Celebrating 100 years of Our National Parks at Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House Cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House Cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde

Me Overlooking Spruce Tree House

Me Overlooking Spruce Tree House

Touring Mesa Verde National Park

Touring Mesa Verde National Park

You’ve probably heard that 2016 marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the National Park Service. Often referred to as America’s Best Idea, there are more than four hundred parks within our beautiful country and I think fall is one of the best times to visit them. In celebration of this milestone, there’s one more entrance-free day left and I find it appropriate that this one takes place on Veteran’s Day, November 11.

To me, it feels like I’m living within a national park in my home of Telluride, Colorado. I believe that Ken Burns, renowned filmmaker of America’s National Park series and many other inspiring documentaries, feels similarly. Perhaps this is why he spends so much time in our little box canyon mountain town. I did an interview with him a while back on our national parks that is still very pertinent today. Do check it out here.

Even so, I love venturing out and exploring the real deal. Fortunately, we have a couple national parks in Colorado within about an hour-and-a-half drive of Telluride: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Mesa Verde National Park. (The latter is also a World Heritage Site.) I visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with my parents six years ago toward the end of a big southwest tour that also showcased Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Click here to read Touring the Southwest with My Parents, which features those two world-renowned destinations. At the end of that trip, I also visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with them and I highlight this amazing national park in Part Four of a series of stories I did about rafting in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. After you read about this little-known national park, check out Rafting and Roughing it on the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Part One, Part Two and Part Three–it was a big outdoor adventure that I hope to do again some day. You just might want to plan a similar trip there yourself.

Speaking of world famous sites, it always strikes me that at America’s National Parks I see an overwhelming number of foreigners. Sometimes I think they value what we have more than most of us. Possibly. In any event, I hope this story and the photos herein will prompt you to break out and savor what we are so blessed to behold within our nation’s borders. I also think it might be a great way to blow out some election overload!

more »

Blue Lake Ranch: A Hidden Gem in Southwest Colorado

Blue Lake Ranch

Blue Lake Ranch

The Iconic Sleeping Ute Mountain in Southwest Colorado

The Iconic Sleeping Ute Mountain in Southwest Colorado

I Love Sunflowers

I Love Sunflowers

I love living in southwest Colorado. Here in Telluride we’re in a high alpine world surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks, yet within an hour’s drive you find yourself in more arid, Western-looking landscapes sporting temperatures almost twenty degrees warmer. That’s a welcome relief this time of year when most people want to extend summer as much as possible.

Blue Lake Ranch

Blue Lake Ranch

About this time last year I discovered a wonderful guest ranch that I didn’t know existed: Blue Lake Ranch. And what a discovery it was!

more »

Embracing Colorado Wilderness with Over the Hill Outfitters

The Great Colorado Outdoors:  Where Life is Best Viewed from a Horse

The Great Colorado Outdoors: Where Life is Best Experienced from a Horse

Spring has finally sprung—full-on—here in Colorado and despite the fact that it snowed about ten days ago, this week the thermometer has been registering summertime temps. Roadways over the highest mountain passes are being plowed for passage and outfitters of all sorts are preparing for the influx of summer visitors. There’s still some snow to be cleared from the steep mountain trails, however, with the warmth of our southwestern Colorado sun, all our glorious wilderness will soon be open to locals and vacationers alike.

My fellow ski instructor buddies have taken up their summer posts as guides, landscapers or in my case, as a full-time writer, to name a few. Mother nature and all of us fortunate enough to live in this beautiful country are transitioning nicely into summer. At the end of ski season, I sat down with Dennis Huis, a top ski instructor at Telluride Ski & Snowboard School, to hear about his flip side, the job he’s been doing every summer for about as long as he’s been in ski school world.

Dennis talks about his work as a guide on pack trips with Over the Hill Outfitters in Durango, Colorado in my Travel Fun interview below. Click on the play button  to listen to what he has to say about life on the trail. People from all over the world learn about the true definition of “getting away from it all” on these five-day horse trips into the Weminuche Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in Colorado which encompasses a significant part of the rugged San Juan Mountains, some of the most spectacular peaks in the United States.

more »


The Lone Ranger Showcases Monument Valley, Southwest Colorado and More


The Lone Ranger and Tonto in Monument Valley

The Lone Ranger and Tonto in Monument Valley

“Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!”

Such are the famous words shouted by the Lone Ranger as this masked man gallops off on Silver, his handsome white stallion, the same words shouted by kids throughout the decades as they head off on an adventure. Ever since the original radio show aired in 1933, through the popular TV series of the forties and fifties, across the pages of comic books and then highlighted in films, “Hi-Yo Silver!” has captured the excitement and dashing spirit of the West for the better part of a century.

more »

On the Trail of Western Movie-Making in Utah and Colorado

Monument Valley: An Iconic Shot

I’m feeling a little sentimental these days. Lately this golden season has flooded me with memories of two significant trips I took in the West at this time of year. The first occurred eleven years ago when I discovered the penetrating red rock landscapes of Moab, Utah during a road trip with the goal of where to settle in the West. The second happened in Monument Valley when I accompanied my parents on a trip-of-a-lifetime through southern Utah and then down to the Grand Canyon. (Visiting the Canyon had always been a dream of father’s—little did he know he’d end up marveling at the awe-inspiring monuments of Monument Valley just as much.)

Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab

At each of these high desert destinations, I felt and continue to feel humbled by the panoramic vistas seemingly painted in every shade of red throughout this arid land. Here buttes, spires and pinnacles tower over you as though nature’s standing guard in what sometimes looks like one of America’s last great frontiers. It’s no wonder some of the most iconic images of our country may be found in Moab and Monument Valley, Utah. The greatest westerns ever made were filmed here, specifically at two lodges that continue to pay tribute to the rich history of movie-making that occurred around their properties:  Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab and Goulding’s Lodge in Monument Valley. The landscapes at and surrounding these ranches have, in fact, been so well preserved that movies, TV shows and commercials continue to be filmed here today. (Johnnie Depp was just at Goulding’s last spring filming the new version of “The Lone Ranger.”)

more »

Sweet Sorrel: A Wonderful Destination Resort in Moab

A Glorious High-Desert Garden at Sorrel River Ranch

When most people think of Moab, Utah, they imagine red rock landscapes the likes of which you see in some of the best westerns. Indeed, many great movies, TV shows and commercials, featuring the rugged scenery of the great American West, have been and continue to be made here, It is the land of two wonderful national parks:  Arches and Canyonlands. But those in-the- know—and especially those that have traveled to the sweetest spots of Moab along the banks of the Colorado River—are aware that there’s many an oasis within this russet-red land.

Surely one of the most lush, the greenest piece of well-irrigated earth—long ago homesteaded by adventuresome settlers—makes up the Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa, a veritable paradise where fine living meets the great outdoors. I first stayed here nearly eleven years ago, shortly after the ranch was transformed into an elegant resort and here I am happy to find myself once again. It’s the kind of place you want to settle into for an entire week, but sadly I’m just passing through. Who ever said the life of a travel writer is marked by long periods of rest and relaxation?

more »

Sultry Summer Evenings at Durango’s Rochester Hotel

The Rochester Hotel & Bar in Durango, Colorado

It’s been feeling like summer around here in southwestern Colorado and there’s no rain in the forecast (sadly since we really do need the moisture). But it’s a great time for enjoying the outdoors, day and night.

Courtyard at The Rochester

Our nicest mountain towns put on summer concerts in unparalleled settings throughout the summer, although most of these happenings don’t begin until July. In Durango, however, you can get a jump on these memorable musical evenings by attending one of the Wednesday June concerts hosted in the courtyard of The Rochester Hotel. Their lineup kicks off tonight with the oh-so talented (and oh-so cute!) Alex Maryol, the soulful Santa Fe bluesman. Happy hour begins at 4 p.m., music from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The courtyard at The Rochester will be sizzling with musical events every Wednesday in June. Click here for the complete schedule. There you’ll also see other doings announced such as art exhibitions and special parties. To me, The Rochester Hotel & Bar rates as one of the most fun and dynamic places of lodging in this fiery Western town. I’ve always found their courtyard to exude a sultry feel, so I’m sure this is a great place to spend a warm Rocky Mountain evening. Keep in mind, too, that Durango’s temps soar higher than those of Telluride, Aspen and Vail, so partying in the town’s numerous outdoor venues is a huge part of their summer scene.

And if you love old westerns, definitely plan a stay or at least a good look around at The Rochester. For more about this lovely hotel and this bastion of western movie-making tradition, read Durango, the San Juan Skyway and the Western Movie Culture of the Four Corners Region According to Fred Wildfang. There you’ll also hear writer and historian Frederic B. Wildfang talk about this terrific destination of the West and the outlying area.

Note that The Rochester Bar is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. You can find The Rochester at 726 E 2nd Avenue in Durango, just one block up from main street; tel.:  970-385-1920.

Alex Maryol at The Rochester Hotel Courtyard

Strater Hotel: the Grande Dame of Durango, Colorado

Strater Hotel in Durango Backdropped by a Quintessential Colorado Blue Sky

If you’ve read some of my posts on my blog and/or if you’re familiar with my books on France, you likely know by now that I love hotels. Historic hotels in particular move me. I’m a big fan of experiencing these bastions of history and tradition during one’s travels, whether it’s to pop in for a drink or to stay a few nights. No matter how you choose to discover these landmark properties, a visit to them allows you to soak up the spirit of the place for either a brief moment or a more luxurious stay. The world is peppered with such places of lodging, steeped in history, that folks have been enjoying in many cases for more than a century. I encourage my readers to seek them out at every turn because it’s often within their splendiferous interiors that we gain the true essence of the place we’re visiting; it’s here we’re able to peer into the past while embracing the present.

In most cases, these fine establishments serve as the cornerstones of the cities and towns we love to visit. Many were built during the golden era of that destination in an effort to express to the world all that the town had achieved, all that the community was becoming. Erecting a notable place of lodging for business and leisure travelers alike was a sure-bet way of putting a destination on the map in addition to providing the right conditions for welcoming visitors in a more dignified and glorious manner.

Nearly every town and city in Colorado boasts a fine hotel, most of which were built during the boomtown era of the mining days toward the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was one of the most significant ways of saying “we’ve arrived.” Finally an old cow town could receive its potential investors and other movers and shakers of the day in a proper manner. The Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado stands out as one of the finest examples of this necessity to build a handsome place of lodging in emerging towns throughout the West.

Strater Elegance

As Durango’s future hung in the balance between a mining camp and a metropolis, a very young Cleveland pharmacist named Henry Strater had the vision of exactly what this southwestern Colorado town needed: a grand hotel. He fibbed about his age, borrowed money and forged forward. Toward the end of the 1800s, the Strater Hotel opened and its 376,000 native red bricks and hand-carved sandstone cornices and sills are as resplendent today as at its beginning.

In more recent years, the Barker family restored this Victorian gem to its original glory while updating it with today’s amenities. Staying in one of the hotel’s guest rooms, each handsomely decorated with hand-carved woodwork, beautiful Bradbury and Bradbury wallpapers and fine antiques, makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The hotel’s collection of American Victorian-era walnut furniture is, in fact, one of the largest in the world. Renowned western author Louis L’amour loved the Strater so much that he would hole himself up in room 222, just above the hotel’s Diamond Belle Saloon to write his western-inspired novels. The honky tonk music from the Diamond Belle apparently helped set the mood for his writings about the Old West.

The Diamond Belle Posse

Still going strong today, no trip to Durango is complete without entering the Diamond Belle Saloon, a gilded scene straight out of the Far West. There’s always great entertainment to be enjoyed filled with exuberant piano playing and old time-y tunes. If you’re looking to pass a more reserved moment at the Strater, have a drink at The Office Spiritorium, a handsome bar/lounge where you can enjoy drinks, appetizers and fine music. New American cuisine is served nightly in the Mahogany Grille, also within The Strater.

For a real step back in time, check out the Durango Melodrama & Vaudeville at The Henry Strater Theater, a tradition that has marked Durango summers for forty-eight years. Good news:  This year the shows are running through September 24th, a real testament to the increasing popularity of this event since they previously ended in August. Here’s Webster’s definition of melodrama:  a work (as in a movie or play) characterized by extravagant theatricality and by the predominance of plot and physical action over characterization. I’ll also add that you should expect lots of audience participation, so it’s best not to arrive late or you’ll miss the necessary cues. Here, too, the tickling of the ivories doesn’t get much better.

As you can perhaps tell from all the offerings, the Strater represents the hub and the heart of Durango, one of the best darn towns in the West. Today you can still rub elbows with ‘ole cowboys and ranchers (especially on weekend nights) along with outdoorsy types of every ilk. Durango and the Strater seem to be more happening than ever. Isn’t it lovely how they’ve moved forward while honoring their past? Even if you only have a moment, take a little walk around the lobby at The Strater Hotel and admire the Victorian elegance and western charm of this iconic establishment. And even if it’s just for a fleeting moment, here I promise you’ll breathe in a good whiff of the West’s prominent past.

Strater Hotel, 699 Main Avenue, Durango, Colorado, 800-247-4431, www.Strater.com

Visit Durango Area Tourism Office for more information on this fun town. 




  • Follow A Tour of the Heart

     Follow A Tour of the Heart
  • Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign Up Today for My Email Newsletter
    For Email Marketing you can trust
  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Ads

  • Meta

  • Disclosure

    This blog is a personal blog written and edited by Maribeth Clemente. This blog sometimes accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation. The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog. That content, advertising space or post may not always be identified as paid or sponsored content. The owner of this blog is sometimes compensated to provide opinion on products, services, Web sites and various other topics. Even though the owner of this blog receives compensation for certain posts or advertisements, she always gives her honest opinions, findings, beliefs or experiences on those topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blogger's own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question. This blog does not contain any content which might present a conflict of interest.
  • Permission

    Please note that unless otherwise attributed to someone else, the content that appears on this Web site/blog is the property of the author, Maribeth Clemente. Written permission is required if you choose to use or excerpt any of this material.