Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Escaping Texas Heat, July 2009

Having endured a number of 100°+ temperatures in Boerne, Texas, before Independence Day, Stella, Max, Sadie, and I decided to summer in Colorado, at least until our money ran out. So we departed Boerne for a holiday in Ouray, anticipating the coolness I remember so well from my late 1950’s-60’s five-year sojourn in Colorado Springs. Alas, those were the days before Al Gore invented global warming. Even so, we packed jackets dictated by my memories of broiling steaks out of doors in the chill July and August Colorado evenings. My final e-mail to the family included “With this Texas heat, we are considering staying in Colorado forever, or at least until the first snowfall.”

The first day went well. We were particularly impressed with the green fields and roadsides of West Texas. I especially enjoyed seeing the prosperity of Nolan County, a place of interest in both Stella’s and my family histories. My great-great-grandmother, Margaret Hale Farris, had a ranch there for a time around 1880, as reported in the US Census for that year. Living and working on the ranch were a number of people including her daughter, Alice Ann, son-in-law Bailey Isbell, their eldest child, plus other of Margaret’s children, grandchildren, and a widower son-in-law. Apparently, the 1880’s were a hard period for Nolan County immigrants, especially farmers. For reasons unknown, the Farris and Isbell families soon (I.e., in less than ten years) returned to the lush farming country of the Red River Valley. A legend of the time is that someone came across an abandoned dugout in Nolan County and found a note in a fruit-jar at its entrance. The note said, “20 miles to water, 40 miles to wood, 50 miles to a store, 6 inches to Hell. Gone to live with wife’s folks.”

Stella’s family lived there for many years. Her great-great-grandmother, Celia Ann Carolyn Nettles Finklea Slade Martin, is buried there in the Decker Cemetery. Celia, born in Alabama in 1832, was married, first, to Enos Finklea, then, following Enos’ death, James Slade, and, finally, Bill Martin. Her tombstone reads “C A C Wife Martin.” Celia had her three children with Enos Finklea. One child, Georgia Alice Finklea, was the mother of Stella’s beloved grandmother “Monnie.” Another was the grandfather of Tula Finklea better known as Cyd Charisse. We visited the Decker Cemetery and located Celia’s grave.

Decker Cemetery, Nolan County, with windmills

Grave of Celia Ann Carolyn Nettles

Celia’s two daughters married brothers named Sowell. Neither marriage was successful due to a) Neither Sowell was willing to work (Finklea version), or b) “Finklea girls are good-lookin’, but they’re no good” (Sowell version). One, Georgia Alice, took her two children, left her Sowell husband, and sued for divorce. After waiting for a year or so while the sheriff, after much search, located William E. W. Sowell, the divorce was granted, and she married Mason Bush, Stella’s great grandfather.

Nolan County Electricity Generating Windmills
One source of the newly found prosperity of Nolan County is its predictable wind. Wind farms are everywhere. Also, in some areas, there is much more arable land than I recall from my one earlier visit. This year, it looks particularly good because that area, all the way northwest to the New Mexico border, has received more rain than has the rest of Texas. It is not just the beautiful irrigated cotton fields that are green, but roadsides and fencerows as well. Some views showed wind farms overlooking oil wells pumping in lush cotton fields. That is prosperity.

Picture of Prosperity

Friends and relatives along our path must forgive our not stopping or calling --- we were hell-bent for cooler climes.

On our second night out, we arrived at the Adobe and Pines Resort in Taos. The Adobe and Pines was a splurge but well worth it. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for. So it was with the Adobe and Pines. We stayed two nights. Taos, at well over 7,000 feet, was hot in the day, but got cool at night. Each adobe building had a swamp cooler and the dry atmosphere made them effective. Unfortunately, New Mexicans and, as we were to learn, Coloradoans have not noticed the gradual warming of the environment. One suspects they are somewhat like the frog who was put into the pot of cool water on a stove. The stove began heating, very gradually, until, by the time the frog first noticed, he was boiled. Our first dinner in Taos was at a very nice restaurant, the Frontier. The food was excellent, the setting was beautiful, the service superb, and the temperature pushed 90°F with sun pouring through the westward facing window. At lower altitudes, we had days like that in the 60’s, so we started air conditioning our homes. Somehow, residents of New Mexico and Colorado seem to believe, “In Summer, ours highs approach 90 and our lows approach 40. That means our average temperature is about 65, and no one should complain about that. Especially Texans!” I understand their logic, but believe it flawed, especially from 4 pm to midnight.

The Adobe and Pines

But, we loved the Adobe and Pines.

Adobe and Pines Office

Breakfast Room

View at Breakfast

View after Breakfast

Dog Friendly Adobe and Pines

Max and Sadie Meet Bebe

So did Max and Sadie. Also, on our second evening, we had a nice dinner at the Stakeout Restaurant a few miles south of Taos. It has a wonderful view of the Rio Grande Valley and the Sangre de Cristos. We sat indoors, out of the sun, where it was about 82°F. Another fascinating site in Taos, or Rancho de Taos a few hundred yards from our Inn is the mid 1770’s mission of San Francisco de Asis. It appears to have been built recently, but is over 200 years old.
San Francisco de Asis

The day from Taos to Ouray was beautiful, and very comfortable in our air-conditioned car. The scenery, of course, is breathtaking.

Chimney Rock
One view of mountains, deep blue skies, and white clouds was quickly replaced by another, even better. I lived in Colorado Springs for five years in the late 1960’s, came to love Colorado, but had never had opportunity to see the area above Silverton. It is fascinating in scenery and history. In 1996, Stella and I visited the Durango area and stayed in a lodge on the Vallecito Reservoir. Our son-in-law Joel Porter, his father Harvey, and I took the round trip coal fired, steam driven, narrow gauge railway trip between Durango and Silverton. It was a great trip, and I was eager to see the “Million Dollar Highway” from Silverton to Ouray.


It is spectacular. Please excuse overuse of “spectacular” in my descriptions. In Colorado, it is hard to avoid. Red Mountain, looming against the deep blue sky and white clouds, was one of many standouts. Against grammatical logic, in Colorado, standouts are routine.

Red Mountain North of Silverton

Red Mountain, a Better Look
As everyone knows, colorado means red in Spanish.

Ouray was named after a famous Chief of the Utes. Americans honor him because he signed our treaties. After we drove his tribe out, we even named the city for him. Ouray sits on the Uncompahgre River at its beginning after Canyon Creek flows over Box Canyon Falls. The Falls are spectacular phantasmagoric, though impossible to photograph well due to curtaining by complexly eroded granite. One never gets more than a glimpse.

A Trio from Box Canyon Falls and the Origin of the Uncompahgre River

The Uncompahgre A Few Yards From Our Room

Ouray is crowded with tourists, apparently year around. In winter, it is the ice-climbing capital of the world --- and I thought simple rock-climbing was tough.

Ayn Rand, noted author of many paeans to selfishness, used Ouray as the setting for Galt’s Gulch in her most famous work, Atlas Shrugged. In it, John Galt established a haven for selfish people, safe from socially conscious fools who thought they could help people by helping people. Also, Ms. Rand seemed to think a woman could only love a man after he raped her. Ayn Rand was a refugee from the early Soviet Union and, no doubt, that shaped some of the ideas I find strange. Ms. Rand spent a good bit of time in Ouray completing Atlas Shrugged. One night, I walked out by the Uncompahgre and called, “John Galt lives!” There was no response, not even an echo. In Indianapolis during graduate school in the early 1960’s, a number of my friends, who seemed to be perfectly nice people, had social get-togethers listening to records of Ayn Rand lectures. Of course, that was at about the same time as the rise of the Indianapolis based John Birch Society. I should add, if you can suspend disbelief long enough, she crafted good stories. The entire southwest quarter of Colorado, and much of the rest, were sites of much silver, gold, copper, and lead mining in the 19th century. Ouray honors that history with a dynamic statue of a miner inserting a steel bit into a drilling machine. You have to look carefully to see he is not moving. The sculptor was Michael McCullough of nearby Ridgway, just down the Uncompahgre River a few miles (NB. Those hills are full of artists).

"Miner" by Michael McCullough

In Ouray, we checked into the minimally dog-friendly Victorian Inn, where we planned to spend three nights. The exterior is very attractive. When I identified myself and showed my reservations, the concierge (I think that may be what she was and I will not look it up to be sure) began a well-rehearsed spiel on our responsibilities as pet-owners. I expect and respect the necessity for rules. For example, most places say, “You must clean up and pick up after you pets both inside and outside.” At the Victorian Inn I was told, “If your dog has an accident in the room, call immediately, and we will send housekeeping to clean it up. If we find it after you check out, we will have to take the room out of service for a day and will charge you for an extra night. Do not let your pets walk on our lawns. There is an empty field across the street, and you can take them there.” I must have conveyed my irritation to this approach to both to the concierge and Stella. When we arrived at the room, it was closed and very hot, my guess is high 80’s. There was a $17. box fan sitting on the floor but very poor cross-ventilation (good windows in front, and a two-foot by two foot bathroom window in back. It was past mid-night before we got it cool enough to sleep. Naturally, there was no air conditioning or evaporative cooler (so efficient where it is dry! --- so cheap!). As expected, the morning dawned deliciously cool and stayed that way for a few hours. While it was still cool we informed the concierge we would depart on the next day. We had a delightful trip up Box Canyon and saw the falls. Around 1 pm, we returned to the room to find the maid had her cart outside. No problem, it was time for lunch. We picked up a couple of sandwiches and took the dogs to the Hot Springs Park where they has a glorious time on the lawn, making friends with some lacrosse players.

Ouray Hot Springs Park

The sandwiches were excellent as were the shade trees and the breeze.

On returning to the room, we found the maid’s cart in the same place. Stella checked inside to see the progress of the make-up. There was no one there, the bathroom was clean but the bed unmade. Stella located the maid and asked her just to make the bed, everything else being OK. The maid came in, stripped the bed, took the linen with her, and left. Stella was beginning to steam. After about 30 minutes, the maid returned with the concierge, who asked, “Is there a problem?” Stella replied that there was, indeed, and described it. The concierge said the maid had found a yellow stain on the sheets, therefore being unable simply to make the bed. Stella told her that neither we, nor our dogs, were responsible for any alleged yellow stain, to which the concierge asked, “Did I say you were?” Things improved greatly when they left.

The Victorian Inn, Ouray

Victorian Inn Dog Friendly Preserve

That evening we had a lovely dinner in the Papillon On Main restaurant. It is new and it is Cajun, a surprise in Colorado. Another restaurant, with live honky-tonk piano music, had an hour’s wait and we hate to leave our dogs kenneled in the room for as long as it would have taken. The service and food at Papillon were fine. We wish them luck in their endeavor.


Ouray Downtown Medical Clinic

Ouray Grocery Store

A Pressure Cooker of Tourists

The next morning, on checking out, I found the concierge in a strange mood, almost pleasant. Later, when I told Stella, she said, "Se is happy to be rid of 'That Red-Headed Bitch in One-Seventeen'."

Lake City, our next destination, is about 20 crow miles east of Ouray, and there is a four-wheel drive route of about 29 miles. Folks who drive small sedans (i.e., us) must travel 109 miles, but they are beautiful and interesting miles. We drove north, down the Uncompahgre valley, to Montrose, turned east to the Gunnison Reservoir, then south to Lake City. Lake City, at 8,666 feet above sea level, is almost 1,000 ft higher than the 7,767 feet altitude in Ouray. The altitude did affect us. When I lived in Colorado Springs, I twice climbed Pike’s Peak along the Barr Trail, back and forth across its face. Pike’s Peak, at 14, 084 feet, is quite high and the thin atmosphere was a challenge when I climbed it, last. When I climbed it last was in the summer of 1959. It is amazing what a half-century will do to lessen one’s stamina. But, we did OK.

Lake City is lovely. Its scenery, lacking the looming walls of Ouray’s Uncompahgre gorge, is almost as beautiful and the town is far more laid back. No longer were we in a pressure cooker filled with tourists. We had lunch, a wonderful meal, at the Old Timer café, where we were charmed by the waitress. The only sign in the café asked, “In a hurry? Good luck, this is Lake City.” The additional thousand feet ameliorated the heat, also, although we were gone before late afternoon.

Slumgullion Pass lies between Lake City and Creed. Although it is quite high, 11,000 + feet, it is not a pass over the continental divide. Nearby is an area called the Slumgullion Earthflow, which blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River about 700 years ago, forming Lake San Cristobal. There is something particularly beautiful about lakes resulting from natural phenomena as compared to dammed reservoirs. Lake San Cristobal is very nice. Beyond Slumgullion Pass, we crossed the continental divide and started our descent into the Rio Grande drainage area. We felt we were coming home, even though our area drains directly into the Gulf of Mexico without going to the Rio Grande. Such it is to be a Texan.

Clear Creek drains into the Rio Grande but passes over a lovely falls on its way. My photo of the falls did not do justice to Clear Creek’s broad flat plain prior to its plunging over the falls.

Clear Creek Falls

Approaching Creede, we passed some broad flat, water soaked plains before the Rio Grande formed itself into a rapid mountain stream. Creede sits on its Willow Creek tributary.

Willow Creek enters Creede

Creede is another old scenic and historic mining town. One historic moment in Creede witnessed the well-deserved demise of Bob Ford, who assassinated Jesse James. Likely, Bob Ford and Jesse James were much of the same ilk, but, in the 1939 movie, Tyrone Power portrayed Jesse to John Carradine’s grimy Bob. My impression was while people in Ouray are drinking French Chardonnay, people in Creede are drinking Coors.


Old Firehouse, Creede

Rio Grande below Creede

Rio Grande above South Fork

We had reservations at dog-friendly motels and inns through Ouray. Since our schedule from there on was uncertain, we trusted fate to find places to sleep on the way home. On the evening before our departure, we began calling ahead to find a place in South Fork. After a number of no vacancy reports, we came down to the South Fork Lodge, where we learned there was a vacancy. The proprietor apologized that it had two bedrooms and they had to charge $75 per night. We accepted. After leaving Creede, we arrived at the Lodge and our quarters for two nights. The quarters were fine, but not plush. The 1930’s knotty pine interior was really very nice, though the 1930’s linoleum floors, with many burned holes from various late 20th century incidents, were not completely presentable. On the wall was a dated Oriental print of mountains and water which made me nostalgic for a similar print my late Grandmother Baker had in her living room in Soper, Oklahoma. The bed was fine. During our sojourn, Max pulled one of the pillows on the floor and proceeded to destroy it along with its pillowcase. In addition to our rental, we left a check for $25 noted “for pillow replacement”, which was more than necessary for that pillow and that case. I only wish we had borrowed the box fan on the first evening we were there. The South Fork Lodge is, primarily, an RV Park. We had a great view of the AC unit on top of a $250K camper next door. It looked cool.

Our home in South Park

On our free day at South Fork, we followed the advice of our friend, Layman Hendrex (who recommended Lake City) and made the short trip to the overlook above Wolf Creek Pass. Just before arriving at the Pass, we saw the Entrance to Lobo Overlook, aka FR 402. Including this visit and the five years of living in Colorado, this is the most interesting view I have seen, there. The view from Pike’s Peak is good, but this is better. The San Juan Mountains are very nice. Here are a few views I recorded from the Lobo Overlook:

We drove east from South Fork through Alamosa and Monte Vista to Walsenburg. If you ever find yourself in Walsenburg at breakfast any time, I recommend Huerfano’s Café and their huevos rancheros with green chile sauce.

In 1961, I had a memorable experience in a roadside restaurant in Walsenburg. We were being transferred from Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs to attend graduate school at Indiana University School of Dentistry in Indianapolis. Enroute, we stopped for lunch in Walsenburg. As I walked in, carrying 22 month old John in my right arm, I felt him collapse at the waist, immediately returning to vertical with a fistful of French fries in his right fist. The diners, whose table he raided, were wracked with laughter. That is the day we learned he was right-handed.

The broad I-25 right-of-way bears little resemblance of the Raton Pass I traversed so often in the 1950’s, though there are still a few escape routes for runaway trucks.

Northeastern New Mexico and the Northwest Texas Panhandle are interesting, but we were all a bit tired by this point and looking forward to getting home. Another night in the nice, air conditioned, unqualified dog-friendly Lubbock Days Inn South was delicious. Before we acquired Max and Sadie, Stella and I stayed, primarily, in Holiday Inns while on the road. There are few Holiday Inns that accept dogs, and those that do have rather high surcharges. I am pleased to pay up to about $25/per stay/per dog, but more is too much. A number of La Quinta Inns take dogs, and, so do Days Inns. If all Days Inns are as comfortable as the one in Lubbock, we will use them a lot in the future. Marriott’s Residence Inns are very nice and take dogs. If staying several nights, the $100/visit pet surcharge amortizes to a reasonable amount, but it is too expensive for one night.

The dogs loved the trip. They found every stop interesting and fun. They were particularly entertained by the goats, chickens, and other dogs in Taos. Their particular joy comes in having the whole pack, Nana, me, and each other, in one space.

Happy Travelers

At home, their favorite spaces are the screened porch and the den, but only so long as we are all there. They enjoy the confinement of the four of us in the same car. On this trip, they learned that chickens are at least as interesting as other dogs. Their one face-to-face visit with a goat ended with the retreat of all parties.

"Watch that cabrón, Max"

Colorado is a wonderful place to visit. When I lived there, my favorite season was winter. Travel being hard during winter, I recommend travelers go in spring or fall. Avoid summer, it is too hot and they have not mastered air conditioning or, even, ventilation. But it has spectacular scenery.

Some views showed wind farms overlooking oil wells pumping in lush cotton fields. That

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