I’ve been to the Durango area half a dozen times, to see cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, ride the steam train that chugs up to Silverton, and to ski at Purgatory and Wolf Creek. This week I skipped all those things and focused on mountain biking.
I’ll be writing a complete story later, but for now, here are the 10 highlights of my trip to what the tourism folks call Mesa Verde Country in southwestern Colorado:
1. Swooping through the Ribcage. I rented a Specialized Stumpjumper mountain bike from Kokapelli Bike & Board in Cortez, an hour west of Durango. Then I connected with professional endurance gravel bike racer Ashley Carelock, who led me up a network of single track trails through scrub brush and rock formations that looked like they were made out of Silly Sand at Phil’s World. At the top, we launched into the most celebrated stretch of flow trail in his corner of Colorado – the Ribcage. The drop-in was a little bit gnarly, but then we rocketed up and down a series of undulating dipsy-doos, hardly peddling because the momentum kept us rolling. I still haven’t wiped the smile off my face.
2. Biking Boggy Draw. When the sun rose higher in the sky and the heat cranked up, we ditched Phil’s World for Boggy Draw. This slightly milder collection of trails weaves through a pine forest, and since it’s at a higher altitude it’s not quite as hot ther.e
3. Jumping into McPhee Reservoir. I was on my own the next day, and it got hot – Texas style warm-a-tortilla-on-the-sidewalk hot, with temps hovering just over 100 degrees. To cool off, I drove through a forest of pine trees to the rocky shore of a cold lake, where I jumped in (naked, of course.)
4. Staying at Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch. This amazing 2,000-acre guest ranch made me swoon. Not only is it populated with sheep, cattle, cats, and chickens, owners Ming and Garry Adams are eccentric, creative, welcoming and wonderful. They invited me to dinner, where I met a Navajo couple and other long-time friends.
5. Feeding the sheep. Garry handed me a sack of organic chia and quinoa chips, and pointed me to a field at the guest ranch where huge, fluffy sheep were grazing. I barely escaped a gentle trampling when they eagerly rushed over for a snack.
6. Exploring the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Put this on your must-do list. Tribal member Ricky Hayes led our group of six onto part of a 125,000-acre parcel of tribal land and showed us rock art, mounds of pot sherds and ruins, told us ancient stories, and taught us about Native American culture.
7. Eating like a local. In Cortez, I stopped by Blondie’s for a Navajo taco, made with hot fry bread topped with green chile and sour cream. WildEdge Brewing Collective in Cortez served great tap beer and excellent pork nachos. I cooled off with a scoop of honey lavender ice cream at Moose & More in Cortez. And I also sampled the world’s best hummus and great baked goods at the Dolores Food Market in Dolores.
8. Visiting a winery. Sutcliffe Vineyards is tucked in a beautiful valley about 15 miles outside of Cortez. They’re best known for chardonnay, and owner-founder John Sutcliffe, a former polo player and New York City restauranteur, is happy to show visitors around.
9. Shacking up at the Retro Inn in Cortez. If you need an affordable place in Cortez, book a night at the Retro, a renovated motel with a funky, retro vibe and clean but basic rooms. There’s a giant outdoor chess set, a real-live telephone booth, and a barbecue pit. I stayed in No. 1971, decorated with Clint Eastwood movie posters from the time.
10. Take in a sunset. Slow down, sit outside, think about the ancient people who once lived here, and soak it all in.