Friday, July 1, 2011

Fun Valley, Colorado - With Cindy Pecos!

Suz and I have attempted to make it to South Dakota and Mount Rushmore for years, but continue to be detoured along the way. With my recent retirement, we thought this would be the perfect year to go. Friends have recommended we visit Fun Valley, Colorado, which is just west of South Fork at the head waters of the Rio Grande River. And in an effort to make it a more efficient trip, we planned to go through Colorado and visit Fun Valley en route to Mount Rushmore. But as usual, that didn't happen. As it turned out, three people and a poodle can only survive together in an 8 by 32 foot cracker box for so long.

Our 13-year-old granddaughter, Kyrsten, affectionately known as "Cindy Pecos" (the origin of her nickname is a story in itself), came along for her first long-range RV trip. She's not only a delight to be around, but she is also a tremendous help to her papa in setting up and preparing the coach for travel. Tell her once and she remembers what to do each and every time.

We set out Tuesday morning and spent the first night in Amarillo at our usual stop, The Oasis RV Resort. Below, Suz and Cindy "Chillin at the Oasis!"

Susan's cousin, Jeff Prunty, was working in the Amarillo area and we met up with him for dinner at The Big Texan Steakhouse.

I've written about the "Big Texan" before, but one thing I forgot to mention is that they even have limo service from the Oasis to the steakhouse. Sure makes it convenient if you don't want to unhitch your rig to go to dinner.

We were up early the next morning and headed north out of Amarillo towards Raton, New Mexico. We reserved a campsite at the Cedar Rail Campground & RV Park at the summit of Raton Pass. The wild fires a week earlier had closed the pass, but was open upon our arrival.

Below, a quick break for lunch on the road to Raton . . . .

Because the motor coach was so large and cumbersome, its trips were mostly confined to 4-lane highways. The 5th Wheel is narrower and much easier to maneuver, so now we have no problem taking the back roads on our adventures. One of the cool things we encountered on our way to Raton is Capulin Volcano (pictured below). The volcano is now extinct, but stands more than 1,200 feet and lava from its eruption over 60,000 years ago can still be seen lying on the desert floor along the highway.

When we arrived in Raton, we were surprised to see our neighbor from the Oasis checking in at the RV Park. We never got her name, but the desk clerk informed us that she'd lost her job, sold her house, and purchased her large 40-foot diesel bus, which she was using to see America as a "Pioneer Woman." Below are several views of the campsite high atop Raton Pass, New Mexico. The image at the lower-right is of "Pioneer Woman's" bus, which is an Atrium model and offers splendid panoramic views of the surrounding area.

Below is a picture of the Cedar Rail office. Notice anything peculiar about the upstairs door?

Up early the next morning and headed north into Colorado. We turned west off I-25 onto HWY 160 through Alamosa and on to South Fork. Fun Valley is just west of South Fork along the Rio Grande River. It has six separate RV camp areas with over 450 parking sites, a motel, and individual cabins. If you go, the street address is 36000 HWY 160 West, South Fork, Colorado.

Because the RV parking sites are rather primitive, i.e., mostly grass or dirt, I was somewhat skeptical (I prefer to park on level concrete pads with patios). But the surrounding scenery and amenities quickly overcame my skepticism. Fun Valley offers three cafeteria style meals each day, a convenience store with RV supplies and accessories, miniature golf, hiking, trout fishing, bicycle rentals, horseback riding, tubing on the Rio Grande, paddle boats, square dancing, a gift shop, recreation hall, and live entertainment most evenings. They also serve great hamburgers and malts at the Snack Shack. The following represents a pictorial tour of Fun Valley (click on the images for a larger view):

We met several people from Oklahoma who were also vacationing at Fun Valley. And our "social butterfly," Susan, either already knew them or knew someone they knew.

We visited Fun Valley in late June, and the temperatures ranged from the mid to high 70s during the day to the mid 40s at night. Our coach has an electric fireplace, which made for a cozy morning over coffee or hot tea while enjoying the views of the Rocky Mountains outside our picture windows.

Not only is Fun Valley a beautiful place to spend your vacation, it's also economical. It cost us only $81.50 for three nights of parking with full hookups (electric, water, and sewer).

In order to avoid taking the same route home, we chose to accept the challenge and go over Wolf Creek Pass toward Chama, New Mexico and on to Santa Fe. Many RVers dread Colorado passes like Wolf Creek because of its 7% inclines, which can be devastating to trailer brakes.

Wolf Creek Pass stands at 10,856 ft., and offers motorists spectacular scenic views along the way. Here are just a few:

Climbing to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass posed no strain on our Chevrolet Duramax 6.6 HD, as the turbo diesel effortlessly pulled the 12,000+ lb. trailer up the grade. But as they say, "what goes up must come down." And as we went over the crest, a lump formed in my throat when I saw the following image:

But no worries, mates! The GM advertisement is right - "Chevy trucks can stop what they pull!" I simply engaged the exhaust brake, and when the onboard computer sensed the load pushing the truck downhill, it took over and maintained the truck's speed at 40 mph. I only needed to apply the service brakes three times during the entire descent. No need for a "runaway truck ramp" here!

Upon reaching the other side and Pagosa Springs, we turned south and headed into northern New Mexico where we stopped for lunch in Chama. Chama, New Mexico is a quaint little town about 2.6 square miles in size. We ate at the High Country Restaraunt and Saloon, which serves authentic "New Mexican" meals; meaning they serve red or green chili and sopapillas with your lunch and not for dessert. Chama is also the home of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which provides sightseeing tours of the surrounding mountains.

Along the way to Santa Fe, we noticed heavy smoke filling the ski to our north. We later learned from the local news stations that a wild fire had broken out in the Jemez Mountains near Santa Fe. Crews were still battling the blaze when we left Santa Fe.

Suz and I have visited Santa Fe several times, but never took the opportunity to see the local sights or learn the history of the community. What better time to do so than with Cindy Pecos along?

The "centerpiece" of our sightseeing tour had to be Loretto Chapel. With the assistance of the Sisters of Loretto, Bishop Jean Baptisite Lami had the Chapel built in 1878. Upon completion of the Chapel, the Sisters realized there was no way to access the choir loft. Legend has it that they engaged in a prayer vigil which was answered when an unknown man, believed to be Saint Joseph the Carpenter, answered the call with nothing more than a few hand tools and a donkey loaded with lumber from extinct trees found only in the Middle East. The completed staircase contains two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. Contemporary architects marvel at its design and construction, claiming it is built with the use of wooden pegs in lieu of nails.

Here are a few additional pics of our tour of Santa Fe . . . .

The following picture is one of the many irrigation ditches that run along the streets throughout Santa Fe. Known as "Acequias," the irrigation canals are communal ways to share water between neighbors of a dry and arrid land.

Their origin stretches back over 400 years and are still active within Santa Fe today. According to our tour guide, all property owners along the ditch has "water rights" to use of the water which flows at least two days per week. It's not that the homes don't have plumbed running water, it's just that they have access to the system to ensure the use of a water source for irrigation or other needs.

The Santa Fe Plaza, or Town Square, is a fun and beautiful place to spend an afternoon. There are many shops and restaraunts to catch your eye or appetite.

But, heed Jerry & Susan's dining recommendation when visiting Santa Fe: Do try "Steaksmith at El Gancho," which is located at 104 Old Las Vegas Highway. Wonderful steaks, salad, and bread. Overall, a good dining experience!

Do not waste your time, money, or appetite at "The Balconies on the Plaza" in Santa Fe's Town Square. The food was hideous, the service was unreasonable (over an hour wait for lunch), and the price was excessive.

Following a busy two days in Santa Fe, Cindy Pecos and Maynard were ready to head home.

When we had the motor coach, there would have been no question as to which road would take us home - Interstate Highways all the way. But, with the 5th Wheel being a little narrower in width than the motor coach and easier to maneuver, two-lane highways are no obstacle. Interstate 25 south to Albuquerque, then west on I-40 to Clines Corners would require a distance of 124.3 miles. But if we took a shortcut across the New Mexico desert along HWY 285 from Santa Fe to Clines Corners, it would only require a distance of 54.3 miles. Everyone opted for the shorter distance and the scenery was much better.

Once to Clines Corners, we headed east on I-40 toward Oklahoma City. We made a brief stop in Santa Rosa for one last chance at some authentic New Mexican food. If you pass through there, try the restaraunt at the Sun & Sand Motel on Historic Route 66 that runs through Santa Rosa. They, too, offer red and green chili with meals.

With the exception of the strong crosswinds and Cindy's first experience with the cattle yard just west of Amarillo, the remainder of the trip was pretty uneventful.

Above, an 18-wheeler jacknifed and lost its load when a gust of wind blew it off the east bound lanes of I-40. Our coach stands just shy of 13 feet tall, and strong crosswinds have a serious impact on its towing ability. Depending on the type of RV you operate, daily driving distance varies dependent upon wind speed and direction, size and weight of vehicle, and many other considerations. RV experts contend that seasoned RVers drive no more than 240 miles per day, while newbys may travel 500 miles or more. Suz and I agree that safety is our first concern, and that is why we try to limit our daily distance to about 250 miles (OKC to Amarillo).

One final recommendation, if you're passing through Shamrock, Texas around lunch or dinner time, try "Big Vern's Steakhouse" at 200 East 12th Street on Historic Route 66. Again, excellent steak cooked to perfection, a good hearty salad, and homemade rolls.

Well, we didn't make it to Mount Rushmore this year, but maybe next. Watch for our next post as we head to northern Oklahoma and Ponca City with the Modern Wagoneers!

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