June 6, 2022 Durango, CO Day 2

It was a bright, clear-sky day. We could see way off in the distance toward the mountains. By 9 AM it had warmed up to 65 with an expected high of 86. The campground was very empty when we arrived early yesterday, but when we took our walk last night it had filled up. Other than a little traffic noise during the day, this location at the top of a hill overlooking the valley is ideal. We took care of some business this morning, before making plans for our day. We left the campground shortly after 10:00 to make the 11-mile drive up to the La Plata Canyon, but not before stopping at the post office in town.

Entering Durango

The drive up to La Plata Canyon on Highway 160 is very scenic as you saw yesterday when we came in that way from Dolores. The Twin Buttes are very recognizable.

We turned on Highway 124, La Plata Canyon Road.

It is a paved road for the first few miles with homes of all kinds along the road. It is its own little community with large estates, ranches, or small little cottages. There was still snow on the highest peaks of the mountains.

Up until 3 weeks ago, the higher portions of this road were impassable due to snow. The road turns to dirt and proceeds deeper into the canyon. When we hit the dirt, we thought about airing down the tires, but the road was pretty smooth without washerboard ruts, so we didn’t.

After awhile, we entered the San Juan National Forest. In the national forest, there are designated campgrounds. Many of the campgrounds are located along the La Plata River in a beautiful pine forest setting.

The first 4 or 5 campgrounds are nicely developed and for a small fee you get a picnic table, fire ring, and nice clean restrooms. All the sites are numbered.

Further up the canyon you come to an area that has more campgrounds, but they have less-developed sites where you have to “pack it in and pack it out” and there are no restrooms. They are still located along the river in beautiful areas, but if you like to be off the grid, this is the place for you. The hillsides were beautiful with many shades of green shining in the sunlight.

We passed a group of people on a tour coming from the town of Hesperus who took a ride up the mountain. They looked like they were having fun.

Shortly after this, the road got rocky and it was slow going, but we never aired down the tires. We didn’t know how long it would go on that way or how far we would go. The canyon sides got deeper and the road got a bit narrow.

A little further up the road, we heard it before we saw it. We parked the Jeep in a wider area and walked closer to the sound.

Finding the best possible viewpoint, this is what we saw!

What a gorgeous waterfall it was and what a roaring sound it made! The water was carving its way through this rock crevice as it dropped to the pool below.

From there, the water continued down the canyon.

We had climbed to 9600 ft. and from here we got a better view of the snow on the mountain. If you look closely at the pine trees, you can see the snow beneath the trees.

We ate our lunch here and then walked up the road a ways to see what lay ahead. It was a cool, 69 degrees in the mountains. There were a couple areas of shelf road sections, but we came across this beautifully built fireplace and what was left of a foundation.

We decided that this was as far as we had time to go, so we headed back down.

On the ride back, we decided to check out the La Plata City Campground a little closer. It had beautiful sites along the river, although it was one of the more “rustic” campgrounds.

We saw this gorgeous example of a sedimentary rock laying near the river. I am into rocks!

Bob also spotted this cluster of Columbine, the Colorado state flower, growing in the campground. Being in Colorado at this time of year has given us the opportunity to see all the wildflowers in bloom.

We stopped to read the signs posted in this campground. We learned that there was an actual La Plata City which was established as a staging area for the mining camps in the mid-1870’s. The community grew when placer mining and hard rock mining for gold began. La Plata City provided all the goods and services for the miners in the 1880’s. The campground is located where La Plata City stood at one time. We saw some buildings in the woods that once were inhabited by miners. Some of them had been there awhile.

We continued down the canyon to discover another waterfall. We never saw it on the drive up because it was blocked from our view, but it was right along the roadside.

Coming back out onto Highway 160 that would take us back to town, we got another view of the valley.

Descending into the valley, I spotted a yurt sitting atop this hillside. Actually, we have seen quite a few yurts in this area. How the heck does he get up there? We never saw a road that would take someone there.

Back in town, we crossed the Animas River and stopped at the Santa Rita Park.

The park provides a boat launch where many rafting companies launch their rafts, a bike trail, and other outdoor amenities for people to enjoy. The river is a large reason many people come to enjoy the park.

We stopped to view this sculpture of miners that explained the importance and history of mining in this area.

This train, the Emma Sweeny, a replica made of wood and steel, was built in Hollywood for the 1950 movie, Ticket to Tomahawk, which was filmed in Silverton and Durango. The train stands on display in the park. In fact, Durango is called the “Hollywood of the Rockies” because since 1925 nearly 30 films have been shot on location in and around Durango. You may have seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, How the West Was Won, and National Lampoon’s Vacation, to name a few.

I had wanted to come and check out the rapids in the river from the park location. One part of the park is designated a “Whitewater Park” with 5 specific areas of whitewater rapids.

Our timing couldn’t have better! We saw kayaks doing all sorts of crazy stunts in the river at the rapids.

Check out the hat!
Yes, he did this on purpose. He spun himself around to get himself off of the rock.
Yes, he did this on purpose too! Then, he popped right out of the water!

There is an area set up along the river creating a slalom course for the kayakers to paddle through. They would hang these striped bars in the middle of the river, spaced out in different locations, to create the course. It would be a competition to race down the river through the course for the fastest time. There is also probably a freestyle competition to get points for different stunts they can do. It was so interesting to watch all the stunts they were attempting.

We walked farther along the river to see the rafters take on the rapids. There were 8 rafts and one by one they took their turn. We could hear their screams and happy yells from where we stood. Some got more wet than others. It looked like a lot of fun!

Another interesting thing we watched in another section of river were these guys taking their surfboards into the rapids and surfing in one place as the water rushed past them. That took a lot of balance and skill.

This guy was really good!

In this picture, you can see the surfer waiting for the rafters to go by to take his turn in the rapids.

We spent about an hour there watching all these talented athletes and people having fun in the river. As we were leaving, I found this unopened can of beer sitting on a bench. It was the label that caught my eye, Red Truck Beer, Hard Day Northwest IPA.

But when I read the back label, I had to bring it home. What a kick!

We left the park and stopped at the self-service car wash to wash the Jeep and then at the dispensary, DO–Durango Organics, which is just down the road from the campground, to pick up an item for some friends.

Back at the campground, the sun was shining and it was 86 degrees. We had an awesome day in the mountains and at the park! We grilled pork chops and after dinner we took our walk. On our walk we discovered the TV Room and Lounge area for the campers. It was upstairs above the laundry. This campground was once a KOA campground, so it has a lot of cabins for rent besides the RV sites. They also sell items for breakfast at the Caboose Cafe. Pizza is available and can be delivered to your campsite. If I didn’t say so already, we have stayed at this campground before and would come back again! We saw another great sunset tonight from our campsite!

Tomorrow we leave for Questa, NM for a 5-night stay. You may not have heard of Questa before. but it is the place where the Rio Grande Gorge is located. The 50-mile gorge runs from northwest to southwest of Taos, NM. It is 200 ft. deep near the border and plunges down 800 feet farther to the south. It is considered New Mexico’s Grand Canyon. I read about and saw pictures of this place and put it on my list of places to see. We’ll see if it lives up to it’s name!

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