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National Parks of Southwest Colorado: History and Geology

Program Number: 1260RJ
Start and End Dates:
7/12/2014 - 7/18/2014; 6/19/2016 - 6/25/2016; 8/28/2016 - 9/3/2016;
Duration: 6 nights
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Price starting at: $1,425.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: National Parks; On the Road Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 16; 6 Breakfasts, 5 Lunches, 5 Dinners    

Journey through the National Parks of Southwest Colorado and study their prehistory, history and geology. From Colorado Springs to Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks and Colorado National Monument, discover the unique towns, geology and fascinating history that make this region so popular.


• In Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, learn from experts how this dramatic, changing landscape resulted from 15,000 years of sand deposits.
• Peer into prehistory at the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park.
• Ride the Durango-Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad pulled by a steam locomotive as it winds through the San Juan Mountains.

Activity Particulars

Walking paths and climbing steps at historic sites and parks. Climbing on and off motorcoach and railroad cars.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Colorado Springs, 1 night; coach to Durango, 2 nights; coach to Ouray, 1 night; coach to Grand Junction, 1 night; coach to Colorado Springs, 1 night; departure.

Coordinated by Mountains and Plains Institute.


Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts love Durango for its wealth of opportunities to pursue their passions. The area is rich in Western lore, archeological treasures, ski resorts, and a narrow gauge railroad that is popular with train buffs.


The Victorian mining town of Ouray is surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, the most rugged range in the Rockies. Named after a famous Ute chief, Ouray — on the scenic San Juan Skyway — has been a popular destination of travelers for over a century.

Grand Junction

Grand Junction lies on the northern bank of the Colorado River and at the midpoint of the 30-mile-long Grand Valley, a major fruit-growing region that in recent years has given rise to a number of family-owned wineries. The picturesque scenery surrounding Grand Junction and the city’s mild seasonal fluctuations make golf a popular local activity.

Colorado Springs

At an elevation of 6,035 feet, Colorado Springs is situated near the base of one of the most famous American peaks, Pikes Peak, on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. The second largest city in the state boasts many scenic, cultural and recreational opportunities.

Comfortable hotels/motels.
Meals and Lodgings
   Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport
  Colorado Springs, CO 1 night
   Best Western Inn and Suites
  Durango, CO 2 nights
   Ouray Chalet Inn
  Ouray, CO 1 night
   Quality Inn Hotel and Suites
  Grand Junction, CO 1 night
   Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport
  Colorado Springs, CO 1 night
 Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport
Type: Full Service Hotel
  Description: Find everything you need to be your best at Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport. Appreciate the comfortable adjustable beds, refrigerators, microwaves and premium bathroom amenities in your room. Sit at your work desk in your ergonomic chair and utilize the complimentary WiFi. Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, you’ll have the extras you want without having to pay extra for them. We’ll take care of the details for you. Begin the day with a cup of coffee freshly brewed in your room. Enjoy a cooked-to-order breakfast before you leave for a day exploring the many attractions around Colorado Springs, Colorado. Work out in our modern fitness center, or relax in our indoor heated pool and whirlpool. Print a report or rent AV equipment for your meeting in our 24-hour business center. Visit the Pavilion Pantry® to pick up a beverage, a snack or items you left at home. In your room, unwind as you watch a favorite movie on your 32-inch HDTV or snuggle up with a good book. Sink into your adjustable bed and remember you can count on us to make tomorrow another successful day.
  Contact info: 2035 Aerotech Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80916 USA
phone: 719-622-0300
  Room amenities: Hotel Beds offer the latest technology and conveniences to help you make the most of your stay. Rooms feature complimentary wired and wireless high-speed internet access, 2 dual line speaker phones with data port and voicemail, 32 inch HDTV with pay movies, video games and HBO, large work desk with ergonomic chair, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, hair dryer, iron and ironing board. All beds feature upscale linens with European style duvets.
  Facility amenities: Complimentary Airport Shuttle to and from Colorado Springs Airport. 24 hr Pavilion Pantry Market Automated Teller (ATM) Baggage Storage Beverage Area, Complimentary Coin Laundry Elevators Gift Shop Laundry/Valet Service Lounge Luggage Hold Multi-Lingual Staff On-Site Convenience Store Room Service Safety Deposit Box Fitness Room Pool and Hottub
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: Call Hotel Directly for Rates Reservations must be made with Hotel
  Check in time: 4:00 PM
  Additional nights after: Call Hotel Directly for Rates Reservations must be made with Hotel
  Check out time: 11:00 AM

 Best Western Inn and Suites
Type: Motel
  Contact info: 21382 US Highway 160 W
Durango, CO 81303 USA
phone: 970-247-3251
  Facility amenities: Swimming Pool, hot tub
  Smoking allowed: No

 Ouray Chalet Inn
Type: Motel
  Contact info: 510 Main Street
Ouray, CO 81427 USA
phone: 970-925-4331
  Smoking allowed: Yes

 Quality Inn Hotel and Suites
Type: Hotel
  Contact info: 733 Horizon Drive
Grand Junction, CO 81506 USA
phone: 970-243-6709
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Hotel Check-in from 4 to 5 PM. Required orientation begins at 5 PM followed by welcome dinner and lecture You will be staying at Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends after breakfast. Check out by 10 AM. You will be staying at Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Acknowledgement of Risk-Liability Waiver Form to be mailed back to Mountains and Plains Institute office. Please bring National Parks Annual Pass or Senior Lifetime National Parks Pass
  Parking availability:
Parking available during program without charge
To Start of Program
  Location:  Colorado Springs, CO
  From End of Program
  Location: Colorado Springs, CO
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details

Colorado Springs Airport Hilton Garden Inn


From Airport




Hotel Shuttle
Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport
phone: 719-622-0300
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


No charge
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


10 minutes 




3 miles


The hotel offers a courtesy bus but reservations must be made with the hotel desk in advance. 719-622-0300

Driving Directions
  Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport - I 25 North and South From South of Colorado Springs directions or Colorado Springs Airport - Take I-25 north or south to exit 139 - ''Limon/Airport US 24 East'' go east to Powers Blvd (4.5 miles), turn right, proceed South to Astrozon, turn right, then right onto Aerotech Blvd. Hilton Garden Inn, 2035 Aerotech Drive, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80916, From Denver International Airport - Take Pena south to I-70 west, take I225 south to I-25 south, exit 139, then see above directions From Denver all directions- Take I 25 south to exit 139, then see above directions
Elevation Note: 6-12,000 ft. during walking tours and coach trips

The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Check-in, welcome dinner and orientation
(Saturday, July 12)
 Arrive To: Individuals can check in to the hotel after 4:00 PM You can go to your rooms and relax or explore the local area. A Welcome orientation followed by Dinner will begin at 5:00 pm, please meet in the hotel lobby. At this meeting you will receive the daily schedule for the moving program and meet your guides and instructors.
 Dinner: Dinner this evening is catered in our hotel.
Accommodations: Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
(Sunday, July 13)
 Breakfast: Breakfast buffet in hotel with hot and cold items.
 Morning: Depart Colorado Springs early in the morning and travel by motorcoach south toward Durango. We will stop and see the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and enjoy a picnic lunch while we’re there. The 38,000-acre Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is 38 miles northeast of Alamosa. Too heavy to rise with the winds that carry it north-eastward across the flat, semiarid floor of the San Luis Valley, sand settles at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Range. The deposits that have accumulated over the course of 15,000 years have resulted in a 39-square-mile dune, making it the largest in North America.
 Lunch: Picnic at Great Sand Dunes National Park
 Afternoon: We conclude our visit to the Great Sand Dunes and travel across the San Luis Valley to Durango via the dramatic 11,760 feet Wolf Creek Pass. The spectacular pass crosses the Continental Divide, separating the Rio Grande River Valley that ends easterly in the Gulf of Mexico and the San Juan River that joins the Colorado River on its journey west to the Pacific Ocean. We arrive in Durango for two nights.
 Dinner: We dine this evening at a locally owned restaurant where there will be several menu choices.
 Evening: Free for reflection and relaxation
Accommodations: Best Western Inn and Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Mesa Verde National Park
(Monday, July 14)
 Breakfast: Breakfast buffet in hotel with hot and cold items.
 Morning: After breakfast this morning, we will drive to Mesa Verde. We will enjoy an expert guided tour of this fascinating World Heritage Park. The Park consists of more than 4,000 ruin sites, which include 600 cliff dwellings. A score of large canyons seam the mesa, and in the shelter of the hundreds of alcoves eroded in the cliffs are some of the world's largest and best preserved cliff dwellings. The earliest known inhabitants of Mesa Verde were the Modified Basket Makers, descendants of a people who lived in the Four Corners region. They built subterranean pithouses about 500-750 A.D. From 750 to 1100 A.D., the Native Americans perfected their living quarters, building kivas (ceremonial rooms) and masonry houses around open courts (pueblos). From 1100 to 1300, arts and crafts reached their peak; pottery and cloth were often elaborately decorated. Around 1200 they moved into the alcoves for reasons that remain unknown and built cliff dwellings. Sometime about 1276 a drought struck and lasted 24 years. The resulting crop failures and other environmental problems may have driven the people from Mesa Verde in search of a more reliable water supply.
 Lunch: We will enjoy a scenic Picnic in Mesa Verde National Park.
 Afternoon: Continue morning field trip. During our daylong visit, we will explore with Park Rangers some of the larger ruins. These tours will include walking into the actual ruins. Be prepared to walk up to an hour and a mile with the possibility of some short ladders being climbed to access the ruins.
 Dinner: Tonight's Dinner is on your own to explore restaurants and the historic Victorian downtown district of Durango.
 Evening: Motorcoach will drop off participants in downtown Durango for evening with a set pick-up scheduled later in the evening. Durango was founded in 1880 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The Downtown is a Nationally Registered Historic District with preserved and distinctive Victorian era architecture. Be sure to visit the beautiful 1887 built Strater Hotel with it's authentically preserved Diamond Belle Saloon.
Accommodations: Best Western Inn and Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 4: Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad/Travel to Ouray
(Tuesday, July 15)
 Breakfast: Breakfast buffet in hotel with hot and cold items.
 Morning: After an early breakfast in the hotel, we board one of the greatest railroads in Colorado, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. We will travel through the beautiful San Juan National Forest and arrive in Silverton. The railroad arrived in Durango on August 5, 1881 and construction on the line to Silverton began in the fall of the same year. By July of 1882, the tracks to Silverton were completed, and the train began hauling both freight and passengers. The line was constructed to haul silver & gold ore from the San Juan Mountains, but passengers soon realized it was the view that was truly precious. This historic train has been in continuous operation for 130 years, carrying passengers behind vintage steam locomotives and rolling stock indigenous to the line. Relive the sights and sounds of yesteryear for a spectacular journey on board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
 Lunch: We will spend a couple of hours in the mining town of Silverton where you will enjoy lunch in the Grand Imperial Hotel and enjoy the main streets' shops and sights. Silverton's main business section was built in the late 1800s. Unlike many other mining towns, Silverton never experienced a major fire, and most of the buildings are still standing. The "other side" of town was centered on Blair Street. At one time this notorious street was home to forty saloons and brothels. Almost half of these buildings are still standing today.
 Afternoon: Travel to Ouray by motorcoach via 11,018 feet Red Mountain Pass and the spectacular "Million Dollar Highway". The highway was built at considerable expense for the times in the late 1800's to transport ore from the mines to Ouray over a route too rugged and steep to build a railroad. The name comes from the "Million Dollar Views" along the route.
 Dinner: Tonight we dine in downtown Ouray at a locally owned restaurant with some menu choices. Ouray was named after a famous Ute Indian Chief and is another well preserved Victorian mining town. The surrounding mountains are spectacular making this a popular Colorado tourist destination that we will be privileged to enjoy.
 Evening: Free to explore Ouray and preparation for the next day's travel
Accommodations: Ouray Chalet Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Colorado National Monument
(Wednesday, July 16)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in a locally owned restaurant with choice of menu items.
 Morning: We travel after breakfast to one of the nation’s newest National Parks. Embracing 20,766 acres, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park contains 12 miles of the deepest portion of the Gunnison River gorge. Some of earth's oldest base rocks have been cut by the river to a depth of 2,700 feet. The top of the canyon narrows to about 1,100 feet, but down by the river the canyon narrows in places to about 40 feet. Visitors marvel at this natural wonder, a truly amazing sight.
 Lunch: We lunch at a local restaurant in the farm and ranch town of Delta.
 Afternoon: The coach takes us the short distance to Grand Junction to spend the afternoon viewing the rarely visited but spectacular Colorado National Monument. The Monument was established in 1911 by President Taft and is one of the oldest in Colorado, and with its canyons and sandstone pinnacles, is a surprising geologic wonder and rounds out our diverse tour of National Parks in Colorado. We spend tonight in Grand Junction.
 Dinner: We dine tonight in a locally owned restaurant with some menu choices. The name "Grand Junction" refers to the adjacent junction of two rivers, the Colorado and the Gunnison. Originally the Colorado River was named the "Grand" but with duplicate confusion of the Rio Grande, the name was changed to the "Colorado" River. By that time the city of Grand Junction was well established.
 Evening: Free for reflection and relaxation
Accommodations: Quality Inn Hotel and Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Glenwood Canyon and the Central Colorado Rockies via the Eisenhower Tunnel
(Thursday, July 17)
 Breakfast: Breakfast buffet in hotel with hot and cold items.
 Morning: We start our scenic journey back to Colorado Springs traveling in the mountains again for an ascent of the Colorado River to Glenwood Springs and via Glenwood Canyon, a scenic byway with a uniquely engineered section of Interstate 70. we pass ski resorts and over Vail Pass and cross back Continental Divide when we go though the Eisenhower Tunnel. With a maximum elevation of 11,158 ft above sea level, it is one of the highest vehicular tunnels in the world. The tunnel is the longest mountain tunnel and highest point on the Interstate Highway system. Completed in 1979, it was one of the last major pieces of the Interstate Highway system to be completed.
 Lunch: Lunch today at a locally owned restaurant in Georgetown, an old silver mining town with historic Victorian buildings.
 Afternoon: We complete our travels back to Colorado Springs descending from the mountains, and skirting around Denver on our return.
 Dinner: We dine together celebrating our travels at a locally owned restaurant with some menu options.
 Evening: Free for packing and relaxation
Accommodations: Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Departures after breakfast
(Friday, July 18)
 Depart From: Independent departures after breakfast
 Breakfast: Breakfast buffet in hotel with hot and cold items.
Meals Included: Breakfast
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Cinders and Smoke: A Mile by Mile Guide for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Author: Doris B. Osterwald

Description: By the same author as Ticket to Toltec. Ditto all the above, only about the Durango and Silverton (D&S) Narrow Gauge Railroad, another Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) successor. Also includes brief histories of the two towns that the D&RG reached in 1881 and 1882. Highly recommended. This book is available at the Colorado Railroad Museum and at shops in Durango and Silverton. It is not available at the D&S gift shop or on the train.

Messages in Stone: Colorado's Colorful Geology

Author: Vince Mathews and the Colorado Geological Survey

Description: Introduction to the rocks, structures and geologic history of Colorado. Includes discussion of landforms and geologic hazards. Lavishly illustrated with photographs of Colorado sites and maps. Appropriate for geologists and non-geologists.

Mountains of Silver: Life in Colorado’s Red Mountain Mining District

Author: David Smith

Description: A little over a century ago, the Red Mountain Mining District in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado was the scene of a "silver rush" with an output of precious metals second in Colorado only to that of Leadville. In a period of less than twenty-five years, more than thirty million dollars in silver, lead, zinc, copper, and gold were taken from the rich deposits in the mines along Red Mountain Divide -- an amount roughly equivalent to a quarter billion of today's dollars. The histories of the communities that sprang into being with these mines, the railroads constructed to service them, and the men and women who lived, worked and died in them, are the threads deftly woven into the richly textured story of Mountains of Silver. It is a colorful and varied tapestry that depicts the lives of prospectors who made the first rich strikes; the land promoters, speculators, and road-and-railroad builders who capitalized on the frenzied rush to the area; and the motley collection of miners, lawyers, merchants, prostitutes, saloonkeepers, and freighters who attempted to profit from the boom.

Scenic Driving Colorado, 3rd (Scenic Routes & Byways)

Author: Stewart M. Green

Description: This guidebook offers travel and historical information for 30 visually stunning driving routes, from Pawnee National Grassland of the Great Plains to Rocky Mountain National Park, the San Juan Mountains, and the deserts of the Colorado Plateau.

The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico

Author: Virginia Simmons

Description: Using government documents, archives, and local histories, Simmons has painstakingly separated the often repeated and often incorrect hearsay from more accurate accounts of the Ute Indians.

Tomboy Bride: A Woman's Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West

Author: Harriet Fish Backus

Description: Just after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, twenty-year-old Harriett Fish took the train from Oakland to Denver to marry her fiancé George Backus. After the wedding, they journeyed by narrow gauge train to Telluride high in the San Juan Mountains. George was an assayer for the Tomboy, a silver and gold mine at timberline over 11,000 feet high. This is just over the ridge from the Yankee Boy Basin mining area we visit on our four-wheel drive trip. Author Harriett Fish Backus, describes their life in vivid detail. Over half the book covers their years at the Tomboy; also covered are their mining and milling experiences in British Columbia, Idaho, and back to Colorado. At the beginning of World War I, George pioneered the process still used today to concentrate molybdenum, a metal used to strengthen steel. This is the best book that covers everyday life in the mining camps of the West.

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