- Where We Started: Durango, Colo.
- Where We Ended: Cortez, Colo.
- Miles Driven: 300 (8,964 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 16 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
Those who know southwestern Colorado know that Durango and Cortez -- the beginning and ending points of our day -- are only 45 miles apart. But that doesn't mean it was a quiet day on the FHMA tour. Quite the contrary, as we had one of our busiest and most satisfying days thus far, thanks to the San Juan Skyway and Mesa Verde National Park.
The day was made possible by a much-needed change to our daily routine. Up until Monday, we tended to get into hotels after 10pm, and after sleeping in a bit, I'd get up and write. And, in case you're wondering, this thing takes a while to compose every day. As a result, I was often getting done at noon or 12:30pm local time every day. This would be followed by a quick lunch, and as a result, we sometimes were not hitting the road until 1-1:30pm, which limited how much we could do before dark. In the interest of getting more sightseeing time, Joan and I agreed that we would start getting into hotels around 8pm, and I'd write as much as I could before bed so we could do a light edit and publish first thing in the morning. The goal is now to be out of the hotel by 10am at the latest. If Day One of the new schedule is any sign, this is going to be a huge help, as we had an incredibly full day.
After breakfast -- yes, the new schedule even allowed us to go out for breakfast -- we hit the San Juan Skyway. The original plan for Monday had us hitting Four Corners and Monument Valley, but when I realized on Sunday night how close we were to this famous scenic drive, I made a last-minute change to the schedule.
The San Juan Skyway is a 233-mile loop road that runs through the beautiful San Juan Mountains, and a series of cool Colorado towns: old mining villages like Silverton and Ouray, the celebrity hideout of Telluride and the cowboy towns of Durango and Ridgway. The San Juan Skyway crosses 10,000 feet a number of times, reaching its apex at Bear Mountain Pass -- elevation 11,018 feet -- between Silverton and Ouray. The drive is truly amazing. The landscape changes frequently as you drive through snowy passes, descend into small towns, hit green valleys and then ascend into the mountains again.
Heading north from Durango, the first town you hit is Silverton, an old mining town. Once a rough-and-tumble town, Silverton now sees more tourists than anything, as its last mine closed in the 1990s. One of the coolest things about Silverton is the view coming into town from the San Juan Mountains.
The most stunning stretch of the San Juan Skyway came between Silverton and the next town, Ouray. This stretch -- called the "Million Dollar Highway" -- had so much to see that Joan and I even did our second video of the trip to try and show it off. Here's an embed of the video.
As you can see, the huge icicles, old mine buildings, treacherous roads, rock slides and waterfalls made this a highlight of the day.
This region is so stunning, it's hard to get a bad view. For example, here is the view from the port-a-john I stopped at. (Despite a pressing need, Joan declined to enjoy the and view from the potty, and the potty itself).
From Ouray, it was off to Ridgway, which has the old cowboy DNA. A number of movies were filmed here, including "True Grit," "Tribute to a Bad Man," and "How the West Was Won." The most notable of these films is "True Grit" -- which won John Wayne his only Oscar -- and, in the film's honor, there's a bar in town of the same name, which also serves as a mini-John Wayne museum. We tried to go in for a mid-afternoon drink, but it was closed for renovations. I can just hear the Duke exclaiming, "Out here, we don't do renovations. Renovations come in the form of a bullet, pilgrim." But, alas, the Duke is dead, so we had to move on.
From Ridgway, it was time to give the dogs a run. And they needed it. Fred was being a huge pain in the ass early in the day, reprising his I-hate-the-windshield-wipers act in Silverton, and continually refusing Joan's commands to get into the back seat when she wanted to take pictures from the car. Hank just seemed bored. So it was off to Ridgway State Park, where there was a nice big lake area to let them run off-leash.
Ridgway was the halfway point of the San Juan Skyway, and about an hour later, we pulled into Telluride, the one-time mining town that's now a world-class ski resort and celebrity magnet. We didn't see any celebs in our short time there, and we couldn't possibly have missed them, as the speed limit in the town is 15mph. Located in a box canyon, the Telluride areas looks like the inside of the Christmas snow globe, and the downtown is quite cute.
The last segment of the San Juan Skyway was the least interesting stretch -- still beautiful, mind you, but not quite as striking -- though we still had to deal with fun things like rock slides.
Because we'd started the day much earlier, we still had time to hit Mesa Verde National Park before sunset. Featuring cliff dwellings from the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the area from 600 AD to 1300 AD, the park has preserved many of these one-time homes. While we got there too late to get the ranger-guided tours, it was still worth the trip. While the park also features some of the natural beauty that you get by accident out west, the cliff dwellings are the real draw.
The issue we had with taking photos of these amazing cliff dwellings is it's hard to see them as real. Many of the photos we took made these structures look like dioramas.
We raced the sunset out of Mesa Verde, and after a major struggle finding dinner, settled in to the hotel and prepared for another busy day on Tuesday.
FHMA PROGRAMMING NOTE
- Sorry to report that there will be another, shorter FHMA hiatus this weekend. I am going to Austin, Tex., to appear on a panel at the 10th International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas on Friday, and am then heading to Long Island for a high school reunion on Saturday night. So you will get an update on Friday morning, and then we'll be off on Saturday and Sunday before returning Monday. Joan will be sending out photos during her alone time in Los Angeles, and we'll also do one more "Behind the Scenes" post, this one on the car and how we've managed to use every inch of space in it to support FHMA. I anticipate this hiatus will be the last of the FHMA tour, but I can't make any firm promises.
- Meals were a bit of an issue for us on Monday. First off, we had a disappointing breakfast at the Durango Diner. But that was nothing compared to our efforts to acquire dinner. We rolled into Cortez at 8:30pm, fully expecting to grab a sandwich at Quizno's and eat at the hotel. Unfortunately, Quizno's wasn't aware of this plan, and had rudely closed. Next stop: Pizza Hut. Joan went in to get pizza to take out, but soon called me to say it would take 25 minutes to get a takeout pizza. I then suggested we just eat there, since that apparently meant we could order more quickly from a waiter and avoid a long wait. So I walked in, and we soon found ourselves waiting to be seated behind and mother and her six kids. The manager then came by and delivered a line that proved he was not a marketing major in college: "Folks, we will be with you as soon as we possibly can. I have only one waiter tonight." The combination of limited service and being in line behind Carol Brady was too much for us. Only the mention of an eColi outbreak in the kitchen could have gotten us to leave faster. We briefly considered Denny's, but by now, just wanted to get to the hotel. So it was off to McDonald's, where we got in the drive-through line behind a beat-up Ford Escort with half its bumper gone for reasons that couldn't be good. The scent drifting from the car made it clear they were experiencing a Rocky Mountain high, if you get my drift. After getting their food, these fine citizens -- who resembled the losers in the "FreeCreditReport.com" commercials -- decided they didn't want their ketchup, so they just threw it out of the car. Nice. After this rolling opium den pulled away, we then waited five minutes for our "fast" food, and with food finally in hand, drove to our hotel singing the "FreeCreditReport.com" jingle.
- Another movie filming note: Some of the scenes in "City Slickers" were filmed Durango, where we began the day Monday. Durango, by the way, appears to be a really cool town, and based on our short experience there, added it to our list of towns we'd like to come back to someday.
- Right outside the Durango Diner, at the corner of 10th and Main, is a huge mural commemorating one of boxing legend Jack Dempsey's first victories. Dempsey was from Colorado -- which was news to me -- and once worked in the Telluride mines. You know, before Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey got there.
- Fred and Hank were not given votes on our new schedule, which has us getting out of hotels on onto the road earlier. We're pretty sure they're supportive, as they seem to find laying around the hotel in the morning to be particularly boring. So, for those of who reading who really only care about the dogs, please know they were considered in this decision.
- It is safe to say that Fred's breath has improved in recent days. But that's like saying "Police Academy 2" was an improvement over the original. Better doesn't necessarily mean good. Joan did check for abscesses -- thanks for the advice, everyone -- and didn't note anything but teeth in need of a significant professional cleaning.
- I am officially adding Durango to my list of cool town names. I grew up in Huntington (a nice but boring name) and now live in Great Falls (unoriginal, and I don't like multiple-word town names). So far on this trip, I have called out the following cool town names: Driftwood, Tombstone and Durango. Bonus useless opinion: The absolute best street name in the country is Last Chance Gulch in Helena, Mont.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Joe's Head," by Kings of Leon. A number of folks have recommended Kings of Leon to me over the years, and I have to admit, I've never caught the fever. So, in all honesty, this random pull marks the first time this song has been played on my iPod. Maybe I'm missing something, but sometimes, bands just don't connect with particular listeners. Among the other artists I've never been able to get into, despite numerous recommendations: System of a Down, Franz Ferdinand and Sufjan Stevens. What about all of you? What bands can you just not connect with. And, yes, you're allowed to say Rush.
- Most-Played Albums: Joan played some George Winston to match the majestic scenery of the San Juan Skyway, and as the day progressed, we picked up the pace with "Led Zeppelin III" and "Crimes of Passion," by Pat Benatar. I happen to think Pat Benatar is underrated, even if she came and went quickly as an A-list artist. "Crimes of Passion," "Precious Time" and "Get Nervous" are all strong albums, in my opinion. Best Benatar tunes: "Promises in the Dark," "We Live for Love," "Shadows of the Night" and "Never Wanna Leave You." I happen to detest "Love Is a Battlefield," though.
- Breakfast: Durango Diner, Durango, Colo.: Our rare attempt at breakfast didn't work out. Despite some recommendations of this old Durango standby, we didn't come away satisfied. I got steak and eggs, and while the steak was fine, the eggs were tasteless and -- even worse -- I thought the hash browns flat-out stunk. Joan loved them, however, which led to the rare sight of Joan eating off MY plate. Unfortunately, Joan didn't think any of her own meal -- blueberry pancakes, sausage and scrambled eggs -- was particularly good. The waitress -- who was actually quite nice -- also seemed a bit annoyed when Joan asked if she could wrap the sausage up for the dogs. Now, I'm not sure why Joan feels the need to tell the waitress about the ultimate destination of the food that's being wrapped up, but nonetheless, the waitress's reaction was a fitting cap to a lousy experience. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5). I didn't eat most of my hash browns, which kept this from being a 1. Restaurant Rating: 2 stars (out of 5).
- Dinner: McDonald's, Cortez, Colo.: You know the back story, but here's the happy ending: We had an excellent McD's meal. My Quarter Pounder was perfectly cooked, and Joan's fish filet -- in my opinion, always a risky order -- turned out well. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 star (out of 5). I have less of a chance than Rod Blagojevic of mounting a good defense here. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale).
- Comfort Inn Cortez, Cortez, Colo.: Because of its proximity to Four Corners and Monument Valley, we stayed in Cortez in 2003 as well. We stayed a Best Western that time, and didn't give it a good rating, thanks to the presence if OUO (odor of unknown origin). We fared a little better this time, as our room at the Comfort Inn was huge and only a short distance from the car. But Joan discovered some SUO (stains of unknown origin) on the bedspread, and the hotel clientele appears to be shady. While getting into the shower, I dropped the soap -- OK, insert prison joke here -- and shattered like a glass. That's not supposed to happen to soap. On the good side, the hotel has two washers and two dryers, so i may have to request a rendition to get Joan out of Cortez. Hotel rating: 3 stars (out of 5, on the budget hotel scale).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
JOAN PIC OF THE DAY
UPCOMING PLAN (subject to change)
- Today: Four Corners, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly.
- Tomorrow: Grand Canyon and on to Las Vegas.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Death Valley National Park, and on to Los Angeles
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO