Tag Archives: Durango

Four Corners – All the States at Once

16 Aug

Today, we held our annual tradition of starting the academic year with faculty meetings. I say that because my colleague in history said that my last post left him in suspense. He had to know what my wife and I argued about. Well, here it is.

She wanted to start the next day with whitewater rafting. I knew that we had a long drive through desolate territory ahead of us and did not want to get a late start. This went back and forth for a while on the sidewalks of Durango, and, at some point, I brought up the wine that was served on the train. That is when my stepdaughter and her friend walked off and left us to our discussion.

The next morning, we were back at that same spot to go whitewater rafting.

Our guide arrived on his motorcycle, and the girls went kind of googily eyed. His name was Paden, and I immediately wondered if he was named for Kevin Kline’s character in Silverado. That probably means I have seen that movie too many times.

It was a good ride. We hit a enough rapids to make it interesting, but it was mostly a smooth ride. Paden talked about going to college and about life in Durango. I never did ask him if he was named after a character in a movie.

After the boat ride, we headed further down Highway 160 and passed through towns like Hesperus, Mancos and Cortez. After that, we did not pass much, and my wife began to realize why I wanted to get off to a good start. When we arrived at our destination, she admitted that she was hoping we did not have a flat tire.

Despite the desolation, we were not out there alone. A bunch of cars were on the road, and many of them were going to the same place that we were going – Four Corners.

When I was a kid, we went to Four Corners, the place where four states come together. I remember that my dad could not find it, and we drove back and forth for a while. When we finally got there, it was a round slab with the borders outlined. There were not many people, and you could walk around on the slab.

Now, Four Corners is completely different. They charge to get in, and an entire complex has been built. The state borders are in a theater type setting that can be used for ceremonies, and booths filled with Native American wares surround it all. On top of that, you have to stand in line to get a picture at the Four Corners.

Like everyone else, we stood in line and got a picture. I am pretty sure that I am standing in Utah. My wife is in Colorado, and the girls are in New Mexico and Arizona. image-42

At least, I am standing in Utah if that is the correct Four Corners. I did not tell anyone, but there is a chance that the real spot is somewhere in the distance.

Oh yeah, we took this picture, too.image-43

We left Four Corners and made our way through the Navajo Nation. I have been through different parts of the Nation, and I always wonder the same thing. How do people make a living out there? I know that poverty is everywhere, but, in my mind, reservations are the epitome of the problem. On top of that, I do not see many people speaking in support of Native Americans. I guess it is out of sight, out of mind.

After hours of driving by me and hours of worrying by my wife, we made it to Tuba City, Arizona and turned off Highway 160 for the first time in a few days. From there, we made our way to our ultimate destination – the Grand Canyon.

When my wife asked me to describe the Grand Canyon, I could not do it. I told her that she had to see it for herself. When arrived just before sunset and had to drive through the park to get to our hotel. There was enough light to stop and look at it. That is when they understood what I had been saying. The Grand Canyon has to be seen.

We took pictures, but they are not as good as the pictures we took the next day.

 

Four Corners – I Hear The Train A Comin’

10 Aug

On this day, we were doing something that I have always wanted to do – ride the train from Durango to Silverton, Colorado. This means a serious climb in elevation to the old mining town that has become a destination for bikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Our car had no windows, but it had a hostess who talked about the stuff we were passing. She also had food and drinks. How can you beat that? Actually, how can you write about it? I will just let the pictures do the talking.

First, there should be a people picture.image-35

Then, there was this.image-36

Oh yeah, we saw this.image-37

Plus, we passed this.image-38

This is my favorite.image-39

When we arrived in Silverton, my stepdaughter’s friend asked, “Why did they put a town in the middle of nowhere?”

I have to admit that I was fired up because that question was right in my wheelhouse. I went into full teacher mode and explained that mining towns were built where minerals were found. That is why many towns in the West appeared where logic says they should never be. Anyway, they probably zoned out before I finished. Besides, we were looking for somewhere to eat.

We found it at the Grand Imperial Hotel.image-41

As you can see from the picture, it started raining. The air got colder. We had to ride back in an open-air train car. For a while, it looked something like this.image-40

As we descended in elevation, the air warmed, and everything returned to normal. Well, my wife and I had our one argument of the trip, but you will read about that in the next post.

Four Corners – Wolf Creek Pass and Home Grown Delights

6 Aug

We left Alamosa, Colorado and headed west on Highway 160. This took us through towns like Monte Vista and Del Norte. It was one of those days on a road trip where you are just trying to get from one place to another. I drove and looked at the scenery. My wife rode shotgun and looked at the scenery. The girls read, listened to music and occasionally looked at the scenery.

We made our way into the mountains and into a landscape that most people think about when they think of Colorado. The road was almost straight up as we made our way through Wolf Creek Pass.

At the time, I did not know that was its name. The other day, I was at Rotary and was telling one of my table mates about the trip. When I said that we drove from Alamosa to Durango, he said that we went through Wolf Creek Pass and that he had ridden a bicycle through it. I immediately thought about the cyclists that we saw and how miserable they looked.

We were cruising along when I realized that we went by the marker of the Continental Divide. Of course, that gave me the chance to explain what that was to the girls. I was bummed that we did not stop, but that made me determined to stop at the next place.

Crossing the divide meant that we were heading down, and that meant driving down a steep road instead of up one. As we came upon a curve, I noticed a sign for a scenic view and whipped the car into the parking area. When we got out, this is what we saw.image-33

There was a trail that led to a rock outcropping on which my wife and stepdaughter did not want to venture. They were fine behind the fence. However, I could tell that my stepdaughter’s friend wanted to go, and that gave me the excuse to go, too.

It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. When people think of the West, they may think about cacti or mesas or plains covered with buffalo. I think about all of that, but I also think about places like this.

It brought to mind Centennial, the miniseries from the 1970s. At the end, Merle Haggard sang “I Guess He’d Rather Be In Colorado.” At that moment, I could think of no place that I would rather be.

We continued driving to Pagosa Springs, a town that I thought would be a good place to stop and explore. However, the girls wanted to keep going. We got a snack and chugged along.

Finally, we made it to Durango, and cool town in the southwestern corner of the state. After some spirited discussion over who was going to get what room, we ate at the Irish Embassy Pub and walked the streets filled with shops of many kinds. There was one place in particular that caught my wife’s eye.

We had already discussed the fact that marijuana is legal in Colorado, and we had wondered if there was a store in Durango. Suddenly, my wife looked across the street and saw a place called Eolus. It had a sign that said Home Grown. She immediately said that it had to be a marijuana store. We crossed the street to find that it was the nicest restaurant in town with a menu of locally grown ingredients.

It looked fancy, but the food could not have been as good as the Bangers and Mash I had at pub. After more walking and shopping, we made our way back to the room. The next day, we had to get up bright and early for something that I have always wanted to do.

The American West Coming Through My Speakers

14 Jan

After lunch, I was driving back to work with my iPod cranked up. The sun was shining and masked the coldness of the air. Before turning onto campus, one of my favorite songs came through the speakers.

“I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado” was recorded by John Denver, and that is the version on my iPod. However, that is not the version that I first heard and made the song hit me in my soul.

Merle Haggard sang the song in the last scene of Centennial, a 1970s miniseries about the American West. I have already written about that movie and will not repeat myself. That scene is on YouTube, and I urge you to watch it. You will probably recognize some of the actors, and there is a great message. It gets me every time.

When I hear the song, I am reminded of my love for the American West. Its history. Its land. There is nothing better than climbing the dunes at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Mesa Verde National Park brings back the echoes of the ancient peoples. The streets of Durango harken to the days of yesteryear, and the train in Durango will take you on a great ride to Silverton.Durango

The song is about Colorado, but, to me, it is about the entirety of the West. The mountains. The plains. The deserts. Life the way it was, and life the way it is. This song takes my mind to New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and all of the others states that make up that region. The song says Colorado, but it means everything. To me, the song means relaxation, peace of mind and wide open spaces.

The words go like this.

I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.
He’d rather spend his time out where the sky looks like a pearl after the rain.
Once again I see him walking, once again I hear him talking
to the stars he makes and asking them the bus fare.

I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.
He’d rather play his banjo in the morning when the moon is scarcely gone.
In the dawn the subway’s coming, in the dawn I hear him humming
some old song he wrote of love in Boulder Canyon. I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.

I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.
I guess he’d rather work out where the only thing you earn is what you spend.
In the end up in his office, in the end a quiet cough is all he has to show,
he lives in New York City. I guess he’d rather be in Colorado.

Is There a Place Like Home?

7 Oct

This weekend, we were tailgating with some friends before the Tennessee Titans game, which turned out to be historic for all of the wrong reasons. Anyway, the conversation turned toward moving. One of them said that she would like to move somewhere else, but that her boyfriend would never leave town. My wife, who has lived in different parts of the country, said that she knew when we married that we would live here forever.

I said that I have been lucky enough to have traveled in every state and have spent time in most of the major cities. I love visiting them, but I have never seen anywhere that is a better place to live than right here in my hometown. They both looked at me funny and said that other places have culture, art and different lifestyles. That is when I said that is true, but they are missing one thing. They are not home.Tennessee

I understand that a lot of people have to move for jobs and other reasons. Some people move because they hate where they grew up. Heck, there are people from my graduating class who left the day after the ceremony and have never been back. However, I have always thought it important to have roots and contribute to the place that made us who we are. It is a place of family and old friends. Like I said, it is home.

All that being said, the conversation made me think of an assignment that my therapist had me complete. I had to list ten places, other than here, where I would like to live. I remember most of the list, and I know that it would be slightly different if I did it today. That is why I am going to do it today. If I was going to live somewhere else, then it would be, in no particular order, the following:

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Durango, Colorado

Sonoma, California

Asheville, North Carolina

Maryville, Tennessee

Austin, Texas

Prescott, Arizona

Waialua, Hawaii

What do those places have in common?

I have spent time in each one and thought they were worth more than a visit. They struck me as good places to live. Some of them have rich culture, and others are just good towns.

None of them are huge cities where the buildings block out the sun. They have that small town feel with a little extra thrown in.

They all have great things around them. It would not take long to find a good hike or a another cool place to visit.

Will we ever move? You never know what the future holds. However, if it was going to be one of these places, then it would make the decision somewhat easier.

 

 

Listeria – Cattle Towns, Mining Camps and Other Assorted Outposts

14 Feb

True West magazine came out with their list of the “Top 10 True Western Towns of the Year”, and I had to see what they came up with. As it turns out, other lists were included – “True West Towns to Know” and “True West Towns to Watch”. A quick counting brought the total number of towns mentioned to 30.

I decided to weed that list down to those that I have visited. I have no idea what criteria the people at True West used to compile the list, but here is a little information about the places that I know about.

1. Dodge City, Kansas is, in my opinion, the most famous of all the cattle towns. It was the epicenter of a huge industry and the home of real life lawman Wyatt Earp and fictional lawman Matt Dillon. Dodge City is still a player in the cattle industry, but I do not see it as a tourist mecca. Obviously, any lover of the Old West must go there, but they will be disappointed with the fake western town that sits on the main drag. However, the trolley tour is cool.

Inside a fake saloon on a fake streetfront.

Inside a fake saloon on a fake streetfront.

2. Durango, Colorado is a cool western town that has held on to its past. Historic buildings, such as the Strater Hotel, line the streets. The famous train from Durango to Silverton starts its journey at one end of town. There are restaurants, bars and a bookstore with all of the great western historians.

A couple of cars on the Durango and Silverton Line

A couple of cars on the Durango and Silverton Line

8. Lincoln, New Mexico is a state monument that looks almost like it did when Billy the Kid was roaming around. There are all kinds of buildings and museums, but the best is the old building from which he made his famous jailbreak. Billy the Kid is the most famous of those who participated in the Lincoln County War, but I find myself more interested in John Chisum and some of the others.

9. Tombstone, Arizona which its economic peak during the 1880s and had its growth stunted when the minerals ran out. That circumstance makes it still have that feel of a frontier town. Of course, that could also be because they ripped up the concrete sidewalks and put down wooden ones. The OK Corral is cool. The Birdcage Theater is cool. However, the coolest thing is talking to Ben Traywick, the town historian.

If this building could talk, then it would have some real stories to tell.

If this building could talk, then it would have some real stories to tell.

10. Lewiston, Idaho is a place that I have never been. However, I must mention it because the Cumberland University baseball team has won two national championships in Lewiston. It is a western town, but it is also a baseball mecca.

There is half of the Top 10, but some interesting towns are on the other lists, as well.

Prescott, Arizona is listed as one of the “True West Towns to Know” and, on the surface, looks like any other regular old town. However, a walk around its square gives you an idea of what it used to be like. The square is huge and is bustling with activity, as people venture into the historic buildings.

This statue stands in front of the county courthouse.

This statue stands in front of the county courthouse.

“True West Towns to Watch” lists several places that I have visited.

Juneau, Alaska is the state capital and can only be entered by plane or boat. It is a small place that has a frontier and isolated quality. One of my great memories of Alaska is having a drink with my brother in one of Juneau’s saloons.

Cody, Wyoming is another good western town. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is one of my favorite places to visit. A few years ago they had a traveling exhibit in Nashville, and I was able to take my students.

Checotah, Oklahoma sits on Interstate 40, and, frankly, I have never been in the downtown area. We have only stopped a few times for gas. Most people probably know it as the hometown of Carrie Underwood.

Custer, South Dakota is one of the less famous mining camps in the Black Hills and is overshadowed by Deadwood and Sturgis. However, it is a good place to stop and look around. Also, it is named in honor of George Armstrong Custer, the man who led the gold-finding expedition into the Black Hills.

Bisbee, Arizona sits several miles down the road from Tombstone and is a place that I like better. Its economic boom lasted into the 20th Century, which means it has a more modern look than other mining camps. It also has a great mining museum operated by the Smithsonian Institute.

Those are the places listed by True West that I have visited. It would be interesting to read if any of you have been to these places. What are your thoughts and stories? What other towns have you visited that you think may be or should be on the lists?