The art of adventure, whether 500 years ago, or now, is wonderful. We read, or watch shows about historical adventures when we have the ability to go now! It is ingrained in our human spirit. We have no idea where we are going until we get there. Such is how I felt on February 3, 2015 as I drove up the muddy, snowy, and slush-filled Conejos River Road. I'd never been up this road so it was time to go. I had two hours to pursue one of my passions, 'light exploring.'
In yesteryears when I would see a trail sign along a highway I used to say 'One of these days, I'm going to stop there,' which meant NEVER, until I finally got smart and made the decision to put on the brakes and STOP. Some of my best 2-3 hour adventures were born of this strategy while traveling. As I drove, the February sun and unseasonably warm temperatures made for sloppy driving. I couldn't resist picking up a little speed and letting the slush fly outward from my tires and splash onto my windshield. I drove by several small ranch homes and there were "No Trespassing" signs on the fences lining the road. After about two miles there were cabin ruins on the right with no restrictive signs. A tunnel of Ponderosa pines shadowed the road in front of me, the river lay on my left in the meadow below, a steep tree covered mountainside to my right, and the snow was six to eight inches deep. I continued on about a quarter of a mile and though I have confidence in my snow driving skills, the shadows made it feel quite icy underneath. Getting stuck is never a good option and the road was going downhill so I opted to stop, reverse course, and backed up the quarter of a mile to the cabin ruins. Very few tracks were in the snow, indicating a road lightly traveled in the winter.
I got out and felt the instant warmth of the sun. Could the weather have been more perfect? Forty-three degrees, in the sun, and without much wind, in Colorado, in winter, defines perfection! The recently melted snow around the cabin left the ground quite muddy and as I approached, the adventure in my mind began. Who lived here, why, and when?
The front door was open so I let myself in. Built from aspen tree logs with wood ceilings and floors, it looked to me to be late 1800s construction, perhaps as a hunting or fishing cabin in the summer as people began to enjoy recreation in the mountains. There is no evidence of any mining activity nearby, as in other parts of the state so it was probably not a miner's home. I think someone built this cabin simply for the view of the river valley which is fairly flat. The water flows gently, sings softly, and radiates beauty in concert with the surrounding mountains.
What a sight this would be on a moonlit night and in the fall with the aspens glowing gold!
Attached to one beam in the center of the front room was one wire for one light bulb, perhaps put in 30 to 50 years after the original structure was built. The cabin also had glass windows. Hmmm? Put in when? The builders certainly knew to capture the view! The center room of the cabin had collapsed so I walk out the front to go around and inspect the back. I see an old bedspring and as I scan to my left on a pile of rocks I notice hundreds of rusting cans.
Now there's some history! I laugh and am supposing the garbage service was unreliable so it was serve and toss, the cans that is, out the back. Now things are interesting! Even with many years of being in the elements the cans had not turned to complete rust dust. I recognize the shape of some, condensed milk cans, bean/vegetable cans but many more are unknowns. I look for familiar shapes, turn over a few and then I hit the treasures! I find a rusting Pepsi can with an old logo still visible! A seamed steel can, with an aluminum top and a pull tab! 1960s?
Perhaps a dime in a soda machine? (I am originally lower midwest - same as pop machine:) I locate an aluminum beer can. I can just make out the Coors logo and see that the top of the can required an opener. If only the cans and walls could talk. I take a few photos, leave everything in its place, and I even turn over the Pepsi and Coors can for the next adventurer to discover the logos.
To get there from Alamosa - Twenty nine miles south on 285 to Antonito. Continue on Highway 17 about 23 miles to the little village and take a right on the dirt road. If you cross over the Conejos River you have gone too far. How do you think I know that? Go forth, find adventure!
Walkabout defined from the Merriam Webster internet dictionary:
1 - An occasion in which an Australian Aborigine goes on a long walking journey on land that is far from towns and cities from several weeks up to six months. OR
2 - An occasion in which a well-known person walks through a public place to meet and talk informally with people.
Sure glad we got that straightened out! I am not well known and I am not in a public place. So... I am a number 1 with redefined parameters...
Runabout - see # 1 with these changes: I only have a couple of hours and I am a trail runner which simply makes it a Walkabout at a faster pace and shorter duration, and for several hours instead of weeks or months.
Parked at a pullout two miles up the Conejos River Road on a warm beautiful February day and having just 'toured' a falling down cabin, it is time for a runabout. One sign indicated that the town of Platoro is another 21 miles up the road. Not today! Maybe several miles to get a feel for the valley. The road is slushy, muddy and still frozen in the darkest shadows. Matches a few of my parameters for fun running even when the feet get wet and cold. Two Abert's squirrels are chattering at each other or perhaps me as they are close by but not intimidated by my presence. They run from tree to tree and climb up just far enough to be out of my reach. Smart little nutcases! I continue down the road. Other sounds enter in as the river is running across rocks in the stream and past and around ice emitting a passive soothing symphony. Occasional breezes are whispering through the ponderosa pines. I am running steadily in and out of varying conditions.
Sometimes we all need to get far from the madding crowds to rejuvenate our body, mind and spirit. I contemplate the difference between the joys of solitude and a mild pang of loneliness. Would be a fun place to share. I drop lower on the road, turn a corner heading north northwest and am close to river level. Willows replace pines on the river side of the road and the south facing steep slopes on the north are replaced by desert like vegetation basking in the warm and baking rays of the high altitude southern sun. Trees are forced to retreat up the mountainside. I look up and a bald eagle is soaring on silent wings along the river. Tremendous fisherman; perhaps he/she is looking for a late lunch of trout pate. I feel my spirit lift and fly along. Off we go up the river valley until we disappear around another bend into a deep blue sky.
I contemplate how many walkabouts/runabouts are in and near the San Luis Valley. So many and so little time. Uh, oh. Back to reality. Been out 45 minutes so should probably turn around. But not before I have made a choice. Solitude and beauty!