Canyons and Mountains

June, 2017
By Jack Welsch

After a another magnificent winter in Sun City, we set off for the drive home.  Once again, we skipped the TSA nonsense and used the opportunity to see more of the US.  With due apologies to the folks that live in the flatlands that make up the center of the country, the plan again this year was to see some sites in the west and then sprint through the midwest.

Thursday, June 1, 2017 – Sun City to Chinle, AZ

We had packed the car on Wednesday after the weekly Bell Tea Dance, were up early, closed the house, said good-bye to John, Pat and Thor and were on the road at 8:13. After a "gourmet" breakfast at Micky D's we were on the road by 8:35. Rather than take I-17 all the way to Flagstaff as suggested by the GPS, I got off at Camp Verde and headed east on AZ-60, then north on AZ-87. A very pretty drive and we were off the Interstate!

All of this put us at the very quaint  La Posada Hotel in Winslow a bit before lunchtime. Lunch was at its Turquoise Room. Ambiance was great; service was good. I had fajitas and Linda French dip. My fajitas were great; Lin's French dip was just OK.

The ride to Chinle was really pretty; very remote and the scenery constantly changing. We encountered very little traffic and the roads were mostly straight. All in all, a nice drive. Chinle is not exactly a garden spot but is just outside Canyon de Chelly. We arrived at the Holiday Express at about 3:00. It's not a bad place but the room smelled pretty stale. There was only one easy chair in the room so I sat by the pool, even though it was cloudy. Pretty soon it started raining a bit so I retreated to the room. Dinner was at the hotel and it was just OK. Of course, being in the Nation, no wine was available.

Friday, June 2, 2017 - Canyon de Chelly and Chinle, AZ to Cortez, CO

Canyon de ChellyAfter breakfast at the hotel, we stopped briefly at the Canyon de Chelly welcome center, then set off on the south rim trail. While Canyon de Chelly is cannot compare with the Grand Canyon in terms of awesome magnificence, I think it is actually prettier and most definitely worth a visit.

At the second (Tsegi) overlook, I got talking to a guy who was looking across the canyon with binoculars. That’s how I met Teddy Henry, who lives in the canyon. In fact, he pointed out his house near the far side. While he had things for sale on the tailgate of his pickup, he did not even mention them until we had talked for quite a while. He had several books of photos by famous photographer Ansel Adams.

Teddy & LindaTeddy said he had bought one featuring the National Parks because it had a picture of Canyon de Chelly on the cover. When he got it home, he discovered that it had a full page of his own mother holding his older brother, Ben! Other books carried the same photo, at least one with a caption giving names. There was also a photo of his late sister, Alice. His jewelry was magnificent so Lin bought a wonderful inlaid necklace for $140 minus a $10 discount. He gave us his address and asked us to send a postcard from near our cottage in PA. In the “small world” department, it turns out that he has relatives in Northumberland, PA; he showed us a highlight on a map. We stopped at each of the remaining overlooks on the south rim and each had its own beauty. The south rim trail is essentially a dead end so we had to retrace our path. On the way out, we stopped again at Tsegi to thank Teddy for a great experience talking to him.

Since we were passing Thunderbird Lodge just before lunchtime, we shopped at their trading post and had lunch at their cafeteria. We don't normally like cafeterias but it was surprisingly nice, the food was good and the staff was delightful.

After lunch, we took the north rim trail. As the woman at the woman at the welcome center had warned, it was not as interesting as the south rim but, unlike the south rim, we could take it one way, exiting the park on the east side. At Antelope House Overlook, there was a bit of a walk to anywhere with anything worth seeing. Lin started out worth me but turned back while I continued to two excellent viewpoints. By the time I returned, I found Linda chatting with a Navajo woman from whom she bought a necklace and bracelet. Both were very nice pieces.

The GPS wanted us to get to Cortez via US 191 but the woman at the visitors’ center had suggested the route I'd already selected; BIA 13 over a mountain pass and then US 491 through Shiprock. BIA 13 to and over the mountain was absolutely outstanding. In fact, Lin said, "This puts Sedona to shame!"

We arrived in Cortez at about 4:00. We had never stayed in a Baymont Inn before so decided to give it a try. A lot of hotel rooms have only one easy chair so, when she checked in, Linda asked to upgrade to a suite so we'd both have a place to sit. The good news is that they gave it to us at the same price since it was pre-paid and they didn't know how to charge extra! I’ve come to accept that things have been “dumbed down” so that what is billed as a suite is not the traditional multi-room arrangement but at bare minimum they have separate sleeping and relaxing areas with a place to sit comfortably to read or watch TV.

The bad news is that our room was not a suite at all and there was still only one easy chair! Linda went back down to the desk to say there had been a mistake and was told this "larger and nicer room" was considered by them to be a suite! To make matters worse, the patio doors opened onto a balcony shared by other rooms and there was only a blackout curtain so the choice was between “cave” and “fishbowl”! No more Baymont for us!

Taking the easy way out, we walked next door to the Destination Grill for dinner. Both of us had lamb chops and they were pretty good. From there we drove to the Colorado Cultural Center in town as they have an Indian dance demonstration each night at 7:00. We got there a little early so got to look around the small display area. The people there were very friendly. The show lasted an hour and was quite good. Back in the room, Lin watched TV while I wrote.

Saturday, June 3, 2017 - Mesa Verde and Cortez to Durango, CO

I was up at 6:00 and Lin at 7:00.  After an OK breakfast at the hotel’s very spartan breakfast room, we were on the road before 8:30 for the short drive to Mesa Verde National Park.  After a brief stop at the visitors' center, we entered the park itself and took the torturous road over a mountain to the Chapin Mesa road.  Some of the switchbacks were, let us say, "exciting" and Linda was not at all a happy camper.  I stopped at several sites along the way for photos but the first time Lin got out of the car was at Spruce House, where a short walk took us to an overlook with Spruce House, a 100-room cliff dwelling, a short distance away. At the overlook was a ranger challenging anyone who wanted to take the trails starting there to be sure they had enough water and that they knew the going would be strenuous.  I asked him about other places to see without excessive walking and he suggested several places to visit.  In the “small world” department once again, we learned that he has relatives in Abington, PA, near our son, Steve.

Based on the ranger's suggestions, we took Mesa Top Loop, stopping many times, the last near Sun Temple, where there is a great view of palace House, the largest of the cliff dwellings.  Outstanding!!

The 20-mile ride out of the park was as stimulating as it was on the way in and Lin had her eyes closed for most of it.

The drive to Durango was a short one and we arrived shortly after noon.  After a short walk, we settled on lunch at "The Palace" near the train station.  The meal was good and we treated ourselves to 2 glasses each of an excellent Oregon pinot gris.  After a further walk, we retreated to the Fairfield Inn.  Here was had a suite that, while not being a true multi-room one, at least had a proper sitting area.

Linda made 7:00 dinner reservations at Ken & Sue's in town.  I had a hell of a time finding a parking spot so dropped Lin off in front of the restaurant to get our table and continued searching.  Finally put it in a dirt lot that was really for the railroad and walked the 2 blocks to the restaurant.  The meal (tuna steak for me and goat cheese and sun-dried tomato coated chicken for Lin) was very good. Our server was Madie and she was fantastic.  During dinner, we got talking to a couple that were somewhat local and asked about Silverton and the route onward.  They strongly suggested we stay In Salida.

Upon returning to the room, I hooked up my laptop to the TV with HDMI and we watched Amazon Prime.

Sunday, June 4, 2017 - Durango, Silverton and Salida, Colorado

I was up at 6:45 and Lin shortly thereafter.  After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we were on the road at 8:20, taking US 550 to Silverton. The ride was absolutely beautiful but also pretty tiring given the many switchbacks without guardrails!  We arrived in Silverton right at 9:30 and stopped at visitor's center where I was given wrong directions to the Old Hundred Gold Mine. Consequently, we barely made the 10:00 tour.

The 1-hour tour was fun and very informative.  Back in town, we ate an early lunch at the Grand Imperial Hotel so we could beat the train crowd.  We finished our lunch just as the train arrived and walked a bit through town before getting gas and continuing north.  It was more of the same mountainous terrain for a while but, eventually, we turned right on US 50 in the rather cute town of Montrose.  US 50 had its own ups and downs but was not nearly as “exciting” as 550.  

We had decided to try a “mom and pop” hotel and arrived at the Salida Inn & Suites at about 4:30. After hanging around in the room for a while, we drove into town and had a little walk around with a look at the kayakers on the river before dinner on the sidewalk terrace at Currents.  Fish and chips for Lin and black pepper encrusted halibut for me.  After watching the kayakers a bit more, we were back in the room before 7:00.

Monday, June 5, 2017 - Bent's Old Fort and Salida, CO to Salina, KS

I had assumed I'd be going north on I-25 from Pueblo to Colorado Springs but my GPS told me to take I-25 south for a mile and then continue on US50.  As I did so, I saw a sign for Bent\'s Old Fort, which I've wanted to see for some time but figured it was too remote to bother with.  It turned out that we could do that without going far out of our way.  Bent’s Old Fort was a privately owned and operated trading post along the Santa Fe trail in the 1840s.  It had been destroyed but has been completely restored as a National Historic Site and is well worth a visit.

With the time change, it was after 7:00 when we arrived at a not-so hot AmericInn in Salina, KS.  Dinner was a few miles away at Tucson’s Steak House.  Lin's Filet was good but my strip steak was disappointing.  Having seen a zillion feedlots during the day, I’d expected better but oh, well...

Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - Salina, KS to Terre Haute, IN

This was a pound-the-pavement day; I-70 all the way.  Traffic was heavy at times but there were relatively few serious tie-ups except for a big one east of St. Louis. However, the GPS had warned us and, though the GPS said the fastest way was still through the mess, I took the easy way and went around. Not only did I avoid the tie-up, we had a relaxing drive on some back roads.  With another time change, it was about 7:15 when we got to the Holiday Inn and Suites in Terre Haute.  We enjoyed a very good Mexican meal at "Real Hacienda" near the hotel.  Back in the room, we watched some more Amazon Prime and crashed.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - Terre Haute, IN to Lamar, PA

This was another pound-the-pavement day but at least a we had a few highway changes to break it up.  Again, there were lots of construction zones but not a single serious backup. We left I-70 at Columbus and took I-71 and I-76 to I-80.  I-76 through Akron was not a lot of fun but, still, no we encountered no major problems. We stopped for our last night on the road at the Hampton in Lamar, PA.  Dinner was some pretty good wings at Hangar Nine in nearby Lock Haven.

Thursday, June 8, 2017 – Lamar, PA to Wrighter Lake, Thompson, PA

It's our 49th wedding anniversary; who'd have believed it!  Fortunately, we were able to cut across country rather than continuing east on I-80 and then north on I-81.  Given the construction on 81, that was an especially attractive option.  Except for a construction detour near Hughesville, it was a nice change from the interstate.  Actually, the fact that only 2 of our 8 days was Interstate driving is amazing.  We stopped for lunch in Thompson and at the post office in Susquehanna before ending up at the cottage at about 1:00.  After emptying the car, doing a little work to ready the cottage and a bit of visiting, we headed to Fern Hall Inn in Dundaff for dinner and overnight.  There was a time when Fern Hall was great.  Unfortunately, it's changed hands and was terrible; I cannot recommend it at all.  What a lousy way to end our trip and celebrate our anniversary!