On Monday, July 25, we didn’t have too far to go, so we headed out about 8 AM north on NM-14. About 20-25 miles up the road, we passed through the town of Madrid which reminded me a bit of Taos, New Mexico, or Sedona, Arizona, many years ago. There were all kinds of artistic displays outside of houses and little stores and coffee shops. After skirting Santa Fe, we hit US-285, which would take us all the way to our destination. The drive was incredibly scenic, passing through the San Juan Mountains and along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Sometimes the flats were desert scrub and at others there was grassland, but the ridge at the edge of the valley was ever-present. At Tres Piedras, New Mexico, we stopped at the Chili Line Depot for lunch. They had a good variety, and a nice patio to enjoy the weather. We both went for sandwiches, and the star was Mr. Wonderful’s (MW’s) reuben. It was made with corned beef from the owner’s ranch about 8 miles up the road. Although I’m not a reuben fan, the corned beef was amazing. Plus the 100-year-old building was a bar and dance hall where Glenn Campbell came from Albuquerque to play along with The Dick Bills Band & The Sandia Mountain Boys.
INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: The Chili Line that the restaurant is named for was a railroad built by the Denver & Rio Grande company to connect Denver to Mexico City. It was unique because it was both the first north-south line and the first narrow gauge (3′ wide track) line in the country. The trains carried freight, mail, and passengers. The northern end began operation in 1881, and the line ran until 1941. After it ceased operation, most of the engine and iron rails were sent to Alaska for use in the war effort. Today the old railroad grade is slowly flattening back into the surrounding landscape, but there are a few remaining vestiges like the old water tower in Tres Piedras. Deb and Gil Graves, owners of the restaurant, have another reason for not wanting to forget the line. Gil’s Dad used to ride his horse from Carson to the Taos Junction to pick up the mail from the train.
We continued north and ended up arriving in Alamosa, Colorado early, so we did a little grocery shopping at Safeway before heading out to our home for the next few days, the Alamosa KOA Journey just east of town.
On Tuesday we headed out very early to get a couple of flags for our map. The first stop was Great Sand Dunes National Park, about 40 minutes northeast. What a surprise! I expected sand and lots of it. What I got was that, plus giant mountains, meadows, and creeks. The giant sand dunes at this park were created when winds from multiple directions converged. The entire flat valley at one time was mostly under water. When the water was gone, what was left behind was a huge layer of sand. Over time, winds from the southwest moved the sand into a low curve of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Storm winds coming back over the mountains pushed from that side, and the sand had nowhere to go but up. Today they make up a 30-SQUARE MILE dunefield! Not all dunes are created equal, either. Although the park is mostly made up of reversing dunes, there are also star, barchan, parabolic, and nebkha dunes, all made with different wind patterns and vegetation. The tallest dunes today reach about 750′, and they draw quite a crowd. Many hike to the top. Have you ever hiked in sand?? It’s a definite leg workout! There is also a lot of sledding and sand boarding. It’s pretty cool. Although you definitely can’t tell from a distance, there are some grasses beginning to grow in the lower parts of the dunes, and eventually, their presence will affect the shape. There are also plenty of little creatures living there, one of which is the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle, which is not found anywhere else in the world. One other thing the Ranger noted was the temperature: the sand can feel very cool at certain times, but quickly change to 140 degrees. It definitely isn’t a barefoot hiking place.
Our first stop in the park was the Point of No Return Trailhead. The person who named it must have been a drama queen, because we made it back just fine. The road in was nothing to sneeze at, though. In fact, just as we were turning into the dirt parking area, a Park Ranger pulled up and said they were closing the road. He said we would be able to get out, but they weren’t letting anyone else back in. The rains the night before had washed out the road a little past where we were, and we later heard that two vehicles were stuck beyond the washout. Just after we started our hike, a couple was coming opposite direction from the campground area. The woman asked if we were in the white truck. I’m sure they were thinking, “Look at those idiots driving that big thing down that little road!” We do have 4-wheel drive, though, and haven’t gotten stuck up to now. The hike is about a mile up to the Dunes Overlook, which afforded amazing views. This time we were at about 8,000′, so you know there was a lot of huffin’ and puffin’! The views were incredible, though, and totally worth it. The creek had water from the flooding rains the night before, which only happens in the summer. The dunes were also wet and drying out as the morning progressed, showing much more variety of color and shading. It is amazing how beautiful sand can be. I was surprised at the number of wildflowers still in bloom near the end of July, too. The different soils and drastic changes in elevation give this national park a huge variety.
When we drove out, I had to remove and replace cones and a sign blocking the road. There were several people in the parking lot, including a couple with jeeps. You know they were planning to take that rough dirt road and were thinking “they did it!” I’m sure they thought we were “those people”, just ignoring the signs. Despite having permission, we felt a little rebellious. LOL. We headed over to check out the beach where everyone was heading out to the dunes. That parking lot was not full, but it was definitely getting there. (There are signs at the park entrance stating that the parking areas fill up, so I recommend an early start if you visit.) On the way out we stopped at the Visitor Center.
Next we took a ride over to the oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, where our first stop was at Piccadilly Circus Pizza, where we had tacos. I know, but it was Taco Tuesday. They were REALLY good, too.
After lunch, we headed across the street to climb a mountain with Jesus. Well, He is always with us, but on this climb, bronze images of him were, too. The San Luis Stations of the Cross Shrine was created by sculptor Huberto Maestas, a native of this small town. Most folks think that the “Stations of the Cross” are a Catholic thing, but they really apply to all Christian faiths. Originally created by a Franciscan Monk, the Stations, sometimes called the ‘Way of the Cross”, depict fourteen scenes of Jesus and the cross. (Like many others, this one adds a fifteenth to the originals.) Dedicated in 1990, this shrine is a series of almost life-sized bronzes placed along a path that snakes up the mountain to the Chapel of All Saints at the top. At each Station, the appropriate bible verses are on a plaque. The shrine is beautiful and so are the views. The skies were cloudy, but that kept us out of the sun for the walk up, which was a bonus. Another plus…by the time we were done, I had gotten in almost 10,000 steps for the day!
After retracing our steps down the mountain, it was time to head back. I sat outside enjoying the weather while taking care of a bit of work. Another “people are RUDE” thing: I had my earbuds in listening to music as I worked when a woman walked by talking on her phone. She was camped towards the back of the campground, and I assumed she was walking her dog while she talked, which is perfectly acceptable. Then she decided to park herself at the picnic table in the empty campsite next to us to continue her gabbing. She was a loud talker, and even with the earbuds, I was hearing more of her than Don McLean. Annoying! I knew MW was taking a nap inside, too. When she looked my way, I’m pretty sure I glared at her. She made a quick apology and moved on. A little while later I was forced inside by afternoon thunderstorms, and it rained into the night, which was glorious! We’ve seen very little rain over the past couple of months, and I’ve really missed it.
Wednesday was chore day, so I headed into Alamosa to find a laundromat while MW took care of the vacuuming. Out of three choices, two were already crowded at 8 AM. I parked myself at the empty one, Southside Suds, which had older machines, but was clean and cheap. A few folks came in before I left, but I was able to get some writing done between cycles. When it was all done, I parked myself in a corner at Burger King and focussed on bookkeeping.
SIDE NOTE: D. A. Bale wrote “Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t make it the right thing to do.” I tell you guys all the time about people being annoying. In most cases, they have the right to do whatever irritating thing I’m talking about. (Although there are occasionally total jackasses who ignore everything, and that’s annoying, too!) The irritation comes from the total disregard for those around them. With basic, human tunnel vision, we are all guilty of not noticing our surroundings at times, although I think most people try to be aware. Case in point…at Burger King, I was in the back booth in a partially filled dining area. There were several booths away from me available when a Grandmother, Mother, and little girl approximately 2 years old sat in the one next to me. For the next 25 minutes the child jumped up and down on the seat, yelled, got ketchup everywhere, and hung over into my booth. Except for the cursory, sweet-voiced “baby, you need to sit down and eat”, the women did nothing. Clearly this was a common occurrence, and that child drives the train. So why, when I have a computer and papers spread out on the table and am clearly concentrating on something, would they pick that booth over the other three? I know they could sit anywhere they wanted, but wouldn’t you assess the situation and sit somewhere else?
After finishing up, I headed back to Petunia. Later MW and I checked out the train displayed at the Alamosa city office building. It was an engine and a couple of cars used on the Chili Line I talked about above. There was also a copy of a Remington cowboy statue at the little park. We ran a few errands, then satisfied our Chinese craving at the Hunan Chinese Restaurant. The food was delicious with just the right amount of spice, and we had enough for another meal. Judging by the crowd, the locals thought so, too.
The Alamosa KOA Journey is not bad for a private RV park. Located just a few miles from Alamosa, Colorado, plenty of shopping and dining options are close. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Blanca Peak, San Luis, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, and many other attractions offer up plenty of entertainment options for the whole family. Amenities includes a pool, pavilion, bike rentals, laundromat, propane and firewood sales, dog park, basketball, volleyball, horseshoes, cornhole, a playground, wifi, and a camp store that has pizza. Lodging options include cabins, tent sites, and the RV campground. Rigs up to 100′ can be accommodated, and 30- and 50-amp options are available. All camp sites have picnic tables and fire rings, and some premium sites include seating areas. The bathhouse was located in the office building and was very clean. Cell signals were strong for both Verizon and AT&T, and there were a reasonable number of over-the-air tv stations. The best part of this park, though, is the weather! At 7,550 feet, the average summer high temps are in the low 80s and the lows are in the upper 40s and low 50s. Heavenly! We would stay again if in the area. (With these temps, I’m trying to talk MW into making this our summer home!!) For this stay in July 2022, we paid $185.55 for 3 nights.
Thursday started with writing, then a walk around the park to get a few steps in and take some pics. We didn’t have far to go, so it was around 9 AM before we hit the road. We took CO-17 north and stopped at the post office in Moffat, Colorado, to mail a package. There was one lady working, and she was in training and didn’t know how to mail a package. She seemed to be good at sorting the mail, though. She asked me to do her “a favor” and “go on up the road to the post office in Poncha Springs”. No kidding. We continued north, joining US-285, then caught US-50 east in Poncha Springs and passed through Salida. The next easy access post office was in Howard, so we tried there. No dice. Their internet was down, and she couldn’t do anything. I was chuckling as I walked back out to the truck with the same two packages. Near Coaldale, we stopped at the Vallie Bridge roadside park along the Arkansas River to stretch our legs and stick a toe into the cold water. The park is part of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, although the actual beginnings of the river are 40-50 miles north of where we stopped. After the break, we continued east on US-50, stopping just short of Cañon City, Colorado, for lunch at the White Water Bar & Grill. Yum! They had the best BBQ nachos with brisket! MW’s Havana Panini was good, too, but mine was the clear winner this time. Oh, and the traffic in and out of this spot was crazy. Aside from the cool bar, it is the hopping off point for zip-lining and river rafting. I was shocked, but happy, that we found a place to park. After lunch, we finished up our drive for the day on US-50 over to Pueblo West and the Lake Pueblo State Park. The day took us from the wide, open, flat San Luis Valley between mountain ranges, then through the gap between the Sangre de Cristo and the Front ranges, and into the rolling grasslands of eastern Colorado. Although the day was grey for the most part, it was a beautiful drive.
Friday we hung around the campground for a while, then headed into town for lunch at Angelo’s Pizza. MW had the Thunderpie, and I had wings. Both tasted great, but the wings were the smallest I’ve ever seen. Maybe 2-1/4″ long…possibly from Cornish Game Hens…no kidding! Next we did a little Target shopping before heading back to Petunia.
Saturday started with a 1/2-hour walk around the park. Later I made a solo run into town to drop off a package at the post office and pop into Staples. Later in the afternoon we headed back over to Cañon City to do one of MW’s FAVORITE things (well, really mine, too)…RIDE A TRAIN! Billed as Colorado’s most breathtaking rolling restaurant, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad departs from the depot in town multiple times every day with a variety of options, with or without breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They also have Oktoberfest, Santa Express, and Holiday trains. The meals are prepared on board with locally sourced ingredients, and the prime rib was delicious. The star of this ride, though, is the beautiful Royal Gorge. The train spends about 2-1/2 hours snaking through and back beside the Arkansas River, passing under the Royal Gorge Bridge, the highest bridge in the United States. Along the way, we passed the coolest rental village of yurts and Airstreams. On the return trip there were folks outside doing the wave. We also got mooned by some people in a raft. LOL If you like trains and good food, this is for you. Oh, they also offer a ride with engineer. I’m kind of surprised that MW didn’t dump me for that!
Sad side note: Have we devolved so much intellectually that we’ve lost the ability for rational thought?? Who puts these things in the toilet???
Sunday started with a 1-1/2 hour hike in the park. It was a beautiful morning, but was significantly warmer by the end than at the start.
After cleaning up, we headed out for a nice long drive. In Rye, Colorado, we stopped for lunch at the Rye Cafe. It was pretty full, and one taste of the food explained why. They make everything fresh, including the croissants, and you can definitely tell. MW stepped outside the box and had a waffle stuffed (you read that right) with ham and Swiss, while I stuck with the chicken salad croissant. After lunch we stopped in at the Main Street Boutique Gifts, where I found a plaque with my life theme, and a gift I’d been searching for.
Next we headed up to the reason for the drive…Bishop Castle. In 1959, a 15-year-old boy named Jim Bishop purchased a 2-1/2 acre parcel of land in the mountains near Rye, Colorado. Well, technically his parents bought it with his money, because he was too young to sign a contract. Bordered on three sides by national forest, it was the perfect place to build a family cabin. For years after the purchase, Jim and his father prepped the land during summer vacations, and finally started building the cabin out of stone sourced on the property, while still running the family ornamental iron works in Pueblo. As time passed, it got bigger, and bigger, until finally people began to wonder if he was actually building a castle. By 1972, Jim decided that would be his new goal. Since then, he has slowly built this behemoth stone structure, installing an abundance of ornamental iron and even a fire-breathing dragon. No kidding! Today it is open all the time for anyone to see. I found it fascinating and a little sad at the same time. It is amazing that one man built it by hand, and has spent his entire life doing it. (Jim is still alive and was born in 1944.) Although it is truly cool to look at, it will most likely never be completed and is basically an elaborate, man-made cave. There is a family cabin next door, but there is no livable space in the castle. There was some interesting signage that points to issues with the local authorities along the way, too.
After checking out the castle, we went to the gift shop, which had a hummingbird feeder. Those little buggers are so darned cute! These are rufous hummingbirds.
On the way back to the campground, we took the back way and enjoyed some dirt road. I LOVE that! We also checked out the dam up close
Lake Pueblo State Park is huge with 60 miles of shoreline and almost 10,000 acres of land around beautiful Lake Pueblo. Sit and enjoy views of Pikes Peak and the Greenhorn and Wet mountain ranges. Try out all kinds of water sports, swimming, fishing, rafting, hiking, biking, and small game hunting (in season). Amenities include full service marinas, boat ramps, three group pavilions, picnic areas, and miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Camping is available in three different campgrounds with a total of 393 sites. We really liked this one. There are lots of hiking trails, and the views are awesome. It does get very crowded on the weekends, but the spaces are laid out well. We would definitely stay again. For this visit in July 2022, we paid $176.00 for four nights, which includes a $10 per day entrance fee.
Another week down. Next up…a Massacre, Cliffs in Kansas (Really!), and a Brutus Bummer. See you on the path!
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