Soon as I start down the back side, it becomes apparent why the sky is hazy. Wildfires. The air turns from the wonder smell of sandalwood to burning wood. I continue along the highway and the smoke gets heavier. I can see that there are huge mountains all around me, but I can barely see outlines of anything more than 3 miles away. A smarter person would turn around. Or at least a less stubborn person. I press on and find my way into Silverton. The town is full of smoke. There aren't many people here as a result.
I grab some coffee and inquire about the wildfires. They are between Silverton and Durango. The road is open the direction I'm going, but with piloted trips. As I approach the wildfire, there are camps set up for the firemen. The smoke becomes thicker.
For an east coast guy, this is a bizarre experience. I probably should have feared the fire more than I did. I've barely been exposed to forest fires. State troopers lead and tail the group of vehicles as we go through the fire. At one point, the fire is about 100 yd from the highway. A group of firemen are working to protect a house. With 30 mph winds pushing it directly at the house, its demise seems inevitable. The houses in the area appear to be rentals for the ski slopes. I can't say I have sympathy. Helicopters appear at one point. They are pulling from a lake on my left and dumping on the fire on the right. Two single rotors and two chinooks. One of the chinooks dives for the lake as I pass under it being beaten up by the wash. While the supposedly wonderful views were ruined by the smoke, this is an unforgettable experience.
I make it into Durango and stop for gas. No longer at elevation, the temperatures have climbed well into the 90s. I take a break in the gas station to hydrate. An older guy on a Harley does the same. He is from South Carolina and has been on the road for a couple days more than me. He first went to Tullahoma, TN to see his mother. He grew up there. I grew up 30 minutes from there. Small world.
On to Mesa Verde where I will stay for the night. This trip was based on hitting 3 national parks in particular. This is the first. Mesa Verde is the place known for cliff dwellers. I set up camp. Two other people traveling by motorcycles set up beside me. One is on a Tiger, the other a Harley. I'm amused by the combination. The Tiger guy is wearing the typical ADV textile gear while the Harley guy is in jeans and a leather jacket. Both nail the stereotype. Friendly people on a short jaunt from Denver. Off to explore the ruins.
These structures are thoroughly impressive. The people who built them were clearly OCD. The buildings are constructed of lots and lots of rooms. Everything at right angles. Also, round rooms drop down in the buildings. These rooms are their special, religious rooms.
Heading back to camp, I get a good view of the wildfire.
And a nice sunset.
Another epic day, but nothing like I expected.
210 miles, 4:46 seat time