Monday, September 26, 2011

Vallecito Lake, Colorado

This post was originally posted in My Trip Journal on June 2, 2011

On Monday (Memorial Day), we had planned to bike again, but the day dawned cloudy and extremely windy. We have come to understand that wind is a way of life here and doesn't usually deter the locals from their activities. But we don't find it fun to bike in winds exceeding 35 mph with gusts high enough to send you into the other lane and even worse, into the Animas River. So I went to my pre-trip planning "B" activity list (that's a whole post on its own) and selected a trip to Vallecito Lake. It is 30 miles from Durango in a direction we had not yet traveled, so even if the lake area itself did not capture our attention, at least we would have seen new territory. But when we arrived at the lake, we discovered another of the extreme joys of having enough time at a destination to find the little surprises as well as the things every tourist sees and does. Vallecito Lake and Dam is one of the largest lakes in Colorado and one can drive all the way around it. The lake is that gorgeous color of blue found only in alpine area bodies of water. It you've ever seen one, you'll know that it's a color of blue that's beyond description and that you do not forget.

But there was something more we stumbled upon that, IMHO, Vallecito Lake Chamber of Commerce needs to do much more to publicize. Except maybe this is so special, it's more for the people who live there than for the purpose of attracting visitors. I'm talking about the
Vallecito Lake Tour of Carvings.

Here's a bit of background: The Tour Of Carvings Project is a comeback story of the Vallecito community following the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002. Between June 9th and July 25, over 70,000 acres were burned. More than 4,000 firefighters and support personnel helped extinguish the fire. One life was lost when an experienced tree feller was cutting a tree and another nearby tree fell on him. 28 of the 58 homes in the Vallecito Valley were lost. Most of the trees in the valley became black poles.

Following the fire, one man by the name of David McGinnis (who was tragically killed in a car accident in 2007), set out on a mission to pay tribute to the firefighters who came from all over the US to help. He raised money and hired a local wood carver to use actual photos of firefighters, animals and equipment taken during the fire and carve images from the burned tree trunks.

There are 14 of these carvings found in various locations around the lake. They stand 18 feet tall, weigh up to 2,600 pounds and have an identification plate bearing a number and the symbolic significance. One of the carvings is a memorial to Alan Wyatt, the man who died during the fire and we are told that it is a very good likeness of him.

I am so sorry that I can't post pictures on this journal because I have a good picture of every single one of these carvings. They are exquisite down to the very last detail. If you have any interest in Americana, please follow the Tour of Carvings link and look at a few of them so you'll know what I'm talking about. We finally found a brochure describing the significance of each carving and followed the map around the lake to find every single one of them. I suspect that long after we return to Tennessee, stumbling upon those carvings in an obscure little village outside of Durango, CO, will be a highlight of this trip.

Only on the road less taken will you find these unexpected surprises so much a part of our history and heritage!

Much more to come - we've been to Telluride and The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Can't wait to write about those.

Thanks for reading!

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