Day 4 (April 16, 2017 – Telluride, Colorado: “Shoulder Season Salvages”
It was 5am when I awoke to my alarm pretty groggy. Having gone through many delays yesterday, I knew the little dessert fiasco at Ken and Sue’s had its greatest impact on sleep. So I guess I was the first to feel its effects. Meanwhile, Julie and Tahia were asleep still, and they’d still be that way until at least around 5:45am.
As we were all trying to get ready, Julie was bothered that I was still blogging while Tahia was still refusing to wake up. It escalated into a bit of an argument because she wasn’t happy with the pace of this trip as she was complaining that it wasn’t relaxing. I guess I knew that we were going to pay for the setbacks from yesterday, and I perhaps this was the manifestation of those things – an argument.
So with bad vibes from the morning, that might have gotten Tahia to get her act together and at least attempt to take care of herself brushing her own teeth and picking her own clothes while Julie was working on breakfast, and I was wrapping things up before packing up and getting ready to leave.
I had hoped that we’d be out of here by 7am so we could spend more time in Mesa Verde before going to Telluride in the early afternoon. But the reality was that it wouldn’t be until 7:15am that we went down to the brekkie room at the Homewood Suites.
At least the breakfast was surprisingly very good as we got some breakfast burritos, and it was very quiet as well. The staff said it’s normally not this quiet, and they further confirmed our suspicions that this had more to do today being Easter Sunday than anything else.
Anyways, it wouldn’t be until about 7:55am when we were finally leaving the Homewood Suites in Durango. Next, we drove along the 160 west towards Mesa Verde, and we’d eventually get to the visitor center at 8:40am. We were hoping to buy tour tickets so Julie would get to be up close to the ruins of the Anasazi, which I knew she was really into re-creations of archaeological sites more so than pure ruins as she wanted to better imagine what life was like back then in a more tangible way.
So Julie was real eager about going to Mesa Verde for this reason, but when she returned to the car at 9am, she told me that the only tour that was available was for the Balcony House, and that it wasn’t until 3pm as all the first-come first-serve tours for this particular attraction was all booked out in the morning. Plus, the Cliff Palace, which was one of the main places to get up close to ruins was not open until Memorial Day.
Then, with the Spruce Tree House being closed since 2015 due to geological instability, there really wasn’t much left for this trip in the way of guided tours. We contemplated needing to come back here in the future to do a twilight tour of the Cliff Palace combined with maybe the Balcony House tour. The Balcony House Tour was where Tahia would get to crawl through tunnels and climb up ladders, and we knew she’d be more into it for this reason.
I guess we just so happened to be visiting during the shoulder season of Mesa Verde, and the disappointment of not doing a tour probably meant that we might not need to spend as much time in the park as anticipated. So we started looking for alternate activities to salvage our time here, and from the signage at the visitor center as well as the park map, there was the Petroglyph Trail, where Tahia had earlier expressed interest in seeing Native American artifacts as well as drawings. But we weren’t sure if the trail would be open or not given some caveat in the signage saying the trail wouldn’t be open unless the Spruce Tree House was open or something like that.
So we prioritized the sights by aiming for the Cliff Palace first and then going to the Spruce Tree House to see if we can hike to the petroglyphs, which was said to be 2.4 miles total. I knew that that particular excursion might push the Telluride part of the trip later into the day, and I was fretting about possibly hiking the Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride late in the afternoon and possibly into the darkness hours.
And so the plan was set and we continued driving deeper into Mesa Verde at 9am. It turned out that the Cliff Palace was still about 15 miles from the visitor center we had just stopped at, and the driving was slow due to the slow speed limits, the curvy roads, and being behind slower drivers unwilling to use the turnouts.
So it wouldn’t be until about 9:40am when we finally got to the huge parking lot for the Cliff Palace. The parking lot was pretty empty as we were probably the third or fourth car to show up here. So we promptly went onto the paved path leading down to the overlook just as some families were leaving. Along the way down, I saw some cliff dwellings and ruins being attractively lit by the morning sun on the opposite side of the canyon.
At the lookout area, there was a tour trail that was fenced off. But on the far side of the lookout, that was when I looked right down at the Cliff Palace, which was in shadow and we were kind of looking against the sun. So it was pretty harsh lighting. When I turned around and looked across the canyon towards the Sun Palace (a different recommended spot on the Mesa Top Loop where we would be able to see the Cliff Palace more straight on), I could see right away that its view would be adversely impacted by the position of the sun.
So we could save time by not driving over there (to the Sun Palace) to see what it was about.
A few minutes later after some other tourists had arrived, Julie and Tahia then showed up along with a park ranger. We talked with him for a bit, and he mentioned that the Petroglyphs Trail should be open. He also confirmed some of our suspicions about when would be the best time to come as well as the Memorial Day tour openings of places like this. Upon being asked where we were from, we also learned from him that he was from Southern California in the Tustin area, which was one of those small world moments.
He had been working mostly in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, especially the Grant Grove and Cedar Grove area. He decided to come here for something different. When we discussed the low humidity in this area, he said, “It’s like the Santa Anas every day here”. That pretty much summed it up.
Speaking of the Santa Ana winds, the dryness also caused my nose to bleed. Fortunately, Julie had some tissue on hand so I could plug it up. After taking some people shots, as the overlook became busier with more tourists, we went back to the car at 10:20am, and my nose was still bleeding through the tissue plugging up my nose.
We still pressed on and drove along the Cliff Palace loop passing by the Home of Many Windows as well as some view of more cliff dwellings agsinst some harsh lighting with some snowy mountains in the backdrop. We then passed by the Balcony House, where we briefly stopped to take a look then kept moving on when we realized that the view of it was further up the road and required a hike.
After leaving the Balcony House at 10:45am, with my nose was still bleeding, Julie took over the driving duties so I could tilt my head back and try to stop the bleeding as it had now been nearly 30 minutes of non-stop bleeding.
At 11am, we finally made it to the Spruce Tree House and Mesa Verde National Park Headquarters where we scored a semi-shady parking spot and then took some time to get ready. During that time, we took some ice from the cooler to put onto my forehead while I still tilted my head back and pinched the bridge of my nose. By now, the nose had been bleeding about 40 minutes or so, and we knew that I had to take it easy to prevent any further complications from this much loss of blood.
Eventually, the bleeding stopped, and then we’d finally get started on the Petroglyphs Trail at about 11:30am. On the way down, we saw the impressive Spruce Tree House site, which like the Cliff Palace, was also restored. Signage at the lookout confirmed that while the Spruce Tree House was closed, the trails to both Spruce Canyon and the Petroglyphs remained open.
And so we promptly got down into the canyon before the trail then climbed up the opposite side of Spruce Canyon and branched off from the Spruce Canyon Trail as the Petroglyphs Trail now followed along cliff ledges and provided us a glimpse of how the Pueblo Indians might have gotten to their cliff dwellings that appeared seemingly impossible when glimpsed from just the overlooks.
This trail definitely featured a lot for the senses as we’d encounter numerous alcoves and overhangs as well as expansive views across Spruce Canyon. We made frequent stops and also followed along the Trail Guide as there were numeric posts along the trail to explain what we were seeing along the way.
A couple of the sections of trail involved squeezing through tight slots, while another big alcove featured some etchings in the rock, some ruins, and even some grooves and pits where perhaps grains were ground.
The hike was a little on the rough side as there were plenty of makeshift stairs and the trail was a little up and down while also weaving in between shade and exposure to the sun. When we had been hiking for over an hour, I was starting to get concerned that this 2.4-mile distance in the park literature might be each way instead of round trip, especially when we were only on say marker 15 or so when there were 35 total.
But it turned out that by 12:50pm, we finally made it to the petroglyphs where a handful of people were already here studying the enigmatic yet really cool artifact on this wall. We showed up just as the sun was about to really wreak havoc on the lighting though it was already doing so in such a way that more set back contextual and frontal views of the petroglyph panel was difficult to photograph as the etchings were still in shade.
The petroglyph panel was signpost 24 so I guess the remaining 10 or so signposts were for things further along this trail.
When we had our fill of the petroglyphs, I initially thought that we were going to go back the way we came, but other folks here overheard that and said we should keep going to complete the loop. They were told by the rangers that the trail was much flatter and easier than going back the way we came. And so Julie and Tahia pressed forward first by continuing the loop.
I followed soon after and noticed that the climb was initially steep with some rock steps that weren’t obvious at first, but signs for “museum” provided the hints we needed to know how to keep going. Eventually, we’d get all the way to the top of the plateau and sure enough, the walk was much flatter and the pace was way faster.
As we continued further along the trail, we started to finally notice the Spruce Tree House infrastructure in the distance (not as far as some other buildings way in the horizon that I had initially thought was our starting point), and Julie and I wondered whether it would have been better to do this hike in reverse to get to the Petroglyphs faster before turning back.
But if we did that, then perhaps that steep part might be quite a bit trickier, and then we’d miss out on the atmosphere of seeing artifacts and ruins while also taking in the environment and the views along the way. So in the end, I figured we did it right, even though we did encounter a handful of other hikers who did manage to go in the opposite direction.
When we were finally back at the Museum area, we got one last look at the Spruce Tree House complex, where it was still in shade at around 1:55pm. Tahia wanted to spend a little time in the museum to check out the video about the Mesa Verde National Park to gain a better perspective on what we had just seen. Tahia also got a junior ranger literature and workbook while there.
We all watched the video together, which was about 20 minutes long. And we pretty much speculated that water had a big reason to do with why the cliff dwellings were abandoned in 1350 AD. Yet, some of the reservations that we had passed through along the way apparently were the descendants of the Puebloans who once lived here. And apparently, these cliff dwellings were nothing special back then, but now provided a window into the past today given how well-preserved they were.
So apparently, the Puebloans whose ancestors were here were most likely spread out throughout the desert southwest, and they’re probably still alive but passed down various oral myths and traditions over the generations that it’s up to the scholars to extract out the ancestral ties and piece together the puzzle to make sense of the mysteries behind Mesa Verde’s ancient cliff dwellings.
It was about 2:40pm when we were finally leaving the Mesa Verde area. Along the way, Julie picked up a pretty expensive baloney sandwich on the go since we hadn’t had lunch yet. And so by 2:50pm, we were finally on our way to Telluride as we were now nearly 2 hours behind schedule and I was really concerned about not finishing the Bridal Veil Falls hike.
The drive was for the most part uneventful as I was following some vehicle that was going at a pretty good pace. But when we got into the heart of the Rocky Mountains (there was now snow around us), there was one blue car that created a long line of cars, and that blue car refused to use the pullouts. So this persisted pretty much all the way to Telluride though the views and dramatic drive reminded me of the kind of scenery we had experienced in the Alps (except the roads were wider here and a bit less built up than in Europe).
Finally at 4:55pm, we checked in at the Victorian Inn in Telluride. The first thing that we noticed when we pulled into town was how dead it was. As we checked in, the friendly receptionist said that this was shoulder season just as the ski season had ended and right before hiking season. She said this was her favorite time of the year since she felt like Telluride was essentially like her own place at this time.
In seeing the amount of the snow in the mountains, when I asked the receptionist whether I could hike to Bridal Veil Falls, she said that there was too much snow on the trails. So perhaps I wouldn’t be needing to do the full four miles to see it. But she did mention that Cornet Falls was just up Aspen Rd, and was “20 minutes long and might be better for the little one.”
So I kept that in mind as doing that before it gets dark might be the thing to do. In any case, after getting to our room and loading it up with foodstuffs as well as our luggages, we then did the divide and conquer thing where Julie and Tahia walked around town to perhaps get something from the local market here, while I went to pursue Bridal Veil Falls. So I left at around 5:25pm.
The first thing I noticed when I drove east on Colorado Blvd was how scenic the downtown area was. With old school architecture flanking the street all with the big mountainous backdrop further down the boulevard, I was instantly reminded of the kind of scenery I might have seen in Banff or even the cirques of Gavarnie or Cotatuero (at least as far as the mountains were concerned).
With the speed limit being at 15mph, it took a while to get past the local park and up the road leading closer to Bridal Veil Falls. Along the way, I made a stop as I was then able to see what turned out to be a frozen waterfall with some water running over the ice. And indeed, hiking the full trail (more like a road it seemed) wasn’t going to be feasible.
Still, by 5:40pm, I made it to a wide open car park a short distance on the potholed unpaved stretch of road that apparently belonged to the Idarado Mining Company. There were a few cars parked here already taking in the views. The unpaved road continued to the left, where a sign said 4wd and high clearance vehicles only.
When I saw a jeep go up that road, I decided that I should take a look just to see how bad the road could get.
Eventually, I got up to the second or third switchback, where indeed the road was pretty rough. I got to a part where I could see the jeep up ahead and it was apparent that they were blocked by snow. So I parked the car a little further down the road and continued on foot at 5:50pm.
Just as I was doing this, the folks in the jeep were pulling out. They said that the next switchback was all snow. When they left, and I continued on, I could immediately see what they were talking about. So from here, I documented the experience, got as much as I could get of the Bridal Veil Falls at this point, and soaked in the view back down to Telluride.
By 6:15pm, I returned to the car, and then I proceeded to drive back down to the 2wd parking area where I could get a few more looks at Bridal Veil Falls before taking off. By about 6:30pm, I had my fill of this spot and returned to town where I got some gorgeous views of the Telluride main drag looking back towards the snowy mountainous backdrop that totally reminded me of something I might be seeing in the Alps in Europe.
After this brief photo run in the ghost town (as it was pretty dead save for some pizza joint), I then went and picked up Julie and Tahia from the local market. We wound up going further west in town to Clarks for a little more options for groceries and maybe for a Whole Foods like experience of dining right at the supermarket.
We got there at 6:50pm, and when I realized that Julie had no intentions of wrapping up the grocery shopping before it got dark, I decided to do another divide and conquer where they’d continue their shopping and dinner, while I’d go solo the hike to Cornet Falls. With about an hour of daylight left, time was running out.
So I promptly left Clarks and went right up to the street parking near where we were told Cornet Falls should begin. There wasn’t any signage in the immediate area as it was pretty much a residential area. But I promptly got out of the car and started walking at 7pm. Thinking that it would be a short hike, I didn’t bring my pack and water.
The hike initially passed by some homes before I could see a forest service sign at the trailhead. It kept going uphill so my breathing was heavy straight away due to the high altitude. I then kept left at the bridge as followed the creek on the right side though the primitive nature of the trail made me wonder if I was going the right way as I kept thinking that this was supposed to be an easy trail according to the receptionist.
As I continued to ascend higher alongside the trail that seemed to be rougher and quite eroded, I did see some cascades along the way. But then I got to a really eroded part where there were some wooden boards that were supposedly attempting to hold back further erosion. That was a part where I scrambled along the creek then had to use my hands to scramble up to the wooden boards to continue.
At this point, I was thinking that I was very glad I didn’t take Tahia and Julie on this trail. But at the same time, I was still questioning whether I was going the right way or not.
As I continued further up the steep trail, it got a little easier than that eroded part but then I traversed what appeared to be a rockfall or landslide, and then the trail climbed some more as now some parts of the trail had little dirty patches of snow. Eventually at 7:20am, I finally got to the base of Cornet Falls with its aforementioned snow cone right at its base.
I guess the 20 minutes was accurate in the sense that it was a one-way time commitment. But it was by no means suitable for Tahia. Anyways, with the daylight fading fast, I documented what I could of the falls, especially that interesting snow cone that would make Elsa jealous.
The falls itself was said to be 80ft tall, and it was indeed tall as it was surrounded by red cliffs. That in itself made this falls pretty different.
Anyways, it was starting to get chilly from the spray of the falls so I started to make my way down. While on the one hand, it was “easier” going down the established parts of the trail, it was the eroded parts that were scary. Thankfully, I got back to the car at 7:45pm just as the sun had pretty much set.
When I got back to Colorado Blvd (the main drag through Telluride), I took a few more twilight photos of the gorgeous boulevard that was now lit up with the mountainous backdrop in semi-post-alpenglow light. The town was still a ghost town so I was able to walk right to the middle of the street and take pictures without anything save for a few parked cars and the headlights of some other cars coming up my way.
By 7:50pm, I was back at Clarks where Julie and Tahia were almost done eating their dinner. I went ahead and ate what Julie got for me (a salmon) along with some veggies and we had our own little Whole Foods-like dining experience. As the sun went down, the temperatures quickly dropped, and by the end of dinner at 8:45pm, it was bitterly cold.
And even though we were putting on layers, we’d still see locals entering and leaving the grocery store in flip flops with hardly a jacket worn. I guess they must be conditioned to freezing temperatures here, and the weather we were seeing was probably more on the balmier side for them. Clearly we weren’t used to it, and even I had to go back to the car and get my jacket, and I still felt pretty cold.
By 9pm, we were finally back in the room, where the heat was on, and it was warm and toasty to offset the plunging temperatures outside…