Colorado South, Mesa Verde

When we lived in Golden, by Denver in Colorado, we were lucky to be able to travel in the Rockies.

Since the 1940´s the city of Golden has celebrated Buffalo Bill Days at the last weekend of July. It started with pancake breakfast at the Firehall on the Saturday morning. Our young grandson and I had a great time year after year. Watching the firemen flipping the pancakes in the air was fun. Here he is getting candy from a “real” cowboy. The whole town was there. Our eldest granddaughter took part one year in the parade with her group from Take-won-do.

There is a sub-culture in the mountains of alpaca and people who knit.

We are proud of the fact that Buffalo Bill and his wife are buried in Golden on Look-Out-Mountain high above the little 

In 2010, Christin and I made a long trip in the mountains in southern Colorado. We went down to the Ute and Navajo country on the border between Colorado and New Mexico.

I want to mention a little bit about popular literature from this area. The Denver Post compared two writers I like very much. The newspaper stated that “James D. Doss does for the Ute what Tony Hillerman has done for the Navajo.” I have had the possibility to visit Navajo Nation Reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. I have not visited the Ute Mountain Reservation, but it is next to the Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado, which Christin and I visited.

The spring of 2010 was very traumatic and dramatic for our family. On April 14 one member of our family in Colorado had to be transported to ER, the Emergency Room, at our hospital in Wheat Ridge, a suburb of Denver, and I sent an email to Christin in Stockholm: “Pack a suitcase and come right away.” Obviously we had some very scary days.

Do you by any chance remember April 14, 2010? But I shall tell you what went on in the word. That was the day the volcano on Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull, had its big eruption and all air-traffic closed down for all of Europe. It became the biggest air-traffic shut-down since the World War II. Christin could not book a seat the day I told her to come at once. She had to wait three days before she could even book a flight and that was for a flight 14 days later. You can easily imagine our anxiety both in Colorado and in Stockholm. When Christin finally came, health was very much restored and the person who had been so ill was now safe in a Rehabilitation Home for the next days, paid by the health insurance company. 30 days is very much a standard stay for our kind of health insurance, Medicare.

We had heard about the Mesa Verde, the Cliff dwellings in southern Colorado and Christin and I discovered how much we really wanted to visit this world-famous monument. It turned out to be a very long trip. We drove 1476 miles, or 2375 kilometers, mainly in an awesome, but sparsely populated, landscape.

To get a sense of distances, we can compare the country of Sweden with for instance the US State of California. The two parts of the world have somewhat the same geographic form. As a very rough estimate: Sweden is about 2000 miles long while California is about 800 miles long. With other words, we drove almost as long a stretch as California back and forth.

We traveled eight days and paid for hotel rooms seven nights.

We started in Golden and drove south on Interstate 25, the ”I-25”. At Walsenburg we went west on state road 160.  Our goal was primarily Mesa Verde. From Walsenburg it is 256 miles to the border of the Mesa Verde National Park. (That is 411 kilometers). 

But we did not drive directly to Mesa Verde. There is something unique off of SR, State Road, 160. On the right after 60 miles we went north to the Great Sand Dunes and National Park and Reserve. 20 miles straight north are the Dunes. It is worth visiting. By the parking place is a lunch restaurant and gift store. People walk for many hours on the sand.

At the end of the first day we stopped overnight in Alamosa. We had then traveled about 300 miles and the next morning we continued on State Road 160 through Durango. Durango is an important crossroads in the Rockies with more than 16 000 inhabitants, located 6,500 feet above sea level (2000 meters). I know people who have gone to college there at the Fort Lewis College, which gives a tuition-free education to Native Americans.

When you drive through the USA you find out how large the country is. For instance, the ten miles up from SR160 to the Tourist Center at Mesa Verde National Park was a winding and irritatingly long road, climbing up over a rugged mountain ridge to a sloping plateau, which is 7,000 to 8,500 feet above sea level. It did not help that there was roadwork and had that road crews had blocked off one of the lanes for several miles. We and other irritated (I assume they were irritated) tourists sat for forty-five minutes waiting while they emptied the opposite traffic, cars leaving Mesa Verde, till the pilot-car turned around and escorted us up to the tourist center. It did not help to think about the convenience for future tourists. We did not feel like sympathizing with authorities, located far away from modern life authorities that must transport heavy road equipment from the nearest city at high costs when we were eager to get to the next interesting place. From videos I can see on Internet today I know that the roads up there are now quite fine.

But we were well compensated for our travel. When we had checked in at the Far View Lodge and got our room with a wide view of the mountainous area, and stepped out on the balcony, and saw a herd of deer grazing below us all the residue of irritation disappeared. We could even see the impressive rock in Shiprock, in the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, some 40 miles away. I was glad to have seen it even if I could only see it from a distance as it plays a big role in Tony Hillerman´s novels.

The Far View Lodge is open April through October. It is the only lodging within the park. I cannot remember how we booked our room in 2010. Probably via telephone. Today, I always book via Booking.com. I do all my bookings with that company. They have been very good to me over the last ten years and it is good to have a strong organisation behind you if something goes wrong.

Please remember that The Far View Lodge is a “lodge”. It does not present itself as a “hotel”. If you read the comments on Tripadvisor you will see that people complain about the comfort. The Far View Lodge is comfortable enough, but it is a “Lodge”. It is not in the wilderness, though. It is in the middle of fabulous nature on a mountain plateau. In 2010 there was Wi-Fi only in the lobby of the Lodge, but according to write-ups about the place today, all rooms have Wi-Fi.

Mesa Verde could be compared to a pie-dish or at least half such a dish. A half circle of ragged mountaintops on the north side looks like scalloped edges. Across half of the “pie-dish” goes a deep ravine with the Mancos River. The Ancestral Puebloans who lived here for 700 years between 600 to 1300 A.D. must have felt very secure in their Kivas and Pit houses on top of the Mesa and in their Cliff Dwellings below inside the wall of the mountain, sheltered by the ragged mountaintops on the north side and the deep canyon of the Mancos river on the south. It struck me that the terrain actually functions like a European Medieval fortress with a moat.

Wikipedia writes that the Navajo—they are not descendants from the Pueblo—called these people Anasazi, which should be somewhat demeaning. The Pueblo do not want to be called by that term.

The reason the Pueblo left this area seems to have been a lack of water, a major drought.

We cannot remember which of the two parallel roads we took the day we arrived, eager to see as much of this UNESCO World Heritage Site (as of 1978), but it was probably the one that goes straight south from Far View Lodge to the Cliff Palace which is the best known of the many Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde. “Cliff Palace road” leads to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum with bookstore and coffee shop and information center. There is a very practical “loop” where you have a great view of the Cliff Palace in the cliff side across a ravine. The other road goes parallel to the west beyond a couple of canyons, but you must first travel on another winding road on the mountain slope for a few miles before turning south. The road to the Cliff Palace is about eight miles long and the other is about twelve miles long. The other road leads to the Metherill Mesa with the Long House and the Step House, ruins we saw on our guided tour. But you cannot drive to these specific monuments you have to walk from the end of that roads.  

For us Swedes it is of national pride to come to Metherill Mesa because our landsman Gustaf Nordenskiöld visited the family Metherill in 1891. He introduced scientific methods to collecting artifacts and he photographed the ruins and Cliff Dwellings. He published in 1893 The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde.

The next morning, we joined the guided tour and that was wise and fabulous. It is obviously the thing to do and we were a sizeable group looking at different old settlements on the top of the cliffs.  With a guided tour you can even down into the Cliff Dwellings, an unusual and unforgettable experience. I did not do so, but Christin followed the group down the steep metal staircases and then up back to the top of the cliff using a series of large ladders. “I will not do that again, but I am glad to have done it,” says Christin.

During the two whole days we spent in the Mesa Verde National Park we traveled both roads every day, on the first day with a guided tourist group. We spent the time very wisely. Mesa Verde must be a grand dream for any archeologist and for us it became a major mental building-block.

The US government has published an excellent map of Mesa Verde National Park on Internet: https://www.nps.gov/meve/planyourvisit/upload/mevemap2018_8x11.jpg

There is another interesting link:

https://www.visitmesaverde.com/discover/archaeological-sites

FLASH CRASH

At lunch on our second whole day, May 6, 2010, something truly scary happened. It was an unthinkable half hour for all those people on our planet who were connected to the Internet.

The stock market had for a while been a bit of a problem, but that was nothing new. The stock market is fickle, goes up and down, due to feelings and sometimes even hysteria.

But this day the behavior of the stock market was bizarre. It all started at 2:42, May 6th,  Eastern Standard Time—that is in New York and at Wall Street. For us at Mesa Verde it was 12.42, Mountain Time.

Christin and I were having lunch at the Far View Lodge when we heard what sounded like an uproar outside the restaurant. People were using the Wi-Fi in the lobby for stock trading. In front of their eyes industrial shares lost trillion dollars in value. That money just disappeared due to an artificially and criminally induced “dip.”  

Nobody in any financial world could understand what was happening. The first we heard was that an error had occurred somewhere, that somebody who was bidding had clicked the wrong button “or something”. People were stunned, guessing what could have happened. Today, when reading about it nine years later I begin to get a picture of this odd event from many articles and videos on the Internet. For instance, I can see a video from those moments where Jim Cramer, completely baffled, is looking at the charts saying, “this is very much 1987.” That is how serious it was. This “Flash Crash” lasted 36 minutes.

After twenty minutes or so, the market started swinging upwards and after 36 minutes it was back to where the dip had started.

Today “we” know roughly what happened: A young man in London Navinder Singh Sarao, a trader—and possibly some of his colleagues at the trading company where he was employed—had manipulated the market by “spoofing algorithms, layering, and front running”. It took five years for the authorities to make a legal case. On April 21, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice could extradite Sarao from England and indict him. Some posts say that he made 40 million dollars that day due to his Flash Crash.

Sarao lived in his parents´ “modest” home in the London Borough of Hounslow and has been given the nickname the “Hound of Hounslow.” The Court decided that Sarao was left in the ward of his father and brother due to having a form of autism. The 40 million dollars he had gained that day “had been stolen” from him and was never found.

Today, spoofing algorithms, layering, and front running is forbidden and properly controlled and that makes the world a bit safer.

Thinking back on that day and comparing the modern life on the Internet with life at the Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde a thousand years ago it seems that the Pueblo were much safer than we are. It can today be easier to steal people’s means to live and that is a depressing thought.

We left Mesa Verde early on May 7th. We had to cross the big plateau in the southern Rockies to get back to Golden and we were in a hurry as we expected a snowstorm on the mountain plains. I remember how we stopped in Cortez at a hotel and offered to pay to use their Wi-Fi. We needed to see how “the Dow” was doing, but they did not charge us. They knew how worried we were as they had also been worried about the stock market. It had recovered though from the deep dip the day before.

We stopped in Telluride for lunch.    The author Clive Cussler, born in 1931, has a passage in his novel “Chase” is set in Telluride.  Cussler’s (first) wife of many years was born in Telluride, so he knows it well. Clive Cussler writes mainly exciting under-seas novels with historical background. He is a very interesting person himself.

From Telluride we had 230 miles to our hotel in Gunnison, which was in our reach before the storm and we had time for one more stop, the important tourist place, the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. That is such an amazing but haunting place with walkways just above the steep black canyon walls. We hope many people get to visit.

In Gunnison we stayed at the Water Wheel Inn on Route 50 just before you come to the town, a university town. I learned to like that “modest” hotel (they call it that themselves) during the snowstorm. They had free Wi-Fi already in 2010. And there is a pleasant restaurant next to it. Gunnison is the seat for Western Colorado University, also known as Western. Between snow showers we managed to visit a popular ski resort Crested Butte.

On the last day of our trip we had 200 miles to travel from Gunnison to get home to Golden.

We drove from Gunnison to Salida to reach SR 285. The 285 is an important road over the mountain planes. It connects Denver with Santa Fé in New Mexico. The first couple of times you travel on 285 you will find it exciting. The plane is like an immense round pie-dish with the high mountains “like scalloped edges,” surrounding you in a distance. Otherwise it is a very long road. But the air is so clean on 10 000 feet over sea level and I like fresh air.

You might like the small place of Fairplay off the 285. I do. Internet states that Fairplay has 679 inhabitants. You can easily reach Fairplay from Breckenridge over the Hoosier Pass—22 miles on route 9—if you should have extra time for new vistas, visiting that ski resort. On Front Street in Fairplay there are four sophisticated art and craft stores and my favorite bead store. The Brown Burro Café on Main Street is one of those cozy places that let artists in the area put up their work for sale.

SOME OF THE LITERATURE ABOUT THE ROCKIES THAT I LIKE

About 25 years ago, I met Tony Hillerman at his reading at the Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Hillerman was already a cult figure and I had read most—or maybe all— of his novels about the Navajo. And some years later I discovered James D. Doss.

Hillerman´s novels about the Navajo are extremely interesting and so are Doss´s novels about the Ute on the Southern Ute Reservation in Colorado. Doss is quite spiritual and at this time in my life, when life has slowed down, I have the time for the spiritual, and I like it.

Doss talks about Socrates and likes him. I really like Socrates. The way I see him is that he was the first to tell people to think for themselves. I feel comfortable with anybody who at least knows something about the Greek philosopher who made our modern world possible.

James D. Doss had a big following. What I like about Doss is that he writes the way my friends in Pennsylvania would speak when I lived there in the 1980s and 1990s. It feels very homey to read his texts. I had a bit of a problem getting used to his slower pace after having just read some racy novel by Lee Child, but I slowed down and became quite comfortable with his writing. In his, a bit old-fashioned and ornate style filled with curlicues, he uses many adjectives, which is unusual today.

Doss´ books are reader-friendly. He chats with the reader and brings us into the story that way. He also had the habit of telling the reader what a character is thinking by using italics and some people do not like that, but I find it economical. That way he does not have to write “he/she was thinking”. Come to think about that: that gives Doss space to use all those adjectives.

Doss shows in his novels how “white” people and “black” people and “American native” in southern Colorado can get along beautifully and be best friends. After a hundred pages or so the reader (me) has no feeling of “race.” On the other hand, Doss lets (I believe he tries to be humorous) his American Indian characters talk about American Indians of other tribes with somewhat negative description—just like people in Europe say not-so-flattering-things about nationals of neighboring countries.

Doss was an electrical engineer and started writing as a hobby his books about Charlie Moon, a rancher and sometime tribal police investigator on the Southern Colorado Ute reservation in Colorado. James D. Doss passed away, sadly, in 2012 in the year when he would have been 73 years old. He lived then in New Mexico.

Tony Hillerman’s daughter Anne has continued her father’s work. She was scheduled at Mesa Verde for at reading of her latest novel a couple of days after our visit and “everybody” was excited and was looking forward to meeting her.

Have a great day

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