Santa Fe is one of the top tourist destinations in the country. And why not, it has a strong history; it’s roots go back to the 1050’s Pueblo Indians. Many cultures make up today’s population, including Indian, Mexican, and Spanish eventually being as we know it today. It is the oldest, and highest, capital city in the USA.
Although it is a desert city, it is only 15 miles from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Architecturally, it has adopted the Spanish Pueblo look, often referred to as Adobe, with thick walls to help even out the rather drastic temperature fluctuations. Santa Fe is also known for food, with heavy emphasis on spices and strong local flavors. And the art scene is well known with many galleries and exhibits.
Less well known, during World War II Santa Fe was the location of a Japanese American internment camp. The site was also used to hold German and Italian nationals. In 1943, the camp was expanded to take in 2,100 men of Japanese Americans who had renounced their U.S. citizenship. The camp was closed and sold of in 1946.
We enjoyed our week in Santa Fe and learning more about its culture, its food, its art and also some very nice hikes!
Chimney Rock is an Ancestral Puebloan site, designated on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. It was a community inhabited between Durango and Pagosa Springs about 1,000 years ago with about 200 rooms. Rooms in the buildings were used for living, work areas and ceremonial purposes.
Housing approximately 2,000 ancient Pueblo Indians between A.D. 925 and 1125, the settlement included a Great House Pueblo with round ceremonial rooms, known as kivas, and 36 ground-floor rooms. A grizzly bear jaw found in one of the rooms when excavated suggested a reverence for the animal, and modern Chaco oral history suggests that the Bear clan originated in the Chimney Rock area.
The construction of the Great House Pueblo at the top of the ridge, close to Chimney Rock and its neighbor Companion Rock, had a large ceremonial role in the later years of Chaco presence. As the moon makes its lunar cycle across the sky over a period of 18.6 years, it appears in a “lunar standstill” between the two rocks for a period of approximately 2 years.
The inhabitants of Chimney Rock abandoned the site in 1125, burning the buildings when they left. Their modern day descendants consider the site sacred with the spirits of their ancestors, and have asked the Forest Service to refrain from further excavation out of respect.
Creede, CO at one time was one of the biggest silver mines in the country. Creede was the last silver boom town in Colorado in the 19th century. The town leapt from a population of 600 in 1889 to more than 10,000 people in December 1891. The Commodore mine is now disappearing, but it has 5 different levels spread out over 200 underground miles.
Creede’s boom lasted until 1893, when the Silver Panic hit all of the silver mining towns in Colorado. The price of silver plummeted and most of the silver mines were closed. Creede never became a ghost town, although the boom was over and its population declined. After 1900, Creede stayed alive by relying increasingly on lead and zinc in the ores. Total production through 1966 was 58 million troy ounces (870 metric tons) of silver, 150 thousand ounces (4.7 metric tons) of gold, 112 thousand metric tons of lead, 34 thousand metric tons of zinc, and 2 million metric tons of copper.
During it’s heyday, the Colorado Capital (Denver) enacted major legal reform movement against gambling clubs and saloons. Numerous owners of major gambling houses in Denver relocated to Creede. Among them was the infamous confidence man “Soapy” Smith, soon the uncrowned king of the criminal underworld. Other famous people in Creede were Robert Ford (the man who killed outlaw Jesse James) and Bat Masterson.
After touring the Mining Museum (very well done, by the way), take a drive through Bachelor’s Loop. That is, if you don’t have a fear of heights. Also, best to have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. There are some very steep sections, some very narrow sections, and all gravel. But it is definitely worth the time because the views are just stupendous. And if you have a real 4 wheel drive vehicle you will find miles and miles of old roads and ghost towns.
Ouray is an old (1870’s) Colorado mining town turned tourist town. Often called America’s Switzerland, it is located high in the mountains. Although it still has an active mine, most city revenues come from tourists. There are many cute and interesting cafes, restaurants and hotels in town. We’ve sampled a few….
Likewise, Silverton owes its origins to silver mining. And, like Ouray, it exists today mainly due to tourists. This is helped because it is the end of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, which still uses steam locomotives and old rolling stock. The train ride, starting in Durango, is a magnificent scenic tour of the Colorado high mountains. Silverton’s entire downtown is registered as a National Historic Landmark.
To get from Silverton to Ouray, you have to take the “Million Dollar Highway”, so named because legend has it that cost a million dollars per mile to build. Another legend says that over a million dollars of gold is in the fill dirt used to construct it. In any case, better not be afraid of heights, because the road is narrow,with steep dropoffs, and many sharp curves, But it is a beautiful drive.
Today our adventure took us to the Great Sand Dunes, about 25 miles from where we are parked in Alamosa, Colorado. It was quite a spectacular trip, seeing all this sand in the middle of the valley, and surrounded by mountains. We had a nice hike, climbing high in the hills to get a spectacular views of the dunes.
The dunes were formed from sand and soil deposits of the Rio Grande and its tributaries, flowing through the San Luis Valley. Over the ages, glaciers feeding the river and the vast lake that existed upon the valley melted, and the waters evaporated. Westerly winds picked up sand particles from the lake and river flood plain. As the wind lost power before crossing the Sangre de Cristo Range, the sand was deposited on the east edge of the valley. This process continues, and the dunes are slowly growing. The wind changes the shape of the dunes daily.
Deep in the heart of the San Luis Valley, you can find a impressive set of murals. These murals, painted on structures on public as well as private land, reflect the history of this area. Most of these were by Fred Haberlein, known locally as “Lightning Heart”. He is one of the most prolific mural painters in the country. To see these murals, you will have to drive almost 100 miles through very rural USA. Some roads are even dirt, but the trip is worth it.
Below are a few of the highlights.
Colorado Springs is a neat city in a great location. Today we did a quick hike, on a trail system starting in the city limits. The recent rains has made for a lot of mud, but we had a nice hike anyway. Not shown in the pictures is the wonderful view of Pikes Peak, which today unfortunately was somewhat hidden by the clouds.