tourism site. The name Rico is Rich in Spanish and lies around 40km south of Telluride.
Telluride is an amazing former mining camp turned vacation destination. Telluride has not sacrificed the past for its future, its national historic district downtown is well preserved. This town caters for summer and winter guest and has a year-round event program. During our visit it was the Blues and Beer Festival. Telluride is nestled at the end of a lush canyon and surrounded by some of Colorado’s most rugged peaks over 4300 meters high.
The road passes through millions of acres of both the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests. We drove over 4 high mountain passes up to 3350 meters high and stayed at one overnight. (Lassen Pass) This area is also a must do 4Wheel drive destination. The most famous drive is the Black Bear track from Telluride to Silverton.
The very narrow cliff hanging road between Ouray and Silverton is called the Million Dollar Highway. Many parts of this highway have drop-offs that lack guardrails. Locals say it is named the Million Dollar Highway because it cost so much to build and for gold ore that remains in the roadway’s fill.
In the town of Ouray mining-era buildings have been preserved. Ouray is a high alpine community sitting at 7,800 feet in elevation. It is set in a geographic bowl formed by rugged and steep mountainsides that lead up to jagged 3500-meter-high peaks with several creeks cascading down through valleys and canyons into the city.
Silverton is in the remote part of the San Juan Mountains. The first mining claims were made in mountains above Silverton in 1860, near the end of the Colorado gold rush. The town is a National Historic Landmark. The last mine closed in 1992. The closure meant the end of jobs for over one third of Silverton’s workforce. Today Silverton depends mainly on tourism. Interest in the “Old West” is attracting tourists from around the world. The town’s railroad is a major tourist attraction as it is featured in several popular western films. The train is almost entirely operated for the purpose of tourism. The train was originally operated by Denver & Rio Grande Western. Today it runs between Silverton and Durango.
Winter tourism is mainly skiing at the Silverton Mountain and people staying at the Purgatory Resort. Purgatory is marketed as being in Durango, but it is closer to Silverton. The town has also become well known for its winter backcountry activities such as snowmobiling, ice climbing, and backcountry skiing.
Our next stop was the Canyons of the Ancient National Monument.
The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument holds more than 20,000 archaeological sites, the greatest concentration anywhere in the United States. Some sites, like apartment-style cliff dwellings and hewn-rock towers, are impossible to miss.
Lowry Pueblo, in the northern part of the monument is a 1,000-year-old ancestral Puebloan site, it contains a 40-room pueblo with eight kivas (round chambers used for sacred rituals). Its Great Kiva is one of the largest known in the Southwest of Colorado. Exploring the Monument area can be a challenge as some of the tracks are rough.
Hovenweep National Monument:
The word Hovenweep means deserted Valley. Straddling the Colorado–Utah border, this monument is known for distinctive square, oval, round, and D-shape towers that were engineering marvels when they were built around AD 1200. Hovenweep National Monument protects six prehistoric, Puebloan-era villages spread over a 35-kilometer area of mesa tops and canyons. Square Tower is the largest collection of pueblo buildings at Hovenweep and was populated with up to 500 people. It is in Little Ruin Canyon which is made up of Square Tower, Tower Point, and Twin Towers ruin groups. All the sites offer something unique and are worth visiting but we only visited Square Tower.
The Four Corners is also a popular spot to visit and take your picture with your feet and hands in the four states, the only time you can be in four separate places at once. The Four Corners is a region of the Southwestern United States consisting of the southwestern corner of Colorado, southeastern corner of Utah, northeastern corner of Arizona, and northwestern corner of New Mexico. It is the only location in the United States where four states meet.
The original marker, erected in 1912, was a simple cement pad placed after government surveys showed the location of the terminus of the four state boundaries. The area surrounding the monument is Native American land, and covers some 15000 sq kilometres. Both the Navajo, or Dine, and Ute people live in the Four Corners area. This area has been home to native people for hundreds of years.
TILL NEXT TIME when we visit Monument Valley, Mexican Hat, and Zion NP