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The Drive From Hell, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado

Louise Speaks:  Day 41:  Well if you read yesterdays blog it should give you an idea of the driving we have done.  Visiting the tri states we didn’t know if we were in Nebraska, Wyoming or Colorado.  Each farm-house we visited was in a different state.  When we were at the Bison Ranch, she said our mailing address is Colorado but our horses live in Wyoming…how weird is that.  Anyway after not seeing the Tri-State marker it was off to get gas and find a place to spend the night.

Our original plan was to stay in Wyoming.  However, we are finally getting tired, and Thelma has to be to work in less than 72 hours.  So we have decided to re route our trip and skip Wyoming and most of Utah, cut through Colorado and head home.  We should have no stops in Colorado since we did the entire state last summer. 

Once we got gas we were in Wyoming and were planning on getting a hotel.  Well just so  happens the Cheyenne Frontier Days opens tonight…yep you guessed it, not a hotel room to be found.  So we thought, well we’ll go a bit out-of-town, we should be able to get one there.  100 miles later and still not chance of a hotel.

By now we are in Colorado, driving south.  We stop at every major city.  Fort Collins, Longmont, and even Denver, and still not a room.  We had even stopped looking at rates, by this time any room would have done.  Now it’s after midnight, and we have no place to sleep.

We keep driving.  Silverhorn, Georgetown, Vale NO ROOMS.  It’s now about 2:00 a.m.  I’m ready to say find a Wal-Mart and lets sleep in the car.  We pull into Avon and called for a room.  Yep once again they said no room, BUT he said, I know someone who does.  So we call.  It was a time share, a bit more expensive but hey it’s 2:30 in the morning so we take it.

We get there and what a mess.  Nothing like the time shares we have seen or stayed in.  Even though we checked in at 2:30 a.m. we were told we had to check out by 11:00 a.m. and there was no breakfast.  So at least we found a room, at least we had a bed, and it even had air conditioning, although we had to use a fan. 

Today was a long day.  In total we drove 641 miles….that makes for a very LONG day.  Today has got to be better…hell it’s already today, and we were just getting to bed.

Thelma Speaks:







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Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Chama, New Mexico

Louise Speaks:  Day 3:  We left Farmington early this morning as it was a 2  1/2 hour drive to Chama.  This time we actually made good time.  We’re driving on old highways instead of freeways, so it’s a bit slower but it sure is less congested and the scenery is so much nicer.   Compared to yesterdays drive, today we felt like we were in heaven.  We were headed to Chama, a quaint little town with no more than 1,000 residents yet full of gift shops and bed and breakfasts inns.  We were told the highlight of the town in the past 100 years is that they now have sidewalks, something that they thought would never happen.  It’s amazing what excites people…lol

100_4206We got to the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad  station on time, checked in, bought our post cards and boarded the train.  The whole set up was very similar to the Durango / Silverton Train in Durango Colorado.  This trip was going to take all day, leaving at 10 this morning and not returning until 6 tonight, but we’re not driving, so it should be restful.  This trip is 64 miles each way.  We are taking the train up, having lunch half way in the town of Osier and then returning by bus.  We had snacks with us, so we were good.

As we headed up the mountain, the vegetation started to change.  The desert shrubs turned into pine trees and the dull brown grasslands turned into various shades of green meadows.  This train trip covers one of the highest railroad summits in the West.  I didn’t realize it but because of all the loops on this route we are going to be going in and out of New Mexico and Colorado several times throughout the day.  There are actually 18 curves, 9 in each state.

This train began to run in 1881 carrying lumber and mining equipment.  Today, going from Chamba New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado, 100_4215it is one of the prettiest and most authentic railroad experiences around.  The 64 mile trip each way is one of the longest narrow gauge train route in the United States.  The train tracks are only three feet wide and were built this way in order to hug the sides of the mountain.  Literally, you can almost touch the rocks on one side of the train, and the other side is so close to the edge, you can’t see anything except the deep gorge going straight down.  The rails are laid on rock shelves that were carved out of the side of the cliff.  The trip also takes you 600 feet above the Rio Chama River, and is 800 feet from the opposite side of the gorge.  The train also goes through two long dark tunnels.  The first rock tunnel was cut through 360  feet of solid rock.  The second tunnel known as Mud Tunnel requires wooden supports throughout the 342 foot long tunnel.  The train also crosses over two 100 foot trestles, one rising 137 feet in the air above the Cascade Creek.  137 feet may not sound very high, but when you are on a 3 foot wide track chugging along inch by inch while you look down, at 137 feet in the air, I might as well be in an airplane.   The highlight of the trip is when the train reaches the top at Cumbres Pass, at 10,015 feet elevation, it is the highest point in the United States used by scheduled passenger trains.  During the winter months, Cumbres Pass can have snow drifts of 20 feet or more.

We had a bit of excitement on today’s trip.  Looking out the windows, it appeared that something had or was destroying all the Aspen 100_4223trees.  They were brown and bare with not a leaf in sight.  As we were going through this Aspen forest the train was going slower and slower.  We noticed these cotton sacks hanging from the trees.  The way they were spread out, they looked like bats.  All of a sudden the train came to s screeching halt.  We saw the trees, they had their branches cut off, and for all intended purposes, the trees looked dead.  BUT…if you looked closer, you could see the trees were covered with millions and millions of caterpillars.  There were so many that they looked liked part of the bark on the trees.  When looking on the ground it looked like the ground was actually moving.  The reason why the train had stopped is because as the caterpillars were literally falling out of the trees, they were falling onto the train tracks.  As the train would go over them it created a slippery, slimy surface and the wheels were not getting enough traction.  All the railroad workers were trying to clear the caterpillars off the tracks so the train could continue on it’s journey.  Once we saw the caterpillars, now you saw them everywhere…and they were constantly moving…yuck.  These caterpillars will soon turn into moths and the birds will have a feast eating them.  Once the caterpillars are gone, life will come back to the Aspen trees.

The bus ride back was a little over an hour and seemed to go by very quickly.  We had one more site to see in Chama from Patricia’s book “1000 Places to See Before You Die” and that was the Lodge at Chama.  We didn’t have an exact address as this is a very private lodge.  The lodge has many amenities and plenty of activities like hunting, fishing and even white water rafting.  In reading their website I noticed that the lodge has 21 rooms and sits on 36,000 private acres of untampered nature including alpine lakes and rivers.  The rivers on the property flow through 1,500 foot deep canyons lined with red cliffs to enjoy every type of sport imaginable.  In looking at rates, one special caught my eye.  If you would like to rent the entire lodge…all 21 rooms, for a family reunion, you can do so for the price of $11,500 PER NIGHT!!  So if any of you plan on doing so, I’d be more than happy to share one of the rooms.  Feel free to look at their web site for more enticing information.  I’m sure you’ll find some reason to go to this lodge.

All in all today was a good day, but a long day.  If you like trains, enjoy beautiful scenery, like a bit of history, then taking a train ride is for you.  However, I do think that half the trip would have been long enough.  But, it is the same price as the full day.  The main difference is when you take the half way trip, you go both ways by train.  It takes just as long as the entire trip, cost the same, so you might as well go for it all.  The train trip does include a wonderful lunch and it’s all you can eat, including drinks and dessert.  All that being said, it is worth every penny you pay for this trip, and it is a great way to spend a day.  I’d give this trip a B…fun, beautiful and relaxing.

AM…Page 738

Thelma Speaks:  Having been on this railroad in the early 70’s I remembered most of the stops and interesting facts along the way.  This time it was interesting to watch the change in the environment and see how climate has changed what we are now seeing.  As Louise said, the aspen trees and the moth sacks with the short wiggly worm like creatures sure made for an interesting time on the train.  If you love trains, you must take this trip and enjoy the trains of the past along with all the special features you enjoy by taking this trip.  The train can rock you to sleep along the way so keep your eyes and ears focused so you don’t miss out!  The bus ride back is very comfortable and seems to quickly pass… my thought was to run the cd you can buy about the train ride to give added interest in purchasing the cd!

I would give this trip a B.. it is fun, informative, beautiful scenery, animals to find along the way and relaxing.  Besides the meal is a good way to break up your travels!

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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mosca, CO.

Sand DunesLouise Speaks:  Well this is our last stop in Colorado.  It’s been a fast and adventurous 18 days.

It was very cloudy as we arrived at the Great Sand Dunes   www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm  and as we drove to the “sand” it began to rain.  I’m not exactly sure what is so spectacular about this sand, but it is in Patricia’s Book “1000 Places To See Before You Die.”   The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising about 750 feet from the floor of the San Luis Valley.  The dunes were formed from sand and soil deposits of the Rio Grande and its tributaries, flowing through the San Luis Valley. Over the ages, westerly winds picked up sand particles from the river flood plain. As the wind lost power before crossing the Sangre de Cristo Range, the sand was deposited on the east edge of the valley. This process continues, and the dunes are slowly growing. The wind changes the shape of the dunes daily.  It is very easy to experience the dune-building process. This is a very windy region, as hikers on the Sand Dunes will attest, as on many days they will be pelted by sand and even small rocks when hiking on the dunes. The wind carries sand and rocks from many miles away. While the dunes don’t change location or size that often, there are still parabolic dunes that start in the sand sheet, the outer area around the dunes, and migrate towards the main dune field. Sometimes they join the main dune field, and sometimes they will get covered with grass and vegetation and remain where they are. The dunes are relatively stable, however their morphology changes slightly with the seasons. The direction of the wind greatly affects the dune type. This wind regime is part of the reason why the dunes are so tall.

Sand Dunes 2Many visitors to the site try to sled down the dunes. The Park Service provides hints as to the best time to sled (when the sand is wet) and which equipment works best.  Visitors anytime other than late fall through early spring are also advised to avoid bare feet or sandals, and stick with sturdy, closed footwear. While the sand looks alluring, its chocolate color absorbs heat. The daylight sand temperature can reach 140 degrees and will burn bare feet.  Getting to the dunes requires walking across the wide and shallow Medano Creek, which flows only from spring to early summer. Hiking is permitted, with the warning that the sand can get very hot and the area gets snow in the winter.

The dunes and surrounding area were designated a National Monument in 1932. On November 22, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, aiming at ultimate national park status.  Yes, it was a lot of sand, but I do live in Arizona where we have sand storms galore, so I wasn’t that impressed.  That being said, I would rate the Sand Dunes a C-…it was just okay, but it wouldn’t have made my list of things to see.

From here we are headed to Albuquerque for the 4th of July.  We are not planning on doing much celebrating, we are ready to hit the showers and head home.

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Thelma Speaks: