Part 15: Durango, CO to Alamosa, CO


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The Trip

We had made arrangements to visit our Unimog friends Brad and Laura at their beautiful home in Hermosa, Co just north of Durango.  We broke camp at Mesa Verde and headed east on US160 to Durango.  We stayed several days which allowed us to catch up and have a relaxed visit.  They recently got a new puppy, Ruger, ( the dog is "a real pistol" so what better name than Ruger?).  Ruger kept us fully occupied.  Brad's house is line of sight of the Durango, Silverton and Rio Grande steam train so we got an opportunity to see it come by 6 times each day (3 up the Animas canyon and 3 returns).

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

Brad wanted to see the quadcopter fly and get some photos of his house.  Thor is visible in the driveway and we are visible watching.

Another view of the house taken the next morning.

The view of the red cliffs behind their house is spectacular.

Because their house is very close to the DSNGR narrow gauge line, it was easy to get photos of the passing steam engine.  We could hear the steam whistle with just enough time to walk to the crossing with US550.  Engine number 480 has a particularly loud whistle.

I got the bright idea to float a camera over the train.  The first time we did it, the quadcopter was perfectly positioned, but because of operator error (that, friends, would be me), the camera failed to capture any images.  But on the second try we were able to get a reasonable photo.

Kathleen got the engine as it was coming by.  The ground literally shakes due to the locomotive's mass.

We got the train coming and going with the quadcopter.

This was the third passenger train of the day and it was quite full.

Every steam train is, by law, followed by a fire control "speeder" to put out any fires caused by burning cinders before they get out of control.  This view is looking south along the DSNRG line toward Hermosa station.  The water tower of the Hermosa station is visible in the background.

We left Durango and headed east to Pagosa Springs, then south to Chama, NM.  We passed through Chama (which also hosts steam engines) but all the steam locomotives were out on the track. Above, the coal fueling station was visible.

From Chama, NM we headed north to Cumbres Pass.  Cumbres is a 10,000 foot pass and the approaches to the pass are quite steep.  When we crested the pass we decided that we would camp at Trujillo Meadows just to the north.  The camp site was above 10,000 feet so breathing was a bit labored.  The Trujillo area had been infected with bark beetles and the USFS sent a crew in to cut down infected trees resulting in a quasi-clear cut look.  The reservoir is visible in the center of the photo above.

The beetles will eat every tree they can and the damage was substantial.

Being early in the season and a weekday, we had the place to ourselves.  The winds were strong so we retired early.

Next morning we came down from Trujillo Meadows and continued north thru La Manga Pass to the Conejo River Valley.  We headed north along the Conejo River, but the road was one of the roughest we had encountered so far.  There was a sign at the start of the road that said "USFS no longer contracts road maintenance with Conejo County and is therefore soley responsible for its condition".  The road was heavily washboarded and had plenty of huge tire-swallowing pot holes.  We aired down to 30 psi to ease the bite of the rough road.  Shitty road notwithstanding, the Conejo River valley is spectacular.

Further upstream we passed large meadows that hosted substantial herds of cattle.

This cowboy is working for a living bringing the herd together.

We stopped at a primitive camp for lunch.  The cliffs of the eastern wall of the canyon were steep and impassible.

The western wall of the canyon was equally daunting.

Near South Fork we got a nice view of the Conejos River.  The river has trout, but given that it was a weekday, there were minimal fishermen around.

Getting close to the village of Platoro, CO the valley broadened.  The valley floor was covered with wildflowers.

We passed Platoro and continued on toward Stunner Pass (10,541 feet).  The switchbacks were tight but we did get a view of the dam at Platoro Reservoir.

The village of Platoro, CO was visible in the valley below.

Only a small portion of Platoro Reservoir was visible from the road to Stunner Pass.

Stunner Pass was indeed stunning.  The heavily mineralized cliffs provided rich colors against the building clouds.

The junction below is our "fork in the road".  Left takes us to 11,631 foot Elwood Pass and then Del Norte, CO; right goes to La Jara, CO.  We chose left which was the wrong choice.

Spring comes late at 11,000 feet.  Near Elwood Pass there were tundra-like meadows.

After we chose the left fork, I asked Kathleen if the road would be open given that was early in the season.  We soon got our answer.  This small snow bank thwarted normal attempts to cross it.  But, being resourceful, I chose another path.

Our bypass would be around the ditch and over the rocks to the left around the large slab.

Thor easily handled the obstacle.

Past the slab, the ground was softer.

We rounded several more corners and came to our end of the trail.  The first snow bank was crossable, but.....

The next one was not passable.  End of the line.

We found an acceptable place to turn around and headed back down Elwood and Stunner Passes to lower elevations.

Many of the high meadows were very mushy with spring runoff.

Approaching Stunner Pass from the west gave us a new view of the mineralized cliffs.

We traveled many miles of dirt back down to the San Luis Valley where we aired up the tires.  We turned north to Alamosa, CO where we saw this interesting vehicle.

Many thanks to Brad and Laura for hosting us for several days and nights.  We had a great time.  Traveling over the San Juan Mountains via the Conejo River basin was spectacular and is highly recommended.  The only caveat is being mindful of the weather and local road conditions.  We did not encounter rain, but if we had it would have added an another dimension of difficulty.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2014, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.