Monday, October 31, 2022

Welcome November!

Happy Halloween! October seemed to pass too quickly! October is the month of autumn color along the front range in Colorado, as you can see from the photos from my area above. I particularly love looking out my front window to see the yellow, orange, and red glow of the Emerald Ash tree that is in front of my house.

October is also the month I roast pie pumpkins in my oven to make  pumpkin puree.  I freze the pumpkin puree in one-cup measurements to use in cakes, stews, soups, and chiles.  You can find my pumpkin bread recipe here. I will share a new recipe I tried this year using pumpkin along with cornmeal and coconut milk, which was also delicious, in a future post.

Happily, most of the last of the green tomatoes that I picked when the danger of frost was predicted, turned red by the end of October.  I roasted them in the oven and then ran them through the food mill to make tomato sauce--so good!  I also froze that for future use.

This week we woke up to our first snow! Our granddaughter was sleeping over at our house the night before and was so excited to see the snow!  Many of the trees were still full of autumn leaves so it was a collision of the seasons, between winter and fall, as you can see in the photos above.

In true Colorado form, most of the snow began melting when the sun began to shine later in the day. It gave us well needed mositure.


A few local deer enjoyed sunning themselves at my side yard, after the snow.


Every year we take a ride over to see a Halloween-decorated house in our area that is programmed with light and sound. They had a series of "Stranger Things" scenarios as well as the "This is Halloween " song and "I Put a Spell On You."  It's fun and so clever to see!  Copyright music issues make it impossible to post a video, but I hope you can imagine it.

“Some of the days in November carry the whole memory of summer as a fire opal carries the color of moon rise.”
— Gladys Taber

Welcome to November!

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Sunday, October 23, 2022

A Joyful Journey

The Colorado Sangre de Cristo Mountains

My husband and I had a wonderful anniversary trip to Southern Colorado where we hiked up part of a mountain to see Zapata Waterfall, click here. made our second visit to the Sand Dunes National Park, click here, and rode on the scenic Cumbres and Toltec Railroad to New Mexico, click here. all the while enjoying the scenic views of the 14,000 feet high Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range and the San Luis ValleyAs you can see in the photo above the aspen groves on the mountains were glowing in beautiful autumn colors!

On our drive back to the Denver area, we decided to stop in at the Joyful Journey Spa for a few hours to soak in their natural mineral hot spring pools.

At an elevation of 7700 feet (2346.96 M) on the valley floor, the spa enjoys cool summers and sunny winters, as well as spectacular views of the mountain wilderness to the east. They offer lodge, casita, yurt, or tipi accommodations. They also welcome day visits.

A Hummingbird Moth we saw buzzing around a plant at the spa. 

It was wonderful to soak in the hot springs--the 108-degree pool was our favorite and so relaxing!

After 3 hours of bliss, we went back on the road...

...where we passed the Collegiate Mountain Peaks to the west...

...and then drove through the high (9,000 plus feet) alpine basin of South Park.

As we approached Kenosha Pass more aspen colors began to appear.

There were so many beautiful views to see as we drove by.

 Colorado is so beautiful in the fall!

We continued our drive home, thankful for another year together and another joyful anniversary celebration.

Please keep one of my favorite bloggers, Marie, of Proud Italian Cook, in your prayers! Marie and I began blogging at the same time in 2007 and she has been an inspirational source for many delicious recipes for me. Marie recently announced on Instagram that she sadly found out that she has advanced ovarian cancer and is now receiving chemotherapy and will have surgery in the future. 

Marie's son is going to compete in the 2023 Boston Marathon and was selected to help raise money for the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center in honor of his mother.  100% of every penny he raises will go towards innovative cancer research to help find a cure. His goal is to raise $26,200, which is $1000 for each of the 26.2 miles he will run on April 17th, 2023 at the Boston Marathon. Please consider supporting this cause with a tax-deductible donation. Here is the link where you can donate if you so choose: 

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Monday, October 17, 2022

The Scenic Cumbres and Toltec Railroad

My husband and I love the adventure of a steam engine railroad ride and we were excited to take a 6-hour ride on the very scenic Cumbres and Toltec Railroad recently, taking the ride from Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico. 

The train's website describes it perfectly:
"The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a National Historic Landmark.  At 64-miles in length, it is the longest, the highest and most authentic steam railroad in North America, traveling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Rocky Mountain West.

Owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, the train crosses state borders 11 times, zigzagging along canyon walls, burrowing through two tunnels, and steaming over 137-foot Cascade Trestle. All trains steam along through deep forests of aspens and evergreens, across high plains filled with wildflowers, and through a rocky gorge of remarkable geologic formations."

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was originally constructed in 1880 as part of the Rio Grande’s narrow gauge San Juan Extension, which served the silver mining district of the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado. The inability to interchange cars with other railroads led the Rio Grande to begin converting its tracks to standard gauge in 1890.  Through the years the line became less and less used and finally abandoned. Happily, railway preservationists had the foresight to save the most scenic portion of the line. In 1970, the states of Colorado and New Mexico jointly purchased the track and line-side structures from Antonito to Chama.

When taking the train from the Antonito, Colorado station we first passed over the vast high-elevation San Luis Valley, which has an average elevation of 7,664 feet (2,336 m) above sea level.  My husband and I went out to the stand-up open car as soon as our tickets were punched as we wanted to see all the scenery. A herd of Pronghorns ran across the tracks in the distance at this point, but they were so fast I couldn't catch a good photo of them.

A short Youtube video I took of the train traveling in the San Luis Valley at the beginning of our ride.

The train quickly covers the flat ground and reaches a series of hills. It crosses Ferguson’s Trestle, named for a man who was hung there. 

It then climbs to a lava mesa, a remnant of the mountain's volcanic past. From here, the route winds around wide curves, going up into the mountains.  

We took the train ride the last week in September, so I was concerned that the fall color would not be very bright as yet, but the higher we went in elevation the more golden the aspens became.

The train track was very close to the edge of the mountain summit cliffs and my husband and I marveled over the construction and all the effort it must have taken to lay all the track.

The train passed by Sublette.  Sublette was the home of station gangs, the workers who maintained the right-of-way ties, ballast, and rails. During early railroad operations, the telegraph and trains were the only communication for folks living there.

We passed through the 342-foot Mud Tunnel which requires wooden supports to hold up the tunnel roof and walls.

We were now in an attractive geologic area of volcanic lava rock.

The views were beautiful!

The autumn color was really popping here.

So many aspen trees!

We really enjoyed the views!

We passed alongside many beautiful aspen groves and views of deep valleys and then entered the 360-foot-long Rock Tunnel which opened up to 600 feet above Toltec Gorge,  To see a video of our exciting ride through the tunnel and our first view of the gorge click here to see my YouTube short.  You can also see the square granite Garfield Monument towards the end of this video.  It was erected by railroad ticket agents and dedicated to the memory of  President James A. Garfield after his assassination in 1881.

If you look in the distance you can see the railroad track along the cliffside, where we had just traveled.  

The train stopped at Osier, Colorado where we were given a delicious cafeteria-style barbecue lunch included in our train ticket.

After lunch, we had a good view of the Rio de Los Pinos River when we were back on board the train.

The train passed over the Cascade Trestle that spanned 137 feet over Cascade Creek.

The train continued on over many curves which helped it gain elevation.

My husband's hand pointed to an eagle flying high overhead!

The train had to work hard to climb up to Cumbres Pass, the highest point on the railroad at 10,015 feet (3,052,5m) above sea level.  The Cumbres and Toltec Railroad travels the highest of any train in North America!  Fierce winter storms sometimes leave snow drifts of 20 feet or more.

More spectacular views!

As the train approached Chama, New Mexico, we were told of its role in some movies, as we passed a prop wooden tower that was used in an Indiana Jones movie in 1989.  When we reached the station we could see another engine and train that will make the trip from Chama to Antonito the next day.  We could also see the coach bus that was waiting to bring us back to Antonito.  The bus ride was also included in our train ticket and only took one hour as it took a very direct, but equally scenic, route.

We really enjoyed our day on the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad and could see why it has been voted the best and most scenic train ride in America by readers of USA Today (2016, 2019, 2020)

If you'd like to see other train rides we've taken in Colorado you can see all ten prior posts at this tab. We have taken the Georgetown Loop many times, The Royal Gorge Railroad twice, the Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad, and even the Tiny Town miniature railroad and we still have a few more train rides we are looking forward to taking in the future.  I hope you enjoyed taking a virtual trip on this historic and scenic Cumbres and Toltec Railroad with me.

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Sunday, October 9, 2022

The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Fall

A distant view of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado as we drove up to visit them. They are the highest sand dunes in North America and quite an amazing sight to see!  The dune field encompasses 30 square miles (7.77 square meters) and at its highest is 750 feet (228.6 meters). This was our second visit to see them since moving to Colorado. Our first visit was in Spring and this visit was in Fall, both wonderful times of the year to view the dunes. My first blog post about our drive to see them in 2016 and our first impressions can be read on this link.  My part two blog post about our attempt to climb up a dune and also a video of the sound of the wind that was blowing across the dunes can be read on this link.

The dunes and surrounding area were designated a National Monument in 1932. In the year 2000, United States President Bill Clinton signed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act. The federal government purchased 97,000 acres of the Baca Ranch which tripled the size of the park and preserved the land and water drainage for future generations to enjoy.

Earlier, we had hiked to the top of nearby Zapata Falls --click here--to read that blog post, so it was already close to the closing hour of the visitor center, but we stopped in anyway.

There are wonderful panoramic views of the sand dunes from the visitor's center back porch.

The dunes are believed to be 440,000 years old in the high-elevation desert of the San Luis Valley at 7,694 feet (2,345 meters).  The dunes were formed by the right combinations of wind, water, and sediment. Creeks and streams brought large amounts of sediment and sand into the valley.  The wind then blew the sand toward the bend in the Sangre de Christo Mountains, where opposing storm winds helped squeeze the sand into the tall dunes seen today.  

Please click on the photo above to enlarge it.

We were surprised to see Medano Creek, which runs in front of the sand dunes was still running even though it was October.  In spring snow melt from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains makes this creek run strong 


If you look at this YouTube--click here--from the National Park service you can see how the creek looks in spring--it actually has waves!

The size of the people standing in front of the dunes gives a better perspective as to how enormous they are!  Often visitors rent special sandboards from local vendors and slide down the dunes. You can learn more about that on this link.


They are truly a wonder!

Recently, exciting news was announced that The United States Department of the Interior and The Nature Conservancy announced that TNC’s nearby Medano-Zapata Ranch will transfer 9,362 acres of land to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

As we drove out of the park the slant of the setting sun gave the dunes a pretty golden glow,

We were happy to have seen them again!


My husband and I were staying in the town of Alamosa that night--it is about 30 minutes away from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and we had dinner at a newly opened Italian-style restaurant called The Friar's Fork that I read about in the Colorado Magazine 5280 at this link.  The husband and wife owners had worked for many top restaurants and resorts and wanted to open their own place. They found a deconsecrated 1926 Episcopalian church that had been empty for a couple of years, bought it, and renovated it into a restaurant and cafe. Our meal was so delicious!  I had the Chicken Marsala and my husband had a special, Beef Osso Bucco.  It was the perfect early anniversary celebration for us!

The next day we were headed south to the town of Antonito, where we had a reservation to take a ride on the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad, called by USA Today Magazine "The Best Train Ride in America"I will blog about that train ride next week.

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