– Dalhart, Texas to Durango, Colorado –

We were up at 5:30am this morning to leave Dalhart. We all took our turns showering and getting dressed in our one hotel room, then packed up to hit the road. It was cold enough this morning that Mom and I needed light jackets when leaving the room this morning. We loaded everything into the Suburban, including the dogs, then went back to our hotel lobby for a light breakfast. It wasn’t great, and I ended up justing having a banana and some juice. My yogurt was way too sweet. I’m spoiled by the plain Icelandic yogurt I get at home, which is thick and tart and wonderful. I’m ruined for anything else.

It didn’t take long as we drove down the road for the time to change. It was only about 7:30am when the time rolled back to 6:30, giving us even more time to enjoy our day. We drove on through what was left of Texas, stopping once for gas along the way. It feels like you’ve really accomplished something when you are already driving that early in the morning. It feels like there’s a lot of promise for the day, too. It’s like you have all the time in the world to do the things you want.

Early morning at the gas station

Shortly after crossing into New Mexico, we stopped at a grocery store in Clayton. There’s some backstory, of course. Once upon a time, on a trip to Black Mesa, which is the highest point in Oklahoma, Mark and I visited that very grocery store. You see, we visited Black Mesa over Spring Break, and it just so happened that the area was experiencing a cold front that we had not expected when we arrived. We didn’t have enough warm clothes, and since we were tent camping, we were miserable trying to keep warm outside or in our tent.

So, to wait for it to warm up, we hopped into the truck and drove around in the region to see what we could see. We ended up at the grocery store in Clayton, where we cound some warm food to have for brunch. Mark got something called “green chile munchers” there, which turned out to be something like tater tots with green chiles in them. He loved them so much that he has remembered them fondly, and every time we come through Clayton, he has to go and get some. It’s been years, and they still make them.

Mark’s breakfast

Today he also found a chile relleno burrito with beans and rice, which he bought as well. Dad got some green chile munchers, too, and they pigged out back in the car. Mom and I watched, not really interested in participating in their weird second breakfast. I remember fondly from that Black Mesa trip a very large bottle of Bundaberg ginger beer, which the grocery store did not have in stock today. That made me sad, but I think I will be able to live with the disappointment.

From Clayton, we drove on down the road, stopping briefly at a rest area for a break sometime before we got to Des Moines. It was windy at the rest stop, and that made it almost cold. I had to stand in the sun to stay warm while I tried to convince Ripley to potty so I could go get back in the warm Suburban. If it hadn’t been for the wind, it would’ve been a nice morning.

Warning? I’m not sure what for.

A little further on, we passed a national park that we have visited multiple times in the past- Capulin Volcano National Monument. It felt pretty weird to drive by without stopping in. I really like Capulin Volcano. The titular feature is an extinct cinder cone volcano. The elevation at the top of the volcano is over 8,000 feet, and the crater at the top of the volcano is a mile around and 400 feet deep. During the summer, thousands of ladybugs can be found coating the volcano, though we’ve never gotten to see it. Someday I intend to go lady-bug-viewing.

We drove up through Raton Pass and into Colorado while it was still pretty early in the morning. As we always do when we drive through this area together, we all reminisced about the various times we’ve driven through the pass when the weather was foul. While it doesn’t seem like too much of a pass when it’s warm and daylight, it can be a hair-raising adventure in the right conditions. I’m glad we don’t have to drive through it in winter very often.

Starting to see fall in Colorado!

We stayed on Interstate 25 until we got to Trinidad, where we turned off onto Highway 12 to drive through a portion of the San Isabel National Forest called the Spanish Peaks Wilderness, where we hoped to start seeing some nice fall color. The road was relatively quiet and empty, and as we progressed along it, the leaves gradually began to turn a nice, golden yellow. I was so excited. We never see fall.

Most of the fall color seemed to be happening in the Aspens, which were present all over the place, climbing up the sides of hills and mountains with more color at higher elevations. At lower elevations, the trees were a gradient from green to yellow, not only from tree to tree, but also on individual trees. Most of the trees in this area are likely Quaking Aspens. Many of the trees in a single grove are usually a clone of one another, and are joined together by a single root system. They are essentially a single organism. In fact, the largest organism by mass in the world, named Pando, or the Trembling Giant, is what they call a “clonal colony” of quaking aspens in Utah. All of the “trees” in the colony are basically part of the same massive tree. It covers 106 acres, weighs 6,600 tons, and has a root system that is at least 80,000 years old, making it one of the oldest organisms in the world as well.

Our first grove of yellow aspens

One of our first major stops for leaf pictures was at a little lake, with a small mountain in the background. The trees going up the side of the mountain were changing color, and the lake made the stop feel extra special. At this point in our drive, we were still not sure how much color we would see, so even the little bit you see in the photo with the lake was great for us.

Further down the road and deeper into the Spanish Peaks Wilderness, the elevation of the road went up, and so did the number of trees wearing their autumn attire. The color exploded along the road, with some of the aspens turned a dark gold that was almost orange, and a few other trees shifting to an almost deep red. We didn’t see too many examples of non-yellow fall leaves, but there was so much yellow that it was impossible to be disappointed.

Seriously the best veggie enchiladas I’ve ever had

The color continued when we made it up to Highway 160 and turned west to continue on toward Durango, though it was not as spectacular as it had been. The weather was gorgeous, too, ranging from a chilly 55 to a warm 65, to almost 70, depending on the elevation. It was a beautiful drive. I almost want to do this every year now, though I think I might wait another week or two later into October in the hope of seeing more color.

We stopped for lunch in Alamosa. We hadn’t had cell phone service for a while, so while we were rolling into town, I was frantically searching for somewhere for us to eat. We decided, collectively, that Mexican food sounded great, so I started scouting the menus of Mexican restaurants, but I wasn’t having too much luck finding any menus. Alamosa isn’t huge, but it had multiple Mexican restaurants to choose from.

Mom and her ice cream

In the end, we stopped at the first real Mexican restaurant we saw, Calvillo’s, which turned out to be the best decision we have made in a while. We didn’t know what to expect when we walked in, and we weren’t sure how much vegetarian stuff they would have, but we were actually blown away by our number of options. And, in addition to the options available for the three vegetarians in the family, they also had a buffet available for Mom. We probably could’ve eaten the buffet too, but I am glad we didn’t. Mom enjoyed her buffet meal, but dad and I had the best vegetarian enchiladas I have had in a really long time. Poor Mark ordered something else and only got a little taste the wonder that was the enchiladas. I think we could go back to Alamosa just for enchiladas. Maybe Mark and I will start taking long weekend trips up into Santa Fe for Mark’s burritos and now through Alamosa for my enchiladas. It’s ok to travel for fantastic food, right?

Mom’s buffet came with dessert, and she was having an ice cream cone when they came and asked up us if we wanted our free sopapillas now. We were already stuffed, but who says no to free sopapillas? We almost needed a wagon to roll the family out to the car. We were all so happy and full. Do yourself a favor and visit that restaurant if you ever find yourself passing through. It is totally worth it.

Sticker-filled dog park

Since Ripley had yet to do her business for the day, and we were starting to wonder about her, we decided to drive a little way over and check out the dog park we saw on the map of Alamosa. It was a little difficult to find, and when we finally did get there, it didn’t look great. It was sandy and poorly kept, and it clearly wasn’t very popular. It was the middle of a Saturday, so we should have been suspicious of the lack of dogs visiting, but it didn’t occur to any of us that it was empty for a reasn

It did not take us long to discover why. The park was absolutely filled to bursting with sticker weed, and poor Ripley and Sabre got their little feet covered in stickers before we could rescue them. Needless to say, Ripley did not go to the bathroom. She was too upset about her feet. Sabre just collapsed into a pile of stickers, helpless. It was very sad. When we got back to the Suburban after we had rescued our canine friends, we had to pick stickers out of our shoes. Mom had so many, she had to use a stick to brush them off. What’s the point of having a dog park if you are just going to let it go to shit like that? What a waste of a nice area. They managed to keep up the nearby baseball and soccer fields well enough. Would it hurt them to spend a little time on the dog park? It was a terrible place.

Fall on the river

Since we had no luck at the dog park, and we needed some gas, we decided to look for a gas station in town that had some grass. We got lucky and found one at a Safeway grocery store with some nice, soft green grass that seemed to suit Ripley’s delicate sensibilities. It didn’t actually suit, apparently, since nothing was accomplished there. How can she hold it for so long? Dad also put some air in the Suburban’s tires. The tires are brand new, and he’s been having a little trouble getting them aired up evenly. We need a tire pressure gauge he can use. The gauge inside the Suburban doesn’t update quickly enough to be any help.

Past the gas station, we finally made it back to the highway and started driving again. A couple of towns over, we stopped in Del Norte to take a photograph of a courthouse. Mark has been slowly collecting courthouses in New Mexico and Colorado (among other places) now that he has finished photographing every courthouse in Oklahoma and Texas. Del Norte’s courthouse was pretty boring, so I didn’t bother to include a picture. Wouldn’t you rather look at pretty leaves?

Fall pano!

From Del Norte, we drove to South Fork, and then we dipped into the Rio Grande National Forest. Once again, the view going through the forest was frequently spectacular. We kept having to pull off of the road to take more pictures. We saw a few darker colors in the area, which was fun, and the sun was warm on our backs while we were out taking photos, which is great.

The drive through the forest takes just shy of two hours between South fork and Durango. That doesn’t include all of our stops, of course, just how long the road technically takes to traverse. In reality, it took a little longer than that, since we couldn’t entirely contain ourselves. We rolled into town relatively early, as it was still nice and light out.

Mountain overlook

We checked into our hotel, one of many in Durango, and discovered (though we should’ve remembered) that we had booked the “penthouse.” It sounds fancier than it was, but it was still nice. The hotel was a small motor inn with two penthouse suites upstairs, one of which was ours. We had to walk around back and up some stairs to unload our stuff, but it was worth it. Our room was a little bigger than a small apartment, with a full kitchen with a large refrigerator, stove, and microwave, as well as a large bathroom and two beds. We were stoked that we had done so well, since we did not book any La Quintas for this trip. They have now priced themselves out of our range, and there’s no benefit to staying there anyway, since they now frequently charge pet fees.

Mark and I packed little Ripley back up to give her another chance at the dog park, since we’d seen Durango’s on the map as we drove in. It wasn’t even very far our hotel. When we arrived, we discovered the park was almost as bad as the park from earlier in the day. This one had a gate, but it wasn’t really a gated park. It was basically a dirt road on the side of a hill. It did have gates on two sides, but that wasn’t enough for us to let Ripley loose, and she wouldn’t have done anything in the dirt and desert grass, anyway.

Are you tired of yellow leaves yet?

We drove Ripley over to the local city park, which was on the far end of the dog park, and had green grass. We tried again, but she was too interested in what was going on around her. Hopefully she will relent before we go to bed tonight. We went back to the hotel, picked up my parents, and all went to the grocery store to pick up any extra things we needed for our cooler dinner tonight.

Mark and I had eggs, cheese, crackers, yogurt, and dried apples. Dad had an egg salad sandwich and a cheese sandwich, and mom had some weird chicken stuff she picked up at the grocery store. It was really nice to have dishes for dinner, and not just the ones Mark and I carry in our kitchen tub. We had plenty for everyone.

Light hotel room dinner

It looks like it will be cold tomorrow morning, but we have already picked out our run. We will just have to dress well for the weather. We have a little more leaf peeping tomorrow, and then we are taking a little trip down a dirt road, which Mark and I have done before. But, more on that tomorrow. It’s getting close to bedtime tonight.

РTrip Total : 875 miles

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