End of Year Happenings

Locals are saying that the snows this winter, albeit late in arriving in the 3rd week of December, are more than they’ve had in at least 5 years. We’re late in leaving for our
“endless summer” sojourns so we’ve warily tried to embrace the white wonderland with a modicum of enthusiasm and longer pants.

Several feet of snow and sub-freezing temps are not foreign to Durango, but it’s been since 1991 (with the single exception of late 2000 when an Atlantic passage spared one of us the humility of long pants) that we’ve “enjoyed” winter in Durango. Surely shoveling snow is a skill like riding a bicycle, but shoveling in shorts is harder than riding in shorts.


Eager anticipation and optimistic planning forecast an outing with our grandgirls (arriving on the 20th of December) to cut our own xmas tree in the National Forest with the permit duly acquired.  The night the girls and their mother, Erica, arrived, Durango got the snows they would have preferred pre-Thanksgiving as a guarantee for a white Christmas.

Not only did we have to abandon any hope of venturing up a Forest Service road, but the fund-raising tree lot closed the night before as well — a consequence of too much snow, too cold weather and only too little (tiny) trees left.

The back-up plan was retrieving the artificial tree stored since December 2000 along with all the other holiday trappings that haven’t seen the light of winter since New Year’s 2001.  Everyone was relieved we didn’t have to travel any farther than a storage garage in order to secure the center point of the holiday festivities, although the real thing would have made for a super adventure.

IMG_4413But before we get on with the visitors from Portland, we need to give the farthest-travelled credit to the English Georges, all 8 of them who came for a family gathering with the Colorado Georges, all 9 of them, plus a handful of outlaws.  This makes for quite a collection in one home, even if seven of them are children.  We’ve hosted them twice, once before our Portland family arrived and then again for Christmas Eve. (photo only shows adults as the kids were sequestered next door at our niece’s condo for dinner)  Included below is a rare family photo of this reunion.  The youngest two lap-sitters, Oliver and Inari, are from Colorado and kept everyone entertained and busy.


IMG_4391Gatherings galore for the Georges included a surprise birthday party for my sister, Donna, where almost 30 folks shifted into surprise mode offsite, with home-made pizzas and sommelier-chosen fine wines.  The grandgirls made it to this event and even got to design a custom pizza for the oven.IMG_4387




Snow continued right thru Christmas Day leaving 26″ of fresh powder at Purgatory, our ski IMG_4371area 24 miles up the highway, and another 8″ in Durango.  Both our snowmen sit and still stand tall on the condo deck, surely surviving into the new year.

Only downside going into this holiday is that the 3 solar projects that just came online have panels buried in snow and are less-than-satisfactorily producing any photovoltaics.  Ours is more accessible and has been cleared twice so far.


Bisti Badlands & Tree Train


Our southwestern locale offers still new adventure possibilities and the Bisti Badlands Wilderness 25 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico, and about 90 minutes from Durango is just another example.

While Stanna was snowshoeing (or attempting to snowshoe) in the early snows of the La Plata’s with her Wednesday hiking ladies, I was treading on the high desert sands of the Bisti Badlands.  Another geologic wonder uplifted 25 million of years ago and according to Wikipedia “uncovered” by the melting glaciers 6 thousand years ago.


In addition to the hundreds of sandstone Hoodoo’s eroding from the remnants of the geologic Colorado Plateau sands of it’s inland seas, there are amazingly well preserved petrified trees, stumps and logs.  One can’t help trying to visualize that ancient environment when you see a tree much like one lying in our contemporary forests with it’s knots and roots still exposed.

Mike Taylor and Ryler add perspective to the IMG_4292.JPG40′ log resting on linear pillars of yet-to-erode sand. Will our trees become just another layer of geologic history?  Undoubtedly so.

Wis Train

Two days and one Xmas party later, I’m on the Christmas Tree Train heading up the Animas Valley to the winter terminus of the Durango Silverton Narrow Guage Train at the Cascade Wye where volunteers for the Forest Service will help passengers cut their own Christmas trees to be transported back to Durango in the train’s boxcar.

It’s a new feature of the winter train schedule, where they are combining the novelty of picking and cutting your own National Forest tree (permit $8) with a FireWise fire mitigation program to prevent fires starting along the railroad right-of-way.  Getting a volunteer spot on the inaugural train was competitive because of the uncertainty of a subsequent collaboration between the train and the National Forest.  I caught Mike hauling a young family’s trophy tree back to the boxcar.

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IMG_4304 (1)They only allow 30 tree-cutting permits on each of the 6 days the program is running because the box car only holds 30 trees (up to 20′ each).  Quite a bargain at $8 a tree as long as you discount the train fare at $60 for adults and $36 for children.  The first Saturday they were oversold with 31 trees but on this Friday we only had 10 families to participate.

Amazing as it sounds, people are coming from as far away as California.  We loaded a 20’+ tree in the back of a pickup headed 7 hours over three passes north to Vail.

IMG_4309 (1)IMG_4314And just because people ask about snow in Durango, here’s the latest snow accumulation in Durango on December 12th, 12 hours after returning from the Tree Train excursion where the grass was showing at the train station.




Utah Early December

Typically most people take the long drive thru Arches National Park just north of Moab, Utah. I never knew there was such interesting hiking north of Arches, or more accurately in the north of Arches National Park.

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There are a variety places to hike in the area from Canyonlands south of Moab to the Fiery Furnace to the northeast: 15 places just on the BLM map of hiking trails, another 15 trails in Arches National Park, not to mention 19 in Canyonlands National Park.  All are within 3 hours of Durango.  Spring and Fall are the best times to experience the Utah desert, but Moab does a tremendous job promoting events, adventures and activities all year round.


With a 5-day dry weather window, we chose to visit two of the more remote hiking offerings called the Devil’s Canyon and Eye of the Whale, both Moab/Slickrock Entrada outcrops out of the otherwise flat southwestern Utah high desert.

IMG_1194Will Rietveld, our ultralight friend, knows this area “like the back of his hand” and wanted to show Mike Taylor and me a few of his favorite routes thru the fins, as well as explore new routes to turn into loop trails.  In this maze of slick rock it was best to go with someone who’s been there before.  Even with his 12-25 trips to the area(s) he was eager to find new ways to link the canyons between the fins.

Slickrock, as the locals call the bare sandstone no matter what layer of the Entrada sandstone (Moab, Slickrock or Dewey), was formed during the Jurassic period over 150 million years ago.  It gives one pause, and lots of discussion ensues when you come across a dinosaur track like the three-toed version we found on the approach to the fins.  The Colorado Plateau is famous for its artifacts, bones and prints of these prehistoric creatures.

IMG_1205With weather conditions of a recent snow, with clear skies and night temps down into the mid-teens, Will likes to car camp and day hike into these areas.  Having more gear than we generally take on a river trip was a different experience for me.  However it was easy to adjust to the “white-man’s fire” once the sun disappeared behind the rocks.  Just my winter sleeping bag, polar guard bivouac pants and down parka IMG_4182weighed in more than my typical ultralight base weight. While Will has Reveve Wear pots and pans with a Coleman stove, Mike and I opted not to burn our chili in the skinny aluminum pot and heated our dinner al fresco.  We did have a four-course meal adding canned corn into the half eaten chile cans.  Veggies and dip before the canned main course and fruit cocktail and zucchini bread for dessert rounded out the pot-less repast.  Quite a change from the high calorie dehydrated 6-ounce meals we carry backpacking.


In five days we only saw one lone young woman hiker, primarily because we were not on the recommended trails.  Even the trail we ran into was a Primitive Park Service trail that the throngs we saw in Zion, for example, never venture.

Note the snow in the shade.  Daytime temps were in the mid to high 30’s.


Kinda weird to hike most of the day in long shadows, but it made for interesting photography.  There were a number of arches and natural bridges in the area, some of which were not alway photogenic.  The most famous one, Eye of the Whale was photobombed by a fleece glove, but is still worth including.



Eye of Whale

My Gaia GPS tracking had a difficult time keeping an accurate track in the fins, canyons and crevices, but looking at the overview on Google Earth is always a fun way to see the terrain in the proper perspective.

There were a number of places where we passed thru very thin passages which brings out the adolescent excitement of exploring “unknown” passages in the earth.