Sunday, August 7, 2011

Trains, Planes and Automobiles - Vacation 2011

   I did not intend for our vacation to be an attempt to use every available mode of  transportation, it just worked out that way.  We left Lynchburg on Friday, July 29 on a U.S. Air (like we have a choice of airlines in Lynchburg) to Denver via a layover in Charlotte.  Both flights were late and we arrived in Denver in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday.  We had reserved a compact car from Hertz.  As I mentioned in an earlier post the gentleman at the counter suggested a larger vehicle if we planned any "mountain driving" (is there any other kind in Colorado?) so we upgraded to a Dodge Charger.  The Charger turned out to be an excellent idea and I miss the car already.  My '05 Maxima may find its way to the used car lot at our local Dodge dealership. On Saturday we drove to Colorado Springs, toured Pike's Peak, ran into Chaka Smart at our Marriott and ate at a micro-brewery.  A great day, all in all.

   On Sunday we drove to Cimarron, New Mexico where we dined at the Saint James Hotel.  Previous guests at the Saint James included Jesse James and Wyatt Earp.  Cool.  The search for the perfect burrito actually started and ended at the Saint James.  The "Smothered Burrito, Christmas Style" was hands down the best New Mexican food of the trip.  After dinner we decided to walk off the burrito and ambled out of the hotel and started our own self-guided tour of downtown Cimarron.  As we started our walk, a large lumbering animal crossed our path about half a block away (downtown Cimarron is only about four blocks long).  "Was that a bear?" I asked.  To which my wife replied "Let's go back inside!"

  On Monday morning a fellow named Gene, who is a school superintendent somewhere near St. Louis when he's not a Boy Scout, drove us to our son Brian's camp at Philmont Scout Ranch.  This is Brian's fifth summer working at Philmont.  It is Gene's twenty-seventh!  The only wildlife we encountered on this sojourn into the wilderness was a few chimpmunks (or "mini-bears" as they are referred to at Philmont) and some bedraggled Scouts who were in their sixth or seventh day of their trek.  Brian entertained us as he instructed these fourteen and fifteen year olds in black powder rifle shooting.

   Gene then took us back down the mountain with Brian who was off for a few days.  We then drove to Antonito, Colorado.  Driving through the Cimarron Pass we actually had a mountain lion sprint across the road in front of us!  He was too fast for a photo.  The only sites in Antonito are the Narrow Guage Railroad Hotel where we stayed (which made the Saint James look like The Greenbrier), the curiously named Windmill Restaurant where we had fairly decent Mexican food and the starting point for the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.  On Tuesday the three of us took the train all 54 miles to Chama, New Mexico, seeing spectacular scenery and taking lots of photos.

We rode a bus back to Antonito and then drove to Mosca, Colorado (via Alamosa, CO) and checked into The Great Sand Dunes Lodge, which was lots better than the Narrow Guage Railroad Hotel.  We woke up to loud bird noises and found that we had a hummingbird feeder on the patio of our room:
   We then went to The Great Sand Dunes National Park (the newest National Park, established in 2007) and  had a great talk from one of the Rangers who discussed the delicate ecosystem which produced and maintains the: sand dunes.  We then hiked up to Zapata Falls and more photo opportunities:
   We took Brian back to Philmont and then Ellen and I spent two relaxing evenings in Taos, New Mexico, staying at a lovely bed and breakfast called The Inn on the Rio.  It is run by a very nice couple who are wonderful.  We stayed here two years ago also and this time it felt like we were visiting old friends.
    On Friday we needed to return to Denver to catch our return flight (which left at 12:50 AM on Saturday morning).  We decided against traveling via Interstate 25 and drove small roads through the San Luis valley.  We made several stops, including a great lunch stop at Mother's Bistro in Buena Vista, Colorado and an hour or so stop in Breckenridge.  We arrived in Denver in time to visit with Ellen's cousin Janet and her husband Wes who treated us to a delightful meal and a tour of their home in Denver.  We then returned the Charger to Hertz (with the gas tank empty warning light on for the last ten or twelve miles) and flew home.
   We arrived exhausted, but it was truly a remarkable trip.  We were amazed to see Brian in his "natural habitat", found the nearly perfect burrito in Cimarron, were very fortunate to see some wildlife and amazing scenery and enjoyed catching up with Janet and Wes.
   But, alas, tomorrow is Monday and it's back to work!

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