Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Following is a True Story

When I was a junior or senior in college, my girlfriend and I took a brief trip to Mexico over Spring Break. We purchased some cheap wine in Mexico before returning to the U.S. through the Juarez/El Paso border crossing. Just north of El Paso we crossed into New Mexico and stopped in the little town of Vado, at a Fina station, for gas and a chance to use a clean American bathroom. As I was waiting for Kathy to finish up in the restroom, I sat in my VW bug, listening to the rock and roll station out of El Paso, and had a few swigs of bad wine from the bottle. Iron Butterfly came on the radio with their classic (and only) Top 40 hit. Presently, Kathy appeared from the bathroom and we went on down the road towards home.

It was months later I realized what a momentous occasion that was. Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but I was at the Vado Fina, drinking vino fino, listening to Ina Gadda da Vida. How wonderful is that?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Ride on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge RR

Up at the crack of dawn, a quick cup of coffee, and we were off to Durango over Red Mountain Pass to catch the third and last train of the morning to Silverton. Yesterday was another day of doing tourist activities that we have never done or at least hadn't done in many years. Riding on the D&SNG was a first for both of us.
When we arrived, the Brakemen and Conductors were busily engaged in answering questions and chatting with the passengers.

And the staff was busy greeting each other as well. The guys in the denim overalls are the actual people who maintain the the right of way, the tracks, the cars and the locomotive. They do a great job.

This was the engineer of the second train to leave the station. I like his fireproof sleeves, engineer's cap and steely gaze. Actually, he wasn't gazing with steely eyes at anything, just giving me a good shot. All of these guys were very cooperative subjects and seemed to enjoy the attention of the public.

Here's the narrow gauge steam engine, No. 486, getting ready to pull out of the station and head north to Silverton.

I was curious when the engine was manufactured and there on the boiler was this plaque giving the place, date and number and the name of the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The Siverton branch line was constructed in 1882, so this locomotive is rather new in comparison.
We crept through Durango and eventually got out into the Animas River valley. We followed this river all the way to Silverton. For awhile the road and the railroad line intersect, but then the highway goes up and over the pass and the railroad tracks follow the river into the wilderness.

I was expecting the train to pick up speed as we left town, but it never did gain any velocity. The train crawled along at around 20 mph, and if you're used to riding on European trains, it was agonizingly slow. And for good reasons; one, we were always gaining elevation and it was difficult for the old steam engine, and two, the rail bed is narrow and uneven, making the train pitch and yawl the entire time. I would imagine that if we attained any great speed we'd not stay on the tracks very long. But it all added to the adventure.

Nancy is obviously enjoying the ride.

Does this building look familiar? It should. This house sits in the village of Rockwood. If you have ever seen "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", (and that should include every human being on the planet) then you will recognize it as being in the scene where Paul Newman and Katherine Ross ride the bicycle to the tune of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head". Or so we were told.

The train enters the Animas River canyon. The picture below is what you see if you poke your head out the window. A drop of 600 feet straight down into the river below.

Here are the cars at the end of the train. We were in the second car behind the locomotive, and there were perhaps a dozen cars. When we arrived in Silverton, I was astonished at the number of passengers. There were hundreds, mostly middle aged to elderly. (And I might add that that the bulk of them sported accents from the South, and if you're not in the South, it gets mighty tiresome. )

We learned that the friction of the car wheels on the rails while rounding a curve causes the train to slow and creates of lot of wear on the wheels themselves. The train makes several stops along the way to Silverton. We stopped at Rockwood to pick up a bunch of passengers, and we stopped to take on water twice. (You think of a coal fired steam engine using coal, of course, but you forget it also uses plenty of water. As you ride along, steam from the boiler is released and rises, only to condense in the cool air and drip as rain on your arm out the window.) The train also stops to let passengers off. There is a luxury resort whose only access is by rail, and the train stops to let of hikers, backpackers and fishermen. The young fellow pictured below exited the train in the middle of this canyon, with only his fishing pole. I didn't see any pack or lunch bag or creel, just his rod. He must have caught one of the three trains heading in the other direction after his day of fishing was over. Nancy mused that due to the price of the tickets, this was either a very expensive fishing trip for him, or he was the son of the owner of the rail line.
We took the bus back to Durango and drove over Red Mountain Pass, home to Montrose, with only a short stop of three hours to wait for the Silverton Volunteer Fire Department to haul out the barely alive driver of a car who went off a 600 foot cliff. Remember kids, click on em' to enlarge em'.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ouray on the Fourth of July

We went down to Ouray (pronounced "you're ray" more or less) on the Fourth of July for the parade, and it lived up to it's reputation. Ouray is a small town nestled in a box canyon with towering mountains on three sides. It's called the Switzerland of America and the comparison is not out of place. We got to see a Bactrian camel, the camel with two humps. Dromedary camels have only one, as we all know.
There were people on stilts, the boy scouts, political parties, businesses, anybody that could come up with the entrance fee. It was one of the few parades where you could just roll along the route with the assistance of gravity alone. There are few flat spots in Ouray.

A novel feature that separated it from any other parade I've ever seen; there were water cannons. This tractor pulled a 200 gallon water tank and the kid on the squirted the folks watching the parade. Not every float was armed with a water tank, but lots were. And the bystanders also came armed. Some with buckets of water to throw on those in the parade, some with tanks and hoses, some with water cannons. Full fledged water fights broke out amongst those on the floats and those in the crowd. Like I say, something new for me.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties had floats and carried candidate's signs. We made a few snide remarks amongst ourselves as the Republicans walked by. There was some good natured cheering by some, and some folks didn't cheer. The fellow above, as well as a few others, lustily booed as the Democrats strolled by while many others cheered. Cheer if you want, or don't cheer, but it's not okay to boo, asshole.

The parade ended and we went up the road to the zip line where Madeline and Dan were brave enough to take a ride. Below, she's decked out in helmet and harness ready to zip.

Check out how she did by clicking on the video below.

Tourist Season is in Full Swing

Over the July Fourth weekend, my sister Amy, brother-in-law Dan, and niece Madeline, came for a visit. We joined the hordes of other tourists and went out to do tourist things. On day one we visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Nancy and I had only visited the Black Canyon once, and that was years ago in late November so only the first viewpoint was open. It was also dark and cold. The other day, on the third of July, the entire canyon was visible in all it's glory, deep and dark with the green Gunnison River flowing nicely though the bottom of the canyon. The waters of the river cut through the uplift many centuries ago, exposing the geology of the rocks. You can see in the photo above, many igneous intrusions running through the darker foundation rock forming amazing patterns.
At this point in the canyon, the sign said you could put the Empire State Building in the bottom of the canyon and the top the structure would be...........where? Where would you guess? The answer is, halfway up the canyon wall. We were able to make out some people in the bottom of the canyon fishing, and they were tiny specks. It's not the deepest canyon, nor the narrowest, nor the craggiest, nor the twistiest nor the canyon with the steepest walls. But it's a fantastic combination of all; deep, dark, narrow, steep and winding and like no other canyon in the U.S.

I encourage you to click on Nancy's photos to enlarge them for the full effect.