By the time we pulled out of camp the following morning, nobody else was up, which in my book, is early. And luckily, because it was summertime, AZ-67, the road that leads north and the quickest way out, was open. We had estimated 6.5 hours to get to Farmington, NM, our next stop along our journey home. The hubby was determined to get there before mid afternoon so that we had most of the day to explore the area. Although I would advise everyone to go the speed limit (we may not have), we actually made it in 5.5 hours. What? It was all open roads. ;)
Speaking of open roads, where we’re from, we just don’t get this kind of scenery. Even in the more remote areas of the South East, our views are blocked by trees, so it was absolutely refreshing to see open fields, with beautiful cloud formations and mountains in the distance. I would suggest, if you see a gas station, fill up! You may not pass one for what seems an eternity. (Luckily it didn’t become a problem for us, although we had a couple of close calls.)
We arrived in Farmington, NM around lunch time and our host and friend, Kyle and his son, Bryce, took us for a quick bite at Rubio’s. From there, we made the 10 minute drive to the Aztec Ruins National Monument. Now, the name is misleading. The area, near the Animas River, was actually settled by the Anasazi, which is Navajo for “Ancient Ones” or “Ancient Enemy.” Excavation of the ruins began in the late 1800’s, however, majority of the property has yet to be unearthed. What they have discovered though, is that within the region, these people constructed several multi-story buildings, called pueblos, as well as above ground and underground kivas, a large circular area used for ceremonies. Scientists speculate that the Anasazi left during the 1300’s, due to dwindling resources and extreme weather.
Because Kyle grew up just down the street, and because his step-father is an archeologist, we had an insider guided tour. Even as little boys, he and his brother Chad would visit with his parents, as they explored the area and learned about the culture and history of the ruins. His parents were actually married in the reconstructed Kiva below, since it was such a special place for them.
He knew things about the area that weren’t even written in the handbook. At one point, he was telling us stories of the Anasazi people, as well as another group of visitors. I watched as they flipped relentlessly through the handbook for confirmation, to no avail.
The hubby and I love to learn about history and different cultures so the whole experience was fascinating. Next time we’re in the area, we have plans to visit the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. There the Anasazi built their homes within caves and under cliffs, known as cliff dwellings.
path of doorways at the Aztec Ruins, NM
Kiva remains at the Aztec Ruins, NM
Reconstructed Kiva at the Aztec Ruins, NM
After touring the ruins, Kyle took us to his mom and step dad’s home to say hello. While they were pruning their most incredible yard, I noticed several antiques placed around the property, used as garden art. I had heard she was a collector but had no idea what was in store for us in the very near future. When I asked her about her collection, she motioned for us to follow her inside. From there, her and her husband spent the next hour or so describing their most precious antiques on the first floor. That’s right! We didn’t even make it to the second floor. She had vintage quilts, dolls, china and small knick-knacks passed down from her family, as well as furniture, artwork and one-of-a-kind heirlooms from her husband’s family. You name it, they had it. And it wasn’t stashed inside a closet somewhere, collecting dust or creating clutter. No, it was all organized, well taken care of and on display. I also learned that they are avid yard sale shoppers and that she and her husband have come across great treasures over the years, one of which was a Japanese cigar box that she bought for $1 and sold it on ebay for $1,400!! This woman knows what she’s doing! It doesn’t hurt to have an archeologist for a husband. I’m sure he has a great eye for originals, rather than reproductions.
She was very excited to learn that we were headed to the 127 Sale at the end of our trip, since she too has had dreams of visiting. She said they have yet to make it out there because they’ve had such great luck with the yard sales in and around New Mexico. As we were leaving, I told her I would absolutely let her know what I thought of the sale and if I found anything interesting.
By the time we got back to Kyle’s it was almost dinner time. Before we met up with his wife Shawna, Kyle had one more item of “business” he wanted us to attend to before the days end. And by business, let’s just say it began with the hubby “crawling” up a dirt mound in the backyard with the Jeep. Just so you know, we’re city folk, so I can’t say we’ve ever been “crawling.” Ha! It didn’t take long for the hubby to get the hang of it though so once he did, Kyle brought out the big dawgs, aka, the Rhinos.
Kyle and the hubby were in one Rhino, while his son, Bryce and I were in the other. We set out down the street to an ATV (that’s All Terrain Vehicle) course, as the boys whipped, spun and plunged us down the dirt paths. Must be a guy thing but the hubby decided he wanted to have a go at driving too. I however, did not care to try.
All in all, I can honestly say I was a little nervous at first but it ended up being an incredibly exhilarating ride.
Just as the sun was setting, we made our way over to the lake to watch it disappear behind the clouds. Such a fun day!
The bad thing about a small town as some of you probably know, is that everything closes early. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go to our first choice for dinner (Shawna’s pick) so we settled for a place Kyle recommended. We drove up to a restaurant called Tequila’s, witch was attached to a motel. I have to admit, I was definitely not expecting much. We opted for the patio and found ourselves drinking, what else, margaritas! They were excellent. At Kyle’s recommendation, I ordered the the Camarones diablo (a spicy shrimp dish). He had said he tried it some place else and that it was the spiciest dish he’s ever had. For those of you that don’t know me, I love the heat and wanted to see if my taste buds could handle New Mexico. Unfortunately, the dish was not spicy at all! I’m not just saying that because have something to prove. I mean, it really was NOT spicy. Everyone tried it and agreed. The saving grace though was that it was so flavorful and delicious. I guess the moral of the story, don’t judge a restaurant by it’s proximity to a motel. ;) If only I could find a website or phone number on that place so I could link it. Oh well.
After a strong margarita and a bed, FINALLY, we slept like babies.
The following morning we were up and at it again. Plan for today, drive the 40 min or so to Durango, CO and catch the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train into Silverton, where Kyle and Shawna would meet us to spend the day. We had bought tickets a few days prior and although you can’t buy one-way fare, we figured it would be worth the $80 per ticket, just to see the countryside.
Although it was pouring when we arrived at the station, we departed and everything was going as planned, at first.
About 20 minutes into the ride, a train conductor stood up and announced, “Unfortunately, due to the storms in the area, there’s been a break in the track up ahead, which means we may not make it to Silverton today. We’ll keep you updated. Until then, we’ll be stopping at the next town for a bit.” At first the hubby and I were all smiles, thinking this was a skit they put on for the kids. After he walked away, without another word, we realized he wasn’t kidding. Not make it to Silverton today?!? But this is our first time and we have friends meeting us there in a couple of hours!! We were definitely upset, although hopeful. We tried to remain positive and after the train stopped in Hermosa, I used the opportunity to collect railroad nails as souvenirs and take pictures.
We heard rumors along the way that a large rock had fallen and broken the tracks along the highest bridge and just after they had fixed it, another, even larger rock smashed the tracks again. OK, this makes for a PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE reason to stop the train! Luckily they were able to fix the damage once more and loaded us back on after about an hour stretch. We were also able to call Kyle to let him know our new ETA was around 3 pm in Silverton. All hope was not lost!
The train ride proved to be worth more than the money spent. Just to see the beautiful, undeveloped and natural landscapes was breathtaking. The railroad begins cliffside, overlooking the Animas River and winds its way down until we found ourselves alongside the water. I cannot express enough how highly I recommend this ride for anyone spending a couple of days in the area. You won’t be disappointed!
Although it can be a bit chilly in the open air gondola, not to mention you may find a piece of coal or two in your eyes (definitely bring sunglasses), we found the views to be more amazing, especially since you can move about from side to side, taking it all in.
As we crossed over the bridge, the train engineer blew smoke from the chimney, which, as the conductor told us, may produce a rainbow. Guess that’s a nice way of distracting us from the fact that we’re also polluting our air.
We came across a woman playing fetch with her two chocolate labs and a couple and their daughter out in the front lawn of secluded, Tall Timber Resort, located in San Juan National Forest, and accessible only via train or helicopter.
Tall Timber Resort
hikers taking a break at a bridge along the railroad
We pulled into Silverton, CO a little after 3 pm, roughly 2 hours later than expected. For those of you not familiar with Silverton, it began as a silver mining camp back in 1874, where that same year, an estimated 2,000 men came in search of riches and had to endure severe winters and dangerous mining conditions. Today the town still stands and at first glance, doesn’t appear to have changed a bit. Many of the buildings previously used as saloons, brothels and gambling halls are now cute little shops, boutiques, and restaurants, and although they’ve been renovated, the original character is still in tact. The town feels like something out of a wild west movie.
We headed straight for Mother Clucker’s where we would meet up with Kyle and Shawna. They were there, beer in hand and smiles to go around. We talked over lunch about our train ride, as they had us taste their famous Mother Clucker’s raspberry-habanero chicken wings, which were surprisingly delish!
Kyle had brought his Jeep for the day so that we could drive up into the mountains and explore the old mining towns. Once our bellies were full, we headed out. I couldn’t help but think, people pay good money for a Jeep excursion with a local and here we are, able to do this with friends. I felt incredibly lucky and rightfully so. Our Jeep trip was not only fabulous and fascinating, but the landscapes were absolutely amazing. I can honestly say I have never seen more beautiful countryside in all of my life.
Throughout the trip, there were constant reminders of a past life, one in which a miner may have lived. We saw several of these small cable carts the miners would ride on up into the mountains to get to their mining destination. Some of them were extremely high above the ground. Ahhh! We also saw many old mining caves.
Along the way, we came across a few old ghost towns, which were once used as mining camps.
Eureka was founded in 1860 and grew slowly, even after the train service began in 1896. When it’s lucrative Sunnyside mill closed in 1938, the town was no more. Today, the only thing still standing is the town jail and remnants of the Sunnyside mill.
Eureka, CO jail
Eureka, CO - Remains of the old ore mill
Animas Forks was founded in 1873 and by 1876, had 30 cabins, a hotel, a general store, a saloon and a post office. Winters were harsh and avalanches common. When mining profits declined, the townspeople left and by the 1920’s, it had become a ghost town.
Although the floors are a little unstable, you can still walk inside the homes. This was too cool!
Animas Forks, CO - view from the bay windows of the Walsh house
Animas Forks, CO - view from window at ghost town
Kyle and Shawna hadn’t finished with us yet. Our final destination was the top of the mountain, at 12,930′ elevation, where we would see a small lake and the most incredible views. It was a bumpy, slightly nerve-wracking ride making our way up the mountain side, but I have to say, it was well worth it!
The views from the top:
We spent some time soaking it all in. By the time we made our way back down, the sun was beginning to set. And just as it was, take a look at what we saw -
I guess what they say is true – “there’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.” Ironic huh? We sure thought so.
We opted to eat dinner in Durango, CO since it was late and nothing would be open in Farmington once we got back. We chose Steamworks Brewery Co. since it appeared pretty lively that night. We purchased a flight of beers, which included tastes of roughly 8 of their most noteworthy beer. The hubby and I are no beer conosurs but we all agreed, our favorite by far was their award winning, Steam Engine Lager. Food was pretty good for a pub joint.
We were exhausted by the time we got home, which was perfect because the next day would be a long one. Our plan was to drive as far east as possible in one day’s time. As you could imagine, we so weren’t looking forward to that!
Enjoy until next time,