Spanish Peaks, Colorado

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Highway of Legends

 I picked up a pamphlet about the Highway of Legends when we visited Walsenburg a few weeks ago. I knew it was a drive we must take before leaving southern Colorado. From La Junta, driving southwest on highway 10 across the prairie, we got to watch parts of the Rockies growing bigger and bigger. This peak is called Greenhorn Mountain. It is 12,352 feet in elevation.
 I was able to identify several of the majestic peaks we saw, but our destination featured the glorious Spanish Peaks, towering over Walsenburg and Trinidad, just off the interstate I-25 freeway. These two peaks sit out from the main line of the Rockies, like Pikes Peak does. The east mountain, on the left, is 12,688 feet and the west peak rises to 13,631 feet. As I watched them growing closer and closer, it was fun to think that we would be driving on a road that runs around behind these peaks and next to the ridge of mountains just beyond.

 Mr. Keith needed a snack when we reached Walsenburg so we stopped at a fast food restaurant. I was delighted to see this mural right across the street telling about the Highway of Legends. We were excited to begin our journey on the highway! We learned that this area of southern Colorado has been home to many different people from indigenous native tribes and Spanish explorers to Mexican, French, English and American trappers and traders. In the 19th and 20th centuries, waves of immigrants came from Europe to work and mines or farm and ranch the fertile plains and valleys. All have left their marks, leading to the name given the area, Highway of Legends.

 I snapped this photo along the beginning of the road. 
Spanish Peaks
(American Name)
(Spanish Name)
(Indian Name)

 Right along the highway we spied this native American shrine. There were several crosses, various items of unknown meaning, along with a fence filled up with prayer ribbons.
The lore of this area is vivid, swirling in the spiritual myths of the American Indians and the history of their clashes with Spanish explorers. Like much of Colorado, where the promises of fortune led, trouble followed and tales of outlaws “settling their differences” are common. - See more at:

The lore of this area is vivid, swirling in the spiritual myths of the American Indians and the history of their clashes with Spanish explorers. Like much of Colorado, where the promises of fortune led, trouble followed and tales of outlaws “settling their differences” are common. - See more at:
 After we passed through Cuchara, which seemed mostly to be a place of resorts for tourists, we made it to the top of Chuchara Pass, elevation 9995 feet. When I added in my own height I could say I was at over 10,000 feet!

 I didn't get a very good photo of this rock wall, which was similar to many such rock walls we saw on our drive. It's called the Dakota formation. All the walls we passed by were tall and not very wide, quite striking. This one is in the tiny town of Stonewall, named so appropriately.

Just a few miles from Trinidad we drove through the tiny town of Cokedale. These puzzling structures snaking across the valley vaguely resemble ancient Roman ruins but are actually coke ovens that transformed coal into coke for use in smelting iron. It seems coal mining was the main industry in this area. We could see old piles of black powder-like earth with vegetation growing in it.

 The peak in the distance, part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, towers over the city of Trinidad. It's called Fishers Peak. There is a large lake formed by a dam across the Purgatoire River. We knew we were nearing the end of one of the most scenic drives we've taken. Beyond Trinidad we'd be once again crossing the prairie back to La Junta.

 After a late lunch in Trinidad we drove around the town a bit. I looked up the city, population 9,000, on my iPad and discovered an astonishing fact. Trinidad was known as The Sex Change Capital of the World! I could hardly fathom it. Why Trinidad? It is a fascinating city, filled with Victorian style mansions and brick buildings in the old part of town. We'd have spent more time had it not been getting late in the afternoon.
The Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church was right in the heart of town, on Church Street. Beautiful! We enjoyed our lovely drive through the Rockies and said our good-byes to the Highway of Legends as we headed up highway 350 towards home. This road's claim to fame is that it was the part of the Santa Fe Trail from La Junta to Trinidad. Other than that fact, this highway is 80 miles of fairly boring flat land. We wondered how long it took the wagons in the mid 1800s to traverse this trail. There are a couple of road-side signs pointing to parts of the trail where folks stopped for water and rest. We were happy to be home after a day logging on 250 miles!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Garden of the Gods in Colorado

Just up the road from the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are some fantastic red rock formations jutting up from the hillside, named The Garden of the Gods. We'd visited this park when we worked at the Strasburg KOA in 2010, but we wanted to see it again. I noticed that coming up the freeway from the south the glorious red monoliths stood out above Colorado Springs proclaiming their presence over even the man-made buildings

First, though, lunch was in order. We stopped at the Garden of the Gods Trading Post at the south entrance to the Gardens and feasted on burgers. I liked the salt and pepper holders made from forks and spoons. Mr. Keith looks unique in his own right, too!

It was Saturday, a very busy day for touristing. The park was full of people, cars, bikes, and hikers. We stopped to get this shot of Pikes Peak and were rewarded with some horse-back riders who waved hello at us.

This is perhaps the largest of the rocks, showing only about a quarter of itself in this photo. You can see the tiny people at the bottom of the picture.

Another portion of the same rock shows a formation on the top called the "Kissing Camels".

 We saw some climbers trying their skills up the sheer side of the cliffs. Many people climb here, but are required to have a permit showing that they have the proper equipment and skills. It was rather nerve-wracking to watch!

I love this cliff side. To me, the middle part looks like a giant mummy!

Another awesome viewpoint along the trail. The best part of visiting this park is that there is no charge to get in. The original owner of the land deeded it over to the city in 1909 with the stipulation that it would always be open to the public for free. The city of Colorado Springs does do an excellent job of keeping up the grounds and taking care of the new Visitor Center, trails, and restrooms. Rangers are in attendance keeping a watch on the visitors and answering questions.

One last shot as we walked along the road on our way back to our car. I appreciate that the roads are mostly one-way, with a safe, wide lane alongside for hikers and bikers.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings in Colorado

Visiting the Manitou Cliff Dwellings was on our list of things to do while in southeast Colorado. Manitou Springs is directly west of Colorado Springs, actually the oldest part of the metropolitan area, and right below Pikes Peak. I was surprised to find that these cliff dwellings weren't originally in this rock formation, but were reassembled in 1907 from Anasazi ruins near the Four Corners area of Colorado. The Anasazi culture existed from about 1100 A.D. to 1300 A.D. No one knows for sure why the cliff dwellings, like those in Colorado (Mesa Verde) and New Mexico (Gila Cliff Dwellings), were abandoned.

Mr. Keith likes his new little house!

These apartments are very small and housed several families each. It looks like the natives used them mostly for shelter and for sleeping. There were no fireplaces inside, but we did see some areas used for grinding grains.

The way the dwellings were reconstructed makes them easy to explore and peek into.

This natural cliff overhang is the perfect place to preserve and display the ancient dwellings. I have to admire the people who had the vision to do this way back in 1907, keeping it open for tourists all that time.

Next to the Cliff Dwellings is a three-story Pueblo-style building in the style of the descendants of the Anasazi. The first six rooms of this Pueblo were built in 1898. Until 1984 local Native Americans actually lived in these rooms. Since then the building has been expanded and now houses a large gift shop and museum. Mr. Keith and I tend not to spend too much time in museums where everything is inside glass cases. The Gift Shop was much more interesting, and of course I bought a t-shirt!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Exploring Small Towns in Colorado

I learned that a former pastor of ours from Wenatchee WA had lived in the small town of Wiley CO, some 50 miles from us, so we decided to make a day of exploring the area. Right near Wiley and on the same road we came across McClave, a tiny town with maybe 200 or so people. Typical of many very small prairie towns, this one also had abandoned buildings and evidence of more prosperous times. The main street of McClave consists of one short block. These buildings are, or were, the grocery and the gas station. There was, however, a very large school, serving, we guessed, the many ranches and farms around the area.

Out on the highway again we spotted a long row of what looked like cattle barns. We investigated and found many yards full of young beeves, probably awaiting being made into hamburger and steaks. It was kind of sad.

It looks like this is where the aforementioned sad deeds take place.

On down the road we saw several of these complicated grain elevators. This one was just at the entrance to our destination, Wiley. All along Highway 50 in southeast Colorado one sees almost nothing but vast grain fields and a few huge cattle yards and meat processing plants.

Across the street we noticed a pile of something golden. At first I thought it looked like sawdust, then realized that since the only trees out on the prairie are mostly ancient cottonwoods surrounding the houses and along the roads, that couldn't be it. Closer inspection showed that the pile was corn. I'm sure this is what the unfortunate cattle we saw earlier were fattened up on!

The town of Wiley has a population of about 450 and is slightly larger and more well kept than many of the old, worn out villages through which we've passed. Even so, Main Street is not very impressive! Several of these buildings seemed deserted.

This is the church where our former pastor had served and where he married his wife. I did not find out when and how long he was the minister here. The church in his day was a Church of the Brethren, but now is simply called Wiley Community Church. It is one of three churches in town and the most attractive.

We'd planned on having lunch in Wiley, if there was a restaurant. We were in luck. The Cornerstone Cafe´ was open for business! We found out that the cafe´ was actually owned by the church in the picture above, and we were pleased to see a "prayer wall" inside along with invitations to Bible study advertised on the placemats. They also invited diners to donate $5.00 to feed any hungry or homeless folks who might wander in. Our donation coupon was tacked up on another wall till needed by someone. We noticed there were quite a number of these coupons up there. Oh, and the food was excellent, too!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Las Animas, Colorado

Believe it or not, we wanted a Dairy Queen Blizzard! The closest one to our town of La Junta is in Las Animas, 20 miles away. The town has quite a history. Las Animas is a Spanish name, meaning “City of Lost Souls.” The town takes its name from the Picketwire River which is located east of the city and flows into the Arkansas River. The Picketwire was originally called Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio ( the river of lost souls in purgatory.) Las Animas, population about 2,500, is the only incorporated town in Bent's County. Its an old one, a little shabby and worn out. However, it has one of the most outstanding and attractive Courthouses I've ever seen.

Right next to the Courthouse is this impressive building. Upon research I discovered it was the Bent County Jail, built of brick and sandstone in 1902 at a cost of $8,478. It served as the county jail until 2000. The downstairs contained the residential quarters for the sheriff and family.

 We decided to drive around (while eating our Blizzards) to see what interesting buildings we could find. This is St. Mary's Catholic Church.

 This huge building looked like it might have been a church, but it was obviously abandoned and had no signs telling what it had been used for.

 I couldn't resist taking a picture of this house which was painted all different colors. It was purple in the front, yellow on the side, and had a hodgepodge of colors all around.

We finished our tour of the town with this bit of humor on Super Bowl Sunday! The First Baptist Church was an ordinary building, but we loved their sign!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pueblo, Colorado

There is a beautiful reservoir just to the west of Pueblo formed by a dam on the Arkansas River. It is mostly an earth, or rock, dam with the concrete part right on the river. We were able to drive around almost the entire lake.

On the other side of the dam we saw this lovely view of Pikes Peak along with a marina and picnic area. There were also many campgrounds for RVs and tents.

Heading on into town — we wanted to visit the old train station and found this statue of Diana the Huntress gracing the front of the building. No modesty there!

The Pueblo Union Depot, constructed in 1889, is a gorgeous, old building mostly used now for offices and a couple of restaurants.

The street across from the Depot, with cafe´s and boutiques. We had a delicious lunch in one called "The B Street Cafe´".

Another view across the street—a great mural. Pueblo has many more interesting places to visit. The reservoir and the old downtown comprised our tour for the day.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Walsenburg & Spanish Peaks in Colorado

 There are few places to go around La Junta without driving for an hour or more. Today we chose Walsenburg, about 75 miles southwest of us. On the way out of town I noticed a field with easily a thousand or more large white birds, some circling, most resting amidst the old cornstalks. We braked and turned around so we could go up a side road closer to the birds, hoping to identify them. When we got there, going very slowly, the birds suddenly rose up in the air and we heard gunshots and saw hunters right by the edge of the field. Several birds hit the ground. We quickly turned around and got out of there, very upset. Later I saw a poster talking about licenses for hunting snow geese, so I googled them and, sure enough, that's what we were seeing.

 Traveling anywhere out on the eastern prairie can be a little boring, but going west one begins to see the Rocky Mountains in the distance. I did not figure out the name of these far away peaks.

 The Spanish Peaks in southern Colorado stand out, much like Pikes Peak does farther north. One is called East Spanish Peak and the other is named, appropriately, West Spanish Peak. I could hardly wait till we got to Walsenburg to be able to see the Peaks close up.

 Walsenburg, its Courthouse to the left, was established about 150 years ago, back when southern Colorado was still part of Mexico. It was called La Plaza de los Leones. In 1870, years after the War of 1846, Fred Walsen settled there and opened up a large merchantile which attracted many German emigrants. He opened the areas first coal mine, which supported the town for 100 years. The population today is around 3,000. We enjoyed a good lunch at The Alpine Cafe´, a local downtown restaurant that served Keith the best biscuits and gravy he's ever had! I loved my cheeseburger, too. Robert Ford, the assassin of outlaw Jesse James, operated a combination saloon and gambling house in Walsenburg. Of course, we had to look that up. The house is now a boring insurance office.

Because of buildings and power lines we had to drive a little out of town to really see the Spanish Peaks. They are awesome! The sun was in the wrong place to get a really good picture.  This photo we took from the Lathrop State Park, a couple of miles west of town.

These mountains are Rough Peak and Silver Peak. There are 50 some mountains within the Rockies that that are over 14,000 feet high! These two are nicely framing the snowy pasture with grazing cows. I snapped this picture as we were heading for La Veta, a tiny town higher up in the hills that was more geared to tourists than Walsenburg.

 On our way back home once more on the dry prairie we passed this old cemetery way out in the middle of nowhere. We wondered if it once serviced the folks from the ranches spread few and far between around the area.

 One last backward look to see the Spanish Peaks fading into the distance.

We learned that the Huerfano River Wind Farm, Colorado's largest producer of distributed generation (DG) power, is located ten miles north of Walsenburg, just off of Interstate 25. I always love seeing these windmills marching across the land. One of the pamphlets we picked up at the State Park stated that the nearby Spanish Peaks are a national landmark and named one of Colorado's Seven Wonders by the Denver Post. The Highway of The Legends, connecting Walsenburg with La Veta, other historic mining towns, and Trinidad, is a National Scenic and Historic Byway. We hope to take that trip someday, hopefully in the spring before we leave Colorado.