Saturday, December 2, 2017

Mesa Verde, Colorado (August 23-25, 2017)

Mancos, Colorado

Hitching back to Durango

Our last campsite of the trip at a KOA a couple hours outside of Denver
Moosie and I finished the Colorado Trail on August 21, 2017. Our flights home were scheduled for August 25. Another hiker we met on the trail named T-Rex offered Moosie and I a place to stay in Durango while we waited for our flights. After staying with T-Rex for two nights and not wanting to overstay our welcome, Moosie and I devised a plan to spend a night in Mesa Verde National Park. It felt a little ambitious, but definitely doable. We were still in travel mode where one can almost get anywhere on blind faith alone. Our plan was to hitchhike out to Mesa Verde from Durango, spend one night in the park, and then hitchhike back to the Durango airport where we had just made arrangements to rent a car at 10:30am. Then we would drive as close to Denver as we could where we would spend one more night in a campground nearby and then catch our flights home the morning of the 25th. Everything had to fall into place, and somehow it did just that.

Hitching out of Durango took about 30 minutes, we didn't have the greatest spot to hitch from. However we were picked up by a former wilderness ranger who drove us to the town of Mancos, Colorado. There we waited another twenty minutes or so before we were picked up by a young farmer who lived on a small subsistence farm with his wife and new baby. He drove us to the Mesa Verde Visitor Center.

Moosie and I now had about a 4 mile hike to reach the park's first campground where we planned to camp for the night. National Park's are designed for the automobile. On foot, it seemed strange that this land, once traveled on foot for thousands of years, felt awkward to approach it that way now. Moosie and I found ourselves waiting in a line of automobiles on foot with our backpacks receiving curious looks from the other tourists. While waiting in line, a ranger in a pickup truck drove up next to us and rolled down the window. "Just letting you guys know it's illegal to hitchhike in the park, and if we see you doing it, you will be fined." We payed our $20  entrance fee and started walking up the road, thumbs in our pockets.

The hike to the campground was going to be mostly a 4 mile uphill hike on a narrow, winding road. The weather was warm and dry, visibility crystal clear. It felt great to be out of the cold, wet San Juans, and into the desert. Moosie and I made it about 2 miles up the road when a red pick up truck pulled over and offered us a ride to the campground. They were former John Muir Trail hikers.

Moosie and I made it to the campground and secured a nice campsite just as a round of thunderstorms rolled in. It didn't matter. There was a nice camp store nearby with plenty to eat, drink, with bathrooms and showers. What more could one ask for? After the storms rolled out, Moosie and I went for an excellent afternoon hike up on the mesa. We were not going to have time to view any of the park's iconic ruins, but that was OK. That night, we had our first and only campfire of the entire trip. We were going to have to wake up early to reach the Durango airport by 10:30 to pick up the rental car and head to Denver.

The following morning, we woke up to wind and drizzle and chilly air. We packed up as quick as we could. It was going to a four mile hike back to the highway where we would have to start hitching again. As we passed through the camp store area, we heard a greeting from John the Aussie, the fellow Colorado Trail hiker who happened to finish the trail same moment we did on the 21st. He was just getting ready to leave the park and drive his rental car towards Utah where he planned on touring the Southwest for three weeks. He offered us a ride four miles out of the park to the highway. Perfect!

After riding with John and dropping us off on the highway, Moosie and I faced a grim prospect. Our hitching spot was terrible, cars were flying past over 65 miles an hour and there was little to no traffic leaving the park at that time of the morning. It was also threating to rain. However, faith ruled the day. Suddenly a pickup truck slammed on his breaks and told us to jump into the back. He would drive us back to Mancos. It was a cold and wind blasted hitch, but Moosie and I were thrilled to be on the move. Our hitch out of Mancos was guaranteed to be easier.

After dropping us off in Mancos, sure enough, about twenty minutes later, we were picked up again and our driver told us he could take us all the way to the intersection of our final road, 15 miles away from the Durango airport. Our driver reminded me a lot of our old hiking friend H2Camo.

Once dropped off on our final road, I barely was able to finish my "Airport" sign when a woman in a van pulled over and said "Hop in! I'm late for work but I can take you half a mile from the airport!" After she dropped us off, Moosie and I walked the final half mile to the airport where we arrived at 10:45am, only 15 minutes late! Our rental car was waiting. Everything went off with out a hitch (no pun intended) and before we knew it, Moosie and I were in our own car heading towards Denver. We were like teenagers on their first road trip. We drove past many of the places we had been weeks before: Pagosa Springs, the San Luis Valley, Salida, Buena Vista, Wolf Creek Pass, Leadville, South Fork. I have to admit, it was no where near as memorable passing by these spots in a car.

After driving several hours, we secured a campsite at a KOA about two hours outside of Denver. It felt strange to have to be herded into such a small designated spot. This is the world we live in. Our campsite went contrary to all common sense. Exposed on a small knob, completely wind blasted, and pricey. A metaphor for the "civilized" world. Nevertheless, Moosie and I were right where we needed to be. The next morning, we drove to the airport without incident. Before I knew it, I said goodbye to Moosie and I was on plane 25,000 feet above the earth flying back to Maryland. Our Colorado adventure was over...

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