It was time to leave New Mexico and head north to Denver Colorado for July 4 Independence Day, a national holiday in the USA. If you haven’t read my previous blogs (and I highly recommend you do please 😊) you will know that I started in Miami, took a flight to Montreal then Toronto and from there another flight into Washington DC. From there I picked up the Ford Mustang Id been driving and roamed down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Ashville, Nashville, Memphis, Baton Rouge, Houston, Austin, Amarillo, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Quite the distance and Denver would make it approximately halfway through this road trip, anyway back to it……..
Santa Fe to Durango is approximately 400km and roughly a 4-hour drive. This left me a lot of time to visit the Mesa Verde National Park, and wow. If you have not heard of this location (and I had only heard about it a few days before) this park was set up to persevere the archaeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people. These people lived in this area for approximately 700 years from approximately 600 to 1300 AD. I won’t go into their history in much detail however 26 North American Indian tribes descend from the Pueblo including the Hopi, Ute and Navajo nations.
There are over 4000 archaeological remains within the park, the most famous being 600 cliff dwellings forming the Cliff palace which is carved into the side of a cliff, forming what to me appears like a citadel. The Pueblo built and lived in this citadel for their last 100 years living in the park, there is no conclusive understanding as to why the Pueblo abandoned their home that was constructed in the last 100 years they inhabited the area but its suspected crop failure. Now it’s a fascinating walking tour where guides take tourists through the rock cliff dwellings and answer questions. The park itself contains many canyons, a tourism centre and is regarded as the archaeological centre of the USA.
It was onto Durango for the evening, there was not much in the way of traffic and proved a quality drive as I ascended thousands of feet into the Rockies. Durango itself is 2000m above sea level and is the transition zone between the arid desert in the south and the mountainous greenery to the north. Durango is an old railroad city and was built because of the extensive silver mining that used to occur around the area. Nowadays its mostly adventure tourism but after my rather lengthy drive and archaeological discovery my attention was on some of the microbreweries located in town. I “sampled” several of these, chatted to some locals and was surprisingly drunk when I got back to my hotel, I blame the altitude, not the beer.
The following day I continued my journey, it was getting colder and colder due to the change in altitude so I ditched the boardshorts for jeans and a jacket was necessary. The desert progressively disappeared and was replaced by greenery and forests. I drove through a few of the towns including Silverton for some lovely breakfast and then took a self-guided tour of the Idarado Mine site which was located by the side of the road. The site itself included an old bridge, abandoned houses and the mine itself, I walked around the bridge and took a few photos, there were no tourists or park officials so I’m not sure if anything would have stopped me from going into one of the mines, however the area was dead quiet much like a ghost town so thought better of it and continued on my way to Denver.
I arrived in Denver, checked into my hotel and then drove back out again, it was July 3 and I was off to Red Rock Canyon to go and see the band Foster the People. Red Rock Canyon is a park that includes walking trails and features many red rocks, the main feature of the park being the amphitheatre. The theatre can contain roughly 9500 seated people and is surrounded by red rocks to the left, right and a stage which is backdropped by another red rock. A lot of famous bands have played this venue including the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Radiohead to name a few and are drawn to the location by the natural acoustics and picturesque setting. Foster the People were sensational, the crowd very friendly, the sound quality amazing and being Colorado so there was a lot of smoke in the air (not cigarrette smoke either). I had a fantastic time and after a long day and a lot of driving it was back to the hotel and a well-deserved sleep.
I was up early the following day, July 4, I figured it would be a good time to look at some of the local attractions before enjoying some of the festivities. My first destination was Mount Evans and Echo Lake, 14000 feet or 4.35 km above sea level and the highest paved road in the USA forming part of the Rockies. The drive-up Mount Evans is about 80km in distance and is a relentless series of spectacular views, sweeping bends in the road and photo opportunities, it’s another classic American drive. Despite it being summer and Denver having a fire ban the higher I ascended the colder I got, at the upper levels there was snow on sections of the mountain. A quality stop is Echo Lake which yet again makes for a spectacular setting with mountains in the backdrop. I made it to the peak of Mount Evans and looked around briefly. There were several mountain goats climbing over a stone ruin building, a vista of spectacular views and then I fell short of breath, felt dizzy so jumped in the car and headed back down.
I was hungry so drove to the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West and had some buffalo wings for lunch (who wouldn’t??). I decided to check out the museum, there are five separate museums (a mini Smithsonian) that detail the history of Buffalo Bill, another devoted to his guns, a museum for western art, the history of the Plains Indians and a natural history museum with various stuffed animals including bears, birds and wild cats. The tour is quite detailed and very interesting in particular about the North American Indians. For an American history buff this is a must do, I am not but nevertheless learning about Buffalo Bills Wild West Shows and its influence globally at the turn of the 20th century when Europe was obsessed with the Wild West of America is really interesting. Wild Bills grave is also located at the centre.
I headed back into Denver to celebrate July 4, unfortunately, due to the fire ban that I mentioned earlier, there were no fireworks in the evening. I walked passed a ceremony into the downtown area where there were a lot of American Veterans and family members spectating a ceremony by the army shooting a cannon and firing rifles in the air. Denver’s bars were a mix of modern and western themed, friendly and I met some interesting people. People were already mostly intoxicated by the time I spoke to them which lead to some funny conversations about my accent but on the whole, no fireworks and not that many people around the downtown area made for a typical night than something exceptional. I believe July 4 is more of a family day so this kind of made sense. Nevertheless, my second night in Denver was good fun. I headed back to my hotel as the following day I would be off and about again, headed for the Badlands of South Dakota….