Monday, June 29, 2015

Soaring to New Heights

I've been to Telluride many times in the past and have never been able to decide how I feel about it.  It is a gorgeous little town, but it is a town that caters to the rich and famous and I've generally felt out of place there.  Telluride sits in a box canyon, surrounded by breathtaking mountain views that include a stunning waterfall high on the mountain in front of you as you drive into town.

Telluride is full of shops and restaurants and it hosts several festivals throughout the year, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival that ended just a few days before we arrived.   We really did not have a specific plan for how we would spend our time there; our primary goal in visiting Telluride when we do is to return to Ouray on a scenic backroad that we discovered on one of our early visits.

Our B&B host had suggested that we take the free gondola ride up to Mountain Village where the ski resort is located, so with no other plans in mind we decided to take his advice.   We had never been particularly interested in exploring the resort area, so we had no idea what to expect.  

Rising above Telluride

Up, Up and Away

Birds Eye View
It's a fifteen minute ride up and over the mountain to Mountain Village.  You get a panoramic view of  the ski trails, huge stands of aspens and snow-capped mountains as you ride in an enclosed car that is unexpectedly quiet enough that you hear the birds singing and the familiar rustling sound of the  aspen leaves in the breeze.

Mountain Village

Arriving in Mountain Village, we stopped at an information kiosk to inquire about a good place to eat and were directed to Black Iron, a restaurant connected to one of the hotels.  It turned out to be a great suggestion.  We enjoyed the unique atmosphere that included tables with gas fireplace inserts.  After lunch we strolled around a bit to see how the rich folks behave on vacation, then took the return gondola back to Telluride and spent some time exploring the shops.  David made some new friends along the way.

David visits with the shop dogs and official greeters at Dakota Home
We left Telluride having a whole new attitude about the place.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and if we are ever in Telluride again, we will be looking forward to that ride up the mountain and the chance to get above the world for awhile.

On the way to Telluride we had stopped at a favorite observation point just west of Ridgway to take photos of the Dallas Divide.  The views here are stupendous and, as a side note, most of the land in this area is the property of designer Ralph Lauren.

Dallas Divide
Returning to Ridgway from Telluride, we like to take Last Dollar Road, which runs behind Lauren's Double RL Ranch.  It's an easy 4-wheel drive road that we discovered on an early trip to the area and it has become a tradition for us.  You do have to negotiate some rock slide areas, some creeks that cross the roadway and the occasional flock of sheep in the road, but it's well worth the effort because the scenery is outstanding.

I took this same photo about 25 years ago.  Still a favorite place.
An aspen grove.  I have a weakness for aspens.
One of the little streams we had to cross.

A study in contrasts
See those tiny little people?  That's David and Karen on a
mission to recreate a favorite photo.
A field of sunflowers and the Dallas Divide.  Can't beat it.
Today we depart Ouray and head to Gunnison.  On the way we will visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which to my mind is just as impressive as the Grand Canyon.  

We are getting drunk on the scenery and lots more to come.  Any hangover, however, will be awesome.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Shifting to Low Gear

The trip to Ouray from Durango was a long day of mountain driving - illustrated with unbelievably gorgeous scenery, but ending with three tired travelers by the time we got settled into our new accommodations.  We are spending a few days at a B&B on Main Street in Ouray where we have the entire second floor to ourselves with private front and back decks, a view overlooking the historic business district and a lovely couple as our hosts.

We were ready for a bit of a rest from travel and restaurants, so we decided we would pick up some snack material for a late picnic on the back deck after we had indulged ourselves with the first dip in the Ouray Hot Springs pool.  I was itchy to see what the shopping district looked like after the 20 year hiatus, so David and I ran to the local grocery for some snacks and then we all settled in for a brief lie down.

Ouray hasn't changed all that much, if you don't count the fact that the area is suffering from a beetle infestation that has killed a large portion of the white fir trees on the surrounding mountains.  The crowds are a little bigger and the shops have changed names here and there, but mostly it is still the quaint little town in a gorgeous valley.  The hot springs pool is a little more colorful, thanks to the addition of colorful, inflatable activity centers for the youngsters.  It was sheer heaven to slide my aching hip into the hot waters.  (As I feared, I have big purple bruises in 2 places on my hip from the knocks it took on the railing of the train car.  What I had not expected was the bruises on my upper rib cage where I had bumped against the higher hand railing.  Those I had not registered when they happened.  My first night of sleep in Ouray was fitful due to the fact that I would wake up every time I rolled over on my left side and those bruises would protest.)

We ended our day with a great little repast under the stars, sitting on the deck.  The moon was so bright we almost didn't need a light to eat by.

Morning brought a resurgence of energy and while my companions slept in a bit, I decided to take a walk around town.  Ouray is small enough that I was able to cover most of the business district and a bit of residential district in about 30 minutes.   It's a hilly walk, though - my Fitbit gave me credit for having climbed 6 staircases.   I have every intention of walking every morning for the remainder of the vacation.  After my morning exertion, I was glad to tuck into a wonderful breakfast provided by our hosts and participate in an enjoyable conversation as we all got to know each other.

Ouray is the place to go if your goal is jaw-dropping mountain scenery, so our itinerary for the day started with a drive up towards Yankee Boy Basin.  This is a drive I had never attempted in the past because it is designated high clearance 4-wheel drive and I'm not gutsy enough to attempt that kind of thing, but David had driven it several times in the past so I put my trust in him and we headed to some new territory for me.  Here's a sample of the road conditions we encountered:
A portion of the road leading to Yankee Boy Basin

No high profile vehicles allowed
I distracted myself from the road conditions by letting my eyes drink their fill of the views around each curve.  (The forest service was keeping an eye out on intrepid tourists and that helped, too.)
The view at the end of the road.  (It wasn't quite the end of the road,
but we hit a rough patch in the road at this point and our vehicle declined
to go any further.)

Still lots of snow on the peaks.

And lots of snow means lots of run-off, creating little burbling
creeks along the way.

An old abandoned mine still clings to the edge of the mountain.

Rushing waters in Canyon Creek.

The weather was picture perfect for mountain photography.

Canyon Creek 
After we crawled our way back down the mountain, we were ravenous so we headed back downtown to eat some tasty Mexican food at Buen Tiempo and to check out the shopping before heading back to the B&B for a brief rest.  
The street corners in Ouray are all dressed up with gorgeous hanging baskets of flowers
But it is hard to stay down long when you have the lure of mountains to draw you back outside.  We decided to make a late afternoon visit to the Box Canyon Falls, an attraction we make a point to see on each trip to Ouray.  This year we discovered that the recent overly generous rains have amplified the effect of the falls several times over the norm.  In fact, we could not go all the way down to the creekside this time - which meant we weren't able to recreate an old pose from the past with David gazing up into the falls, but that small disappointment was more than compensated for by the sight of the volume of raging waters pouring out of the rocks.
Box Canyon Falls
You can always depend on seeing chipmunks at Box Canyon Falls.  I love these little guys and would gladly adopt one if I could figure out how to get him home and keep him happy in Texas, although I fear Mojo would not approve and the cats would probably consider him a tasty treat.  So, alas, no chipmunks in my future.  I'll just have to come visit them every so often.
Mr. Chipmunk getting himself a drink of water.

A ground squirrel kept striking poses for the tourists.  They are a bit larger than
chipmunks and have a different striping pattern.

Chipmunks and a ground squirrel, feasting on sunflower seeds.
The day ended with another dip in the Hot Springs and picnic on the back deck (Karen made some great tuna salad for some satisfying sandwiches, followed by a dessert of honey candies from Honeyville.)  

Today the plan is a visit to Telluride and a return trip via the Last Dollar Road, which is the wildest backroad drive I ever personally made and will be a cake walk compared to the drive to Yankee Boy Basin.

Lots more scenery to go!


Friday, June 26, 2015

Engine, Engine No. 473

As best I can remember without being at home so I can check the photo archives, my first trip to Colorado was in 1986.  Mother's friend George was working as camp host for a government campground outside Gunnison and she talked me into going with her for a visit.  She and David had made the trip a year or so earlier and she wanted me to see Colorado.  I wasn't all that enthused, but she finally talked me into it.

One hates to have to admit that your mother is right, but I did fall in love with the mountains.  There were aspects about the trip that I wasn't particularly happy about - mainly that I was not convinced that I wanted to establish any kind of a relationship with George - but despite my reservations, I found a lot to like during those few days.  We spent 3 or 4 days with George, running around the Gunnison area while he did his best to terrorize me by taking long jaunts on steep roads with sheer drops down into craggy valleys.  I had a bit of problem with heights back in those days and I didn't find his teasing at all humorous.  But even with white knuckles and heart palpitations being the order of the day when we were out and about with George, there was no denying that the scenery was spectacular.

Finally we took off on our own and even though that first experience of driving in the mountains scared me spitless, we took it slow and easy and she began to show me some of the special places she had seen on her earlier visit.  I began to relax and enjoy myself.  She introduced me to Ouray and she wanted me to see Mesa Verde.  Somehow I found out about the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as we were planning our route and I talked her into taking a ride on it as our last big adventure.  

Today, 29 or so years later, I rode the train again with David and Karen.  It was every bit as big an adventure as it was the first time.   For sheer fantastic scenery, this is a must experience.  This time we opted to ride the train one way to Silverton and then ride the bus back to Durango.  It takes 3-1/2 hours to make the trip one way by rail and even though it is a wonderful ride, 7 hours is a bit too much of a good thing and I really recommend the return by bus, which allows you extra time to explore Silverton, a comfortable seat to wind down from the jerky motion of the train, some equally wonderful views along the highway and an informative commentary of the history of the area by the driver as you ride along.

We were tired but content when we arrived back at the Durango depot.  Riding the D&SNG Railroad is a fabulous experience  and I can't believe I waited so long to make a repeat trip.  Tomorrow we head on to Ouray, probably my very favorite place in all of Colorado.

On the way

Chug, chug, chug

For a good portion of the trip, the tracks follow along the Animas River.

One fantastic view after another.

David & Karen enjoying the scenery

White water

Engine No. 473.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Spiritual Pilgrimages

So I seem to be continuing a theme - pilgrimages.

Once upon a time I made a yearly pilgrimage to Colorado, something that was essential at the time because being in the Rockies leveled me and restored my spirit and provided inspiration for another year.  Some years Mother and I went together, some years David joined us.  Back in the day we pulled a pop-up trailer along and spent time at favorite campgrounds between Gunnison and Durango for the most part. I learned to drive mountains pulling a trailer behind and I learned to back that trailer into the tiniest of slots.  Every year we would venture a little outside the beaten path to check on different areas (the year of Rocky Mountain National Park was a winner; the year I just had to go to Aspen because that's where John Denver lived and we got stuck behind a cattle drive on a back road that never seemed to end and never got us anywhere and we had to back track and go through Grand Junction and then we got to Aspen and it wasn't all that inspiring, not so much).

We always kept the Gunnison to Ouray to Durango loop in the schedule regardless because we all loved those three places.  I defy anyone to drive Taylor Canyon above Gunnison and not fall in love with the Rocky Mountains and the tumbling rivers.  I defy anyone to spend time in Ouray and not come out of the experience with a fresh outlook on life.  I defy anyone to stand on the edge of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and not feel overwhelmed by the wonders of nature we have in the United States.  I defy anyone to spend time in Durango and not spend the remainder of their lives grinning when they hear a steam engine whistle.

But there came a year when Mother was no longer physically able to make the trip and our routines changed.  David began traveling with his new partner in life and I began making genealogically inspired trips based on ancestral origins. I did make one last trip to Colorado by myself (well Bebop went along so it wasn't totally alone), driving the familiar route and staying in cabins.  That was 21 years ago.  That's a mighty long time ago.  I've seen the Rockies from 30,000 feet while flying to Salt Lake City and Seattle, but that's not the same as standing in the foothills and looking up at their majesty.

So when David and Karen suggested I fly out and join them on a portion of their trip west this year, I let them talk me into it.  They had decided to make part of the trip the Durango/Ouray/Gunnison loop as a tribute to vacations past and I could not resist the temptation to see how things have changed in 20 years.  Besides, it has been a rough couple of years and a little spiritual renewing seemed in order.

So yesterday morning I returned to Mecca.  I don't like flying, so I can't say the first day was particularly renewing, especially since I was negotiating airports by myself for the first time.  But things just fell into place through the course of the trip, convincing me that the powers that be were in favor of this journey.  I still wasn't overly excited, because getting ready for the trip and making arrangements for the furry kids and getting a roof put on at the last minute had been making it hard to think ahead very far.

I kept looking out the plane window, looking for snow-capped peaks, but apparently we flew on a route that kept us in New Mexico most of the time, because it was boring terrain and I ended up concentrating on (and gumming up and back-tracking to fix) my knitting.  But then I felt the engines beginning to shift down and the flight attendant strolled by remarking that we would be landing in 20-25 minutes and I glanced out the window.

And there was home.  Green, rolling foothills and cabins perched on their tops.  I finally began to feel the anticipation of returning to my old stomping grounds.

As we drove from the airport back toward Durango, I finally got to see my mountains and as soon as we turned onto 550 headed north, I knew exactly where I was and what turns to make to get to downtown Durango.  It's changed, but it's the same underneath.

We're doing things a bit differently this time.  No campgrounds.  We don't know when, if ever, we will get back this way, so we are indulging ourselves and staying in places we always admired but couldn't really afford.  (We may be paying for it for awhile, but we decided it's time to carpe diem.)

First stop is 2 nights at the Strater Hotel in Durango.  We walked up and down the shopping district last night before having some really nice New Mexican style food for supper.  Today we are riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to Silverton, something I have not done since my very first trip to Colorado.  There should be some really great pictures to share in the next post.

The Strater Hotel

So, I will close here with a slight paraphrase to Psalms 121:1. I will lift up mine eyes until the hills, from whence cometh my spirit's renewal.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pilgrimages and Kinship

I've had so many positive experiences as a result of the time I spent several years ago creating a family history website.  I've been remiss in recent years in keeping the website updated due to some software issues, but even so it continues to reap benefits.  I've had many distant cousins get in touch with information and photographs over the years and my family history is much, much richer than it would have been if I had not taken the effort to publicize the facts and stories I had collected about my family.

And my life is much richer for having had the opportunity to meet some of those hitherto unknown relatives.  

Today I had the privilege of attending a reunion of the descendants of John and Della Mobley.  John was the brother of my great-grandmother Cora Mobley Hodge.  I never had the privilege of meeting Uncle Johnny or any of my other great-grand uncles and aunts, but I heard about them from my grandparents as they would relate stories from their visits and reunions before my time and I felt like I knew Uncle Richard and Aunt Lizzie, Uncle George and Aunt Figgers, Uncle Tommy and Aunt Tiny, Uncle Willie and Aunt Cora, Aunt Sally and Uncle Thomas and Uncle Johnny and Aunt Della.  Through my grandparents' and my mother's memories, they became real for me and I sometimes forgot I had never met them myself.

A few years back, I made online connections with Uncle Johnny's youngest daughter, Pat, and her husband Al and ultimately met them in person when they were on a visit to Texas.  We made the rounds of the Mobley graves in Bastrop County and Pat became an instant favorite cousin.  She was and is a lively conversationalist and full of entertaining stories.   A few years later, Pat (now widowed) was back in Texas for a reunion and introduced me to cousins John and Mimi Kimbrough and we spent another afternoon rambling around Bastrop County and having a grand visit.

So a few months back when John and Mimi invited me to this year's reunion and told me Pat would be coming as well, I did not have to think twice about whether I would join them.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to participate as much as I had wanted to, thanks to weather and roofing installations and preparations for an impending trip, but I joined the clan in Paige for several hours of fellowship and fun today.  I met a lot more cousins, all of whom welcomed me with open arms.

The reunion took place in an open air  pavilion next door to the Paige Community Center and the Paige Museum.  In addition to the Mobleys, several members of the Wunneberger family were also in attendance, relatives through Uncle Johnny's marriage to Della Wunneberger.  

There was no doubt that Cousin Pat was the star of the gathering.  As soon as she arrived, she was surrounded by folks who obviously adored her and then we all settled down for a brief worship service.  We sang several gospel songs, then Rich Mobley, a cousin from Denver, spoke on the different kinds of pilgrimages we make in life.  Afterwards, several members of the group spoke, recounting memories.  And then, of course, there was food and laughter and lots of visiting.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the museum would be opened for us to tour.  I've many, many times wished I could get inside, but there are no regular hours and visits are generally by appointment only.  It turns out that one of the Wunnebergers attending the gathering is on the museum board and he and his family acted as guides.

I was amazed at the amount of material housed in the two buildings.  Old photos, old ledgers, and a wealth of items donated by local families provide a rich history of the area.  I would love to spend a few days going through the material there and combing it for data that might relate to my Mobley ancestors (who settled nearby and helped found the Ridgeway Baptist Church) or my Hodge ancestors (the infamous Dr. Henry Hodge practiced there from 1898-1902).    I had a great time prowling the displays and then chatting with the Wunnebergers.  It is well worth a visit, if you ever get a chance.  

Alas, the visit was much too short, but everyone had a good time and they promised to let me know when the reunion schedule cycles back to Texas.  Can't wait.

One of the two buildings comprising the Paige Museum.
This was the former depot.

The John Mobley family begins gathering in the pavilion.

Looking down the side of the pavilion toward the museum
The Doris Goerner Laake building, part of the museum complex.

Mobley mingling 

A short worship service before lunch began with music and singing.

Me with Cousin Pat