Howdy, Friends and Family. Home again. Here are some notes on the end of our stay in Westcliffe:
Friday's outing du jour was a mountain backroads drive to Lake Isabel -- about 45 miles SE of Westcliffe. Our motorcycle-riding neighbor had recommended the drive and the restaurant at the lake. So we headed there for lunch. The road climbs from the Wet Mountain Valley into the Wet Mountains. (Isn't it interesting, the difference between the names given the two mountain ranges that encompass the Valley - Wet on one side, Sangre de Cristo on the other. I suspect the Sangres (which extend south to Santa Fe) were named from the other (west) side - glowing red at sunset.) We topped out at 10,700 ft. First two-thirds of the journey was through mountain ranch land, with a scattering of remote cabins thrown in. Here are a couple of pictures:
A lot of the road was pretty washboarded. It's hard to find an optimum speed on that type of a road. Susie didn't like 60 mph.
Last third was through the San Isabel National Forest. We finally connected with the highway near Bishop's Castle and proceeded to the lake and its restaurant. Menu touted a Tex-Mex theme, but I went Okie with chicken-fried steak and Susie had fried spaghetti - tasted good, but very garlicy.
The Wikipedia link above says Lake Isabel served two social purposes: it was considered "placation" for the Ludlow Massacre (we visited that site last year) in which 18 civilians were killed by the CO National Guard in 1914. That sort of reparation is rather unusual. Also, the lake was an early effort by Teddy Roosevelt to set aside national forest areas for public use - for tourists, in other words.
We took a route home that was mostly paved highway.
Chuckwagon Dinner and Show.
Saturday's big event was a chuckwagon dinner followed by a Sons and Brothers show. This was held at a ranch in the valley called A Painted View Ranch - really. I'd guess it means that the view from there is as good as a painting. The goal of the owners, as stated by the manager/emcee, is to keep the West in Westcliffe. The ranch has a large arena and accompanying facilities, of which there's a nice picture at the ranch website, that is used for various equestrian events. This past week it was the scene of a cutting horse competition. I went out on Saturday morning and watched some of that - kids in the 9 - 11 years-old category, from all over the west. Junior and adult divisions later in the day. Fascinating, but to a novice viewer, gets a little repetitive. The horse makes lots of acrobatic moves to prevent a separated calf from returning to its herd. The rider hangs on for dear life, though I suppose he or she may be communicating via knee pressure and body language.
Anyhow, the ranch also puts on a summer series of chuckwagon dinners and shows. We didn't know about these dinner shows when we made our RV reservations to encompass three weekends, but bought tickets when we found about the show. Thus, we book-ended our Westcliffe vacation with Sons and Brothers concerts. The emotional highlight was when they did a John Denver song to celebrate the birthday of his uncle who was in the audience. Here's the Youtube link to John Denver performing the song, Wild Montana Skies. The song's chorus:
Oh Montana, give this child a home
Give him the love of a good family and a woman of his own
Give him a fire in his heart, give him a light in his eyes
Give him the wild wind for a brother and the wild Montana skies
You don't have to be from Montana to feel the emotion of this song.
The uncle and his wife were sitting in the row in front of us and they were very touched. Next to them was a couple from La Veta, CO - about an hour and a half from Westcliffe. They (in their 70s, I'd say) identified themselves as Sons and Brothers groupies, so we had a good visit at intermission.
I like travel books and on this trip I picked up an unusual one - The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman. You know it's not infrequent to see news reports about travel disasters, mainly in the third world: ferry sinking in Bangladesh, train crash in India, bus runs off road in South America, tourists kidnapped in Africa, ... . Besides these sorts of risk, there's general squalor and filth to deal with. (One of the scariest scenes for me was riding rush hour trains in Mumbai.)
Well, Hoffman decided to spend a few months traveling as many such dangerous, undesirable modes of travel as he could. His thesis was that there's a big difference between travel-for-pleasure (like motor homes to Colorado) and life-necessitated travel by millions of the world's poorest people and we need to know more about those people and the risks they take in order to survive. He never felt threatened or in danger, in part because, in spite of language and cultural barriers, he usually found, or was found by, someone who took him under their wing. Yet, at the end he felt he never really connected with the people he met. But, then, maybe he shouldn't have expected to in his relatively brief opportunities. It was fascinating reading.
And In Conclusion
In all our visits to Westcliffe, I've driven by the Custer County Courthouse many times, but never took a picture. Doesn't quite have the grandeur of Texas or midwest courthouses, but here it is.
As I look back over this year's Westcliffe postings, I see I haven't inserted some pictures from my early morning explorations. So, here are some.
A local photographer has a gallery in Westcliffe and his picture of this next barn is one of his featured shots. He told me where the barn is located and I made several morning pass-bys waiting for the sun to break through morning clouds.
This one I think I've done before.
(I could just insert pictures from previous years and hope/expect that nobody would know it, but that would be journalistically wrong.)
Here are a couple of pictures of the historic Beckwith Ranch, located just north of Westcliffe.
The first influx into the valley of European settlers was generated by silver and gold finds. The mining boom didn't last long, though, and was followed by ranching interests. Two brothers from Maine, the Beckwiths, built a large ranching empire in the state and their farm buildings have been preserved and are being restored. As the website says, Elton and his wife, Elsie, gave the ranch the air of an English country estate with cottages and a ballroom. Not far away was an area known as The English Settlement, but no buildings remain of it.
One more picture - approaching the valley. Autocorrect may have outdone itself on this one, but I'll go with it.
Our drive home on Sunday was uneventful and we were later treated at home to a thundershower and substantial rain. I should note that the Wet Mountain Valley is not very wet this year, as you can see in several of our pictures. Thundershowers threatened several times during our stay, and danced around the mountains, but not much came of them down in the Valley.
I also want to say a word about the Grape Creek RV Park where we stayed. The owners had just taken over the park when we were here a year ago. They've done a lot of work since then to improve the park - added a clubhouse, added tons of gravel to the parking sites and roads, spruced up the grounds, etc. When someone leaves, the owners (husband and wife) are out there immediately with rake and broom to prep the site for the next arrival. We greatly enjoyed our extended stay this year. May do it again some time.
Stay tuned. It's not a TuziTrip, but we're going to Ireland and England in mid-August and will be posting that adventure.
Rob and Susie