Road trip: From Dallas to Durango and back – Part 2

Balancing Rock, Garden of the Gods

Our road trip to Durango, CO, planned for a full week, took an unexpected left-hand turn north on I-25 when we learned our son would be playing in a college soccer tournament in Colorado Springs over Labor Day weekend.

Colorado Springs had been our original destination, but that seemed to change when he was injured at practice and was doubtful that he would make the trip from Dallas.

Durango – just this once – had been our backup road trip destination. It wasn’t the last time our plans changed. If anything, this road trip provided a good lesson in remaining flexible while traveling.

Retracing our route across southern Colorado on Highway 160, again passing through Alamosa and within sight of the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, which was dramatic enough from 10 miles away to satisfy us with its mountain-climbing dunes. Then we were back across the Continental Divide, where we again ascended into the rain and clouds through Wolf Creek Pass, to Pagosa Springs and the town of Walsenburg, and then on toward our final destination.

When we hit Colorado Springs, after drifting very quickly over the High Plains, we knew our targets because of our earlier trip planning – Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark, Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Manitou Springs, Old Colorado City, and Colorado College for two days of soccer. It was about this time I wondered aloud whether we were trying to pack too much into about three days …

But, as in Durango, the end-of-the-season rule seemed to apply with crowds sparse in the Garden, where we hiked rocky, sharply up-and-down, and, ultimately, poorly marked trails and took advantage of the photogenic, upward-thrusting red rocks that are the landmark’s claim to fame. We tried to keep in mind the advice of a worker in the park’s visitor center when asked about trail markings: “Just keep the mountains to your back and you’ll be fine.” The advice was not really helpful.

We later returned and stuck to the park’s winding roads, stopping for photos, like regular tourists. This included one obligatory photo in which I appear to hold up the gigantic and famous Balanced Rock.

Saturday morning, we were surprised and dazzled by a sky full of multi-colored balloons – we counted at least 40, including one Smokey Bear – participating in the 37th annual Colorado Balloon Classic, billed as the largest and longest continuously running such festival in the Rocky Mountain Region.

The highlight of the day was our lunch at Bon Ton’s Café in Old Colorado City, where we relaxed on the crowded street-side patio, in the shade of a large umbrella, and devoured a buffalo burger with pepper jack cheese and a chicken-and-refried-bean enchilada, both smothered in green chile sauce, of course.

Two days of soccer turned to one when we tortuously decided to start the long, end-of-road-trip drive home Sunday morning before our son’s late afternoon game instead of after it that evening.

But this change of plan was fortuitous – the late afternoon game was rained out.

See more road trip adventures on The Open Road blog at

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