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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Aztec Ruins to Durango

Though it was cool enough overnight to use our little electric heater, a sunny morning warmed us to 52° by 1000. We took one more walk to the San Juan River before leaving Cottonwood Campground, but didn't spot any wildlife.

Aztec Ruins National Monument was today's first stop. The visitor's center is actually a house built by Earl Morris in 1920. Morris "borrowed" 800 year old ponderosa pine beams from the ruins to support the new roof.
Not only are the ruins a National Monument, they have been recognized as a World Heritage Site since 1987.
Here's a panoramic overview of the site. We explored three levels on a half-mile self guided trail.

The Great Kiva has been reconstructed and visitors are allowed inside.
Nine-hundred years ago, this was a thriving Pueblo. Different stones make interesting patterns in the walls.
Doorways made us feel tall for a change.
After passing through eight rooms, we met two archeologists taking tiny samples of wood to learn more about the history of an interior room.
Two hours was about right to get a feel for the monument.
In the parking lot I noticed that the newer license plates have added USA.
Looked it up later and New Mexico is the only state with this appendix. Might be to differentiate from their neighbors to the southwest. I'm glad they left the "Land of Enchantment" tag.
A little after 1400 we passed out of New Mexico and descended into the town of Durango, Colorado.
We're here in Durango because I've always wanted to ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. We have reservations on a train tomorrow. Today we will check out the town and the railroad museum.

Not sure what was up with this sign, but couldn't resist the photo op.

We plan to be in and out of the city for several days so looked for good places to park. The railroad lot is $8/day for a car or $10 for an RV. Beth did a little research and found that the city Transit Hub is two blocks away and only charges $7.50 for a week long pass!

Narrow gauge avenue lived up to the name. We waited while this center cab switcher shunted passenger cars from one track to another.

After visiting the station and verifying our reservations for tomorrow, we checked out the railroad museum housed in five stalls of the roundhouse.

Several model dioramas depict life in the old west.
A large working model railroad had lots of good detail.
Downtown Durango is recreated here in HO scale.

Even if you aren't going to ride the railroad, consider visiting this 12,000 square foot museum.  There is no entrance fee.
This baggage cart held a G scale model of the Durango station with some fine scale trains.
The museum isn't all models. Some retired locomotives live here too. Here's the fireman's view from a "K" series Baldwin locomotive.
The Nomad presidential car was backing into the yard as we left the museum. This has the same layout as the car we will ride tomorrow. We may have the opportunity to pontificate on the rear balcony if we feel inspired.
After having fun in the railyard we headed up the road to United Campground of Durango. Site 103   overlooks the railroad. Fees are $44/night including electric and water.
I could hear the distinctive sound of an old steam engine, so jumped out with a camera.
The first of two trains returning from Silverton, this one is pulled by #476.
An hour later and I was capturing a video of #480 passing through. Unbeknownst to me, Beth was capturing my shiny head with a still camera.
Not just trains, but lots of birds were hanging around our campsite. Several magpies were talkative while this Red-Shafted Northern Flicker looked for insects on fenceposts.
Our neighbor has an interesting combination of tents with his trailer.
Today's route.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Gems and the Divide

The day dawned over Escondida Lake revealing a blue sky and an almost full moon. It was a welcome sight after last nights wind and rain.
The students from New Mexico State were busy drying out tents and sleeping bags in the chilly (44°) air.

After breakfast we drove 15 minutes to the campus of New Mexico Tech. Beth had read there is a good mineral museum here.

A student docent welcomed us to the free museum where cases and cases of beautiful samples were on display.
I'll only share a few photos like this Chalcanthite on Gypsum. It could have been a flowering plant.
A substantial portion of the collection is devoted to minerals native to New Mexico.
We appreciated the clear labeling which included the country, state, and county.
Old mining tools. like this dynamite plunger, were scattered through the displays.

"Good" didn't do justice to this collection. There are 5,000 minerals on display out of a collection numbering 18,000 specimens! This is the best collection we've ever seen.
If you have questions, the publications office is just across the hall. An extensive selection of books and journals were available.


After satiating our interest in minerals, we drove downtown. Socorro has a historic town square and lots of shops, bars and restaurants catering to the students at New Mexico Tech.
We wandered in to M-Mountain Coffee for some caffeine and scones.

Reversing course, we headed north towards Colorado.

Shortly after getting underway we pulled over at a rest area to see sand dunes.
Picnic shelters were raised on decks with sun and wind protection. It felt like we were at the beach without water.

There were some interesting showers and geological formations around.

As we approached the continental divide, the dry landscape gave way to snow. Our little Lexor climbed to 7,380' crossing the continental divide at 2:42 PM for the first time.
The town of Cuba still had snow on the sides of the road at 6,950 feet above sea level.
The landscape fascinates us here. It is very different from the east coast and changes every few miles.
Storm clouds were on a parallel track as we traversed a high plateau.
Dry landscape with big clouds in the distance.

At 5:02 PM we pulled in to Navajo Lake Cottonwood Campground, elevation 5,657' and a refreshing 49° Farenheit. Site 44 was $14.00 including water and electricity. It was another campground where we were instructed to leave a check in an envelope. Checks are a "must have" when camping, especially in the shoulder seasons.

Walked to the river and noticed a pair of beavers coming and going from a nearby island. These two were nose to nose.
Returned to the van to get Beth and the beavers were still around. A great blue heron even dropped in to do some twilight fishing.



The San Juan River was a peaceful backdrop for a restful night after what was, for us, a long drive.

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