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Up, up and Away

View Albuquerque, Durango, and Flagstaff on countycollector's travel map.

When traveling to anywhere in the USA I have not previously visited, I rarely pass up the opportunity to add to my county seat postcard collection. Such was the case on a recent vacation to New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. Though I completed all of Arizona and most of New Mexico back in 2013, there were still a few parts of the Southwest I hadn’t reached. While planning a family getaway to Albuquerque and the Grand Canyon, adding a few stops along the way turned out not only to be easy, but great experiences as well.

The journey began with flights from CMH to DEN and then on to ABQ. Despite visiting Albuquerque before, this was my first time flying into ABQ. The main reason for choosing Albuquerque as a starting point was because of our first planned adventure—ballooning. As many know, at the beginning of October, the city is the home of the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. While it would be cool to attend, knowing that commercial balloon rides are sold out months in advance, we planned our trip a few weeks before the festival in order to experience floating above the city, drifting along wherever the breezes might blow. For many, going aloft in a hot air balloon is a “bucket list” item. I’m not sure I would have described it in such a way, but it was definitely something I wanted to do. Now that I’ve done it, I’m eager to go again. Do yourself a favor. Book a sunrise balloon trip in Albuquerque. You won’t regret it.
From Albuquerque it was on to Taos and then Durango, Colorado. Though I had visited Taos before, it was a convenient overnight stop on the way to Colorado. Heading this way meant driving across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge northwest of Taos. At roughly 600 feet above the gorge, it is the 10th highest bridge in the United States. It doesn’t look that high when you’re driving across it, but there are sidewalks and viewing platforms on either side of the bridge. And yes, I did walk out to get a look down into the gorge. That’s when you realize how far below the river lies.
After the bridge, it was on to Tierra Amarilla and Aztec, the last two county seats I needed to visit in New Mexico, before ending the day in Durango. For train enthusiasts around the world, Durango is known as the home of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and I can’t think of a better way to visit the two county seats that make up the name of this historic rail line than to take the train through the mountains. Many years before planning this trip, I had considered a journey on the D&SNG railroad as a possible way to get to Silverton. The scenery on the 3½ hour train ride is stunning. Views along and above this stretch of the Animas River are only accessible by rail and are definitely worth the price of a ticket.
Silverton is a small, historic town with only one paved street. Parts of it don't look like they've changes much since the 1880s. Wandering up and down the dusty streets, it seems an odd choice for a county seat until you realize that it’s the only city in San Juan County that is inhabited year round. For a great day trip, I suggest taking the train from Durango to Silverton and then ride the motor coach back to Durango. The scenery is different and it only takes an hour and a half by road meaning you get a bit of extra time to wander around Silverton without having to rush through lunch.
From Durango, we headed west along US route 160. After a stop in Mesa Verde National Park, I mailed the final postcard for this trip in Cortez, CO. We lingered only briefly at Four Corners, making sure to walk around the marker, setting foot in each of the four states—Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. With the sun beating down on us and not much to see (other than the only place in the USA where four states meet), we continued on, finally ending the day at the El Tovar Hotel on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This was my third visit to the Grand Canyon and also my third stay at El Tovar. No matter how many times a person visits, the views never get old.
We spent most of the following day visiting different view points and vistas along the south rim before heading to Flagstaff late in the day. The next day wasn’t too busy. We drove to Sedona via Oak Creek Canyon and stopped at Montezuma Castle and Walnut Canyon before returning to Flagstaff.

On the way back to Albuquerque, we made a quick visit to Winslow, Arizona. I figured I should take a picture of “Standin’ on the Corner” park. It’s exactly the kind of quirky Americana I love finding as I travel the highways and byways of this country. Try not to start singing the Eagle’s hit that made this particular corner on Route 66 so famous. Go on, I dare ya. :)
While I only managed to add 5 counties to my list, I was able to cross off the last two counties in New Mexico. That state now becomes the 26th one completed. As I noted earlier, the primary purpose of this trip was not county collecting, but it’s always nice when I can mail a few county seat postcards on a family vacation. As usual, here are the before and after maps.
Getting to the remaining counties in Colorado should be fun. Whether or not I can collect the 16 mountainous ones left in the southwest part of the state in one trip remains to be seen. It may be possible, but due to the rugged terrain, it will likely take several days. That’s something I’ll have to figure out in a year or so.

The next county collecting trip is in early November when I’ll be heading to eastern Kansas. I expect to add a few counties in Nebraska and Missouri as well. While I do have a couple other trips in mind, chances are good it will be the last time this year I add any new counties. I’ll post an update in mid-November.

Until then…
Happy Travels

Posted by countycollector 18:29 Tagged grand_canyon arizona colorado ballooning albuquerque new_mexico durango silverton county_collecting

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This one is very interesting to me as I'll be flying into ABQ in October and making a few of the same stops such as The Four Corners and Durango. Unfortunately timing won't allow the train trip to Silverton, but I hope to have time for an afternoon drive up there. I didn't know about the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, but I'll make sure to pass over it my way back to Albuquerque, I wanted to stop in Taos anyway. Love the pic of Standin on the Corner Park, I now have Take It Easy on a loop in my head 😀 Thank you for another great read!

by jermitch4

Wonderful! I felt like I was with you as I read this one for some reason. Never considered a balloon ride but now my curiosity is piqued. The Grand Canyon never disappoints. Love narrow gauge railways! Envious of your trip around the 4 corners. Cool! Thanks for sharing and I look forward to you finishing Colorado.

by Ann McDonald

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