Grand Junction, Rifle, Meeker & Craig in northwest Colorado
Places Visited: Colorado: Cortez, & Durango in SW Colorado. Grand Junction, Rifle, Meeker & Craig in Western & NW Colorado.
Utah: Moab, Arches NP & Dead Horse Point SP all in Eastern Utah.
Friday, July 13, 2001 Sundance RV-Park, Downtown Cortez, Colorado, 970-565-0997 Elevation 6,200'
This is the day Mike and Vern, our RV-Park neighbor & friend, are going to soar with eagles. We both have reservations for 10:30am glider flights with the Durango Soaring Club, Inc. located 3 miles north of Durango, Colorado elevation 6,500'. The women have been harassing us with constant questions about whether we are going to chicken out or not. It has been incessant. They have though of every clever cliché. There is NO way we can chicken out. As we climb in the cockpit taunts continue, "It is not too late to chicken out". The gliders/sailplanes are towed aloft by a power plane to an altitude of 9,000 plus feet then released. The release comes when the glider pilot finds a strong thermal or uplift. My glider pilot puts our glider into a tight spin to stay in the thermal while the glider rises. On my flight the pilot opted out of the climbing spiral at around 11,000'. It is a really neat sensation to feel the rise on the glider. The sensation of riding a thermal up is similar to the experience of riding a fast elevator up 30 floors. The down side of riding a thermal is the incessant spiral we are in. Thankfully, we get to11, 000' before I get too dizzy. Soaring at 11,000' with NO motor is an awesome experience. The only sound is of the wind rushing by. It is warm in the small cramped cockpit until the pilot tells me to stick my hand out the 4" by 6" square hole in the side of the cockpit and make a cup to deflect the air into the cockpit. In short order I have freezing air streaming into the cockpit. Really cool but my hand is blue! I start switching hands. My pilot said that a customer had broken the plastic cup the day before so the hand deflection method would have to do until the new part arrived. Once we pull out of the spiral we head toward a small shower of rain. He explains that the downward fall of rain causes an intense up flow of air right next to it. The object is to get the inside wing as close to the rain as possible while keeping the rest of the glider in the major uplift. How cool! We get major uplift without that insipid spiral maneuver. It is so awesome to be gliding around with the hawks and turkey vultures. Where are the eagles when you most want them? These birds use the same thermals we are using. Gliding around is super cool, but shortly the pilot advises it is time to get adventuresome. I have opted for the pilot that likes to do "stunts" in the glider. I am about to get all I bargained for. As we drift away from the peaks toward the valley at 6,500'. We are still above 10,000' when the pilot dips the nose toward the ground and does a wing over. As we pull out of that maneuver and adjust to level flight once again he asks if I am ready for another one. I mumbled something like "lets go for it" HOLY MACKEREL, he drops the nose strait down and dips the wing. I have NO idea what other maneuver he did but when we resumed level flight again the pilot inquired if I wanted to do another of these. This time I mumbled "ENOUGH". I have no idea where my vertigo went but it vanished. Never in my life have I lost vertigo so rapidly. NO, I didn't loose my cookies. However, another one of those maneuvers and I would have. No doubt! After a few minutes of relatively level flight I am able to recognize the horizon and enjoy the scenery again. It was time for our "high-speed" pass by the landing field. We began this maneuver from around 9,000' as we line up the runway then lower the nose of the glider toward it. The glider rapidly gains speed until the pilot has to apply air breaks to keep us within limits. We are "hauling buggy" as we buzz the field, almost touching down before rapidly taking flight again for one last loop and the final landing. How awesome! I got everything I bargained for. Any more and it would have been MORE than I bargained for. What a rush, after about 20 minutes on the ground my vertigo had returned and we headed off for the rest of our adventure.
We are heading to Creed, Colorado through Pagosa Springs, Colorado via Wolf Creek Pass (10,850') on Colorado 160. Pagosa Springs is a beautiful little town with several RV-Parks and upscale resort hotels. We stop at the Hogs Breath Saloon for lunch. The name fascinated our friends from Oregon. Hogs Breath Saloons are a chain well regarded for good food and ambience/décor. This one was no exception.
Colorado is widening highway 160 over Wolf Creek Pass and have the highway closed week nights between 7:00am and 7:00pm so they can blast away enough of the mountain to make room for another lane. All along the way we see where the blasting is taking place. On top of Wolf Creek Pass we stop and take pictures of each other straddling the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide is exactly what it sounds like, it is the point on the continent of North America where rainfall flows either to the Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific. This imaginary line separates the watershed of North America and comprises the line of highest points of land separating the waters flowing west from those flowing east. Generally following the Rockies it extends from northwest Canada to South America.
On the way down from Wolf Creek Pass we start passing RV-Parks at about the 8,500' level. One of these parks contained over 450 spots. That is larger than most of the towns in this area. One of these parks had a restaurant, dance hall and a host of other amenities. I suspect that most of the residents spent the entire summer at this park located on the river with fly-fishing, rafting, horseback riding and a host of other activities available in the park. In the small town of South Fork we turn and head to Creed.
Creed is a small town right out of the 1880's. It was a silver mining town until silver prices plummeted. Today the one paved road leads into a narrow canyon. Creed, population 350, is located at the mouth of a canyon. Main Street is lined for several blocks with vintage 1890's Victorian buildings. The elevation in Creed is around 8,500' and had a huge RV-Park in the valley a few miles from town spread out along the Rio Grande River. Yes this is near the beginning of the mighty Rio Grande. Anyone wishing to spend the summer in a spectacular area would have to look far and wide to find a better setting.
We put over 400 miles on the Saturn today and were gone over 13 hours. Tomorrow will be a day of rest.
Saturday, July 14, 2001 Sundance RV-Park, Downtown Cortez, Colorado, 970-565-0997 Elevation 6,200'
We used today to recover from yesterday.
Sunday, July 15, 2001 Sundance RV-Park, Downtown Cortez, Colorado, 970-565-0997 Elevation 6,200'
We got together with our friends to go to church this morning. Joyce made arrangements for us to go to the morning service at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Cortez. Joyce chose this church because she thought it was in Delores and she planned for us to eat out at the Naked Moose Café in Delores. Ever since Joyce spotted the Naked Moose nearly two weeks ago she has been plotting ways to get back there for eats. As it turns out the Lighthouse Baptist Church was in Cortez located on the "Delores" highway, close but no cigar. The worship service was wonderful and they had a potluck supper after the service. Once we were invited to the potluck supper the Naked Moose was forgotten. Those Baptist fixed a spread fit for a king, and we lapped it up like royalty.
After Church Vern and I went to a rock and gem show. When Jeff and Kathryn were with us they showed interest in petrified wood and fossils. I got a few pieces of both for them.
From 5:00pm to 7:00pm every Sunday night Cortez sponsors several hours of music in the City Park across the street from our RV-Park. We enjoyed another night of good FREE entertainment.
Monday, July 16, 2001 Spanish Trail RV-Park Moab, Utah. Elevation 4,000'
We have been at Sundance RV-Park in Cortez for over two weeks. We have made friends. It is hard to leave. I have avoided saying anything about Sundance RV-Park during our stay because you never know what is going to happen. Now that we are gone I can say this is one of the BEST RV-Parks we have stayed in. They have full-hook-ups; 50amps, modem access and the nicest owners & operators all located inside the city limits across from a huge city park. It is also only 4 blocks from an RV'ers best buddy (a Super Wal-Mart). Spotlessly clean facilities are an asset but nothing compares to friendly people. The staff reminded us of Cheers. If you were looking for a place to spend the summer, away from stifling heat, it would be hard to find a better place. While I am on a roll the city of Cortez needs to be given a pat on the back. They have an absolutely awesome city park complete with swimming pool, duck pond, ball diamonds and walking paths. For a city the size of Cortez they have "world class" facilities, complete with weekly music in the park programs. And don't forget the free RV-dump located on the west side of City Park. That is about as good as it gets.
We pulled out around 11:00 and headed toward Moab, Utah about 115-miles to the northwest. We pass through undulating hills with irrigated hay fields on both sides of the highway. The farther we go pinto beans began to replace the hay fields. Somewhere along the way we must have transversed the pinto bean capital because huge silos sprouted along the road with signs proclaiming each to be a different brand of pinto bean.
A cold front has moved in and the temperature feels good. We were traveling without the air conditioner today and the air coming in my open window was actually chilly. We have chosen to stay at Spanish Trails RV-Park in Moab because of recommendations from other RV'ers and assurances that they have modem access.
Immediately upon arrival we make arrangements to take the "Canyonlands by Night" cruise and dinner. Our friends Jim and Patricia Patrick have recommended this as a "must do". Canyonlands by Night is picking us up at the RV-Park at 6:30. There is nothing like taking your sweetheart out for dinner and sunset cruise. I am writing this before we depart, I will let you know how it was in the next paragraph.
Ok, we have done the "Canyonlands by Night" cruise and dinner. The door-to-door delivery picked us up and took us to the loading station on the north side of the Colorado River Bridge in Moab. We are fed in a nice pavilion adjacent to the dock. Humming birds were swarming around feeders stationed near the pavilion. They were the pre dinner entertainment. This is the largest concentration of hummingbirds we have seen since the hill country of Texas. The heavily advertised buffet dinner was a tightly controlled exercise in herding humans. I felt they were practicing for the fall roundup. The food was acceptable but nothing approaching the hype. Anyone planning to do this activity would be well advised to dine elsewhere and just do the boat ride. After dinner we boarded the boat for our ride upstream. There are around 100 of us shoe horned into bench seats. Each row is packed until it has 8 bodies. Our row is stuffed in like a church pew on Easter Sunday.
Towering sandstone cliffs rise from both banks as we head upriver in the fading light. As twilight envelops us we experience a special treat. A group of raucous adults (10 or more) form a line on the bank and moon us as we pass. Each member of the impromptu entertainment has a flashlight strategically beamed so that all we see is a beautiful row of "moons". I request that the boat shine its high powerful spotlight on the revelers but the stogy employees do not comply.
As darkness finally envelops us it is time for the heralded show to begin. A carefully choreographed recording of dramatic music, inspirational readings, covering creation, regional geographic makeup and Utah history is played on our boat as we drift downstream while 40,000 watt lights are beamed on the canyon walls from a generator and spotlight driving along a road following the river. An hour later and we are back at the landing.
Tuesday, July 17, 2001 Spanish Trail RV-Park Moab, Utah. Elevation 4,000'
We slept late then took the Saturn for a scenic drive up Utah highway 128 east. From Moab we head along this scenic canyon drive. Sheer sandstone cliff walls follow the Colorado River. About 15 miles out we turn around and return to Moab before heading a few miles north to Arches National Park. The next few hours were spent gawking at the huge variety of structures that erosion has created. This would be a good place to take a hike but it is way too hot. Joyce thinks Arches is one of the prettiest National Parks that we have visited.
We only planned to be here two days. That plan is slipping. There are still several other places we need to see including Canyon Lands National Park and Dead Horse State Park.
Wednesday, July 18, 2001 Spanish Trail RV-Park Moab, Utah, Elevation 4,000'
We have a full day planned. Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park are next-door neighbors. We are going to do both. Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck. There are many stories about how this high promontory of land received its name.
According to one legend, around the turn of the century the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. Cowboys rounded up these houses. Herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30-yards-wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush. This created a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs, affording no escape. Cowboys then chose the houses they wanted and let the culls or broomtails go free. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within the view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below. The view from Dead Horse Point State Park is much like the Grand Canyon with one exception. It ain't as GRAND.
From one viewpoint in Dead Horse we are able to see aqua blue evaporation ponds. These ponds belong to a potash mining company that is mining in a unique manner. The mining operation pumps water from the Colorado River 1,200 feet deep into a layer of potash. This water seeps through the potash and becomes saturated before wells pump this "potash" water to the surface. The water is then placed in 400 acres of vinyl lined evaporation ponds. The blue color is dye used to help the water hold heat rather than reflect it. This potash mine is operating just like salt evaporation ponds found in arid areas around the world.
Heading farther into Dead Horse State Park we spot a military looking helicopter. We stopped at a viewpoint to see what it was doing. The helicopter was hovering below the canyon. It had several hundred feet of cable dangling beneath it. Shortly the helicopter rose and hovered above a nearby point where a group of individuals with TV cameras were gathered. One of the ground crew attached a bungee cord to the cable dangling beneath the helicopter. Then the helicopter began to rise as around 800 feet of bungee cord was played out. The bungee cord was attached to an ejection seat bolted to the rock surface on the edge of the canyon with the Colorado River 2,000 feet directly below. The helicopter tugged, the bungee cord stretched, then "BINGO" someone released the pin holding the ejection seat. As you can imagine, the ejection seat was launched. Everyone where we were though someone was in the ejection seat. However, we were later told that a British Crew was filming for an upcoming feature about "Extreme something or other" they also mentioned something about overcoming fear, or something like that, and that the shot we witnessed was a dummy load. Individuals will be launched later today and tomorrow. Watch for this on TV.
From Dead Horse we toured Canyonlands National Park just 4 miles down the road. This park was a disappointment. It may have been better if the temperature would have been conducive to hiking. We only took some short walks to close viewpoints. Otherwise the views are much like the Grand Canyon on a smaller scale.
Thursday, July 19, 2001 KOA in Craig, Colorado. Elevation 6.300'
Today was a day of driving. We are headed in the direction of Yellowstone. The drive out of Moab on Scenic Byway 128 along the Colorado River was as scenic as we could ask for. The Colorado River has cut steep canyon walls in the sandstone and the road is following the River. Vertical cliffs rise from the river for about 30 miles. Then we break away from the river and head across a desert area until just west of Grand Junction, Colorado. We stopped at the Visitors Center in Fruita, Colorado just west of Grand Junction. This Visitors center has a good dump station complete with fresh water. Many people in this area must know about it because it was very busy the entire time we were at the Visitors Center. We had planned to spend tonight in the area and take advantage of what the area had to offer. However, the only thing that interested us was a museum in Grand Junction. With the museum as the only thing to keep us in the area we decided to forego it and push on to Rifle, Meeker or Craig.
Aren't you wondering how Grand Junction got its name? Grand Junction is part of the Grand Valley just west of Grand Mesa. Grand Junction lies at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers thus the name. Water from the river supports a host of wineries and fruit orchards. Just east of town is a coal mine operation feeding a power plant located across the street.
As we passed through Rifle we could not help but speculate on which Trailer Park was the one that was in the news two weeks ago with the random shooting of several innocent bystanders. Nothing appealed to us until we reached Craig. As we transversed the broad valley around Meeker we began seeing a great number of magpies along the road. Instead of Meeker it could well have been named magpie valley. Just south of Craig we start seeing coal mines then a new power generating station that is utilizing the local coal.
The ride from Rifle to Craig through Meeker was through a wide well watered valley. Hay fields and cattle ranches are prevalent throughout the area. We have climbed 2,000' in elevation since leaving Moab so the temperature should be more agreeable.
Friday, July 20, 2001 KOA in Craig, Colorado. Elevation 6.300'
We are "out west". The local paper has an article on predator control. The coyote population is a problem that they are struggling to find ways to deal with. A large part of this areas economy has to do with hunting and the mule deer population is below carrying capacity. Many believe that a CPRP Coyote Population Reduction Program is warranted. One proposal being advocated is to have sportsman bring coyote ears into a Department of Wildlife office. For each five pairs of coyote ears the hunter will be rewarded with one preference point for deer or antelope. For 10 pairs of coyote ears the sportsman may also obtain a cow elk license.
We are going to a rodeo tonight that is DIFFERENT than most standard rodeos. There is going to be a PROFESSIONAL rodeo. Then there will be "side shows". The side events are for locals. Mutton busting, junior steer riding, mother's greased-pig wrestling and a kids greased-pig wrestling. I have no idea what "mutton busting" is. We hear that "mother's greased-pig wrestling" is THE EVENT! This event pits four women; all have to be mothers, against a 125-pound greased pig. The women have to wrestle the pig down, and then place it in a trough. The team with the fastest time wins. We will have fun at the rodeo but it is the "side shows" that I look forward to. Tomorrow I will let you know if it was as big a kick as I think it will be.
For my boondocking friends Craig has a free RV-dump and free potable water located at the fairgrounds 1 mile east of town on Colorado 40. Signs at the fairground lead you to the RV-dump station.
Craig has a super museum in downtown. They have an entire room dedicated to gunslinger/cowboy memorabilia. Plan on spending several hours in it.
We are back from the rodeo and now know what "mutton busting" is. Mutton busting was where small children were placed on grown sheep in a small muddy arena. The children would ride the sheep until they fell off or the sheep fell down in the mud. It was a hoot. There were numerous greased pig events that paired like age groups of children with appropriately sized greased pigs. The children were getting SO MUDDY that it reminded us of the old Jerry Clower story about the child that got so messy the mother exclaimed "it would be easier to have another than to clean you up". The "mothers pig wrestling" was a little different than advertised. What actually occurred was three teams of three mothers each were placed in the arena with one good size greased-pig. The women were just like the children chasing that pig. They got every bit as muddy as the youngsters. The sideshow provided muddy entertainment for three solid hours. I do not know that I have ever laughed so hard. Another homey event was 10 to 12 year olds riding steers in an attempt to mimic adult bull riding. Only one boy stayed on for the full 8-seconds. Just like the bull riders on TV this youngster jumped up and flung his hat in the air. The crowded roared. One girl tried her hand at the steer riding but like 10 of the boys she did not make the 8-second whistle. Small town rodeos continue to be fun.
Mike & Joyce Hendrix
Until next time remember how good life is.
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