GRMA Day 9: Detours are a Good Thing
Note: I changed the format on the pictures to a smaller file size. They should load faster. Don’t forget to click on the pictures to see a larger image.
Chance encounters and random conversation with strangers often lead to unplanned detours that add immeasurably to a trip like this. Today included one of those chance encounters.
At breakfast in Pagosa Springs another biker and his wife and I struck up a conversation about where we had been and where we were going. I mentioned that I had enjoyed the Pecos National Historic Site and he immediately said that I would probably like Mesa Verde National Park and that it wasn’t far from the route that was going to take me past Durango. When he threw in the part about cliff dwelling ruins, I knew my route was going to change, even though this detour was going to add about four hours to today’s ride.
West of Durango about 35 miles on a great mountain highway sits the entrance to the Visitor’s Center at Mesa Verde National Park. A short stop there to get oriented and learn what to expect at the site, and I was back on the bike, climbing more than 1,000 feet up to the top of Mesa Verde, then across the mesa to a group of well-preserved pre-historic sites. I knew I wouldn’t have time to take in all that the park had to offer, so I opted for a loop ride on the mesa that would take me to about a dozen different interpreted sites.
Briefly, the Ancestral Pueblo people first settled Mesa Verde in about 550 AD, as evidenced by the shallow pit houses uncovered by archaeologists. In the next several hundred years the pits got deeper (about 6 feet) and more complex, and then the people there began building dwellings on top of the ground on the mesa, beginning with poles and adobe and moving to solid masonry structures. Around 1200 and for the next 100 years, they built the ingenious cliff dwellings in the cliff alcoves. But by 1300, the several thousand people that once lived on the mesa were gone and dwellings were abandoned. Archaeologists are at a loss to explain their exodus.
The NPS has done a good job protecting and conserving the remaining ruins and providing interpretive signs and displays to help explain how archaeologists have dated the sites. To the extent that they know, they explain how the structures were built, how they help us understand daily living on the mesa for more than 800 years, and how the people evolved alongside their changing abodes.
A French family of tourists was admiring both my bike and the ruins. Pointing to one of the cliff dwellings, the father exclaimed, “Magnifique.” Drawing on my extensive knowledge of French, I replied, “Oui.” They were magnificent.
I passed through Durango again and headed north about 12:30 p.m., 4 1/2 hours later than I had expected to go through. But I was rolling on the Highway 550, the “Million Dollar Highway” and looking forward to the next four hours of riding. Three years ago I rode on part of that highway with a group of Twisted Riders, and I was anxious to ride the parts that we didn’t get to on that trip. Much of the time the ride was good today, but as is often the case afternoon thunderstorms echoed through the canyons as lightning lit up the mountain skies and some rain and wet roads slowed down the twisty adventure I had been looking forward to.
“The Million Dollar Highway” is so named because the cost of the road averages about $1 million per mile and the cost continues to go up as the mountains slide down onto the road or the road, precariously perched on a a shear mountainside, falls away and has to be constantly maintained. On three occasions today in a 70 mile stretch, the road was reduced to one very slow lane as workers try to repair the damage done by the mountains inevitable slide to the valleys below. Still, despite rain and road construction, the Million Dollar Highway let me relive some of the memories I made with the Twisted Riders.
All in all, the Mesa Verde detour and the delays on Highway 550 made for a long day. I didn’t even get to have pie because Maggie’s Kitchen in Ouray where I stopped for lunch at 3 p.m. made a fine burger with serreno peppers but NO PIES.
Tomorrow is a non-riding day as I pit my aging joints and muscles against the steep canyons at Colorado National Monument. I’m looking forward to a seven-mile hike to Independence Monument.
More pictures from today: