Durango Days

May 16, 2013

RockiesThree beautiful days in Durango. That sums up my time with my generous friends, Bill and Bonnie Fleisch, their dog, Gracie, two horses, Chance and Ramble, and three cats, Diesel, Frankie and Poncho. I write this post about Durango as I prepare to ride into Zion National Park in Utah from my current perch in Page, Arizona, on Lake Powell. Since my departure from Colorado on Monday I’ve either not had internet connectivity (Grand Canyon National Park), or have been too busy while riding throughout the Navajo Reservation with about 60 Navajo and Hopi motorcyclists paying tribute to those who lost family members in the armed services. More on those two days and my time in the Grand Canyon in future posts.

I pulled into Durango on route 160 out of Pagosa Springs on an absolutely soggy day. I saw the sky turning black in front of me as I was eating the most delicious taco from a little roadside stand. The wind kicked up and nearly blew the awning off the trailer. I asked the owner if I’d be riding into rain. She looked up at the sky and told me it would blow  to my east and north. Ten minutes out of town I was riding through a deluge. By the time I reached Bill’s home I was soaked and splattered gray from the road slosh. Bill had cold beer waiting to soothe my growing exasperation with all the rain I had experienced on this trip. So why not wet the inside of the body if the outside’s already wet. Sounds like it balances things out, right? All was good again.

I spent most of 2012 in Afghanistan with the U.S. Agency for International Development as a manager for a province-wide program to enhance trade and provide technical training for farmers.  You can read articles and watch videos here:

Linking Farmers and Traders

Supporting Livelihoods

Working with Afghan Farmers (video)

Melons to Dubai (video)

Progress Through Produce

Behind the Melons

The program was reasonably successful if measured by Afghanistan standards. I could write pages about the term “Afghanistan standards”, but that’s not for this blog. In my last couple of months while I was working more with tribal elders on infrastructure projects in and around Spin Boldak I started to worry about my safety. I didn’t have that fear while working in the rural areas, but the city made me nervous – too many people, too many cars and motorcycles and potential suicide bombers. One day after I had returned home I had thought to myself, “If anyone ever tells me to ‘Go to Hell’ again, I’m going to tell them, ‘I’ve been there and survived. Any other suggestions as to where you’d like me to go?'” But in all fairness I should add that there is one thing I do miss about Afghanistan – it’s my interpreter, Mahmood. He was sunshine on my dreariest days. He is hope.  As I leaf through the pages of my mind of all the people I’ve worked with in my international career, he shines one of the brightest lights. I pray for his safety, for his success and for his entire family. I’m going to put a picture of him in this post even though this is about Durango. I want to share his smile with you.

◊ Mahmood and Steve

I bring this up because visiting Bill gave me my first opportunity since my return home to be with someone who had experienced the same thing I had. It was good to talk about some of those things. Bill lived on the same military base as me. We were both civilians, but all government contractors were required to live on a military base and only leave the base under military protection. Bill is a former Vietnam War pilot and a retired agent from the FBI. He trained Afghan police officers on things such as how to collect evidence from a crime scene. On a couple occasions we voiced our relief that we were home safely and with both arms and legs. Bill shared a story about a young Lieutenant who led foot patrols for our trips outside the base. He had learned from another colleague that after his battalion was transferred to another district he had stepped on a landmine and lost both legs the first day he was out on a foot patrol.  What was his sacrifice for? Through my work in Afghanistan I’ve developed the highest respect for our men and women who serve our country. But I also feel strongly that nothing – absolutely nothing – that we are doing in Afghanistan is keeping us safer here at home. My heart bleeds for the families who lost loved ones, or are tending and nursing soldiers who returned home wounded (physically or mentally) or maimed. I’ll write more about the honor I had these past two days on the Navajo reservation to ride with the Navajo and Hopi Honor Riders.

For now I’d like to share pictures from my three days with Bill, Bonnie and their animals. Gratitude runs deep on the mountain where they’ve built their home overlooking the Durango valley. Bill designed it and contracted the work himself. They’ve been working for years on it. I can’t put all the pictures I took on one blog post, so I uploaded them to a web album here. This post contains a few samples with descriptions.

Three days in Durango. What delight!

Bill and Bonnie’s home overlooking Durango

Bill and Bonnie's home

The westerly view from their home. Elk graze on their land in season. They’ve also seen mountain lion and bear.

Durango Mtns

The view to the east

Easterly View

The view from below, looking up

View from below

Sunrise reflecting on the southwestern butte

The sound of sunrise on Bill and Bonnie’s ‘Easter Trail’


Gracie hitches a ride

Gracie going for a ride

Chance and Ramble

Listen to this recording of Bill talking about his horses

Chance and Ramble

Chance or Ramble?

On my first morning Bill took me on a ride to Vallecito. Here, Bill takes the lead on his Harley.


Sunset walk on their land

Sunset walk

The second day we road through the Animas Valley and to the location where they filmed the famous scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Paul Newman and Robert Redford jumped from the cliff.

Animas Valley


In the afternoon we rode to Mesa Verde, where the Anasazi lived from around 500 CE to 1300. There are over 600 dwellings in the park.

Mesa Verde

On the road to the cliff dwellings

On the road

Cliff dwellings

Distant view from the mesa

Distant view from the mesa

Here’s a wider view of the valley below the mesa

Valley below

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Bill and Gracie on Monday morning

Bill and Gracie ◊

For three days my stomach feasted on Bonnie’s gourmet meals; my eyes feasted on dramatic mountains and verdant pastures and valleys. I lived like a king in Durango. About the only thing Bill and Bonnie didn’t have was a throne. Good thing, too. Had they, I may have had to depose them!

Thank you, Bill and Bonnie!!

Monday morning I got on the road early and landed at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Next post, pictures from around the canyon.


All content Copyrighted ©  Stephen Tavella

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