The Southwest in Two and a Half Weeks: Part II

9 September, 2010 (14:11) | Southwest U.S., Travel Itineraries | By: darngooddigs

If you haven’t read our post about our summer Southwest trip, you may want to start at the beginning: A Taste of the Southwest in Two and a Half Weeks: Part I.  Part I includes our full itinerary and describes the first half of our adventure, from Phoenix to Taos.  In Part II we start with our drive into Colorado from northern New Mexico.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

After stopping in Pagosa Springs for lunch and a swim in the San Juan River, we arrived in Durango.  Durango was the first and largest of the four historic Southwest Colorado mining towns that we visited.  We were excited about our hotel find, the Nobody’s Inn – a small, inspired self-service hotel right on main street – but unfortunately the love wasn’t all there.  Apparently the inn is for sale.  While we can’t recommend our Durango hotel, we can recommend rafting on the Lower Animas River, where we spent a perfect couple of hours with just enough white water excitement for our five year old.

The drive from Durango to Ouray is certainly one of the most picturesque drives in the U.S. – the San Juan Skyway, together with the Million Dollar Highway, offer stunning views and countless switchback turns all sans guardrails through the majestic San Juan Mountains.  We stopped in Silverton and Ouray, two late 1800’s mining towns with postcard-perfect main streets, and mountain walls rising up on all sides.  Silverton is over 9000 ft in elevation!  We ventured into one of the mountainsides on the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour, where our guide, a charismatic ex-miner, offered us the in’s and out’s of what mining life is really like.

Animas Forks Ghost Town, outside Silverton, Colorado

Animas Forks Ghost Town, outside Silverton, Colorado

We spent the night at the 4J+1+1  campground right in Ouray, and walked over to Ouray’s hot springs.  If you’ve never been to Ouray, it’s hard to imagine a more stunning setting, with imposing rust-stained mountainsides surrounding the small town.  But our favorite three hours in Ouray was definitely spent chest-deep in the 97 degree mineral water as the sun was setting behind those mountains.

Telluride was the last of the four spectacular Colorado mining towns we visited.  We were pleased to stay during the quiet Nothing Festival, when nothing special was going on and crowds were non-existent.  We camped out in Town Park, rode the free gondola to Mountain Village, and on our way south we took a dip in a hidden hot spring alongside the Dolores River.

Lebanon School House Bed and Breakfast, Dolores, Colorado

Lebanon Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast, Dolores, Colorado

Our next two nights were at the wonderful Lebanon Schoolhouse, a few miles outside Dolores town.   On the National Register of Historic Places, this magnificent schoolhouse-cum-bed-and-breakfast was our base to visit Mesa Verde National Park, the Anastazi Cultural Center, and the Dolores brewery for some live music and good beer at night.  We loved the breakfasts, the perfectly restored historic details, and Laura’s (the innkeeper) exceptionally welcoming vibe.   Benjamin fell head over heals for Laura’s dog, Roamer.  We will be posting our review of the Lebanon Schoolhouse soon on Darn Good Digs.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

The drive from Dolores to Monument Valley was nothing short of spectacular: misshapen cliffs, striated red and gray hills, Martian-like buttes.  Still, we were unprepared for the awesomeness of Monument Valley.  Maybe it was because we arrived as the evening light made the red rocks glow.  Maybe it was because our Monument Valley Navajo guide, Bobby, gave us a fabulous private tour on the bumpy back roads behind the most famous buttes.  Or perhaps it was the expensive-but-worth-every-penny view from our hotel room at the Navajo-owned and operated View Hotel.  All I know is that we were dazzled.

View from the Grand Canyon Rim Trail

View from the Grand Canyon Rim Trail

We had one more night before returning to Phoenix – camping out at Mather Campground in the Grand Canyon.  Our Canyon highlight was walking along the Rim Trail between Monument Creek Overlook and Hopi Point.  Despite the summer crowds in the Village, we somehow felt like we had the trail to ourselves.  And as a lightning storm approached from the east, we were dazzled again by the play of colors and darkness in the massive, almost indescribable, canyon.

We then headed back to Phoenix to visit our friend, Charlene, and catch our flight back to New York.

Note: If you are interested in following our Southwest itinerary, or something similar, we recommend you fly into Albuquerque instead of Phoenix.  It will cut several unnecessary hours off of your drive time.

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Comment from Laura
Time September 11, 2010 at 9:42 am

I especialy like your photo of the Ghost Town. I don’t know, it has something out of this world…
Have a great weekend!

Comment from darngooddigs
Time September 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm

The ghost town was very cool – though it was a challenge getting there in our little rental car. It was an eight mile drive on unpaved bumpy roads meant for 4-wheel drives with high clearance!

Comment from Lisa
Time September 20, 2010 at 12:05 am

Ah! I wish i’d known you were going!! My mom owns and runs a motel IN Silverton!!!
Glad you had a chance to check out the town and beyond. She actually lives in a log cabin home PAST the old Hundred Mine…at nearly 10,000 feet!
Hope you guys are well!

Comment from darngooddigs
Time September 20, 2010 at 12:22 am

We actually remembered about your mom’s motel – we thought we saw it as we driving into town – and thought about stopping on our way out – say, we know your daughter, actually had her over for dinner one night at our house in Brooklyn! But then we were running late – the drive out and back to Animas Forks was slow-going, so we headed on our way. We loved Silverton though!

Comment from Daniel Peaslee
Time February 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Unfortunately my car broke down somewhere near the Kaibab National Forest. I hope to get back there one day soon as we missed the Grand Canyon due to time constraints, but had a lovely little tour of Fredonia Arizona while our car was being fixed and then a great albeit short view of Cliff Dwellers as we whizzed by, a magical part of the country, some part Earth some part Mars.

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