Reluctant Traveler: Guest Blog: The Long Way Home

By Rebecca Borman

bec-closeup-twoWhen I was planning my annual Colorado summer trip, I decided that I would like to include a couple of National Parks I had never visited.  To that end, I made hotel reservations for Alamosa, near the Great Sand Dunes NP, and Far View Lodge, in Mesa Verde NP.  So, on a Wednesday morning, I left Kris and Bill’s Denver home for the Great Sand Dunes, and the adventure began.

sandhills 1

I chose not to take the fastest route from Denver to the Park; if the purpose of the trip was to see interesting geography, I-25 was not my first choice.  So, my route wound me through the Rockies, including a drive over Poncha Pass.  Beautiful!   Once I got into the San Luis Valley, I saw some interesting, and unexpected, sights.  At one point I saw a sign for Colorado Gator Park.  I did not stop, as I’ve seen gators before, but I will admit that it was a surprise to learn that Colorado had such a park.  It just seems random to me.  Not as surprising, but very cool, was passing by three cowboys who were clearly driving a herd of cattle somewhere.

Before long, I found myself on the road to Great Sand Dunes NP and eventually had to stop and take a picture.  There’s something odd about seeing enormous sand dunes against the Rocky Mountains.  I stopped in the Visitor Center to learn a little about how this phenomenon of nature happened.  The combination of very dry climate, strong winds, and the mountains as a backstop created this amazing place.  One can spend a day there, but I only had a few hours.  So, I eschewed renting a sled to coast down the dunes, mostly because you can’t sled down until you climb up, and I literally wasn’t going there.  But, I did walk up the nearest and smallest dune, just to get a feel for what it’s like to walk uphill on sand.  It’s hard work!  I people-watched for a bit, especially the kids, who were having all kinds of fun in the sand.  Then, I emptied the sand from my shoes, got back into my car, and headed toward my hotel in Alamosa.

sandhills 2

By the time I checked in, it was time for dinner.  Thanks to TripAdvisor, I discovered Calvillo’s Mexican Restaurant, featuring their famous buffet.  Calvillo’s is low-key and very casual.  The food was good, although I admit that I wasn’t always sure what I was eating.  But, it was a bargain and a fun experience.  I try always to eat in local restaurants when I’m traveling and Calvillo’s is an Alamosa institution.

The next morning I drove to Mesa Verde NP, a drive of about four hours.  Lots of road work slowed me down a bit, but I made it to the Park in the early afternoon and started at the Visitor Center there.  I got some advice about what to see, and I purchased tickets to three ranger-guided tours on the following day.  I wasn’t sure I’d take all three, which would have been a lot for just one day.  But, at just $4 a pop, it seemed a good idea to keep all my options open.

The drive into the Park was stunning, and I drove directly to one of the places I wanted to visit, Spruce Tree House and the museum.  While you can’t walk around Spruce Tree House right now, it is close enough to see very well, especially with binoculars.  What an amazing sight!  Mesa Verde is a World Heritage Site, and no wonder.  Spruce Tree House was constructed between A.D. 1211 and 1278 by the ancestors of the Puebloan peoples of the Southwest, and it gets visitors from around the world.  I spent several hours there and in the museum, and then it was time to drive to my home for the next two nights, Far View Lodge, the only accommodations in the Park.

mesa verde

After I checked in and unloaded a few things from my car, I went to the Far View Lounge for a drink on the patio.  I enjoyed the view and eavesdropped on conversations about my fellow visitors’ experiences of the day.  A few stories were a little scary…climbing steep ladders on the side of a cliff, narrow tunnels to get into one of the rooms, strenuous walks along narrow ledges.  But, everyone seemed to be enjoying their adventures.  After a nice dinner, I returned to my room and had an early night, because I had many plans for the next day.

Unfortunately, none of those plans came to fruition, because I had serious car trouble, not a good thing anywhere, but especially not in such a remote place.  I spent the next three days just getting home.  So, another visit to Mesa Verde is a must, and since it’s only a day’s drive from my home, it’s doable.

Despite the way this side-trip ended, I’m happy I made the choice to spend some time in southwest Colorado.  And, I can’t say enough about the beauty of our national parks.  Aren’t we lucky to have these very special places protected?  Happy 100th anniversary to our National Park Service!

And, Mesa Verde, I will return.

Reluctant Traveler: Tubac Adventure

bec-closeup-twoBy Rebecca Borman

A few weeks ago I set out on my second birding adventure sponsored by the Desert Botanical Garden.  Once again, I headed southeast, toward and past Tucson, to Tubac, Arizona.  And, once again, I had a great time!

I’ve always enjoyed road trips, and I’m learning that I still enjoy them, even though I’m traveling alone.  I like that I can leave when I want, take my time, sing along with the radio, and stop where and when I want.  For instance, I knew I would arrive well before our 3 p.m. meeting time at the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa.  So, when I noticed a sign for the Saguaro National Park, I Saguaro National Parkthought “Why not?”  I exited, stopped long enough to make sure the SNP wasn’t too far from the exit, and then headed to the Park.  (PS:  one of the great things about getting old is the National Park Service Senior Pass!) I only had an hour, but it was enough time to take a short drive, eat a picnic lunch, and whet my appetite for a longer visit sometime.

It was only an hour from the Park to the resort, and it was a lovely drive surrounded by mountains.  And the resort was worth the drive!  It’s a beautiful setting in the valley; if I played golf, I would be quite distracted by TUbac golf resort 1the views.  In fact, our first birding was done right there at the resort.  We walked around for about an hour and I was astounded by how many birds we spotted.  (When I say we, I mean Carlos and Lynn, our guides.  Not so much bird-spotting by me.) It was a great start to our adventure.

The Tubac Golf Resort has a nice restaurant, the Stables, and that is where we were to  meet to have dinner together.  I went to my pleasant room and relaxed a bit.  Carlos had suggested that folks could meet up at the bar a bit before our 6:30 dinner if they wanted to enjoy drinks together.  So, I got there around 6:25 and discovered that I was way behind everyone else.  They were well into their adult beverages.  And, they had “kindly” saved me the genuine saddle seat.  Hmmm….I’m a bit too old for that!  A few minutes later, the last member of our group arrived, and sat on the only other seat…another saddle.  Side note:  the next evening, she and I were the first to arrive, and we claimed bar stools!

After a very enjoyable dinner, good food and great company, Carlos said he would see us all at breakfast at 6:00 AM.  Wait, what?  Was that in the brochure?  Yes.  I forgot that birders are early risers…you know, like the birds.

The following morning we traveled to several wonderful places for viewing birds of all kinds.  Since most of the migratory birds have already started to head for cooler climes, we saw mostly native Arizona birds.  One of our guides is not only an expert on birds; she also seems to know every plant in that part of the state.  As we walked, she pointed out many wild flowers, some of which had been artificially introduced and are problematic.  This was very interesting to me, as I’m trying to learn about both the flora and the fauna of the southwest.

And, speaking of learning, we also toured several missions on this trip, Mission San Jose de Tumacacori and Mission San Xavier del Bac.  Both are managed by the National Park Service, and the tour guide at Tumacacori was probably the best I’ve ever encountered.  She brought the history of the mission alive for us.

tumacacory window

Tumacacory arch

On our last morning, after another early start, we drove to Madera Canyon, a beautiful place to walk and observe nature.  As I was enjoying the morning, I realized why I like these birding trips so much.  I like to walk, but sometimes hiking frustrates me, because I have to pay so much attention to the trail that I can’t enjoy what’s around me.  And, hikers want to cover some ground.  On the other hand, birders stroll, because you’re never going to see birds if you don’t occasionally stop and just look around.  So, it’s not about how far you walk, but about how much you see.  I like that.  And, I’m finding that birders, both serious and not-so-serious, are simply fun to spend time with.  They’re generous, intelligent, nature-loving individuals.

As I drove back to my home in Chandler, I vowed that I would travel to the Tubac area again.  The golf resort is a great place to stay.  And since we didn’t have time to visit Tubac Village, which includes lots of local art galleries and other fun places to shop, I definitely want to see that sometime.  I would enjoy another walk on the trails of Madera Canyon.  And I know I need to spend more time in Saguaro National Park.

Southeast Arizona is, indeed, a beautiful place to visit.