Motoring Across America

With James "Alex" Alexander

with James "Alex" Alexander



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Blog 290: Last Dollar and Red Mountain

Priest Gulch to Ouray KOA

From our Priest Gulch campground, we headed north on 145 through Rico and upon reaching Placerville we headed east on 62 to Ridgway and then south on 550 to our Ouray KOA just north of Ouray. Curvy and steep, but another beautiful drive.

This is another very nice campground in an even nicer location. Ouray is a classy old mining town with a lot of tourist appeal, and just seven miles away is the old cowboy town of Ridgway. Scores of trails to hike and forest roads to explore.

Red Mountain Road Trip
We headed south on Highway 550 (The Million Dollar Highway), and then turned south onto Red Mountain Road, another beautiful scenic byway. As we climbed higher and higher on this hairpin-loving road, the spring flowers appeared, providing a palette of color on the mountainside. Close to the top we had to pull over as a rushing stream cut the road in two.

Trail Blazing

Red Mountain Rushing

Here is a view from the mountain.

View from Red Mountain

Last Dollar Road Trip

Lost Dollar Day Trip

We took another fun road trip on the Last Dollar Road to Telluride. There was a hard rain the night before, so we were going through “puddles,” with some large enough to dunk a Holstein (well, it seemed that way when we drove through them). Wonderful time!

Cows and Mountain

Last Dollar Road Aspens

Last Dollar Road Vista

Ouray from Trail Head

Old Trucks
Here is an old Ridgway fire truck and an old rescue truck from Ouray.

Old Ridgway Fire Truck

Old Rescue Truck

See you next time!

Blog 289: Priest Gulch

Blue Spruce to Priest Gulch

From Blue Spruce, we dropped down and around through Durango, up to Mancos, sliding through Dolores, and out into the boonies to our Priest Gulch Campground.

Priest Gulch
This is one gorgeous campground with the rushing Dolores River sloshing and spilling right through the middle.

Priest Gulch Sign

Trails
Great trails all around.

Bear Creek Trail Sign

Calico Trail

Priest Gulch Trail Sign

Of course, the Pups love the hikes.

Thundering Pups III

Towering Aspen

Priest Gulch Trail

4th of July Parade
Over Independence Day we ventured up to Rico for an old-fashioned parade.

Rico Parade

Rico Parade II

Parade Watching Jack

Parade Watching Mitzy

Old Trucks
Here are two old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

See you soon.

Blog 288: Old Trains and Blue Spruce

Chalk Creek to Blue Spruce

On to Vallecito
From our Nathrop campground we headed south on 285 for 80 miles, west on 112 for 31 miles, took 160 west for 99 miles, then 501 for 18 miles, and finally took 500 for 1.8 miles. Lots of up and downs, around and overs, as we herded the coach over some of the most gorgeous terrain in the country. We ended up about 30 miles northeast of Durango, adjoining the San Juan National Forest and the banks of Blue Spruce Lake.

Blue Spruce RV Park
Previously, we had stayed five times in the general area and twice at this RV Park. Yes, we love the area and this park is one of our favorites. Once again, we were at 8,000 feet in this beautifully shaded campground with enough hummingbirds to sound like a drone convention. Along with the hummers there were hundreds of chippers and squirrels, deer galore, and many, many yellow-bellied marmots. Both Vallecitio Lake and nearby Lemon Lake are great places to picnic, stroll, and let the Pups run down by the water.

Flying Hummer

Lake Vallecito

Vallecito Lake View

Wood in the Water

Storm A-Coming

Old Train
One of the most famous attractions in this area is the Durango-Silverton train. The Pups and I dropped Jan and visiting friend, Bert, at the Durango Train Station, and then we drove up to Silverton. Three hours later we picked them up, had a nice lunch, and then drove back to Blue Spruce. The scenery is magnificent and the train ride a must-do.

Train Pulling Out

Train Coming In

Happy Passengers

While touring Silverton, we found some nice views, including this old door.

Silverton View

Old Door in Silverton

Trails
One of the very nice things about this area is the abundance of trails within the San Juan National Forest. Just one mile from the campground is the Vallecito Trail, located in the Weminuche inside the San Juan National Forest. Also, several trails are located along Middle Mountain Road that eventually leads to the ghost town of Tuckerville. One day Jack and Mitzy and I drove to the barricade and hiked our way back into the setting where this town once existed.

Wilderness Sign

Tuckerville Road Closed

Old Pot
While picnicking at Lake Lemon, Jan found this treasure of an old pot, which quickly became a flower repository.

Jan's Old Pot

Old Trucks
Here are two old trucks taken in Silverton.


Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

See you soon.

Blog 287: Slow Ducks and High Peaks

Cochiti Lake to Chalk Creek

North to Colorado
Leaving Cochiti Lake we backtracked south, got on I-25 North, took the 599 bypass, and continued north on 285. Our plan was to take 285 north all the way to Highway 17 just a few miles into Colorado and continue the 12 miles to our campground. Good plan…good roads…only 158 miles. However…driving a few miles past Espanola, I noticed that the highway sign I spotted did not declare Highway 285 as expected. It said Highway 68. Oops! A ways back we turned slightly right instead of slightly left. No big deal, I thought, thinking that there had to be several east-west highways that could get us quickly back on track. Not bothering to check my maps, Jan plugged in the phone Google Map and we followed their plan.

It told us to take 570 North, then 115 North to 567 West, where we would then link back up to 285 at Taos Junction. Sounded straightforward. However, a few alarm bells started to chime in the back of my head immediately upon getting on to 570, as the road was very narrow, very steep, and very curvy. One had to hug the middle of the road, look way ahead for oncoming traffic, and use both lanes in certain areas. So, it was a slow and a little tense driving. However, the views were spectacular.

In many places the road was less than twenty yards from the waters of the Rio Grande and almost at eye level. We were in the Rio Grande Norte National Monument and on the Taos Indian Reservation—beautiful country. We passed several campgrounds, and one of them (Pilar) looked big enough to camp in—we will consider in the future.

Back to our journey: We slowly wound our way around and were within a mile-and-a-half of linking up to our next road when we spotted a tall, very skinny bridge crossing the Rio Grande. Jack and I got out to explore. The good news was that the one-lane bridge was tall enough to pass under, and there was no sign stating a weight limit (that was probably a good sign). We walked over the bridge and saw that the narrow dirt road on the other side appeared to go straight up into the mountain—a 12%, or more, grade.

After staring at this scenario for 30 seconds, I waved down a local. He said the road was passable for many vehicles, except that the first curve was a doosey, and no way we could take the coach. So, on to Plan B. We backtracked down to Highway 68, turned east instead of west and took it all the way through Taos. From there we took 64 West, passed the Taos Brewing Company, over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, and on to Tres Piedras, where we picked up 285, entered Colorado, and went on to our campground. Another small adventure.

Antonito, Colorado
Conejos River Campground is one of our favorites. It sits along the Conejos River and adjacent to the San Juan Mountains and the Rio Grande National Forest. At 8,500 feet there are views of mountains from all sides. I really like walking the pups down to the river and letting them run off leash. We had a nice time visiting with Pam and Gary, the owners, and told them we look forward to our next visit.

From here we turned east back to Antonito, and then north on 285. There were snow-capped mountains all along the way of this scenic drive.

Nathrop, Colorado

Chalk Creek Sign

We have been to the Chalk Creek Campground many times over Memorial Day, and it has turned into a family tradition with the G-kids and their mom and dad driving down from Parker (SE side of Denver) spending the long weekend with us. We handpicked our site a year in advance finding a large one directly on the river, close to the playground, with a big fire ring for roasting ‘smores and telling tales. Here is a pic I shot from our galley window.

View from Galley

There are lots of things to do in this area: hot springing, horseback riding, rafting, water sliding, paddling, ghost-towning, mountain viewing, duck racing, candy bar bingo-ing, playgrounding, scenic driving, hot-dog roasting, and ‘smors-ing, to name a few. This year both Natalie and Austie won at the big Candy Bar Bingo event.

A Winner!

Another Winner!

Carry a Big Stick

Alas, none of our ducks took the top prize in the Annual Duck Race. (We are all past winners :’), but it was fun nonetheless.

The Ducks Are Off!

White-Faced Pup

Happy Campers

Resting Jack

The campground is in the heart of the Collegiate Mountains, the range with the largest number of 14teeners in Colorado. If you like mountains, you have a 270-degree view from most anywhere. The large amount of snow that Colorado has received really emphasizes both the size and the majesty. For a few hours when Mom and Dad gave us a break, we took a drive up in the mountains in the Pike San Isabel National Forest.

Silos and Mountains

Collegiate Peaks

On another day, we took the backroads south of Poncha Springs and up to O’Haver Lake. We hope to be back next year.

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.

Blog 286: White Sands and Green Chili Cheeseburgers

Brantley Lake State Park to Cochiti Lake

From Brantley Lake State Park we took 285 North to Artesia, and then went west on Highway 82. At Mayhill we entered the Sacramento Mountains and traveled several 6 percent grades and reached over 9,500 feet at Cloudcroft. Really pretty. Entering Almogordo, we headed north a few miles on Highway 54 to our campground.

Boot Hill RV Sign

Boot Hill RV Park, Alamagordo, NM
We have stayed at this park before. A good place for a night or two, sites are level and long and the place is quite clean.

White Sands National Monument
At 6:30 the next morning we took the 35-minute drive to White Sands National Monument. Jack had been pestering me all spring as to when we would go back there, and I was glad to get him off my case. We were the second car entering the monument at 7:03, and we drove about two-thirds through the park until we found the spot we wanted. I took Jack and Mitzy off their leashes and the fun began. Jack bolted through the white gypsum sand running at full speed in big circles like an asteroid going hot. I spent about an hour shooting this black blast blur with the wide grin up and down the dunes.

White Sands National Monument Sign

Jack at White Sands

Jack at White Sands II

Jack at White Sands III

Jack at White Sands IV

Mitzy, though, tired of the excitement and wandered back to the car. She had had enough fun.

Mitzy at White Sands

We then took our time driving back slowly, stopping several times to shoot the yucca. Also, I found a fun photo opportunity of some guys having breakfast.

Happy Campers

Yucca II

Yucca III

Here is a yucca that Janny shot.

Jan's Yucca

After stopping by the visitor center for Jan to get her passport stamped, we bought a tee shirt and a burrito to share on the drive back to Boot Hill.

We hooked up the car and took 54 north then west on NM 3. We then took 285 north to I-25 south where we hung a right. At exit 264 we took NM 16 and followed the signs past the Cochiti Lake Dam.

Cochiti Lake COE

Cochiti Lake Campground Sign

Cochiti Lake Campground is another Corps of Engineers project. This secluded area west of Santa Fe featured very big sites with private areas. We were up on top of a hill with a view of the lake and the mountains.

Coach at Cochiti Lake

Galardia

Cochiti is within the boundaries of the Cochiti Reservation, which borders other reservations on all sides. Each has their own Pueblo, a Governor, and a ruling council.

Day Trip to Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument Sign

We decided to take a side trip to Bandelier National Monument. As the crow flies, it is only 12 miles from Cochiti Lake to Bandelier. However, as Google Maps points out, the best route is a 75-mile jaunt, south, east, north, and then west. Yet, when I studied my New Mexico Road and Recreation Atlas, the trip would be only 32 miles if one was willing to take 14 miles of non-paved road. Confident in our off-road ability, we set out on National Forest Road 268 planning on taking Bland Canyon through the Jemez Mountains, connecting with Highway 4 east to the monument.

Cochiti Lake to Bandelier National Monument

We quickly learned that road 268 was basically a riverbed covered with rocks and rutted tire tracks with a stream running through the middle. The rough going was really slow for about three miles and continued to get more challenging. As things continued to worsen Jack and I got out of the Jeep to scout ahead by foot. Turning a corner, our “road” was blocked off by a farmer’s fence, making further progress nonnegotiable. Sadly, we backtracked, but started developing a plan B.

Alex on No Road

Plan B

Cochiti Lake to Bandelier National Monument - Long Route

We drove south on 22, went south on I-25 for a few miles exiting at San Felipe Pueblo onto historic Route 66. At Bernalillo we turned northwest on 550 all the way to San Ysidro where we headed north then east. Here we found three nice old trucks (see below).

View Past Bernalillo

Each mile the scenery became more beautiful as we slowly went upward climbing the Jemez Mountains through the Santa Fe National Forest peaking at over 9,000 feet. Jemez Springs is gorgeous, and as we continued we had the Valles Caldera National Reserve on our left, a huge region of ancient volcanic activity--some of the prettiest scenery we have seen. After a short stop at Bandelier, we continued on the White Rock, then took 502 east, and then 285 south.

Valles Caldera Sign

Green Chili Cheeseburgers
By then it was early afternoon and we were quite hungry, but decided it was worth a few more miles and a few more minutes to drive to one of our favorite towns in New Mexico, Madrid. So instead of getting back on I-25 south to return to our campground, we took NM 14 (the Turquoise Trail) south to this old hippy, artsy town. We parked and took the steps up to the deck of the dog-friendly Mineshaft Cantina. They specialize in craft draft beers and homemade margaritas, and green chili cheeseburgers.

Jan and I are green chili cheeseburger fanciers, having tasted several versions all over New Mexico, including those from the much-touted Buckhorn Tavern and the Owl Bar and Grill in San Antonio. However, we both agreed that our favorite is the version served at the Mineshaft Cantina—a huge burger of beef cooked exactly how you order it with cheese, salsa, deep-fried hatch chilies on the bun, and a mound of French fries on the side. Enough spice to add a little zing to the already mouth-drooling taste. Here is Jan’s pic of her plate. Great place to hang…then back to camp. All in all, a 214-mile road trip—a little longer than intended, but much better than expected. Wow!

Green Chili Cheeseburger

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from San Ysidro.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.