Friday, July 11, 2008

16-08 Pagosa Springs & Chimney Rock: Colorado

16-08 Pagosa Springs

Chimney Rock Archaeological Area

Touring the back country through the San Juan Mountain Range

Note: Visit
to view 3 new photo albums: Wolf Creek Pass, Chimney Rock and Pagosa Springs.
Select the album, select slideshow and then hit F11. You’ll be able to enjoy the
slide show, full screen.

Exploring a new area, breathing the fresh pine scented air, talking to the locals to get a feel for the surroundings, that’s what travel is all about. Learning about the history of an area. And have I found an oddle of history, legends and spirit that pervades this region.

I could tell you about the 4th of July in Pagosa and normal tourist stuff, but what has really peaked my interest is an area called Chimney Rock. It’s at part of the USDA Forest Service and has been designated an Archaeological Area and National Historical Site in 1970. I’m a bit amazed that it has not been designated a National Monument.

I’ve told you a bit about Chaco Cultural Center and how it was the center of the Anasazi life. The Aztec, Salmon Ruins and even Mesa Verde were all linked to Chaco. And here I am standing on top of the mountain peak overlooking Chimney Rock over 90 miles from Chaco.

The guided tour has taken us along a path of discover. First visiting some of the first pit dwellings in the area. We see the progression as each new generation makes improvements on the buildings. Thicker walls, better construction. Mysterious markings, a perfect circular hole in a smooth rock outcropping. Perhaps a marking aligned to the stars and moon.

We finally reach the summit of Chimney Rock and discover one of the last of the great houses built in the Chaco style. It has a large Kiva and many rooms for storage. It’s different from all the other Pueblo structures at this site, in that it has doors to many of the rooms, so the occupants did not have to climb down from a whole in the roof.

From this high advantage, there is no water up here and food would be grown down in the valley near the San Juan river, we learn that the twin Chimney Rocks have the distinction of being aligned with the moon during a specific 38 year cycle, when the moon will come up between the two spires.

From this, the highest location of all the great houses built in the Chaco style, if we look south, we can barely see off on the southern horizon, ridge of Chaco Canyon. What an exciting feeling to be looking through the eyes of the ancients, back in time when the Anasazi might have communicated the 90 mile distance. Experiments were done a couple of years ago using mirrors to see if they would be visible from that distance. Then assuming smoke signals could also have been used, it was determined that messages could be sent to the farthest and most remote site associated with Chaco Canyon. It’s not just the fact that they communicated and got together on a regular basis, but that it involved 10’s of thousands of native Indians that were connected through this sophisticated Chaco Culture. A whole civilization that eventually dispersed. Yet many of their descendants still live in the area.

Well that was a full and rewarding days exploration, so the next day, I decided to just take a drive up to Wolf Creek Pass, it’s about 20 miles north of Pagosa Springs. It’s a pass that leads through the San Juan Mountains. I wish I had been dressed more for the undertaking, as I could have gotten some hiking in, but I was dressed casual in shorts, t-shirt and sandals. Not conducive for a hike, but I did get to do some great car touring.

Waterfalls everywhere, spectacular views along the way that just about take your breath away. High up along the pass, I took a forest road off to one side, past a waterfall tumbling down, right next to the highway. Down off the forest road, I got out of the truck and was able to get up close to my first snow pack remaining up here in the high mountain range. As I turned around, I was able to see another spectacular waterfalls. One that is so close and above the highway but hidden from it by the thick growth of spruce trees climbing up the sides of the mountain. Only by standing in just the right spot, can a person see it.

How neat to discover something so close, yet most folks would never see.

Another day, I decided to take a long drive through Wolf Creek pass and then left onto hwy 149. It’s a full 100 miles each way and will cost me $55 in fuel alone. I make that point, because each of us must now make those decisions about the cost of each trip we take.

I felt decadent driving along the wonderful alpine valleys, mountains and lakes. Knowing I was spending the money for the pure pleasure of enjoying the scenery. You know they are called alpine because it is so high up in “alpine” territory.

The road winds through a couple more mountain passes, crossing over the continental divide and following the Rio Grande River leading to the head waters of the Rio Grande itself. Small communities of log cabins dot the green valleys surrounded by the San Juan mountains. So remote, one wonders what people do once they get here.

A large 5 or 6 point buck comes out through the trees and is scared back into the woods by the passing cars. Many vacation get-a-ways are along the main road leading through the valley. Small rental cottages of log cabins framed by pine trees and the Rio Grande. Forest campgrounds and commercial campgrounds are numerous, most of them right on the Rio Grande river or tributaries that feed into the Rio Grande. Aspen trees are numerous and are mixed with the darker greens of the spruce trees, those tall narrow majestic trees that almost look like arrows pointing to the heavens.

I finally reach my destination, a small hamlet called Lake City. It’s deep in the San Juan mountains and was developed because of gold being found in the area back in the 1800‘s. It had it’s boom and bust and is now a tourist and vacation hide-a-way. There are even three Rv parks right in the town.

I eat at the No-Name Restaurant and enjoy a nice walk around town. Very upscale d├ęcor and great food. Chat with an artist painting the downtown scene from the shade of large poplar tree. I wonder if my friend Kenny is continuing to paint? The western mining town has wooden sidewalks, lots of wild flowers and potted daisy’s and orange poppies. Occasionally I notice narrow irrigation ditches filled with crystal clear spring water swiftly flowing to the river below. Most have been covered up, as it became unfashionable to have them running along each street. Yet those remaining can and are used to water the towns lawns and trees all with free water. How decadent is that.

Lastly for this report, I treated myself to a Hot Air Balloon ride for my birthday, 7/10/??. Ekkk, I’m another year older. I got up at 6:15 am, I hadn’t been up that early since “graduating from work”. The balloon ride starts around 7 am, of course we were in the second crew to go up so we didn’t get in the air till about 8:30. What a fun ride. It’s so smooth, you don’t even know you’ve left terra firma until you look over the side of the large basket we’re standing in, with the huge colorful balloon rising above us.

We floated only a couple of miles, with virtually no breeze to speak of. Looking down we were able to see the wonderful landscape stretch out before us. Three other balloons were in the air at the same time. We see a small heard of Elk amongst the openings between the pines, then suddenly, they’re spooked and we see a full herd of over 100 elk running across the open grass lands. How exciting to see. Note: my temp camera doesn’t have a large enough zoom to show you the scene.

Finally descending, we almost land on top of a barn! Missing it by just a foot or two. The landing was smooth though and the basket carrying all 12 of us didn’t skid, bounce or tip, which it can do with the slightest breeze. One overweight guy had to be pushed out of the tall sided basket. They almost decided to tip the basket to get him out, but were able to push him up and out. Whew, watch your weight, how sad for the guy. But give him credit for going on the ride.

For those interested in doing more research on the Chaco culture, check out this web site:
For more information on Chimney Rock Archeological site check out:
For information on Pagosa Springs:
From previous articles you may want to check out Sandoval County in New Mexico. There’s a great scenic tour:
And Information on Tent Rocks, great scenery, hiking, slot canyon:
Explore the Internet, it’s more educational and lots better than watching TV.

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