Day 6 - New Mexico, and Colorado Mountains!

This day (Saturday) began in Taos, where yesterday ended after spending a few hours exploring this busy and unusual city. The above picture is a very typical business lining the main street. Almost all are adobe style and many are arts or tourist-related enterprises. But the stores are different in that they sell things several steps up the scale from the typical touristy kitch of most shops. These shops really do seem to sell high quality and unique wares, much of it handmade by local artisans.
There is a major Native American presence here as well. A large Indian community exists here, and a casino is located just outside of town.
(Also frontier scout Kit Carson's home is located in Taos, which has a very long and interesting history).

I left Taos west across a large and barren scrub plain where the tallest plant is perhaps 4-ft high. There is a fair amount of light density development for the first few miles west of town. The most remarkable is what I can only describe as a large (~square mile) Hobbitt houses development. These houses are underground for the most part, with only part of the roof portion, and various chimneys and such extending above ground. There is a ' spaceship earth' center nearby and I assume this Hobbitt subdivision is related. I'm sure they're cooler in the summer and warmer in the cold winter on this high plain than a house of typical construction or adobe construction (which is a frame built house covered with plaster or concrete to give the adobe look; I saw several being built).

A few words about New Mexico. It is perhaps our most unique state. By this I mean it looks, feels, and sounds different than most of the other states. It isn't as homogenized as the rest of us have become. The culture and heritage of all ethnic groups runs deep and is proudly displayed. NM has many cultural and arts-related centers, and they seem ready to spend money on things that proclaim their culture. For instance, most if not all of the expressway overpasses are beautifully painted in a wide variety of Native American art. I don't mean just a portion of the overpass, I mean the entire overpass, pillars and all. They're beautifully done and each one is different, with varying words and symbols embossed in the concrete and painted on the tan background paint of the entire structure. I was impressed! This was an obviously major, and expensive, thing to do, and it has no reason except cultural celebration.

About 30 miles west of Taos is U.S. Rte 285. An amazing thing happens at this road. At the point where state route 64, going west from Taos, meets 285 everything changes. On the east side of 285 is flat alkaline plain with 3-ft scrub brush. On the west side are towering pine trees and forest stretching west for many miles. The trees don't gradually appear, they immediately appear ten feet west of the road. Ten feet east of the road is dead grass and scrub east as far as the eye can see. An amazing pencil line in the sand. I assume that route 285 started life as a trail utilized by native peoples for many centuries, and they purposely made the trail along the edge of the forest, perhaps for safety as well as hunting purposes.
Far northwestern NM is beautiful with forest-covered mountains rising higher as one travels west and north. The top picture above is typical of that region (though of course a picture doesn't do justice to the actual scenery).
I entered Colorado on US 84, heading north to Pagasa Springs (a good sized touristy town that is the site of some historic hot springs). I then went west to Durango. This entire length of roads had some nice areas, but I was surprised by the amount of light density development that has taken place all along this area. There are many 'ranchettes' spread throughout, and a lot of signs offering land for sale for subdivision.Traffic was moderately heavy, and once again, the day was turning very hot by late morning, even at elevations above 8,000 ft.
I'm still pondering something that I saw a lot of in northern NM and Colorado, and that is the obviously new trend of building houses on top of the many mesas and hills in the region: How do they get water up there!? One could drill down thousands of feet and not hit groundwater in those rock hills and mountains. Do public utilities pump it up when they're near towns? The ones far out, and there are many, perhaps have water delivered and stored in cisterns? Though I don't know how a truck would get to the home sites. I couldn't tell how the homeowners got up to them, but obviously there must be a driveway or trail somewhere.
Durango is a very cool, but busy, town. On the way into town I happened to pass by the Harley dealership and noticed that they were having a big outdoor party, with a live band, free food, and classic cars and bikes on display. I stopped in, had a burger and slaked my thirst with lemonade, and chatted for a bit with locals. I then headed downtown to walk the very nice downtown area and see the famous Durango/Silverton narrow gage railroad. My timing was perfect as the train departed less than 20 minutes after my arrival, allowing me to get very close and get a few pictures. I have a bit of a passion for old railroading equipment and steam locomotives in particular.
Riding north from Durango through Silverton and ultimately to the incredibly beautiful town and area around Ouray is one of the best rides I've ever had. It is an amazingly beautiful stretch of road, surrounded by the most indescribable scenery imaginable. It's motorcycle heaven, and in fact I saw hundreds of bikes in that stretch and in the towns along the road.
I set a personal record today - I crossed four mountain passes in excess of 10,000 ft in elevation. In fact, one was over 11,000 feet. And as evidence of the heat in this part of the country, it was barely even cool at those elevations. I recall other summer trips into the Rockies where coats were needed at those elevations.
All along the road, especially from Silverton to Ouray there is much evidence of the extensive mining that occurred here in the past. There are many old mining shacks and shafts still clearly visible in the valleys or hillsides. North of Silverton are some examples of huge modern-day mining where it appeared that entire mountains had been mined through, with the mountain sides covered with red slag and waste thousands of feet up the sides. This massive mining activity is in a rather restricted area and doesn't detract from the 99% that is beyond words in beauty and scale.
Ouray has to be one of the most unique towns in the country. It's a 'Swiss' village in name and style. The village is located deep in a valley with towering cliffs on three sides. Only to the north, where the valley extends north to the town of Montrose, is the scene anything but dramatic. I've never been to the European Alps but I can't imagine anything there more dramatic than the road coming into town from the south, and of the cliffs that surround Ouray on 3 sides.
The road north the 30 or so miles to Montrose is flat and dull compared to what came before. It follows the floor of the very broad valley north, and there is quite a bit of traffic and business activity, as well as many farms, along this road.
Montrose is quite a large town. Whereas the other towns I was at yesterday and today in NM and CO, especially Taos, Durango, Silverton, and Ouray, all have a strong obvious connection to the 19th century, Montrose looks like most of it was built post-1950. It certainly doesn't share the same look of history that Durango and other towns exude.
East of Montrose is the dramatic black river gorge, which I will explore early Sunday morning.
Because of more time spent exploring the sites my mileage the last two days has been less; 216 on Friday and 325 today.
Today was a day that'll be forever etched in my memory. The roads, the towns, the sights - - it was all very amazing.