Better Days Are Coming

Set 9: Various Roads - Durango and Vallecito Lake, Colorado

Text and Photos Copyright ©2002 by Carolyne Butler

Views Through the Windshield Index
PREVIOUS - SET 8: Colorado 149 - Various Byways off Colorado 149, "The Silver Thread Scenic Byway"
NEXT - SET 10: Durango, Colorado, to Santa Rosa, New Mexico

The area around Lake Vallecito and Durango is one of our favorite areas to come each year. Here are a few sights you might expect to see if you come here too.

— 1 of 12 —

Road to Vallecito from Bayfield.

Road from Bayfield to Vallecito

It's about 14-15 miles on the highway north from Bayfield (off Highway 160) to Vallecito Lake. The road follows the Pine River (Los Pinos) up to the lake.

I liked the unusual architecture of this house near Bayfield, so when we drove past it on another day, I took a closer view of the house.


— 2 of 12 —

Pine River.

Los Pinos River

If someone asked me to describe a place where I'd like to live, it might look a little like this.

Los Pinos (The Pine) River is another one of those Western rivers that is important to agriculture, and its water is apportioned carefully, even jealously. One of our campground hosts told us that in this valley they grow several crops of alfalfa each year, maybe half a dozen or more in a good year.

Our destination, Vallecito Reservoir, aka Lake Vallecito, is a few miles upstream from here. Although there is a great deal of recreation in the area due to the lake, the lake is primarily a reservoir for agriculture. The previous year (2000), the lake was only half full (down about 50 feet from normal, some said) due to so much water being used for crops. It left a lot of boats high and dry, but it also exposed the lake bed, which turned out to be an interesting place to poke around among various rocks.


— 3 of 12 —

Them ain't cows.

Just a pastoral view of some cattle grazing? Guess again.

Every year when we pass this place, I have to stop to take a picture or two. The name of this ranch (or do they call it a farm?) is Double Eagle.


— 4 of 12 —

Them's llamas.

Them ain't cows. Them's l·l·a·m·a·s

What in the world is a llama good for? I'd been wondering that for a long time, so I figured the Internet would know. I typed "llamas for sale" in a search engine, and here's one page that came up complete with llama pictures and more answers than I ever had questions for:


— 5 of 12 —

Lake Vallecito in the morning.

Morning mists rise on Lake Vallecito

This is a view of the lake in the morning from the east side of the lake not far from the dam. The bad part of this view is that I snapped it on the morning we had to leave to return to (hot, humid, and flat) Florida, and that, for me, is always the low point of our vacation. You can see a larger view of the above picture by clicking here.

Vallecito is about seven miles long by about one mile wide. The west side of the lake (to the left in the picture) is the more commercial side, with some businesses and permanent and vacation residences. The east side of the lake (to the right of the picture) is reached by a road across the top of the dam and then a gravel road. The east side is National Forest land and includes several campgrounds along the shore. It's the side we live on while we're there. And for only $5 a day camping fee (senior-citizen rate), we've always thought that this area offers one of the best bargains in real-estate-with-a-view that we could ever wish for. For a sampling of some of our real-estate-with-a-view at Vallecito, see these non-VTTW pictures I took from right within our campsite (or within 100 feet of it):   Gone Swimming -   Laid-back Boaters -   Nosy Ground Squirrel -   Fungi on Tree Stump -   Wind and Rain -   Fellow Camper's Morning Catch -   Bird in Serviceberry -   Geese

The osprey are always a show to watch, if you can get close to them. In previous years, when they fished nearby, we could see them come up out of the water with their catch. And then if they flew overhead toward their nest to feed their young, it was possible to see the fish they held in their talons with its head forward and tail behind, as they always carry fish this way. I was able to get closer to one osprey the previous year (2000) when the lake was half empty, as these shots show (osprey view 1, osprey view 2). But this year with the lake full, just when I had some new telephoto lens to take pictures, the osprey decided to fish so far away from where we were camping that it was impossible to see them at all. Uncooperative birds!


This may have been our last time to enjoy this area, at least for many years. In June and July 2002, a devastating forest fire burned thousands of acres of forest and homes in the Durango area, and the areas around Vallecito did not escape. A map of the burned areas, including Vallecito, can be found here: MAP of burned areas. (To add some perspective to how large the area is that burned, it takes about 45 minutes to drive to Durango from where we camp on the eastern shore of Lake Vallecito.)

The Durango Herald has put numerous pictures and stories of the fire online.
A couple of AP pictures of the fires can be seen here (see especially "Terrible Beauty"):


— 6 of 12 —

Why did the deer cross the road?

Deer, crossing road. To get to the other side

We saw her as we were driving out of the campground. I tried to take some pictures, but she kept dodging through the trees, until finally, when she stepped out to cross the main road, I got this one shot of her.


— 7 of 12 —

Downtown Durango, tourist mecca.

Downtown Durango and Tourist Traffic

There's always something to do in Durango and environs. It's always teeming with tourists when we're there. But then, we are tourists too. (If I could have had my druthers, this would have been my hometown area for the past forty years.)


— 8 of 12 —

Sign painter.

Painting the town

Downtown Durango has a lot of interesting old buildings. A section of this building is getting a fancy paint job. Click here to see a larger view of this picture. Click here to see a large view of the finished mural from another Through the Windshield photo I took one year later on a return visit to Durango.


— 9 of 12 —

Strater Hotel, Durango.

Strater Hotel, one of Durango's landmarks

Take a visual tour inside the Strater and see its beautiful antique furniture here:


— 10 of 12 —

General Palmer Hotel, Durango.

General Palmer Hotel, another of Durango's landmarks

Two highly scenic highways cross here in Durango. No matter whether you head out north or south on Highway 550, or east or west on Highway 160, you can count on seeing a great deal of interesting landscape.


— 11 of 12 —

Durango &
Silverton train heads north out of Durango.

Durango & Silverton Train

No trip to the Durango area would be complete without a ride on the Silverton. (I've ridden it three times, and would be happy to ride it again.)

Learn more about the train on its official Web site: Check out the lyrics to C. W. McCall's song about the train, "The Silverton," here:



— 12 of 12 —

Rafting the Animas.

Rafting on the Animas River

Rafting on the Animas is a favorite sport of summer tourists. We did it one year. Great fun! (You can get wet.)


Views Through the Windshield Index
PREVIOUS - SET 8: Various Byways off Colorado 149, "The Silver Thread Scenic Byway"
NEXT - SET 10: Durango, Colorado, to Santa Rosa, New Mexico