When we learned that RV friends Harvey and Gayle Pagel were headed back to Texas after their Alaska trek in their truck camper, we planned to cross paths at an RV park outside Montrose, CO. Even better, RV friend Robin Kinney and her intrepid four-legged companion, Golda, were also on the road and they too planned on catching up with us and the Pagels.
|roadside lunch break - with a view|
But before reaching Montrose we had to take care of a little birding business. In 2000 the endemic sage-grouse was split into two distinct species - the greater sage-grouse and the Gunnison sage-grouse. The greater sage-grouse was already on our ABA life hit list. Now there were two species to add.
The Gunnison sage-grouse range is restricted to southwestern Colorado and extreme southeastern Utah, with the largest population residing in the Gunnison Basin region. With such a restricted range and small population, it’s little wonder why the bird is on the Federal endangered species list.
Sage-grouse are notable for their elaborate courtship rituals. Each spring males congregate on leks and perform a noisy strutting display. These raucous courting rituals take place in the Spring. But it was now late summer. Birds were not being vocal and were far more wary so our chances of finding any were significantly diminished. Still, we were in the right habitat and had a few tips on where to look.
|our site at Palisades Senior Park|
|Gunnison sage-grouse and CR-38|
With the early and unexpected sage-grouse find, our need to rise before O'dark-thirty the next morning evaporated. Still, we had time to kill in the morning before checking out of the park so we cruised CR-38 again. And son of a gun, if we didn't stumble upon more sage-grouse! This only served to bolster our belief in a well known birding adage - once you find a hard sought after life bird, they suddenly become easy to find.
|site at Centennial RV Park and view overlooking park from hiking trail|
|young Black Swift on nest in Box Cañon|
|local brew in Silverton|
Hwy 550 (the "million dollar highway") to Silverton is supposed to be a very scenic drive but not friendly to pulling a large RV. Now, without an RV in tow, we were free to drive the winding and twisty route. In Silverton we celebrated our drive at the Avalanche Brewing Company by sampling the local brew.
Back in Ouray, acting on a tip, we lunched at Buen Tiempo Mexican Restaurant. Then on our way back to Centennial RV we dropped in on the Billings Artworks in Ridgway for a chat with John Billings. Don’t know about Billings Artworks? Think Grammy Awards and about where those Grammy Awards are made.
|dining with Harvey and Gayle|
|hiking and lunch with Robin, Harvey, and Gayle|
|the gang at Buen Tiempo|
|Billings Artwork with John in his workshop|
|Carol and Golda|
|our site at Ruins Road RV Park|
|Great Kiva - exterior and interior|
Built and used over a 200-year period, Aztec is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River valley. Concentrated on and below a terrace overlooking the Animas River, the people built several multi-story buildings called “great houses” and many smaller structures. Associated with each great house was a “great kiva”—a large circular chamber used for ceremonies. Nearby are three unusual “tri-wall” structures—above ground kivas encircled by three concentric walls. In addition, they modified the landscape with dozens of linear swales called “roads,” earthen berms, and platforms.
The construction at Aztec shows a strong influence from Chaco Canyon, the site of a major Ancestral Pueblo community to the south. Aztec may have been an outlying community of Chaco, a kind of ancillary place connected to the center to distribute food and goods to the surrounding population. It may have also been a center in its own right as Chaco’s influence waned after 1100. In places, the walls at Aztec Ruins are three feet thick, making them over twice as thick as Mesa Verde cliff dwelling architecture. Masons used the “core and veneer” style, laying a thick rubble core within a finely shaped stone veneer.
In about 1300 the Ancestral Pueblo people left the region, migrating southeast to join existing communities along the Rio Grande, south to the Zuni area, or west to join the Hopi villages in Arizona.
When Geologist Dr. John Newberry came upon Aztec in 1859, he was the first recorded visitor and found the site in a fair state of preservation. Several walls were 25 feet high in places and many rooms undisturbed. Newberry recorded much of the site but over the next 50 years, looters did a lot of damage. By the time anthropologist Lewis Morgan investigated the site in 1878, he estimated that a quarter of the Pueblo’s stones had been carted away by settlers for building material. Artifacts continued to vanish at an alarming rate until 1889 when the site passed into private ownership.
In 1916 New York’s American Museum of Natural History began sponsoring excavations directed by Earl H. Morris who spent seven seasons exploring and stabilizing the site. He began a supervised reconstruction of the Great Kiva in the 1930’s which by then, Congress had designated the site as Aztec Ruins National Monument. In 1987 it was declared a World Heritage Site.
Today the site consists of a visitor center, with self-guided tour of ruins in various states of reconstruction, including the Great Kiva in the central plaza.
Despite rampant looting, there still exists a remarkable variety of food remains, stone and wood tools, cotton and feather clothing, fiber sandals and mats, pottery, and jewelry made of turquoise, obsidian, and shell that reveal much about their use of local resources and trade with other cultures.