July Escape Day 2: Into the Mountains

Near Wolf Creek Pass (click image for slideshow)

Today was the first real vacation day, with me rising for a continental breakfast at the Microtel and then leaving for the Pueblo Riverwalk downtown.  I parked and strolled to its far end, Pike Park, where I found a pretty flower or two.  Streetside I found a fun set of fountain sculptures depicting boys playing with water hoses, but sadly the taps were shut off.  At the far end of the short 1/4-mile riverwalk was a separate small power plant reservoir with fun paddleboats.  But at 9 am there was no one to hire them out.

I strolled back down the opposite bank of the riverwalk and enjoyed watching some kids playing in the surprise splash fountains that randomly shoot up into the air out of the sidewalk.  I then sat in the shade near the Union Avenue bridge, taking a still shot of the reflections of the water.  Then I heard a low scraping scream of metal and a thump followed by a continuous car horn.  Walking toward the sound, I soon heard the wail of sirens and sure enough, by the time I arrived at the intersection of Main and Grand, the fire department and an ambulance were there preparing a victim for transport.  A sad start to the day after such a peaceful stroll along the Arkansas.

I later learned that the Pueblo Riverwalk is the original channel of the Arkansas, but the main river was diverted to the other side of the railroad tracks after a disastrous 1921 flood that destroyed about a third of the city and changed its history forever.  It flooded the grand old depot to 11 feet deep and wiped out the entire livery area of the city where many saddle shops once flourished, never to return.  I found this out when I left the riverwalk and drove back to the depot, visiting the Southeastern Colorado Heritage Center, which has a variety of amateur artifact displays, including saddles and a papier-mache horse from a saddle shop.  The horse floated miles downstream in the great flood and was rescued and relocated to a new building, only to almost be lost to fire a few years back.  The fire department couldn’t save the building, but they did manage to rescue the horse, which was relocated to the Heritage Center and named “Lucky” by an area schoolchild.  Lucky, indeed!  And sorry, but no, I did not take a photo of the poor bedraggled horse.  You’ll have to go see it for yourself…if you’re desperate.

While at the depot, I couldn’t resist shooting Depot Diana again.  Since I shot her frontside the previous evening, I decided to shoot her backside in the morning.  There is some strange logic in there somewhere.  Today I could venture inside the depot, which is rental shops and offices with a large rentable events room.  I liked the wood interior with its period details, and sauntered into a pastry shop for a tasty warm cinnamon roll.

I actually toured the Heritage Center after the cinnamon roll, which bought me enough time to then head back to the riverwalk for spaghetti at Angelo’s.  It was decent food, but I confess I wasn’t too hungry after my cinnasnack.  Then I hit I-25 for the roll southward.  Yesterday I listened to the entire book Murder at the Vicarage – the first of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple tales – while enduring the feed lot gauntlet.  So for today’s far more scenic drive down I-25, zipping past the Sangre de Christo mountains at 75 mi/h, I listened to an old rock album by 4 Non Blondes.  The wailing guitars fit my mood as I rocketed down the road, turning off to traverse La Veta Pass at over 10,000 feet and then down across a wide level plain to reach the San Juan Mountains and cross the Continental Divide at the 10,863 foot high Wolf Creek Pass.

I drove three miles on a gravel side road there to reach the Lobo Lookout, which provided a nice panorama or two, and then crossed the Divide and began a five-mile 7% grade descent.  This steep decline inspired C.W. McCall of Convoy fame to write the song back in 1975.  Wolf Creek Pass tells about some truckers in a 1948 Peterbilt who lose control and go careening the vertical mile down into Pagosa Springs to land in a feed store, having lost a few crates of chickens along the way.   Yes, I listened to it on the web and no, I don’t recommend it.

I happily interrupted the steep descent at the South Overlook, which provided a tremendous panorama of the valley below.  I scrambled up a short side trail to pose for the camera, and then shot down the mountainside a bit farther to Treasure Falls.  You couldn’t get a very close look at them from the highway, so I took the 1-mile loop up to the base of the falls.  Climbing 337 feet to 8,437 ft altitude, I could feel my heart pounding and my chest heaving in the rarefied air.  A bridge partway up afforded a nice view of the falls, but I’m glad I clambered all of the way up.  For there, as the falls smacked into the rocks above a pool at their base, the rising mist created a beautiful rainbow in the afternoon sun.

I admired some flowers on the welcome descent to the car and then drove on to my lodge.  Then I drove into Pagosa Springs to get the lay of the town and scout out dinner.  The day began and ended and I had both lunch and dinner along a riverwalk, for I selected JJ’s Riverwalk Restaurant and Pub along the San Juan riverside.  It was a great choice, featuring a splendid French Dip sandwich made with slow roasted prime rib and savory au jus – best meal of the trip thus far, complete with folks floating merrily by on the river, which reminded me of a similar scene in Bend, Oregon last summer.

Even better, I happened to walk down the side of the building toward the parking lot, only to discover a sign indicating I was at one of the trailheads for the Pagosa Springs Reservoir Hill Mountain Park.  Aha!  I shot a photo of the complicated trail map, to aid me in my perambulations, and set off.

I couldn’t locate the trailhead across the highway, so instead of taking some gentle switchbacks up the tall hill I had to stroll downtown and then ascended over 300 feet right up the hillside in the first five minutes of climb.  That really drove home the effects of the high altitude – I was truly winded by the time I reached the tank.  I actually passed a fellow collapsed on his back on the trail, hiking stick by his side, and panted a wheezy hello as I clambered onward.  I could tell he was just napping – I think he took the easy way up and was resting before the descent.  So I did not kick him…for I was too winded.

I liked the view of the mountains and the town below from the water tank’s height.  Clambering on, I came across a clever chainsaw tree carving, including an adjoining bench with critters along its backside.  I then climbed up to the peak at 7,525 feet where there was a splendid view of the San Juan River, and I could see my car parked over 700 feet below me.  I took a long series of switchbacks down the hillside to my car and returned to the lodge.

There I’ve been writing this blog and editing photos without benefit of the internet for reference, as there is no WiFi signal in my room and AT&T has no data network in this area.  But I should still be able to post, for I can walk to the other end of the lodge and pick up a WiFi signal from the porch above the office.

Okay, now I’ve spent an hour out here in the dark on the porch in the cool night air, slowly uploading and linking.  Lest you think it romantic, my butt aches from the hard wooden chair and I’m thinking that for tomorrow’s post I’ll try to find a WiFi cafe in Durango and will likely keep things short.

For tomorrow I get up bright and early – too early for the lodge breakfast, in fact, as I have to drive an hour west to Durango to catch a train.

Happy trails…or should I say tracks?

Click here for a slideshow of today’s adventure

Day 3 of this adventure –>

<– Day 1 of this adventure

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
This entry was posted in day hike, photos, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to July Escape Day 2: Into the Mountains

  1. Pingback: July Escape, Day 1: Dodge to Pueblo « MEADOR.ORG

  2. Pingback: July Escape Day 3: Riding the Narrow Gauge « MEADOR.ORG

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