Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Day 8 - From NM to CO

Sorry I've gotten behind on publishing a day of our trip per day. Even though it will mean multiple posts today, I'll try to finish out the trip so that it's done.

On day 8 we had a great breakfast at the hotel, topped off the gas tank of our red mustang ($3.12 per gallon!! When we got back to Virginia and saw $2.52 we were amazed), and headed north.

The road skirted the foothills all morning long. I had been thinking of the other road out of Taos which goes directly to Colorado Springs and goes through a difficult mountain pass, but the road we took was not as curvy.

This is the route we always took to summer camp. Shortly after you cross into Colorado, you reach Fort Garland, where we used to stop for a quick lunch of rotisserie chicken (way back before this was so popular). The place still exists (though under new ownership, according to the cashier)! (You can see in this photo the red mustang we rented for this trip. More on this sucky car later!)

Can you believe it, they still have the chicken roaster too:

But it was only 10:30am when Mike and I got there, so we passed on picking up a chicken. (Besides which, rotisserie chicken is one of Mike's least favorite ways to cook chicken. Later we ended up eating beef jerky, pinon nuts, and dried mango for lunch...hmm...not a good trade off!) The road to summer camp turns right at this point, but we turned left to race over to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument.

We visited the visitor center, and then drove out to the parking lot for the dunes. It is about a half-mile walk from the parking lot out to the dunes and we had a lot more driving to do today, so we didnt touch the dunes themselves, much less climb the 730 feet of the highest peak. The road that leads from Highway 160 up to the sand dunes has these incredible views on one side and the San Luis valley on the other. Mike loved how the moutain top peaked above the clouds.

There are three unpaved passes through the mountains that lead to our next destination, the villages of Westcliffe and Silvercliffe. Our GPS suggested we take one of these as it is the shortest route. We flat-out refused to take a dirt path that is listed as for 4x4 only, with high clearance and off-road moutain driving experience. So we turned the GPS off until we got back to the highway and could force a new route suggestion. Actually, we programmed the unit for the intersection of Highway 160 and County Road 29, which actually has the name of Pass Creek Road. This very bumpy dirt road is the route we used to take to summer camp. There are a great many more houses along this road now, and we had to squeeze by at least 10 cars going the other way.

Above is a view from this dirt shortcut. We happily slipped past an angry cloud threatening rain on the dirt road. However, once we got back to the paved road at Gardner, we ran smack into a lightning cloud with a downpour of rain mixed with tons and tons of hail. Windshield wipers could not keep up, visibility wasnt much more than 5 or so feet past the front of the car. I've never been in hail that thick. Here is that storm, from the side, when it was just rain:

After the storm, we continued up road 69 until we turned left on county road 130, Horn Road, which leads us to summer camp!!!
Up at the end of this road (it's paved when it hits the tree line over at the edge of the valley) is Horn Creek camp. In the valley is this beautiful abandoned house and barn. Its the kind of picture Mike's mom loves to take. Apparently Mike and Clorinda have the same aesthetic eye, because Mike captured it very well:

At last we arrive at Horn Creek camp!
Pioneer Girl camp was held in the Mountain Meadows section of Horn Creek. Only cabins 11 and 12 retain the layout that we had back then. We didn't walk around, just drove around. Moutain Meadows looks approximately the same from the outside.
Finally, this is a picture of Horn Peak (the tall one to the left) and its right shoulder. The top of Horn Peak is altitude 13,450. I once made the climb to the shoulder there, but a lightning storm came up and we ran as fast as we could down the mountain.

Moving on, we drove through Westcliffe to Hwy 96 to Rd 67 into Canon City. We stayed at a horrible horrible Holiday Inn Express and only slept via pure exhaustion.

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