Feeling at Home While Traveling

There was a gorgeous full moon hanging in the sky just above the mountains as we headed for Gunnison. Of course, the photo does not do it justice. It looked so big that you felt you could almost reach out and touch the huge orb.

Gorgeous moon in Colorado
Gorgeous moon in Colorado

We were a little late checking into the motel, according to John’s timetable. It didn’t matter at all. We took a side trip to drive through Telluride. Over the years we’d heard so much about it that we longed to see it. I was amazed that so many of the houses were squeezed up – narrow homes of two and three stories jammed onto tiny lots. It’s a good thing there was plenty of mountain air, otherwise people would have been gasping for breath.

Our motel room was just inside the back door and across a hallway from the lobby. Surprisingly, it wasn’t noisy. Perhaps we were the last guests to check in. My thoughts were, it will take about 10 steps to get to breakfast. Be sure to put on outdoor clothes, because this isn’t your own home.

Before I opened my eyes the next morning, I was transported way beyond North Carolina, back to my childhood home. There was that very familiar smell of burned toast. I’ve talked about it enough that most people know my mother burned the toast on a routine basis. There I lay in a motel bed, thinking it was time to get up to go to school. But, wait! There was no scritch, scritching of Mom’s scraping the burned edges off the toast. This was a motel room, and I wouldn’t have to eat the morning burnt offering.

I did not feel at home with the shower. At our age we are constantly on the alert for signs of irreversible aging. I’m beginning to think the first thing to go for me is the ability to deal with strange showers. The normal things were there – tub, faucet with a lever, and circular hardware for turning on the water and adjusting the temperature. There were no instructions. The silly thing had no color cues, either, so you didn’t know which way meant you’d scald yourself. I think the water pressure was regulated by pulling the lever, and the temperature was controlled by twisting. When things seemed right to my feet, I transferred the water to the shower head. I didn’t know I could jump and scream at the same time, but ice cold water shot out with great force. I wonder if the military has ever considered ice warfare. Soldiers could be immobilized by instant freezing wetness.

While we’re on the subject of not feeling at home in a motel, I want to know who decided you need 5 to 6 pillows on a bed? It’s the in(n) thing now. OK, I can understand one under your head and one to hug, but 6 pillows for two people????

I did feel at home after breakfast when we opened the curtains. Light snow was falling, so I read the newspaper while John looked at email. We stayed at Gunnison two nights, one day being set aside for John to ferret out train history here while I caught up on email and blogging. This began to feel like a vacation instead of a fast paced tour. And maybe, just maybe, a nap in the afternoon!!!!! That would be the most homelike thing I could do away from home.


John’s high school classmate Ron and wife Kathy had fun things planned for our visit. They drove us about Tucson for a little while before going to Pinnacle Peak restaurant. There are a group of stores and restaurants with a Western theme clustered about a small train. We ate dinner at a fun place where the rafters were full of men’s ties. Years ago they declared it an informal eatery, and any tie being worn would be cut off. There are shops that sell ties for 3 or 4 dollars, so you can buy a cheap tie and wear it there. We were in luck. There was a big announcement that two people were wearing ties. Wait staff clapped, brought out the scissors, cut the ties, and called for general applause. One boy was wearing a tee shirt and a haphazardly knotted tie. You should have seen the grin on his face as they hacked his tie.

After dinner we rode the little train and poked about a few shops before going home to continue talking.

Ron picked out a marvelous church for us to go to. It was a Presbyterian church that was nearby. They were celebrating the reformed heritage on Reformation Sunday. There was an excellent bagpipe band that piped the choir and ministers into the church in a formal procession. Many people in the congregation were wearing tartans in one form or another — a hat, a stole, a skirt.

102515 Bagpipes

We sang A Mighty Fortress, and the first rate organist played several chorale preludes based on that famous Reformation hymn. Ron couldn’t have known that I grew up in a Presbyterian church or that my family came from Scotland in the 1600’s. John and I were pleased with the Lutheran bits, knowing some of the churches we often go to might not celebrate the day as enthusiastically as this group did. We learned that Kathy also went to a Presbyterian church when she was young.

After brunch at a marvelously preserved hotel, we reluctantly said goodbye to Kathy and Ron and headed toward Colorado again.

Ron, Kathy, John, and Anne at lovely old hotel
Ron, Kathy, John, and Anne at lovely old hotel


Driving from Williams to Phoenix, we topped a hill and found ourselves in the desert. I’m classifying desert as the sudden appearance of cactus plants.   The first ones we saw were low growing, but soon the huge saguaro (g is pronounced like w) cacti were standing proudly, arms pointing to the sky. The toy camera couldn’t resist taking a photo of a bathroom sign at a gas station.

Actually Phoenix was the starting point when John was planning our trip. We had been invited to a 50th anniversary party for our friends Karen and Jim. The party was subsequently canceled because they will celebrate when their children come for Christmas. Meanwhile, John had mapped our whole trip with this as the focal point. It was wonderful to see our old friends again. We arrived in the afternoon and went to their church Halloween event. Jim had constructed five games, and Karen did the lettering. When the church found the price of renting games, Jim offered to make some. He is very talented and makes good use of his woodworking shop. It saved the church a ton of money, and they can use the games again. Jim agreed to pose with some of his games.  The quality of the shots is poor, but you get the idea.

After we walked through the church grounds, we went out for dinner for an informal celebration of their anniversary. I had a great shot of a photo taken from their wedding album, and I accidentally erased it. I’m still kicking myself for that. If I hadn’t been so clumsy, you’d be able to see what they looked like 50 years ago.

Karen and Jim are very gifted at working with their hands. John drooled at Jim’s complete woodworking shop, and I admired Karen’s craft room. Pictured are two Halloween mugs Karen decorated and a cutting board Jim made from scraps. Their house is fully decorated for the spooky holiday.

I asked about a lush tree in the yard, and Karen pulled off a bowlful of limes for us to take with us. There is a bit of grass there for their dog, but otherwise the plants are desert natives. Thinking of outdoors, Jim said they get fantastic lightning shows because there is a lot of metal in the mountains behind their house. That might explain why there was so much activity at Mesa Verde the day we were there.

They let me out of the car to photograph desert plants while on our tour of the 102415 Jumping cactus on my footneighborhood. I snapped several shots and felt a prickle when I moved to another spot. Carefully I tried to pull off a ball of thorns and stabbed myself. I finished the photos, pried off the painful ball with a stick, and went to the car to show them. Everyone laughed, saying they had watched my drama unfold. Karen said it was a jumping cactus. Appropriate name!

Gadgets and gizmos were a hallmark of their house. Most were not interactive for guests except the shower. I never cracked that code. John came out of the bathroom and asked if I knew how to work the shower. I looked at it and saw no lever to make the water come through the shower head rather than the faucet. We were laughing at ourselves, but there was no recourse but for John to don clothes and go ask Jim how to work it. Jim said it was done with the faucet. Back in our bathroom, we made another attempt. He and I twisted it a little, but that had no effect. Luckily he was still dressed. He went out again, and Jim took John to another bathroom to demonstrate it.

“What is the trick?” I wanted to know.

John answered, “You don’t turn the faucet; you pull it down.”   He finished his shower, dressed, went out, and promptly disappeared.

102415 Mystery showerThinking I knew what to do, I stepped into the tub and started the water. Obviously, I was naked as a jay bird. I pushed the faucet. Nothing happened. Maybe John said to pull it up. No, that wasn’t it. Wiggling it did nothing. Was it waiting for a rain dance? My feet were wet, and I refused to dry off, dress, and get help. I never thought I’d stoop so low, but I washed using the water flowing near my knees. It’s lucky I hadn’t planned to wash my hair! If I could have made a funny story of it, I would have told the others. I was halfway to an embarrassing confession, anyway, with my face beet red from being sunburned at the Grand Canyon. As it is, they’ll have to read it here.

I followed voices and found Jim and John chatting while the dog exercised on the 102415 Toby exercising on treadmilltreadmill. Jim explained that when he began to use the equipment, the dog let him know he wanted to try it. Toby tried to get on, but there was not enough space for man and dog together. Now Toby waits until Jim gets off, and he takes a turn. He goes at 4 miles an hour. Jim has to stand right there with him because the machine will throw the dog off if he stops running. That day Toby wanted on again when Jim thought he’d had enough. He wondered if it were a bid for attention. It may have been, but it was good exercise for the dog.

The Grand Canyon

The canyon was magnificent. We spent most of the day there, walking along the rim. Cool breezes were counterbalanced by the warm sun. We saw some people wearing shorts and others sporting ski outfits, complete with knitted hats. I was awed by the scenery. There is nothing like seeing it with your own eyes. The thing I wasn’t prepared for was hearing many different languages spoken. It was like being in Kennedy Airport! I couldn’t understand half the things I heard. Isn’t it marvelous that people come from all over the world to see something so special?

102215 Grand Canyon (5)

Several promontories had paved walkways with sturdy rails so that you could feel safe leaning out to get a good photo. I was surprised and pleased at the lack of fences. The walkways were lined with small boulders which you could easily step over. People did go out to places where I would not have felt comfortable, but they were free to do so. I feel that if bureaucrats and activists from New York were in charge, no one would be able to visit the park at all. They have already outlawed the selling of large sodas in Manhattan.  I enjoyed the freedom we felt at the park.

John had done his homework. He planned for us to eat in a historic hotel that had been there since the train began the run. The lobby and restaurant looked as they did in old photographs. We could see the canyon from our table. The food was delicious, beautifully served, and cost no more than something comparable in New York.

102215 Anne John at Grand Canyon

After eating, we resumed our walk along the rim, going back about halfway before catching a free bus to our starting point. There was a partial rainbow in the canyon that intensified as we walked. I’m sure one of those photos will be our favorite for the whole day.

102215 Rainbow

Four Corners

We packed the car and stopped at a pharmacy for a few items before leaving Durango. John said he couldn’t have planned it if he tried, but the train was just leaving the station. We hopped across the tracks where I took six shots of the engine. John agreed that I could delete one.

Durango train leaving station
Durango train leaving station

The most amusing road sign out of Durango was one for elk crossing. I missed it the day before, and when we passed it going fast, John offered to make a U-turn so I could take a photo. Wasn’t that kind? I said I could live without it, but I’m very happy to have it.

Elk crossing
Elk crossing sign

We stopped at Four Corners where we could have our feet in four states at once – Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. I call that last state Arid Zone, because my lips and hands felt as dry as could be. I took a picture of my feet in Utah, because niece Chrissie was in that state for a meeting.

Williams AZ was our stopping point. Does anyone recognize Williams as a center for trains? I didn’t. I thought we were going to the Grand Canyon. We were, but John needed an evening of train watching. This suited me fine, since I would have time to write while he was out.

Mesa Verde

Oh! Did we hit the weather! Driving to Mesa Verde, we had rain and small hail. As we were driving through the park, a fantastic thunderstorm made its slow way across the broad valley. John parked on a side road, and we sat there watching the lightning and listening to the crack of thunder. Streaks of lightning struck the earth repeatedly, but there were also circles in the clouds and wavy bolts. It was fantastic. John read that in the summer there can be up to 100 lightning strikes per day in that area.

Cloud for the lightning show
Cloud for the lightning show

They make a big deal about this national park being one that preserves an archaeological heritage. The Pueblo people (Puebloans) lived on the high plateau and in the cliffs. Some of the sites were closed for the season, and others were labeled as strenuous. I knew I wasn’t going when they said the tours involved climbing ladders. We saw the informational video, looked at all the exhibits, drove around the area, and went through the museum. I learned that a mesa is a high plateau, and this area is full of them. The 3-D map made it look like there had been mountains there, with canyons, and that all the tops had been cut off at the same level. No one knows why these ancient people carved out and constructed their homes in the cliffs, nor why they left.

3D map of Mesa Verde area
3D map of Mesa Verde area

The exhibit that I enjoyed the most showed a kneeling woman scooping up water with a ladle. The Puebloans used seep springs to bring water into their homes. They dug small shallow basins in the stone to catch the water they channeled there. This system worked year round! What they didn’t explain is what happened if you forgot to empty the basin. Did your blankets get soaked?

We are trying to eat at local restaurants rather than chains, and today we hit the jackpot for me. In the park eatery there were several American dishes and more Southwest things. I ordered a Navajo taco and watched the cook prepare Indian fry bread and top it with chili, lettuce, salsa, cheese, and sour cream. Because all that bread wouldn’t have been good for me, I left the outer circle. What a treat it was!

Navajo taco
Navajo taco

Back in Durango, we walked to Main Avenue (not Main Street) to see the stores there. A black cloud came toward us, and we had another lightning show. We sheltered in the train station for about 20 minutes until the hail and heavy rain subsided to sprinkles. I wanted to duck in a shop that had local crafts, and the first thing that caught my eye was a display of owls made from gourds. We began to chat with the owner and stood there talking non-stop for an hour. Her family has lived in Durango for four generations. She lived all over the world, got a PhD in archaeology, worked at Mesa Verde, and now makes jewelry and operates that store. She had friends in Setauket (near our NY home) who taught something in the scientific field at the university. She pegged my accent as from NC, but when we said West Tennessee, she asked where. I said north of Memphis. She said, “You must know Dyersburg.” That town is about 20 miles north of my hometown, and she had a friend who lives there, one she communicates with regularly via the internet.

The best story came after she asked how John and I met. She met her husband because of skiing. She had been on the slopes and gotten drenched. Students offered to help her, so they took her to their fraternity house. They were all football players, so they went in the room of the smallest fellow and loaned her his dry clothes. She walked down the stairs as he walked up and did a double take at seeing his clothes on a woman. She talked as if he had been the love of her life, but she never said what happened to him.

We walked the main street, ate a light supper at a café, and walked down to the tracks to see the train come in from the day’s excursion. John wanted to see the engine once more, running between the streets. I’m sure he would never get enough train watching for a lifetime, but I think he was satisfied with all he saw in Durango.

Durango engine returns in rain
Durango engine returns in rain

Durango to Silverton

The train ride from Durango to Silverton lived up to its billing. John talked of this railroad for 50 years, and I saw pictures and videos of the train. He was concerned that he hadn’t bought tickets in the special car with all the amenities, but he needn’t have worried. The car was not full, so we spread out. The ride was long – 3.5 hours each way – but there was always something to look at.

The mountains were impressive, as was the rushing stream all along the route. That stream becomes the Animas River running through Durango. The peaks here were more rugged than ours. (What possessiveness!) Still, the Rockies had something special – snow covered peaks!

Durango is a large train/college town on a small river. Silverton, though, is very small and walkable. The railroad laid out the broad streets, which appear to be dirt. If there is an underlying support, it wasn’t visible. After the mining failed, tourism became its main business. It’s amazing that the town sits in a flat valley at 14,000 feet. John pointed out that the mountains rise steeply only three or four blocks from the center of town.

There were two amusing sights that I photographed. One was a public restroom where the two stalls in the ladies’ room had curtains instead of doors. The other was a bench made of skis.

We almost missed the aspen display. Occasionally we’d see a stand of bright yellow leafed trees, but most of them had lost their leaves. The shrub I loved may be a willow. There was a naturalist on board who looked at my photo and said it was a willow of some sort. A tree identification app suggested Bebb’s willow. The shrub had lost its leaves, but the branches were silvery blue, especially in sunlight.

Bebbs Willow??
Bebbs Willow??

We chatted with two other people, one from California and one from Arkansas. In general conversation, it was soon evident that John knew tons more than the other two men. They began asking questions and getting deeper into train lore. It makes a wife proud to see strangers admire her husband’s knowledge.