YVONNE LASHMETT

Pagosa Country is perfectly located in the midst of some of the most interesting attractions and spectacular scenery in the world, and being here reminds a person what it means to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

Sometimes the call of the open road becomes irresistible, and when the urge hits, a little road trip is just the ticket.

Driving south 

Heading south from Pagosa on U.S. 84, your trip offers a wide variety of areas to explore through the mesa country of northern New Mexico. 

Just 40-50 minutes away, one can explore the Cumbres Pass area by car or rail. 

The car-bound can explore the rich history in Dulce, the center of the Jicarilla Apache Indian Tribe. Be sure to go for the mid-July Little Beaver Pow-Wow and Carnival celebration. 

Traveling south on U.S. 84 to Taos (and Taos Pueblo) is a longer, beautiful drive across the scenic Brazos Mountains from Tierra Amarilla (home of Tierra Wools), arriving at a town of artistic notoriety. Likewise, Santa Fe is a three-hour drive south on U.S. 84, offering not only Native American arts and crafts sold near the Governor’s Palace, but also numerous art galleries lining a plaza that includes historic churches and places of interest. 

Also on U.S. 84 is the quaint and gorgeous town of Abiquiu, which inspired the painter Georgia O’Keefe. For those interested in exploring the spiritual roots of the area, a quick turn on Forest Service Road 151 not only offers views of the Chama Canyon, but will dead end at the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert. Built by famed Japanese architect George Nakashima, the chapel and original monastery show the simple elegance of southwest architecture. Since Benedictines have taken a vow of hospitality, they will be sure to welcome you with arms wide open. Make sure, though, to ring the bell loud!

Driving west

A short drive west of town leads to the Chimney Rock National Monument, which provides an introduction to the Ancestral Puebloan Indians who settled here over 1,000 years ago. This is a perfect complement to a day trip to Mesa Verde. 

Continue south and east on Colo. 151 from Chimney Rock and you will pass through Arboles and Allison and make your way to Ignacio — the home of the Southern Ute Tribe. After checking out the casino, visit the spectacular Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum for a look into the history of one of the most storied tribes of the Southwest.

Mesa Verde National Park, our nation’s third most visited national park, offers a look back in time at the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who mysteriously disappeared from their spectacular cliff dwellings over 1,000 years ago. The Canyon of the Ancients National Monument is located northwest of Cortez and includes several smaller ruin sites for a quieter and more private experience. South of Durango, across the New Mexico state line, is Aztec Ruins National Monument. 

Traveling further west beyond Mesa Verde on U.S. 160 is the Four Corners Monument at the junction of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Closer to Pagosa is Navajo State Park, just 30 miles from Pagosa on Colo. 151, offering camping, water skiing, sailing, fishing, boating and pretty much everything else. 

For a more metropolitan experience, Durango is an hour west of Pagosa Springs on U.S. 160 with Fort Lewis College on site and a vibrant historical downtown area. 

Driving north

Directly north of Pagosa Country lies a vast roadless area known as the Weminuche Wilderness, so pretty much anything accessed from the north first requires a drive to the east or west.

From the east (up U.S. 160 to Lake City), a drive up the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway, a 65-mile, four-wheel-drive road over Engineer Pass toward Silverton and Ouray makes for a spectacular — and breathtaking — day trip. To the west, a trip up U.S. 550 from Durango to Silverton, and then on to Ouray (the Switzerland of America), is substantially less taxing on the rear axle.

Driving east 

Almost no one visiting the area misses an opportunity to drive over Wolf Creek Pass. Aside from the opportunity to hike up Treasure Falls, view the Pagosa basin from the overlook, or the short drive up Lobo Overlook on the north side for access to the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, travelers are provided with some of the most breathtaking miles of road offered anywhere in the world. A swing by Big Meadow Reservoir, a few miles from the summit and on the north side of the highway, is well worth the diversion. 

On the other side of the pass, South Fork offers the option of driving north on Colo. 149 on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway toward Lake City, or continuing east on U.S. 160 toward the Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

If choosing Colo. 149 to Creede, an old mining town with a deep heritage, a visitor might enjoy the Mining Museum (at the far north end of Main Street) or a performance at the renowned Creede Repertory Theatre. 

North from Creede (as mentioned earlier) and over Slumgullion Pass (named for the yellowish dirt that a mudslide uncovered a thousand years ago) is Lake City. With the natural dam forming beautiful Lake San Cristobal, the highest natural lake in Colorado, Lake City also proudly features the history of Alferd Packer, the only U.S. citizen ever charged, tried and convicted for the crime of cannibalism — where judge M.B. Gerry said, famously, “You son of a bitch. There were only seven Democrats in Hinsdale County and you ate five of them!”

Continuing east on U.S. 160 from South Fork takes visitors into the high desert (8,000 feet) and toward the Great Sand Dunes National Park, about 15 miles past Alamosa and left on Colo. 150.

At the base of the intimidating Sangre de Cristo range (four 14,000-foot peaks at Crestone, less than 20 miles northeast), the area has had millions of years collecting the sand of the San Luis Valley into dunes several hundred feet high, creating the backdrop for numerous Westerns and the awe of millions of visitors.

No matter which direction you choose, Pagosa Springs is the hub for a trip to a destination that promises to be both breathtaking and memorable, with amazing views to capture and a rich history left from those who settled in this area.