Tuesday and Wednesday, August 23-24, 2022—Batchelor’s Loop and Pickleball

Departing the cabin at 11 o’clock Tuesday morning, we drove into Creede and began traversing the Bachelor’s Loop in a counter clockwise direction.

The route preferred by most is the more challenging east route that follows East Willow Creek for the majority of the terrain, then turns to the west in a steep climb to converge again with the main road of the Bachelor’s Loop. While it is open to non-4×4 vehicles, it is a hard pack gravel mine road that can be a little rough and has several very steep points just past the north end of Creede.

The main route follows West Willow Creek to top out with the aged forests of Bristle Cone pine trees. It climbs gently for four miles to slightly over 11,000 feet before traversing gentle ups and downs and then weaves its way up through the canyon north of Creede descending under ragged cliff sides.

The drive took us past mine locations from the 1890s and abandoned ghost towns that once rivaled Creede in size.

Wednesday was a “down” day for rest and catching up on social media. We began the day playing pickleball in Creede, and the last couple of matches were among the most competitive in which I’ve played—fun!

Monday, August 22, 2022—Fly Fishing North Fork Clear Creek

We were up early this morning, the car was packed with fly fishing gear, and we drove into town to the Rio Grande Fly Shop to meet our guide for the morning, Ben Newman. I had asked Ben to fish a mountain creek, and he came through with private waters on North Fork Clear Creek, west of Creede, Colorado.

Ben Newman, fly fishing guide

Suited top in waders, boots, and fly rods and reels, we walked to the 15-foot wide creek, crossed, and began fishing upstream. Fishing was tough! Kay had the first hookup, a small trout, and experienced a long distance release. We continued fishing upstream, changing flies regularly. Ben was gracious enough to spend essentially all of his time with Kay. We fished another couple hours without a strike. I dug into a vast assortment of “old” flies from my vest, and tied on a hopper with a #14 Flashback Pheasant Tail nymph dropped about 16 inches. Casting towards the far bank, the flies landed in the 3-foot slot between a bubble line and the bank, and the hopper disappeared. I yelled, “Fish on” and Ben came to net the approximate 14-inch Tiger trout.

A tiger trout is a cross between a brown and brook trout. I caught another couple of small trout on the “rig.” Despite fishing really hard, neither Kay nor I had any further success.

Walking out, Kay remarked that the soles of my practically unworn wading boots had delaminated. It had been 8 years since they were last worn, but they had been keep in an air conditioned dark closet; I expected better of Simms. Also, my slightly worn Simms Guide waders sprung a leak at the seem between the sock and the leg. Lots of repair work to be done.

Simms Guide wading boot delamination

We bought licenses for 5 days, and the guide promised to call regarding his success the next day, and for us to schedule another trip. He also asked for some “show” flies and said he’d send his address for me. He never called nor sent his address; consequently, I cannot recommend him.

Saturday and Sunday, August 20-21, 2022—More Rain and another Waterfall

We had no plans on Saturday, and enjoyed a quiet rainy day at the cabin, catching up on emails, blogs, photo editing, and clothes washing.

On Sunday, we drove north again on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway to see sights missed on Friday. Driving from near Creede, we traveled west about 26 miles, about halfway between Lake City and Creede, where we saw the sign for the North Clear Creek Falls. Turning right, we traveled for another half mile on paved Forest Road 510 to the Overlook. Because of the vertical drop into Willow Canyon, the observation area had been fenced. The area had new toilet and picnic facilities, and is considered handicap accessible. We first walked to the top of the hill to view Willow Canyon. 

Willow Canyon

And then, we walked along the rim of the canyon until the falls came into view—my, oh my. North Clear Creek Falls is a 100+ foot waterfall carved into the landscape of southwestern Colorado!

North Clear Creek Falls

From North Clear Creek Falls, we drove east on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway about one mile to Forest Service Road 515 (Hermit Lakes Road), then 1 1/2 miles west (left) to the Brown Lakes State Wildlife Area. The parking area and trailhead for Rex Falls are straight across from the Troutvale Reservoir as you enter the Wildlife Area. While the short hike was not difficult, it was not without pain. There was a large yellow jacket nest about halfway up on the upper trail. About five feet before  log across the trail, the nest was in or on the ground. It is partially exposed on the right side of the trail. I received a several stings on my left leg hiking to the falls, and a half dozen stings on my right leg hiking back to the trailhead. You’d think I knew better!

Back at the cabin, we showered and dressed for a play at the Creede Repertory Theater, Always…Patsy Cline. It was the true story of the fast friendship and two-year correspondence between Patsy Cline and Louise Everett Seger Zurbuchen, a huge fan and single mother from Houston, Texas. It was an outstanding play featuring most, if not all, the songs of Patsy Cline. An excellent live band accompanied the singer, who nailed the performance.

Friday, August 19, 2022—Pickleball, South Clear Creek Falls, and the Theater

Before scheduling our trip to Creede, a check was made to determine if they had pickleball, and they did.

This morning we headed into town to the Virginia Christensen Multi Use Facility; several folks were waiting at the locked door, and it opened at 9 o’clock sharp. We paid $3 each, and walked into the “gym;” this “gym” serves multiple purposes and the floor was covered with line markings—full court basketball, half court basketball, volleyball, hockey, and pickleball. Portable nets were quickly set up to form two courts, with a barrier net between them. We all grabbed paddles, and began dinking (warming up.) Dividing into two groups of four, the games began. It was so much fun, and most of the people there were our age and from the local RV park. One gentleman, Robben, was 97-years old, and an excellent player. He couldn’t move very far or fast, but could place shots on a dime. At 12 o’clock noon, play ended as another group took over the court; they were from an RV park in Southpark, Colorado, between Creede and Pagosa Springs, and were very good.

Lunch was at a local eatery, and then it was back to the cabin to change clothes. We then drove north on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway to the South Clear Creek Falls trailhead. The short hike (1/2 mile roundtrip) starts in the Silver Thread Campground in an aspen grove.

Kay on the trail to the South Clear Creek Falls

A couple of wildflowers beckoned for photos.

The trail then switchbacked down towering cliffs surrounding a forested bowl to a viewpoint with a metal railing. We then took a rather treacherous trail that lead down to the base of the falls and to South Clear Creek. Raspberries were plentiful along the trail to the base of the falls. South Clear Creek Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Colorado. While not quite as tall as Bridal Veil Falls (Colorado’s tallest waterfall) or neighboring North Clear Creek Falls, it is a powerful waterfall and the trail allows you get up close and personal.

South Clear Creek Falls as seen from its base

Along the trail and in the campground parking lot, wildflowers were seemingly blooming everywhere. Here are a few photos.

Scarlet Gilia

It began to lightly rain, putting a kibosh on our other afternoon plans. It was back to the cabin to again change clothes before heading into Creede for a performance at one of the two theaters in town. Just as we finished changing clothes, the electricity went out. Apparently, the whole area was without power. Nevertheless, we drove into the unlit town, but the lack of electricity prevented the performance. It was back to the cabin. We dug out portable power banks from the car, for our CPAPs, plugged in a table lamp, and then the power came back on, ending an exciting day!

Thursday, August 18, 2022—Silver Thread Scenic Byway and the High Country

After awakening this morning, I experienced intense vomiting. We decided the intestinal problems I had been experiencing were the result of some new medication! 

Anxious to explore the high country near us, we opted to drive the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, at least to Lake City. Points of interest included the mighty Rio Grande River for flyfishing on gold medal waters, Wagon Wheel Gap, the Historic Bachelor Loop and Creede Mining District, the spectacular and unrivaled North Clear Creek Waterfalls, scenic Slumgullian Pass that cuts through a natural earthflow, and Colorado’s second-largest natural lake – Lake San Cristobal—more about these in future blogs.

Lunch was at Southern Vittles in Lake City. We both had chicken strips, and they were delicious. We would definitely eat there again. After lunch, we continued north on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway to the ranching community of Powderhorn, then back south on County Road 50 to Colorado Highway 149 (Silver Thread Scenic Byway.)

The scenic beauty along the way was breathtaking—mountain vistas at every turn, creeks and streams, small high country lakes, and lush valleys. Make no mistake, County Road 50 was rough in places, almost necessitating a 4X4 while the Honda Pilot was only front wheel drive. Near the junction of County Road 50 and Colorado Highway 149, we stopped at a small lake and watched rise after rise, vowing to return to fly fish this lake. Wildflowers were plentiful, and made for a few decent photographs.

Fireweed

And then, continuing a couple hundred yards, we spotted a group of male mule deer working their way uphill toward us. We patiently waited, and all of the velvet-horned bucks posed. The largest was especially photogenic and offered three portrait photos.

Mule deer in velvet
Mule deer in velvet
Mule deer in velvet

We returned to the cabin near dark, and watched television for a while before bedtime.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022—The Ancients: Chimney Rock National Monument, and our Terminal Destination

Wednesday morning we departed Cortez, and drove east to Chimney Rock National Monument.

There are many “Chimney Rocks” in the US, including the more famous but perhaps of less historical significance Chimney Rock National Historic Site. It has become one of the most notable landmarks in the American West, largely due to its stop along the Oregon Trail (see our blog entry 

There’s also Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina which we visited in 2000 (see blog entry for August9, 2020.)

And then, there is Chimney Rock National Monument. The monument represents one of the largest Pueblo II (900-1150 AD) communities in southwestern Colorado and is considered a Chacoan cultural “outlier.” The Chaco phenomenon was a complex system of dispersed communities bound by economic, political and religious interdependence centered in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

The pinnacles that give Chimney Rock its name frame multiple astronomical alignments. The Ancestral Puebloans incorporated their knowledge of astronomy into the design of their community. Today, Chimney Rock National Monument is one of the best recognized archaeo-astronomical resources in North America, with alignments with the northern lunar standstill, summer solstice, equinoxes and Crab Nebula.

Pinacles at Chimney Rock NM

The Chimney Rock National Monument encompasses 4,726 acres of the San Juan National Forest between Durango and Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Chimney Rock covers seven square miles and preserves 200 ancient homes and ceremonial buildings, some of which have been excavated for viewing and exploration: a Great Kiva, a Pit House, a Multi-Family Dwelling, and a Chacoan-style Great House Pueblo. Chimney Rock is the highest in elevation of all the Chacoan sites, at about 7,000 feet above sea level. 

There were a bunch of wildflowers blooming at the Monument’s headquarters.

It began sprinkling as we were departing Chimney Rock National Monument. We continued east and north, in the rain, to our terminal destination, Creede, Colorado, where we will spend the next two weeks.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022—The Ancients: Mesa Verde National Park and Chimney Rock National Monument

Not in a hurry, we departed Moab shortly before mid-morning, driving south on US Highway 191, and continuing southwest on US Highway 491 to Cortez, Colorado.  

After checking into our “retro” motel, we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde has always been a fascination for us. I visited once in the 1970s, and Kay and I visited in 2009 on our 2009 Southwest USA trip (see journal entry for Friday, September 26, 2009).  Mesa Verde National Park is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, notably the huge Cliff Palace. 

The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, having exhibits on the ancient Native American culture, was closed. Mesa Top Loop Road winds past archaeological sites and overlooks, including Sun Point Overlook with panoramic canyon views; regretfully, a significant portion of Mesa Top Loop Road was also closed. We did stop at a couple of the few overlooks that were open, and snapped off some photographs. Our first stop was at on overlook for Long House. Long House is nearly equal in size to Cliff Palace with about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms. It may have been home to 150 to 175 people. Some of the architectural features in Long House suggest it was also a public place where people from all over Wetherill Mesa gathered to trade or hold community events. The formal plaza in the center of the site is larger than most villages and has some features not often found in other Mesa Verde archeological sites. For instance, the benches, vaults, and a raised firebox may indicate that this large open space was a dance plaza or great kiva, similar to Fire Temple on Chapin Mesa. The high number of rooms and kivas in Long House, plus the presence of the formal plaza suggest the community was a particularly significant place for Ancestral Pueblo people, perhaps serving both civic and ceremonial functions.

Long House at Mesa Verde NP
Long House at Mesa Verde NP

Our next stop was at an overlook for Cliff Palace. Mesa Verde Cliff Palace, the largest and most famous cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park, has over 150 individual rooms and 23 kivas (rooms for religious rituals) with an estimated population of approximately 100 people. Because of so many closures, Mesa Verde National Park was a bit of disappointment, but fortunately our prior visit was thorough.

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde NP

Monday, August 15, 2022—Dead Horse Point State Park and a Return to Canyonlands National Park

Mid-morning saw us off to Dead Horse Point State Park. Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park features a dramatic overlook of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below and Canyonlands National Park.  It is most famous for its view of the gooseneck bend of the Colorado River, a much sought after photographic icon.

Colorado River as seen from Dead Horse Point
As seen from Dead Horse Point

The park covers 5,362 acres of high desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet.The legend of Dead Horse Point originates around the turn of the 19th century when cowboys would round up the wild mustangs that roamed the mesa. It is said, a herd was driven down the neck of the peninsula, its sheer cliffs forming a natural corral, and the 30-foot-wide entrance was fenced off with branches and brush. For reasons unknown, the herd was left or forgotten. After a period of time with no food or water, they succumbed to the harsh desert elements, with the Colorado River in view 2,000 feet below. It is rumored those horses can be seen and heard still roaming the area.

Colorado River and Canyonlands NP as seen from Dead Horse Point

After the long awaited photograph of the gooseneck bend described above, we returned to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, just a few minutes away. Our goal was to photograph Mesa Arch, the crown jewel of Canyonlands National Park. This pothole arch on the easter edge of the Island in the Sky mesa perched at the edge of a cliff with views of canyons, Monster Tower, Washer Woman Arch, Airport Tower, and the la Sal Mountains in the distance.Sunrise is the ideal time to photograph Mesa Arch, but the crowd of photographers can be overwhelming. Even at mid-day, the site was crowded, mostly by a large foreign “family” group of about a dozen and a half people. It seemed they took forever to pose singularly and in groups. We have seen groups like this before in other national parks, traveling in two or three vans. Anyway, we waited our time and snapped a couple of photos.

Kay at Mesa Arch in Dead Horse Point SP
Mesa Arch in Dead Horse Point SP
Mesa Arch in Dead Horse Point SP

After a few more photos of the canyons below, we returned to the motel for the afternoon.

Colorado River and Canyonlands NP as seen from Dead Horse Point

Later in the afternoon, we did a quick driving tour of Arches National Park; it was Kay’s second visit and my third. Knowing it would be crowded (you have to reserve a time slot to visit), we did not have any particular goals in mind—just sightseeing. That turned out to be a good thing as a storm rolled in and it rained on us most of the time we were there. We did manage to get a few photos between rain storms.

Storm at Arches NP
Rainbow at Arches NP
Arches NP
Arches NP
Arches NP
Balanced Rock, Arches NP
Double arches, Arches NP

Sunday, August 14, 2022 (Part II)—Canyonlands National Park

After checking into our motel and grabbing a “take away” bite to eat, we drove north to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. I visited there briefly in the mid 1970s, but did not take enough time to smell the roses or take many photographs; Kay had never been there. At Grand View Point Overlook, the majesty of the canyons spread to the horizon. Grand View Point is the southern-most spot on Canyonland’s high mesa, the Island in the Sky. This whole area of the mesa has a 1,000 foot vertical wall, and the trails go right up to the edge—just a little gust of wind, and camera equipment and photographer are over the edge! Laid out below the Grand View Point is a complex network of canyons carved by the converging Colorado and Green Rivers.

Canyonlands NP, from Grand View Point Overlook
Canyonlands NP, from Grand View Point Overlook
Canyonlands NP, from Grand View Point Overlook
Canyonlands NP, from Grand View Point Overlook

From Grand View Point, we began chasing the sunset despite very cloudy conditions. Our final stop was at Orange Cliffs Overlook, but we were unable to see the sunset.

Sunset at Orange Cliffs Overlook, Canyonlands NP

Sunday, August 14, 2022 (Part I)—Continuing Westward

We were awake early, having switched time zones when crossing into New Mexico. We brought coffee beans, grinder, and French press from home, making a great home brew for the road. After stowing overnight items, we continued west from Tucumcari on I-40. At Albuquerque we left the interstate in favor of US Highway 550 northwest to Bloomfield, New Mexico, where we stopped for a picnic lunch on the banks of the San Juan River. From there, it was off through Farmington to Shiprock, New Mexico, where we stopped briefly for photographs. Shiprock is a monadnock rising nearly 1,583 feet above the high-desert plain of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, New Mexico. Its peak elevation is 7,177 feet above sea level. Shiprock is a point of interest for rock climbers and photographers and has been featured in several film productions and novels. It is the most prominent landmark in northwestern New Mexico. In 1975, Shiprock was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

Shiprock National Natural Landmark

From Shiprock we traveled northwest, crossing into Colorado, and then north and west into Utah. Driving northward through Monticello, Utah, the topography and scenery changed dramatically with the appearance of numerous monoliths such as Church Rock. Church Rock is a three-tiered solitary column of sandstone in southern Utah along the eastern side of US Route 191 north of Monticello. There is a 16 by 24 foot opening chiseled slightly into the rock. Interestingly, we were in a traffic stop there as the highway had just opened after being temporarily closed due to flash flooding.

Church Rock

After the brief delay and just past Church Rock, Wilson’s Arch appeared roadside east. The “structure” is a natural sandstone arch just off US Route 191, some 24 miles south of Moab. It has a span of 91 feet and height of 46 feet. The elevation of Wilson’s Arch is about 6,150 feet.

Traveling further northward, we stopped in Moab, our terminal destination for a couple of days before proceeding to our ultimate destination.