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.

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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.”)

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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,

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




Chipeta Sun Lodge & Spa: Spirit of the Southwest in the Rockies

Chipeta Sun Lodge & Spa

Chipeta Sun Lodge & Spa

Can’t decide whether you want to vacation in the Southwest or the mountains? How about choosing a place of lodging where you enjoy the spirit and landscapes of both? Check out Chipeta Sun Lodge & Spa, a lovely southwestern-inspired adobe retreat set within the majestic San Juan Mountains, just an hour from Telluride, Colorado. Situated in the charming little town of Ridgway (featured in John Wayne films such as “True Grit”), I often recommend Chipeta as an excellent base for visiting the many interesting sites and towns that pepper southwestern Colorado and southern Utah.

If you travel further into the mountains from Ridgway, you can easily explore the historic old mining towns of Telluride, Ouray and Silverton. If you head toward Montrose, you can hit the Ute Indian Museum, a well-worth-the-stop attraction that showcases one of Colorado’s most complete collections of Ute ceremonial and traditional artifacts. Just on the other side of Montrose, plan to spend at least a half day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a stunning and somewhat spooky site that provokes nearly as many oohs and aahs as the Grand Canyon. And within a two-hour drive you can find yourself amidst the striking red rock of Moab and other parts of southern Utah in addition to Arches National Park and Canyonlands.

Since there’s so much to visit in the area and most of the lodging at Chipeta includes condo-type units, you’ll likely want to check in here for a week. Plan at least a couple of relaxing rest days where you can stay put at this warm and welcoming lodge just to loll by the pool or enjoy a treatment in their spa.

View from the Porch of Chipeta's Four Corners Cafe

View from the Porch of Chipeta's Four Corners Cafe

Whether you’re staying at the lodge or just passing through, a stop at Chipeta’s Four Corners Cafe for dinner or drinks is a must. Here you’ll be enchanted by the striking vistas provided from the top-floor location of this casual restaurant and bar. Inside, the scene serves up heaps of southwestern charm within its desert rose-colored interior. As the sun sinks beneath the mountains, you’re bathed in pink light most evenings whether you’re seated inside or out.

The Sunny Interior of the Four Corners Cafe

The Sunny Interior of the Four Corners Cafe

Indeed this heartwarming lodge is aptly named. It’s called Chipeta, in honor of the lovely wife of Chief Ouray, head of the Ute Indians that once inhabited this land, a gentle woman that eventually became “queen” of both the whites and the Utes of the region. Embracing the rich diversity of this part of the country is what Chipeta, the lodge and the beloved Native American figure, are all about.

Chipeta Sun Lodge & Spa, Ridgway, Colorado, 800-633-5868,

July is a wonderful time to visit Chipeta Sun Lodge and its Four Corners Cafe, especially this year with such a rockin’ Ridgway Concert Series lineup. Free concerts take place every Thursday throughout the month from 6p.m. ‘til dark in Ridgway’s Town Park. What a great way to kick off the weekend!

Colorful Colorado

Telluride's Valley Floor

Telluride's Valley Floor

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  What an extraordinary end of summer/fall it has been.  We’ve had nearly three weeks of breathtakingly-beautiful weather here in the Rockies and the forecast promises more sun and warmth for the upcoming week.  The colors have popped.  It looks like the leaves in the San Juan Mountains, the range located in the southwestern corner of Colorado, will be peaking this weekend.  Usually when that happens, a snowstorm blows in, but this year we’re to be blessed with more fine leaf-peeping days throughout a good part of October.  Scenery like this makes me wonder why people battle the crowds and traffic jams of New England for their annual fall foliage tour.  I recommend you sign up for the wide, open spaces and shimmering aspens of the Rockies next year!

The festivals continue here in Telluride.  This week marked the culmination of the first annual Telluride Photo Festival, an event that drew world-class photographers from near and far.  Mother Nature cooperated generously, making it a kick off to remember.  Conservation and fine arts photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum was among the distinguished experts giving workshops and presentations.  Neil Hastings, Sales & Marketing Director of Mountain Lodge Telluride, became so impressed with Mr. Ketchum’s emphasis on the importance and responsibility of bringing nature conservation into your work, that he ventured out to take the above picture of Telluride’s Valley Floor.  “I wanted to honor his (Robert Glenn Ketchum) work and bring attention to the Valley Floor, a land that will remain forever wild,” Neil says.  “Let the elk and bear roam free,” he adds.  Well Neil, with pictures like this you might just have to quit your day job!  In any event, keep up the inspiring work and thank you for sharing this image with me.

Oh yes, I mentioned the continuation of festivals here in T-ride.  The Telluride Horror Show, a three-day horror film festival, will be making its creepy debut mid-October.  The old, dry leaves should be swirling and rustling about our Victorian mining town by then and although always stunning, our scenery might appear more foreboding by the time the ghouls sweep into town.

Thank you again to Neil Hastings for the above image.  Be sure to click on it to enlarge it to take in its full splendor.

Durango, the San Juan Skyway and the Western Movie Culture of the Four Corners Region According to Fred Wildfang

The Marquee-Lined Hallway of The Rochester Hotel, The Hollywood of the Rockies

The Marquee-Lined Hallway of The Rochester Hotel, the Hollywood of the Rockies

Writer and historian Frederic B. Wildfang has made Durango and the outlying area his passion for nearly two decades.  Author of a handful of books about this colorful corner of southwestern Colorado, Fred clearly loves the San Juans, the most striking mountain range of the Rockies.  ”It’s an interesting area historically and scenically,” Fred says in a recent Travel Fun interview.  And certainly its geological richness has left an indelible mark on the region from mining and ranching to tourism and western-movie making and much more.

Preserving Durango's Heritage:  Fred Wildfang and Family

Preserving Durango's Heritage: Fred Wildfang and Family

As for Durango, a dynamic town where Fred lives and works, Fred feels it’s a very friendly place filled with a great mix of the old and the new from weather-worn cowboys to fresh-faced outdoor enthusiasts from the nearby college.  He hikes everyday in the Weminuche Wilderness, the largest road-less area in Colorado, which lies just outside his door.  Fred also loves to use Durango as a base for visiting other great western destinations such as Creede, Colorado and Lake Powell, Utah.  In his most recent book, “Images of America:  The San Juan Skyway,” Fred features this unbelievably scenic 236-mile loop that wends through glacial valleys and over high ice-sculpted peaks, traversing the old mining towns of Silverton, Ouray, Telluride and Durango.  It’s one of the most renowned drives in America and one that you’ll want to take with Fred’s book in hand.

With such spectacular scenery and a wealth of remnants from the Old West, it’s no wonder so many western movies were filmed in the Four Corners area. Fred’s wife, Diane, and her son, Kirk, took over The Rochester Hotel, an historic hotel in Durango a number of years ago and renovated it to a heartwarming place to stay, one of my favorites in this fun-loving western town.  A must-see tribute to the history of western movie making in the region, the rooms and hallways of this cozy enclave showcase western movie memorabilia from Fred’s collection.  Each of the rooms is named after the movies filmed in and around the San Juans, beginning with “A Ticket to Tomahawk,” a western classic made in 1949 starring Marilyn Monroe. Fred talks about this movie and others in our interview.  You’ll discover that most of the westerns were filmed in the fifties and many boast a connection with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, a national treasure that provides reason enough to travel to Durango.

Click on the play button below to hear my interview with Frederic Wildfang.


The Rochester Hotel, 721 East Second Avenue, 970-385-1920 or 800-664-1920,

The Rochester Courtyard with an Old Rail Car

The Rochester Courtyard with an Old Rail Car

Book Picks

In addition to ”Images of America:  The San Juan Skyway,” mentioned above, if you’re going to Durango, you’ll also enjoy “Images of America: Durango,” authored by Frederic B. Wildfang as well. Go to to find out about these books and more.

The National Trust and Us

Richard Moe:  Our Nation's Leading Preservationist Enjoying the Great American West

Richard Moe: Our Nation's Top Preservationist Enjoying the Great American West

People don’t want to go to a place that has lost its soul.

—Arthur Frommer

Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, shared the above quote with me in a recent Travel Fun interview.  As our nation’s leading historic preservation organization, the Trust has saved the soul and character of countless places in its sixty years of existence. From main streets to historic sites, this bipartisan organization works tirelessly toward preserving our country’s heritage.

As a part-time resident of Telluride, I’ve had the privilege of chatting with Dick Moe about historic preservation and some of his favorite destinations several times.  He loves his time in the West and makes Telluride his base every summer for visiting some of the most significant cultural sites in the United States including Canyon of the Ancients in southwestern Colorado.  In our interview, he also talks about other exciting locales in the region such as Durango, Silverton, Chimney Rock and the Rio Grande Gorge in Del Norte.

As for Telluride, it’s clear that it stands a cut above all other Rocky Mountain destinations.  ”Telluride has done a better job of preserving its historic character than any other mountain town,” says Dick.  He also shares his thoughts on the Telluride Valley Floor, a 500-acre parcel of open space that he fought hard to preserve.

The Trust’s programs on sustainability and historic preservation are also discussed in our interview. Currently the organization is committed to a sustainability program that focuses on the environmental value of “recylcing” older buildings for new uses and retrofitting them for greater energy efficiency.

Heritage tourism is the fastest growing part of tourism, already a huge industry in our country.  The National Trust has offered tours all over the world for quite some time but they’re expanding their reach with Gozaic, a one-stop shopping portal for heritage travel.  You can hear what Dick has to say about this in our chat as well.

Listen to the entire half-hour interview I conducted with Richard Moe by clicking on the play button here:

People want to experience what’s real and genuine in communities.

—Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Note that at the same time of this story posting, Richard Moe announced his retirement from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  He has been the longest serving president in the sixty-year history of the Trust.  He plans to continue to hold that position until a replacement is found, likely in the spring of 2010.

National Trust for Historic Preservation, 202-588-6000 and 800-944-6847,; you may become a member of the Trust and receive their award-winning magazine six times a year for as little as $20.

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