Cortez to San Juan Narional Forest - Grand Junction to Durango 1991 - CycleBlaze

April 20, 1991

Cortez to San Juan Narional Forest

I walked across the street to a motel restaurant for breakfast.  It was Ok, but rather plastic and uninspiring.  On the way out of town I passed several more interesting spots in the older part of town, making me regret my selection.

After about five level and relaxing miles through attractive ranch land, the highway climbs steadily for the next three miles to the entrance to Mesa Verde.  After stashing my panniers in the trees, I start up the road to the top of the Mesa.  The climb into the park is steep and steady for about six miles - I'm grateful to have a light load - and the views become more and more amazing as I climb.  This is an unexpected aspect of the visit here - I hadn't really considered the scenic possibilities of this park.  From the top of the mesa, at 8,500', there are immense views in all directions - Montezuma Valley (around Cortez), Sleeping Ute Mountain, the Hesperus and La Plata Mountains.  Happily it is a gorgeous and clear day, with excellent visibility.  The ride up is quite cool and refreshing, after the heat of the last two days  there are still a few patches of snow on the sheltered northern exposure.

Looking across Mancos Vally to the La Plata Mountains, from an Overlook in Mesa Verde
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I'm less sure about this vista, but I think this is looking off the west side of the mesa over Montezuma Vally and Cortez. That may be Sleeping Ute Mountain on the horizon at the far left.
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After the initial climb, the road passes over a series of ridges and through a tunnel before beginning a five mile descent to the museum, on Chaplin Mesa.  I arrive there at 11:30, exactly in time for the tour of Spruce House.  Very lucky for me, as the ruin is open to visitors onlynwhen accompanied by a ranger.  I fell in with a group of about fifty other visitors for the next hour and thoroughly enjoyed the tour.  I learned a lot from it about the dwellings that I probably would have misse otherwise.

The Spruce House, Mesa Verde
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The Spruce House, Mesa Verde. From this perspective you can see that the house sits beneath a partially formed natural bridge. Currently you cannot visit Spruce House though - it's closed to visitors indefinitely because of rockfall issues from the decaying arch.
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Ach!  The line above is because I thought the journal ended there (as I first discussed here).  I was wrong though - I just stumbled across a second, typed copy of this journal, with a bit more about this day.  It looks like a page must have dropped out of the hand-written original.

So, here are the missing words from the urtext:

I also found time for a loop ride to views of the Balcony House and a visit to the Cliff Palace.

By mid-afternoon I was ready for refueling and was feeling pressure to start east for Durango.  I enjoyed a hamburger and fries with all the other tourists at the lodge and then retraced my steps to the entrance of the monument and recovered my stashed panniers.  Another ten miles brought me to the small town of Mancos in the beautiful and pastoral Mancos Valley; and in another eight miles I found a suitable tentsite on the edge of San Juan National Forest.  In a peaceful and still oak grove, I spent a final night out in the woods and rested up for the remaining thirty miles to Durango and my afternoon flight home.

The Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde
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The Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde. I like this view because it shows their placement half way up this sheer cliff. What an amazing place to live - it really fuels the imagination to see this.
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Today's ride: 70 miles (113 km)
Total: 640 miles (1,030 km)

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