Back to Durango to Solve the Anasazi Mystery

Finding a parking spot I’m anxious, feels like someone is following me. The precious coins to be eaten by the insatiable parking meter magically appear in the ash tray. After spending the day exploring the Mesa Verde National Park by foot and car, taking the guided tour, researching U.S. National Park archives, and generally asking a ton of questions of U.S. Park staff and Native American Indian historians I happily retire onto an old bar stool perplexed and deep in thought. Climbing around the cliff dwellings was enlightening. There I was safe in thick folds of ancient rock accessed by ladders easily recoiled. I discovered food storage areas, ceremonial pits, and an ancestry rooted deep in trade routes from old Mexico. I searched high and low for the answer to the Anasazi riddle. Ancient power swept over me as I meditated high on a rock on how it must have been. Vast canyons cut by glaciers 25 -35 million years ago give way to the desert floor below. This most sacred, powerful and peaceful place evokes feelings of an ancient past.

Perched precariously, rubbing my temples furiously here in the Diamond Belle Saloon, I search for answers and quickly confirm this watering hole is well over 100 years old. The Strater Hotel is a great place to stay, even John F. Kennedy thought as much. Not much has changed since they first opened the doors in 1887 except they moved the bar from the side facing the street to the back wall. A quick glance around the room reveals the folks in Durango are friendly, down to earth and out-going. Everything has been restored to its original grandeur at great expense by the many owners over the years. Intricate wall paper, chandeliers, art work, solid dark wood bar, stage and the old rag time piano transport me back to another time. A cowboy strums his guitar singing old “trail songs” at a customer’s bequest.

I order a shot whiskey of which I’m not really a fan but when in Rome, they actually serve a killer Cosmo. I order the smoked salmon, fresh fruit and cheese appetizers. I also recommend the $5.00 burgers and fries on Wednesday nights. Authentic live music is performed seven nights a week. Servers in old western costume help push me back in time. I spot an advertisement for a live gunfight scheduled for tomorrow at 3:00 PM. I can feel the leather from my holster strapped to my leg, the smooth handle of my six-gun. I dig my spurs into the floor, and eyeball on the door. Ever wary for I’m likely to be arrested by the towns Eco Sheriff for repeated and excessive use of plastic bags at the grocery store. Slipping back into real-time I’m dogged once again by the mystery before me.

Eventually, mentally exhausted, thirst beyond fully quenched, I hear my stomach growl like a lonely wolf in the night and head out the swinging double doors, onto the streets of Durango. Moonlight and stars above I’m make my way to the Seasons Restaurant arguably the best place for dinner in town. In route I’m greeted with a string of art and photo galleries, antique shops, music and book stores, live music venues, bars and restaurants. I debate if I should I drive out-of-town to Bar D Chuckwagon Suppers for some good old down – home cooking? I pass Oprah’s picture in the window reminding me she is a neighbor living close by. I stop to read a flier announcing Texas Hold-em poker and ping-pong tournament at Moe’s.

Mysteriously derailed, I’m suddenly drawn into Ken and Sues. Good fortune smiled upon me as I secured a pine booth in this casual “American Contemporary” eatery. I’m intrigued by the bountiful menu and the size of the portions. I have the Cesar salad with avocado and bacon and fresh-baked bread (a meal in itself) followed by Aunt Lydia’s Meatloaf, Red Wine Gravy, Smashed Potatoes & Sautéed Spinach all of which was delicious. The smashed potatoes are a welcome break from mashed potatoes, a delightful dish with a dash of sage. Lots of locals mixed with a handful of tourists tell the story. I vow to return wandering back out onto Main Street in search of dessert.

Home of Smashed Potatoes with a Dash of Sage

Jean – Pierre walks the talk.

It’s not long before I’m a deer caught in the headlights staring through French cut glass at delicate pastries. Jean-Pierre of “Le Café fame is the gentleman who moved from France and all it’s glamour to this little town in the Rockies. He’s busy smiling, waving his arms about, I sense it’s all about me, the customer. Customer satisfaction is paramount.

Eventually I pass on the tarts and éclairs in favor of pure Rocky Mountain Chocolate.

The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is dreamy, smells sweet. Huge glass cases one after another display decadent sounding candies. After sufficient drooling and a quick pat of my full stomach I select the nut, carmel – covered apple. Perfect for my continued stroll down Main. My will power mysteriously disappears at the cash register adding a couple of truffles and hunk of peanut brittle to my order.

Small town ambience, the beauty, history, and charm of Durango are echoed by dramatic yet faint purple and red tinted cliffs (a result of pressed volcanic gas & ash from 25 million years ago).These giant glacier cut mountains stand guard over this rich, fertile river valley sprinkled with pine and aspen. Continuing down Main Street I imagine what it would have been like to live here in the late 1800’s? The railroad workers, cowboys, farmers, miners, lumberjacks, and merchants worked hard to establish a new town thanks to the Denver & Rio Grande Railway. What was it like in Mesa Verde between 550 and 1300 AD? I suspect a deeper connection to the land was the norm. I conclude tonight America was a better place when small farms and ranches were the norm not the exception. I grab a street-side promoted brochure on local Agro Tourism, a dozen or so farms I can visit to better understand where our food comes from.

Home of the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Lessons From Our Past

This, our collective achievement,

The greatest nation in the history of the world!

Our rich history is a simple parade today,

The band marches, feet and hooves pound the street,

Genuine smiles, friends greet cheers, Red, White, and Blue.

Jack Dempsey a local favorite son,

Fought and won right here on Main Street, Durango.

Then went on to win the World Title,

Authentic humanness trumps the robotic

Those with a deep connection to the land prevail.

We hold these truths to be self- evident,

This is but some of what I hear, the past say.

Passing by the Abbey Theatre I’m intrigued with the live performance offerings but eventually end up back at the Henry Strater Theatre where the marquee proudly displays “Cowboy Poetry Reading”. Purchasing my ticket I can’t help but smile to myself and think what a day! I look forward to catching some more live music later. Maybe a night-cap at the Embassy or Cosmo is in order. I’m certain I’ve barely even scratched the surface of fun things to do here in town. To say the outdoor recreational activities in and around Durango are plentiful is an understatement.

Inspiration comes with altitude According to Outside Magazine “Within an hour of town, you can ski spring corn, Nordic ski around an Alpine lake, kayak the Animas River, catch a fat trout, hike a thirteener, ride 10,000 foot passes on a dizzy – making scenic byway, and mountain – bike blue – ribbon single – track “ To view the article, go to

Durango is an adventure hub home to world-class cycling events and some really weird, crazy, grueling triathlons. One triathlon involves, regular biking on snow, skiing on snow, and running on snow for the better part of a day. If you’ve ever tried to run in snow you know just how insanely hard this really is. Bikes are big in this neck of the woods. Bike races are fun whether you compete or just watch as I do. Don’t miss the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic or better yet the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, scheduled for Aug. 20 through Aug. 26. The race begins in Durango and ends in Denver after some 520 miles of racing that include five ascents of passes over 10,000 feet.






How about river rafting on a lazy sunny afternoon or riding the historic Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge train from Durango to Silverton? Visit old gold mines and old mining towns with museums and shopping galore. Drive along the breath-taking ultra scenic “Million Dollar Highway” known as “America’s Little Switzerland”. Or take a promenade beneath sun filtering canopy along the paved, long and winding Animas River Trail, followed by soak in the hot springs and massage. Perhaps take in the Wine Experience Festival, Beer Week, and the Taste of Durango food festival, the Priceless Car Collection of the Colorado Grand or the Farmers Market.





Photos By Roger O’Keefe

Self-Guided Walking Tours

A Nice long Walk – Hard Surface Trail – Animas River Trail

The ANIMAS RIVER TRAIL (map) has approximately 7 miles of hard-surface trail running through town along the beautiful Animas River

I recommend starting at Buckley Park on the North end of downtown Durango (Buckley Park 12th and 13th Ave.) Walk south down main street then turn right on 9th street, cross the main highway (Camino Del Rio) and go left immediately behind the Double Tree Hotel and take the trail south for several miles depending on one’s stamina. Enjoy distinctive downtown Durango, several parks, and the Animas river rich with flora, fauna and wildlife.

A quick Easy Walk – Hard Surface Trail – Animas River Trail

From downtown Durango: Travel north on Main Avenue/Hwy 550 and turn right onto 15th Street and park at Rotary Park Riverside, gazebo, picnic area, 15th St. and I. 2nd Ave. Cross the bridge and walk north 1-2 miles along the Animas River.

A good walk just out of town – Natural Surface Trail – Dalla Mountain Park 3234 Junction Street

Natural Surface Trails: Approximately 4.7 Miles

From downtown Durango: Travel north on Main Avenue/Hwy 550 and turn left (west) onto 25th Street.  25th Street will turn into Junction Street.  When the road turns westward, Dalla Mountain Park (3234 Junction St.) entrance and parking is on the right.

If you want to do more than stretch your legs visit for more strenuous hikes in and around the Durango area. Always wear appropriate footwear, apply sunscreen generously, and hydrate often even if you don’t necessarily feel the need. At this altitude walking in the Rockies can be deceiving so drink plenty of liquids routinely. Don’t forget to bring your camera.

Art Attractions

Animas Musuem, Durango Discovery Museum, Durango Arts Center, Earthen Vessel Gallery, Fort Lewis College Art Gallery, Open Shuttery Gallery, Sorrel Gallery, Wildshots Gallery

In summer (June – August) it is impossible to ignore Mesa Verde National Park, super long exciting ziplines, back country photography excursions, back country fishing excursions, horseback riding, golf, tennis, mountain biking on one of the most extensive trail systems in the U.S. or how about biking down fully operating ski slopes with chairs ready to whisk you back to the top of the mountain, swimming, canoeing , Stand paddle boarding, and wind-surfing on pristine Alpine lakes, ATV and four wheel drive adventures, camping, backpacking, nature walks, boating, jet skiing, fly fishing and instruction, farmers markets, agro-tourism (working farm tours) the Rodeo at the fairgrounds, music, film and art festivals.

June Events 2013

  • Vallecito Lake Chamber Fishing Tournament
  • Annual fun in the Sun Arts & Crafts Fair
  • Shrine Circus at the Fairgrounds
  • Lucky Seven Rodeo
  • Animas River Days
  • Ride the Rockies
  • Day out with Thomas the Tank Engine
  • Crossroads Durango Pro Rodeo Series
  • Steamworks Animas Valley Half Marathon

In early fall (September early October principally) it is impossible to ignore the turning of the trees displaying autumn colors, the hands-on Children’s Discovery Museum, a chance to rock climb or skateboard in a skateboard park right next the Animas River. Maybe a visit to the Ute Cultural Center and Museum or perhaps the Sky Ute Casino (bowling alley too!) is in order. The Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering October 4-7 is a not-to-be missed event. Think vacation is for the birds try bird watching in the morning and gliding in the afternoon (one of my favorite’s) to feel what it is like to fly in silence, like a bird, catching and riding thermals over some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world. This is God’s country and experiencing it from high above wrapped in silence is spectacular.

In winter it is impossible to ignore the downhill skiing, snowboarding, snow-bike skiing, snow shoeing, sledding, snowmobile adventures, cross country skiing, horse drawn sleigh rides and Hot Air Balloons (First week of February, Snow Down Durango Festival only)!

December Events 2013

  • Polar Express
  • Annual Holiday Arts and Crafts Festival
  • Noel Night
  • Annual New Year’s Eve Special Train
  • New Year’s Eve Party – The 60’s
  • New Year’s Eve Celebration
  • First Night Durango – Snowflake Drop
  • New Year’s Celebration Pow Wow
  • New Year’s Eve Torchlight Parade

I enjoy learning from the past in hopes of better understanding how I can best live today. Yes, I’m disappointed at not finding the answer and solving the mystery of the Anasazi Indians. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this lack of understanding was unavoidable. Perhaps falling in love with this amazing part of the Rocky Mountains was unavoidable too!


About Roger O'Keefe

My background is in education and finance. I'm a published author and photographer, former radio talk show host, and creative retirement planning expert. My work is a love of labor, I do not sell any products of any kind. I've appeared as a guest on more than 50 national and local television and radio shows. With a Masters in education, I'm a licensed educator and author of the “Future Bright Program” and the California State Department of Education “Teacher Appreciation Program.” I'm a member of the American Association of Retired Persons and the National Care Planning Council NCPC. I'm currently writing my second book and reside in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. My mission is to reshape retirement planning one person at a time. Please visit my website and take advantage of the many complimentary online seminars, resources, and retirement planning tools.
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One Response to Back to Durango to Solve the Anasazi Mystery

  1. Mesa Verde is an awesome park. I am amazed each time I visit at the cliff dwellings and how the Indians survived. Durango is a cool city in itself. I haven’t rode the railroad in years, but it is on the list to take the kids. I would say that out of all of the states, Colorado is my favorite!

    Maybe with your great retirement advice, I will be able to retire in the distant future to CO… Keep blogging.

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