COVID at Meador Manor

November 18, 2022; updated November 27, 2022

It took me two years and eight months to finally contract COVID-19. But I did finally succumb, so I will share my story and the lessons I take from it.

Be Careful, Man

As a leader in our school district’s pandemic response, I was quite careful for the first two years of the pandemic. I routinely wore KF-94 masks, avoided crowds and indoor dining at restaurants, and had air purifiers at home and at work. Until we could get fully vaccinated, Wendy and I curtailed our in-person social activities to only a few outdoor gatherings and did not visit my parents. During the first winter wave before we had vaccines, I even shaved my beard for a better seal with my KF-94 masks. I was able to regrow it once Wendy and I received our primary doses of Pfizer vaccine in February and March 2021. We both had a Pfizer booster in October 2021, I was able to get the Moderna booster for those 50 years and older in April 2022, and we both received Moderna boosters in October 2022.

Those precautions worked. My 97-year-old father was a victim of the Omicron wave last winter and died while on oxygen in hospice about a month later, despite being vaccinated and boosted. The lower immune response of the elderly meant that his vaccinations helped but could not fully protect him. Thankfully, my mother, Wendy, and I were able to visit Dad in a crowded emergency room overwhelmed by Omicron and in understaffed hospital wards, with our KF-94 masks and basic handwashing hygiene preventing infection.

Riding the Waves

Wendy and I managed to avoid any known COVID-19 infection through its first five waves here. There was the initial wave in the spring of 2020, when outbreaks at multiple nursing homes in Bartlesville resulted in a high local mortality rate. Next was the winter wave of 2020-2021, then the Delta wave in the late summer of 2021, the tremendous Omicron spike in early 2022, and a wave this past summer. We know that over 70% of Americans had been infected with COVID-19 by autumn 2022, and that infection rate is no doubt even higher in Oklahoma, which ranked next to last among the states in its pandemic response. The IHME estimates that 95% of Oklahomans had been infected at least once as of mid-October 2022.

COVID-19 waves in Washington County, OK

Pandemic fatigue and the lower mortality risk from Omicron, coupled with more treatment options, meant that most pandemic precautions ended by the summer of 2022. At work we have air purifiers running, with planned filter refreshes, and we still track and isolate reported positives. But there are no precautionary quarantines, and very few people choose to mask up. Wendy and I no longer shy away from indoor dining.

Letting My Guard Down

Last Thursday I attended a public event in a local auditorium. I considered masking up, but instead just sat up in a high section, several rows away from anyone else. I have no way of knowing for sure, but that may have been my undoing, as I had my first symptoms three days later. I knew it was a high-risk environment, but I am not immune from pandemic fatigue. I certainly wish I had worn my KF-94 mask!

COVID-19 risk chart

Taking Precautions

I began to feel congested on Sunday evening, and when I awoke on Monday morning I checked, but I had no fever and got a negative result on a rapid COVID-19 test. I decided to go to work to do some budgetary analysis and play my part at a school board meeting.

But I began to cough that day, so I isolated myself in my office with the air purifier on high, and wore a KF-94 mask at the board meeting in order to protect others. When I got home that evening, I took sick leave on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, another COVID-19 rapid test was negative, and I still had no fever. But I was still coughing and began that lovely contradiction of nasal congestion and a runny nose. I took another day of sick leave on Wednesday, and consulted online symptom charts. Below is one devised to help parents regarding cold, flu, COVID-19, and RSV.

My symptoms matched up to cold, COVID-19, or RSV. I had no loss of taste or smell, but that is no longer a symptom associated with Omicron and some newer variants. Wednesday night I had chills, but still no fever. My cough subsided a bit on Thursday, and I finally got my first good night’s sleep since Saturday. So I felt much better on Friday morning, but I had already decided to play it safe and stay home for a fourth workday, which set off alarm bells for those who know me, as I’ve almost never missed that many consecutive days in my 34 years in the school district.

Back when I was teaching, I only missed work when I was running a fever, had laryngitis, or an uncontrollable cough. The pandemic has changed my approach; now I don’t hesitate to enjoy the privilege of sick leave, both to help myself heal and to avoid putting coworkers at risk.

Congratulations

Although I felt much better on Friday, I decided to go ahead and take a third COVID-19 rapid test since Wendy and I were planning to leave for a vacation in Arkansas on Sunday.

Positive tests

Boom! The T test bar was dark long before the 15 minutes were up. We have plenty of rapid tests at home, so I took one from another manufacturer. The T bar appeared almost as soon as the fluid reached that location on the test strip. I was truly infectious.

Reaction

I notified Wendy, my coworkers, etc. and cancelled our vacation cabin rental, forfeiting the deposit. Wendy came home and took a rapid test, but she still showed as negative. We had avoided most direct contact since my symptoms began, slept in different rooms, and I had been running our air purifier on high. Thankfully Wendy is almost a decade younger than me and was able to get a Moderna booster last month. So she may well have been infected and fought it off, or somehow she has dodged intaking too many viral particles.

I had already taken vacation next week for Thanksgiving Break, so I won’t be back at work until 15 days after my symptoms began, by which time I should be fully recovered and non-infectious. But if I were still scheduled for work, I would continue to take sick leave or work virtually until I got a negative rapid test.

I will also wear an effective mask when around others for at least 10 days after symptoms began and will continue masking after that if I have not both tested negative and been symptom-free for 24 hours. Thanksgiving Break 2022 will be very much in the pandemic mode here at Meador Manor!

Lessons Learned

Here are the things I think I did right:

  • Keep your vaccinations up-to-date
  • Check your temperature daily if you have any symptoms
  • Take a rapid test at symptom onset and do another test later
  • If you have any symptoms, wear an effective mask when around others and isolate as much as feasible both at work and at home
  • If you have multiple symptoms or a cough, stay home even if you test negative

And here are things I wish I had done:

  • Wear a mask when in a high-risk environment, regardless of the CDC Community Risk Level
  • Go home as soon as a chronic cough develops (I isolated in my office and wore a mask when around others for the rest of the day, but I should have just immediately headed home)
  • Do an additional rapid test every 48 hours until you test positive or your symptoms go away

Regarding CDC measures, our county is currently Low in the Community Risk Level, which I consider garbage propaganda. Our county is currently High in their older Community Transmission measure.

Regarding rapid testing, I tested on Monday and Tuesday, but when I stayed home on Wednesday and Thursday, I didn’t bother to test again, so I didn’t find out until Friday that I had COVID-19. I wish I had tested on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday instead, hoping it might have been positive on Wednesday allowing me to warn my coworkers sooner. And if I were high risk, Friday would have been too late to begin Paxlovid. Those with insurance can still obtain 8 free COVID rapid tests per month at pharmacies in their plans, so we should each have a stockpile of them on hand both to confirm an infection and then later to confirm when you are likely no longer infectious.

And that’s my story of how at age 56, 32 months after the pandemic began, I finally joined the 95% of Oklahomans who have been infected by COVID-19. Be careful out there.


Recovery

I finally tested negative 17 days after my likely infection, 14 days after my symptoms began, and 8 days after first testing positive. Our precautions at home worked, with Wendy never testing positive.

I likely had Omicron BA.5 or BA.4, which were dominant in Oklahoma. The 2022 COVID-19 mortality rate in Oklahoma for my age range was 70 times higher than for young adults. So although the Moderna bivalent booster on Halloween was unable to prevent my infection, it likely spared me from severe symptoms or worse. Bivalent boosters could be located at https://www.vaccines.gov/search/

COVID-19 test results
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My calculations show…

I lived through the transition from mechanical to digital calculators. Here’s a look back at the calculators I’ve used over the past 50 years.

Underwood Sundstrand Adding Machine

Underwood SundStrand Adding Machine

My first experience with a calculator was this 30-pound chunk of hardware that my father bought used and planted on the large partners desk in our den at home in the early 1970s. It could add, subtract, and repeat, so you could do some primitive multiplication. Everything printed out on a paper spool. The machine was loud.

Oscar and David Sundstrand first marketed adding machines around 1915. Their firm was acquired by Elliott Fisher Company in 1927, and that was merged later that year with Underwood Typewriter Company. So we had an Underwood Sundstrand machine by Elliott Fisher. The Sundstrands were the ones who introduced the ten-key layout that became ubiquitous and is still found on computer numeric keypads.

You can see how the machine worked in the video below by a youngster working to figure out one that he picked up from Goodwill.

An old Underwood Sundstrand adding machine

Monroe Monromatic Calculator

In the 1950s and 1960s, when he worked in the Gas Measurement department of Cities Service Gas, my father’s fellow office workers had Monroe Monromatic Calculators. Those were far more sophisticated mechanical marvels that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide to many places. They cost about $275 each in 1955, which would be over $3,000 in 2022 when adjusted for inflation.

Operating such machines was non-intuitive compared to today’s electronic calculators:

A Monroe Monromatic in action

My Mechanical Calculators

Needless to say, those devices were not suitable for calculations when you were out shopping at a grocery store or a five-and-dime. I had two handheld devices which my parents had picked up at garage sales.

Add-a-matic

The first was a Super Add-A-Matic. You could hold it in your hand and depress buttons for dollars, dimes, and cents to add up the cost of items as you placed them in your basket. That way you could ensure you didn’t exceed the cash you were carrying.

The device could only add, and it reset to zero when you passed $19.99. I used it a few times at the local T.G.&Y. back when my allowance was a few bucks a week. Inflation rendered these devices obsolete decades ago.

Computator

I also had one of those little stylus computators. You had to stick the stylus in the appropriate slot and drag it to add or subtract. I found its operation clunky and not very useful, eventually prying it apart and playing with its sliders before chucking it all in the trash.

How stylus computators worked

Canon Canola L 163

Canon digital calculator

The first digital calculator I encountered was the Canon Canola L 163 that my father had on his desk at work in the mid-1970s. I was fascinated by its silence and the weird display. It used 16 Nixie Tubes, which were made of glass and contained a wire mesh anode and multiple cathodes, with each of the latter shaped like different numbers. The appropriate cathode would glow when selected, and I could see the wires for the other numbers both in front of and behind the one that was glowing. I remember staring intently into the display to figure out why its numbers appeared at different depths.

That device originally cost $845 in 1971, or over $6,000 in 2022 dollars when adjusted for inflation.

Puttering around on an early digital calculator with Nixie Tubes

Casio personal-mini

As an elementary school student, I was oblivious to the handheld calculator wars of the early 1970s, unaware that the commoditization of integrated circuits and LED and LCD displays were making handheld calculators incredibly cheap compared to the desktop digital calculators of just a few years earlier. Texas Instruments released the first calculator priced under 10 dollars in 1974.

So I was surprised at age 11 to find a Casio personal-mini four-function calculator on sale for a few bucks at a neighborhood garage sale. I rode home on my bicycle to collect all of my savings, hurrying back to purchase it before someone else snatched it up.

That device sold for $13.50 in 1976, which would be over $70 in 2022 dollars when adjusted for inflation. I was thrilled to get it in 1977 for $4, which would be about $20 in 2022 dollars after inflation.

It had a six-digit vacuum fluorescent display, instead of the more typical eight, as a cost-savings measure. If a result had more than six significant figures, you pressed the arrow key to see the remaining digits. I was struck by how its zeroes were half-sized. It was so slow that you could see the digits changing on a calculation, somewhat like watching the dials on an even slower mechanical calculator. And if you divided by zero, it would go into an infinite loop; pressing the arrow showed a steadily increasing counter.

A fellow demonstrates what was my first calculator

TI-30

When I was in high school chemistry in 1982, our old-school teacher forced us to memorize, to four significant figures, the values of sine, cosine, and tangent for every 5 degrees. We were to interpolate values between them as needed. Our mathematics textbook also had tables for sine, cosine, and tangent for each degree value.

All that seemed crazy to me, knowing that there were now handheld calculators that could do the trigonometric functions. I had saved up my allowance to buy a new TI-30 from Texas Instruments for $25, which would be about $75 in 2022 when adjusted for inflation. I remember how my old-school teachers, relying on trig tables and sliderules, would provide answers that were actually less accurate than mine, rapidly calculated on my TI-30. My father had the sliderule he used in college in the 1940s, showing me a bit of how to use it. I thanked my stars that I dodged that era in handheld computation.

My calculator had a carrying case with a belt loop and small red LED digits for its display. It came with The Great International Math on Keys Book. TI would sell 15 million of them from 1976-1983.

Tandy Pocket Computers

HP calculator
HP calculators often used Reverse Polish Notation, which I found baffling

In 1986, I decided that I needed a more powerful scientific calculator to help me in my Electrical Science and other engineering courses at the University of Oklahoma. Some of my engineering and math friends had Hewlett-Packard calculators of various types, with many of them using Reverse Polish Notation. I found that input system baffling, preferring the Algebraic Operating System used by Texas Instruments, but I wanted to be able to program advanced calculations and formulas into my device.

Radio Shack introduced its PC-5 Pocket Computer that year, which was a rebranded Casio FX-780P. I spend $120 of my scholarship money on one, which would be about $330 in 2022 when inflation-adjusted.

I loved that device, which folded open to reveal the usual scientific calculator keys on the bottom, but had a membrane QWERTY keyboard on its upper half, with shortcuts for various BASIC words, and a 24-character LCD display.

Tandy PC-6

It had searchable memos and a wonderful formula feature – you could save your own plain English formulas in memory and have it prompt you for the values and then it would calculate. For more complex work, I could write complete programs in BASIC.

That little machine took me through the rest of my undergraduate work and into my teaching career. I programmed it to work its way through student lab calculations to speed up my grading, and I did all of my grade calculations and associated statistics on it. It didn’t do graphs, but I prefer a big screen for that anyway.

The original PC-5 served me for a decade, with me paying for a few repairs at the local Radio Shack. When it finally wore out, I replaced it with the near-identical PC-6, which served me another 10 years.

Here is a guy looking at one of these nifty devices:

TI-86

TI-86

After 20 years of using a PC-5 and then a PC-6, I was chagrined when my PC-6 finally bit the dust. I still wanted a BASIC programmable calculator for lab calculations, with statistical functions to analyze test results. So I opted for a TI-86 graphing calculator. Those were introduced in 1996 and weren’t discontinued until 2006.

I almost never used the graphing capability, preferring to do my graphing on a personal computer with a large display. I never upgraded to a later model, since newer TI programmable calculators were not compatible with the TI-BASIC programs I had painstakingly rewritten into my TI-86 unit. I didn’t want to re-create all of that code a third time. So, whenever one would wear out, I’d replace it with another I purchased on eBay. That pattern continued until I retired from teaching in 2017.

End of an Era

My use of handheld calculators ended with my teaching career in May 2017. Now I lead the district’s technology and communications efforts, and I mostly use Google Sheets for calculations and analysis. If I need to crunch some simple numbers while at a Windows desktop computer, I just press the Calculator button on my multimedia keyboard, which opens the basic Windows calculator app. Or I could just type “calculator” in Google for it to display its own scientific calculator.

And when I’m out and about, my iPhone has its own calculator app, which is a basic four-function one in portrait mode, and a scientific one in landscape.

I lived through the years from mechanical calculators to digital desktop ones, on through handheld digital calculators, into this era where the smartphone has turned the calculator into just another app. I suppose some students are still stuck buying ridiculously overpriced TI graphing calculators for supervised testing, but otherwise such devices seem to be from another time and place.

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Double Loop, Days 7-10: Trinidad & Capulin

June 15-18, 2022 | Photo Album

Meador Selfie Profile Pic

For our return home, I planned to share with Wendy two places I had visited in 2012 before we began dating: Trinidad and Capulin Volcano. I had recalled them as favorite stops on the long journey from Green Country to the mountains of southwest Colorado.

I planned for our trip back home to take four days with overnights at Pagosa Springs, Trinidad, and Woodward so that we wouldn’t be on the road for more than five or six hours in a day. We had enjoyed multiple stays at the Pagosa Springs Inn & Suites in prior years, but I discovered it had been sold and was being redeveloped into micro-apartments. So we landed at the RiverWalk Inn by the San Juan River and enjoyed big slices of pizza at Rosie’s, which was DSP Pizza when we dined there back in 2013.

The next morning we drove the familiar Wolf Creek Pass across the Continental Divide to cross the cattlelands to the New La Veta Pass across the Sangre de Cristo mountains to little Walsenburg.

We had stayed in Walsenburg in 2019, and I looked forward to another lunch at La Plaza, which I will always remember for having a copy of the wild Urantia cult book on its shelves back in 2013. But La Plaza closed after winter storm damage in 2021 and has yet to re-open. We then found out that Tina’s Family Cafe was also closed, so we drove back across town to have lunch at the H&H Cafe, which was the Busy Bee back in 2019. The food was good and prepared us for the short hop south to Trinidad.

Trinidad

In 2012, I drove through Trinidad, admiring how it had maintained its downtown. Trinidad is situated on the banks of the Purgatoire River and the Fishers Peak mesa looms to the east.

Panorama from Simpson's Rest
Fishers Peak mesa rises in the east above Trinidad; I took this shot from Simpson’s Rest back in 2012

The town still has many original buildings and brick paved roads. I hadn’t really considered what Wendy and I would see in Trinidad until I perused TripAdvisor at the RiverWalk Inn in Pagosa Springs and noticed there was a spacious A.R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art in an old storefront downtown.

We parked in a free lot off Convent Street and walked along Main Street to the museum. A.R. Mitchell was born near Trinidad and found success painting over 160 images for many western and weekly magazines during the 1920s through the 1940s.

Cover art by A.R. Mitchell

After his death in 1977, his sister, Ethel Mitchell Erickson, nicknamed “Tot”, was trying to determine where to donate his paintings, western art, and historical memorabilia collection. The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in my hometown of Oklahoma City was interested, but Tot decided to keep the items in Trinidad. So in 1981 the A.R. Mitchell Museum was established in the former Jamieson Department Store building that has graced Main Street since 1906. The museum has some of the original fixtures of the store, used to showcase items, with a unique horseshoe shaped mezzanine and the typical pressed tin ceilings and wood floors.

The A.R. Mitchell Museum occupies the former Jamieson Department Store, built in 1906

I enjoyed the accessible work by A.R. Mitchell, which emphasized story. In a 1973 interview at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in OKC, he remarked, “My cover paintings had but a few inches of space and seconds to talk the potential reader into spending his nickels…a good cover, whether on a pulp or a slick, had to talk.”

AR Mitchell cover art 1

The museum had some wonderful temporary exhibits. Wendy enjoyed works by Jonathan McAfee and Louis Still Smoking.

Wendy liked Collen Tully‘s Waves Crashing so much that she bought a print and later hung it in her art room at Meador Manor.

Waves Crashing by Colleen Tully

She also enjoyed other works by Tully, Jen Starling, and Annie Decamp.

We both admired the vivid colors and sharp designs of Anthony Garcia, Sr.

As well as works by Alexander Richard Wilson and Cyrus Walker.

I particularly enjoyed works by Cody Kuehl.

I laughed so hard at his American Lullaby that I purchased a print of it at the museum and later had it framed and mounted over a bed at Meador Manor.

American Lullaby by Cody Kuehl
American Lullaby by Cody Kuehl

Happily exiting the museum, we dropped our prints off in the minivan and then walked along Main Street. I liked spotting Fishers Peak between the downtown buildings.

Fishers Peak from downtown Trinidad
Fishers Peak above Trinidad

The heat was on, so we tried to get an ice cream and a cool drink at Tutti Scoops on Commercial Street, but they were locked up, so we ended up at I Love Sugar across the street to get our fix. We enjoyed our walk about the little arts district in Trinidad, laughing at a street sign thanking us for not smoking METH and a banner urging folks to re-elect Peach Vigil for county clerk, although she has had some troubles.

We retired to our Family Suite at the La Quinta on the old Santa Fe Trail. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised at our spacious, clean, and comfortable suite.

I had considered returning to Rino’s for dinner after enjoying a quiet lunch there in 2012, but dinner promised the possibility of singing waiters, and we weren’t up to that. Wendy picked out the Sunset Bar & Grille, situated in a Days Inn near our La Quinta on the old Santa Fe Trail. The setting and kitschy signage, which struck me as a timewarp to the 1970s, belied how chef Muthu Pandy offered up a fusion of American dishes with Thai and Indian food. We enjoyed fine food along with a panoramic view of the sunset above the Spanish Peaks.

Capulin Volcano

On our penultimate vacation day, we drove to Capulin Volcano. The extinct cinder cone last erupted about 60,000 years ago, creating 16 square miles of lava flows, and is composed of cinders or lapilli with a diameter of 2-64 millimeters along with larger blocks or bombs.

Capulin
Approaching Capulin
Yes!

Wendy was in the restroom at the visitor’s center while I browsed and discovered they had several coffee mugs that perfectly matched the chimenea-shape that Wendy said kept coffee hotter for longer than other mugs. She had been looking for the ones that were made in America, and the producer of the mugs had an interesting history. When I showed her my find, she eagerly selected several of them, which I purchased as her sixth wedding anniversary gift. We had converted a bunch of Nos along our trip into a resounding Yes!

We happily drove up to the rim of the crater. There we parked and hiked along the Crater Rim Trail.

Capulin Rim Trail

I was struck by how distant clouds made it look like the tips of the branches of a dead tree were smoking.

Capulin Clouds or Smoke

Far below was the visitor center and the extensive Raton-Clayton volcanic field.

Cauplin Visitor Center below

We climbed high enough, despite the heat, to see the crater.

Capulin Crater

The panorama from atop the volcano was striking.

Capulin Panorama

We turned around, meeting an elderly couple on the trail. They asked how much farther the trail went, with the wife saying she was recovering from a heart attack. We urged them to just go around the next curve where there was a bench, reassuring them that was plenty high for them to see everything, rest, and then come back down.

Homeward

We then traversed the full length of the Oklahoma Panhandle and drove to Woodward for the night. We had lunch in Clayton, New Mexico. We wound up at a Pizza Hut after other choices had provided the post-pandemic Nos we had grown accustomed to. The Pizza Hut actually had a large seating area with comfortable booths, unlike many of the franchises these days, which often have worn-out booths if they offer seating at all. So that, decent food, and excellent service from a young waitress were most welcome.

Wendy enjoyed driving in the deserted panhandle, so unlike the pressures of city driving. I had booked another La Quinta room, but this time we were less fortunate. The hotel clerk claimed they had tried calling us (there was no record of such attempts) to let us know that our suite was unavailable. The upper floors of the hotel were closed off “for renovations” so we made do with a regular room on the ground floor which was unclean and unwelcoming. We were glad to leave early the next morning to head home.

I noticed how the towns throughout the panhandle and northwest Oklahoma, all the way to Ponca City, were struggling. There were many abandoned service stations and shuttered downtowns. Nearly two-thirds of Oklahoma counties saw their populations decrease over the past decade as part of a migration from rural to urban and suburban communities. Nearly half of all Oklahoma residents now live in just four of its 77 counties: Canadian, Cleveland, Oklahoma, and Tulsa.

J. Tom Mueller, a research assistant professor with the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, has noted that agriculture now is increasingly mechanized, requiring less labor, and the manufacturing boom that rural communities once benefited from began disappearing in the 1980s as companies shifted production outside the United States. Politics also is driving people away as folks seek out people who are more like them and flee areas where liars, grifters, and seditionists prey upon the vulnerable.

Puffy chips at Enrique’s in Ponca City

But our spirits lifted as we pulled up to the Ponca City airport to dine at Enrique’s. Our friends Carrie and Trish introduced me to that restaurant years ago, and I am very glad it is still serving up puffy chips and other yummy food. It was then just a drive across the Osage Nation to reach Bartlesville, completing our Double Loop.

Photo Album | Double Loop, Days 5-7: Ouray

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Double Loop, Days 5-7: Ouray

June 13-15, 2022 | Photo Album

Meador Selfie Profile Pic

Over a decade ago, I drove the San Juan Skyway clockwise out of Durango, spending much of my time, when I wasn’t driving, in Telluride. But on my southward journey back to Durango, I noticed the pretty little town of Ouray nestled among steep mountains on every side. I didn’t have time to explore, so I decided that someday I should return.

Northern mountains of the San Juan Skyway loop out of Durango, Colorado

Over a decade later, when Wendy and I decided a trip to Oregon and California would be too expensive, I thought of Ouray and began checking elevations, as I suffer from altitude sickness. My past experience was that staying overnight at over 8,000 feet above sea level was risky unless I had plenty of time to acclimate. I had been unable to stay overnight at 8,900 feet in Crested Butte; the worst headache I’ve ever had sent me fleeing down the mountain. But I was able to handle Gunnison at 7,700 feet. So I was relieved to note that while Silverton at 9,300 feet is off-limits to me for an overnight stay without acclimation, Ouray is only 7,800 feet.

Shopping

After passing through the Uncompaghre Gorge, we parked on Main Street and explored the shops. Wendy purchased some silver items at Columbine Gifts & Silver, and I spotted a coffee mug crafted by a local potter; Wendy had been on a quest to find some American-made mugs that was unfulfilled by the tourist shops at the historic plaza back in Santa Fe.

Shopping
Ouray main street with mountains all around

Wendy enjoyed exploring the Columbine Mineral Shop and visiting with the proprietor while purchasing a few items. They both watch the Crystal Collector, Bryan Major, and Wendy shared videos about tourmaline mining in California and in Maine, although her specimen came from Colorado. We had dinner at the Colorado Boy Southwest Pub.

Ouray Mineral Purchases
The tourmaline and rhodochrosite Wendy purchased were collected in Colorado, and she also purchased a bed of crystals

The Alchemist Penthouse

Our vacation involved almost daily travels between hotels, so we needed some extra time in Ouray to afford a wee bit of hiking, to recuperate from frequent hotel shifts, and to wash some clothes and thus avoid having to pack and schlep too much baggage. In planning the trip, I had looked for a nice rental, instead of a hotel, and found at VRBO the Alchemist Penthouse. Retired pharmacists Curtis & Nancy Haggar had constructed a museum on the ground floor, their home on the second, and a rental penthouse up top. It looked spectacular with an outdoor deck in back and a balcony high above Main Street. Better still, our host Nancy was delightful to work with.

Alchemist Penthouse Street View
Ouray Alchemist Penthouse

We were given use of the alleyway garage for the minivan, uphill from main street. That way we only had to carry things up one flight, not two, to the penthouse. Nancy gave us a quick tour, and we noted her careful attention to detail and helpful notes about various items. It was a hot day, but a swamp cooler kept the penthouse quite comfortable so long as you remembered to crack open windows in the front and the rear of the suite for crossflow ventilation. The low humidity in the Colorado mountains allows a swamp cooler to work well, whereas back in the Green Country of Oklahoma they are often useless.

Alchemist Penthouse Roof Deck
Rooftop entry door and deck of the penthouse

The bed was comfortable, and in the morning you could lie back and enjoy a mountain view through the clerestory windows. We had purchased breakfast items at the grocery off Main Street, and Wendy treated me to a hot breakfast each morning prepared in the nice penthouse kitchen.

Celestory Mountain View
Oh what a beautiful morning

I had fun sitting on the balcony above Main Street, with a gargoyle perched above me and Whitehouse Mountain and Sister Peak in the background, day and night.

Box Cañon

You pass a box canyon/cañon as you drive into Ouray from the south. Canyon Creek narrows and spills thousands of gallons a minute over a 285-foot waterfall that plummets into a narrow quartzite canyon with walls that tower over the falls by almost 100 feet.

The unusually warm weather led Wendy to say we should pay the fee and hike at the falls right when the area opened in the morning. An old lighted BOX CANON sign visible on the mountainside at night from the penthouse promised a great adventure the next morning.

Bright and early the next morning, we parked, paid the fee, and walked to the falls. A protective metal walkway we later viewed from above led back into the narrow box canyon to the falls.

Box Canyon Falls Walkway from Above
The falls walkway viewed from above

The roar of the falls was intimidating.

Falls Walkway
The roar of the falls fills this space

You could see spray flying off the cascading water even with the falls themselves still hidden by the rock walls.

Walkway

I spotted rusted remains below the walkway.

Rusted remains below
Rusty remains below the walkway

The walkway trembled as we made it to the end where we could finally see the cataract.

Canyon Falls
Box Canyon Falls

Being so early, we were fortunate to have the entire walkway to ourselves. We made our way back to the trail to climb about 100 stairs up the mountainside as part of a trail leading to the High Bridge.

Along the way, we had a good view of the Box Canon sign, and each of us posed with it in the background.

Signage told us the history of the sign and its restoration.

Box Canon Sign History

Then it was on up to the High Bridge, which was built in 1900 to carry a water pipeline between two reservoirs.

High Bridge Above
High Bridge

From the bridge we could see Canyon Creek streaming toward town, the box canyon beneath us, and the town spread out before us in the morning light.

Canyon Creek from High Bridge
Canyon Creek descending toward Ouray
Canyon Creek Below
Canyon Creek roars below
Ouray from High Bridge
Ouray viewed from on high

The bridge is part of the perimeter trail that winds around Ouray, and it leads to a short tunnel through the mountainside.

High Bridge
The bridge leads to a tunnel
High Bridge Tunnel
Wendy in the tunnel on the perimeter trail

We thoroughly enjoyed the park, but it was getting warmer and more crowded, so we descended to use the restrooms and returned to the penthouse.

Cascade Falls

That afternoon I braved the heat to walk uptown a few blocks to Cascade Falls Park. Cascade Falls is visible throughout town on a northeast mountainside. I say I walked uptown advisedly since it was a climb in high altitude from the penthouse to the falls at the east end of 8th Avenue. Despite my weekday morning aerobics back home, at about 700′ elevation, I was huffing and puffing by the time I reached the park.

So I rested a bit before embarking on the quarter-mile uphill trail that led to the waterfall, which is the lowermost of a series of seven waterfalls along Cascade Creek.

There were many people enjoying the view of the waterfall, and some who had clambered up to walk behind it.

Cascade Creek Falls
Cascade Creek Falls as you approach it from below
Ouray Cascade Creek Falls

I went up side trails on either side of the waterfall, which were part of the overall Perimeter Trail.

Perimeter Trail at Cascade Creek Falls
Perimeter trail

I took a shot from the left side:

Cascade Creek Falls Side View
Left side of Cascade Creek Falls from the perimeter trail

And another shot from below right:

Cascade Creek Falls from Below
Right side of Cascade Creek Falls on the perimeter trail

And then I made my way back to the penthouse, enjoying walking the streets of this town surrounded by high mountains. Some day I hope to return and hike the perimeter trail in cooler weather.

Ouray was a great highlight of our trip, but it was time to reverse course for home. I had originally planned to loop northward through Gunnison and Salida, but a festival in Salida complicated the planning and led us to retreat back through Pagosa Springs. Either route was fine so long as we could visit Trinidad and Capulin Volcano on our way home. They will appear in the next post.

Photo Album | Double Loop, Days 4-5: Durango to Ouray

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Double Loop, Days 4-5: Durango to Ouray

June 12-13, 2022 | Photo Album

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Bernalillo was already infamous to Wendy and me before we actually stopped there. On a previous trip to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Trixie the GPS app repeatedly mangled the pronunciation of that small town just north of Albuquerque. This time we actually stopped in Bernalillo for lunch on our way from Santa Fe to Durango, Colorado.

Consuela De La Morrela is a Mexican cleaning maid on Family Guy who is known for saying No…no (and for being obsessed with Lemon Pledge). Wendy was reminded of her repeatedly on our trip by the pandemic residue, including labor shortages and supply chain issues.

A prime example was when we walked into a Yelp-recommended Mexican restaurant in Bernalillo. Wendy asked for chicken tacos.

No.

Okay, beef, then. Can I get a tamale?

No.

And the beef tacos we received were something to be forgotten. But we were just getting started on the Nos from closed businesses or requests that could not be met:

  • Can we eat in the Wendy’s in Durango? No.
  • Okay, we wound up at Applebee’s, and Wendy would like a Dr. Pepper. No.
  • Let’s return to our old favorite hotel in Pagosa Springs. No.
  • Okay, we’ll stay here at the Riverwalk instead. Do you have an elevator? No.
  • Can we eat at La Plaza in Walsenburg? No.
  • Okay, how about Tina’s Family Cafe? No.
  • It’s so hot here in Trinidad; let’s get some ice cream at that shop. No.
  • We’ve finally reached the hotel. Is our room ready? No.
  • I would love a coffee mug made in Colorado. Are any of your mugs not made in China? No.
  • Let’s grab a bite at Clayton’s Hotel Eklund. No.
  • We have a reservation here for a suite. No.
  • Does this hotel have a decent breakfast? No. No. No. No. No.

But we were persistent and did not allow the parade of Nos ruin our trip; a sense of humor helps!

To Durango

Back in 2011, I drove alone from Durango to Albuquerque via highway 371 south out of Farmington. I remembered how deserted and desolate that road had been. So I wondered if the stretch of highway 550 a bit east of that through northwestern New Mexico would be equally forbidding. But it turned out to be a four-lane road with plenty of restroom stops and nice scenery. We would be staying on 550 as far north as Ouray, but we would first make a stop in Durango.

After many miles in the dry high country, it was a bit of a relief to descend to the San Juan river valley at Bloomfield before we entered Colorado. For miles I had noticed the telltale signs of a pipeline buried to the east of the highway, and we noticed compressor stations and a large Harvest Midstream plant.

Well, it turns out that the San Juan Basin east and south of Bloomfield has over 40,000 natural gas wells, which are the red dots on the map below.

Bar D Chuckwagon

Wendy and I stayed in Durango back in 2015, enjoying the Dirty Deeds at the Depot melodrama at the Strater Theater (sadly discontinued) and of course a ride on the wonderful Durango-Silverton steam train. But I had been on my own in 2011 for the Bar D Chuckwagon show just north of Durango. So I bought us both tickets for the show to share the experience with Wendy.

Cy Scarborough moved to Durango in 1969 after entertaining at the Flying W Chuckwagon show in Colorado Springs for 25 years. He, along with Jim Blanton and Roy “Buck” Teeter, founded the Bar D Chuckwagon Suppers north of Durango that has entertained tourists for over 50 years. I had seen Cy perform one of his humorous songs in 2011, but he passed away in 2020 at age 93.

But Gary Cook still flat-picks his guitar for the show and Matt Palmer still plays what is described as “his little fiddle” by humorist and upright bass player Joel Racheff. Seeing those three were still in the show reassured me that we would have a great time. For this season they were joined by Danny Rogers and David Bradley.

Danny Rogers, Matt Palmer, David Bradley, Gary Cook, and Joel Racheff

We enjoyed our chicken and beef with baked potatoes, baked beans, biscuits, applesauce, and spice cake. The performers are also servers, and I noticed a tall fellow offering up lemonade at the tables had an incredibly deep “radio voice” – sure enough, that was Danny Rogers. He moved to the Bar D from the similar Bar J show in Jackson Hole which recently closed after 44 years. His incredible bass performance starts off Ghost Riders Reindeer in the Sky in this clip from an old Bar J Wranglers show:

The show also featured champion yodeler David Bradley. Before the show, we had browsed the shops, and Wendy bought a geode to be hammered open later. After the show, we returned to the Homewood Suites, which was definitely nicer than the Best Western we had stayed at back in 2015, where we had crammed into a small upstairs room, dragging our luggage up an exterior stairway.

The Million Dollar Highway

Back in 2011, I had driven the scenic but intimidating famous stretch of highway 550 south of Ouray, heading southward in my 2001 Toyota Camry sedan. This time I would drive it both ways in Wendy’s 2019 Honda Odyssey minivan.

Our conveyance

But before we headed north on 550, we walked around the tiny Botanic Gardens in Durango and along a stretch of its trail alongside the Animas River. We ended up having lunch at a Subway, after a No for dining inside their Wendy’s. Then we headed north towards Silverton, which we had previously visited via the narrow-gauge railroad’s steam train.

We negotiated the Coal Bank and Molas passes to Silverton, with me pulling over near Lime Creek for the vistas.

Granger loves a vista
Approaching Lime Creek

Wendy also scanned the ground for sparkly rocks and pretty flowers.

We pulled over again at Molas Pass, enjoyed a pit stop in Silverton, and then headed on the Million Dollar Highway toward the Red Mountains.

Molas Pass

In the early 1880s, valuable columns of silver ore called “pipes” were discovered in the Red Mountain valley. By 1883 nearly 40 mines were sending silver ore to smelters. The mining area’s heyday lasted two decades with silver, lead, zinc, copper, and gold extracted that would be worth over $250 million today.

Red Mountains
Red Mountains

Red Mountain has three peaks, with the iron ore that covers their surfaces giving them their distinctive color.

Red Mountain

The towns of Silverton to the south and Ouray to the north were entry points into the district. A road from Ouray was completed in 1883 and would eventually become the Million Dollar Highway. The geography was particularly challenging for railroads, but a line from Silverton reached the mining camp of Ironton in 1887 and Albany by 1889. That allowed medium and low-grade ore to be sent to smelters in Durango and Pueblo. That 18-mile narrow-gauge railroad was called the “Rainbow Route” because it arched across the mountain divide like a rainbow in the sky. Its chief engineer said it was “the steepest, the crookedest, and the best paying road in Colorado”.

Final Red Mountain Shot

You can visit what remains of the Idarado Mine, which consolidated claims from several old mines in 1939. The Telluride Mining Company acquired several other old mines, and near the end of World War II, the two mining companies connected below ground. Both were gone by 1978, and little remains of the towns in the district, with only about 50 structures still standing and the outline of the old railroad grade barely visible.

Idarado Mine
Hayden Mountain North
Hayden Mountain North

We then navigated through the Uncompahgre Gorge, cut by the namesake river and Red Mountain Creek just south of Ouray. In Ute, uncompahgre means “rocks that make water red”. The highway there is particularly impressive, cut through the steep cliffs high above the river with no guard rails. The river flows into a deep box canyon at the north end of the gorge; we would visit that canyon the following day.

Below us, nestled deep between the surrounding mountains, was Ouray, the subject of the next post.

Ouray Below Us
Ouray, Colorado

Photo Album | Double Loop, Days 1-4

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