The Breakfast Club

An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots’ Assn




The Knife & Fork




Breakfast Club Drops-in on Cortez, Co, Tours Mesa Verde National Park



Part 1, Cortez & Mesa Verde Park

by Warren McIlvoy


When the crack(ed) Breakfast Club Event Committee met last year, our second over-night fly-in event was originally slated for Durango, Colorado that would include a tour of Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, CO.  Austin Erwin volunteered(?) to do the “footwork” on this event that would included transportation, dinning locations, and most important, a decent place to stay.  When a tour company was located to get us to the Mesa Verde NP and conduct the tour, they said that it was about an hours drive from Durango to the Park but that they do not conduct any tours.  Since the tours would be on our own, we considered why should we originate the festivities out of Durango and not go the Cortez directly.  So, the plan was altered to go direct to Cortez rather than Durango.  So Austin focused his searches on the Cortez area for all of our needs.  As it turned-out, Austin did a yeoman’s job of arranging all of our needs that included a little side event for Sunday morning that you can read about in part 2.


The weather on Friday, the day before our scheduled departure day, was dark and threatening but the forecast for Saturday was more appealing although there might be some lingering weather to the east and southeast.  Saturday dawned with overcast skies but allowed plenty of room for our cruise altitude of 9500’.  As we departed Deer Valley Airport, I could clearly see that the weather to the southeast looked pretty dim but the DUATS weather briefing indicated the overcast would clear just beyond Payson and then clear skies for the duration of the flight. 


When I got a little further out, I put out a call on our “group flight following” frequency to see who was up.  Austin and his group out of Stellar Airpark responded as they were in the area of Roosevelt Lake.  A short time later, BC-2 called-in and so the gaggle of three aircraft was on their way to Cortez.   


Although I had a passing knowledge of Cortez, primarily its proximity to Mesa Verde National Park, I was curious about its history.  I did a little research via Wikipedia which revealed this:


“The City of Cortez is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous city of Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. The city population was 8,482 at the 2010 census”.

 “In 1886, the town was built to provide housing for the men working on the tunnels and irrigation ditches required to divert water out of the Dolores River and into Montezuma Valley. The town was named for Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez”.

“The City of Cortez It is a popular stop for tourists, who do not necessarily tour the city, but stay there because of its central location among surrounding attractions, such as Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley, and the Four Corners”.

          Miracle at Cortez

“A Lockheed U-2 "Dragon Lady" reconnaissance aircraft made an emergency nighttime forced landing August 3, 1959, at the Cortez Municipal Airport almost nine months before Gary Powers was shot down over Russia. Major H. Mike Hua (now retired as General) was on a training flight originating at Laughlin AFB, Texas; the U-2 aircraft engine flamed out at 70,000 feet MSL. Maj. Hua established best glide and was able to navigate through a valley to a lighted airport that wasn't on his map nor did he know of its existence beforehand. The airport was the only one in the area with a lighted runway which was illuminated overnight. The aircraft in question, a U-2D, serial number 56-6721, is on display at Blackbird Airpark, adjacent to USAF Plant 42 at Palmdale, California. Major Hua was later awarded the U.S. Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for his successful landing of the secret aircraft”.

So that’s it for Cortez, not real exciting on the surface but it did have a real handy airport for Major Hua and for our purposes, it will work just fine.

As we progressed along our route, the high overcast disappeared just beyond Payson and it was clear sailing for the rest of the route.  Just south of Winslow, Arizona, before the wooded area of the Mogollon Rim turns into high plateau, there was some low lying fog, possibly over a lake that caught my attention and offered a photo op.  Just before crossing I-40, I notice the famous Meteor Crater that is about 15-miles west of Winslow and I could not pass-up that photo op either.  It is truly amazing that the meteor struck so close to the highway!!

As we passed the Winslow area, the geography changed to an array of colors that accompanied the many small mesas that embody the Petrified Forest National Monument.  Continuing to the northeast, the geographic scene soon changes to small ridges and narrow valleys that are covered with mesquite and small junipers.  We soon passed to the west of Chinle, Arizona that is the gateway to Canyon de Chelly.  As we pass Chinle, we are greeted by the Chuiska Mountains that straddle the state line between Arizona and New Mexico.  The Chuiskas rise to better than 9800’ but at the north end of that chain is a broad pass between the Chuiskas and an unnamed 9400’ peak that is just south of the Four Corners Area. 

Cortez, Colorado is about 25-miles northeast of the Four Corners Area and this is where I caught-up with Austin and his crew.  Passing-off to their port side, I took the lead into the Cortez Airport.  The Cortez Airport is smack daub in the middle of the mouth of a wide northeast/southwest valley and thus it has a northeast/southwest runway.  Richard was already on the ground as I announced our position at 10-miles out for the left downwind to runway 21.  After exiting the runway, we were greeted by the golf cart from Cortez Flying Service that directed us to transient parking.  As I needed some additional fuel for our trip to Show Low, AZ on Sunday, this was a good time to order it.  A short time later, Austin and his gang arrived and we all loaded our gear into one of the vans that Austin had reserved for our day of festivities.  We were driven over to the terminal building where the car rental agency was located to complete the paperwork for the vans. 

The Cortez Airport is about 8-9 miles south of the main part of town.  Austin had the name of a place that he found on the internet that seemed like a good place for breakfast before we headed for the park.  Once on the main street of Cortez, it was not too difficult to find Mr Happy’s Café.  The restaurant looked like it has been around for a while and well known by the locals.  It was nearly 1130 (remember, they are on MDT) their time when we got there but there were still some locals still eating breakfast.  The menu had all the traditional breakfast fare as well as my favorite, Eggs Benedict.  As it turned-out this place was a good choice as we soon had our orders and we devoured them like a pack of starving dogs on a meat truck. 

After breakfast, we made a stop at the Baymont Inn to stow our gear in one of our rooms.  With that task finished, we departed town on the main road and about 12 miles or so, we made the turn-off to the Mesa Verde National Park.  We stopped at the sign that signaled the beginning of the Park and this is where we made the switch of drivers.  You see, Richard and I were the only folks that had passes for all the National Parks that us “old folks” could buy for $10 or so.  This allows free entry onto all National Parks, Monuments, and Recreation Areas.  A little ways down the road after going through the Park entry, we stopped again to switch drivers. 

From the Park entrance to our first planned stop at Far View Visitor Center was about 12-14 miles along a winding, twisting road that offered many breath-taking views of the various canyons of the Park.  The Visitors’ Center is a source for information about the park as well as the place to purchase tickets for the guided tours of the various archeological sites in the Park.  I thought that is was amazing that the guided tours are only $3.00 each.  Each tour has a limited amount of slots for any particular tour. 

After making a pit stop, we loaded-up the vans for the 10-mile drive to our first tour stop at the Cliff Palace.  We took the path that was maybe a 100yds of so long to an overlook where the tour starts.  From the overlook, you can get a bird’s eye view of this amazing cliff dwelling.  I have seen photos of this place in the past but I can honestly say they just don’t do justice to this scene.  When the tour guide arrived, we gathered in the middle of the overlook and the guide proceeded to relate some of the history and theories of this site.  When he had finished, we descended a rather steep set of steps to another locked gate where the real trail started.  The guide added that most of the trail “improvements” were accomplished by the work gangs of the WPA program in the 1930’s.  As such, compliance to uniform codes were non-existent so we would find steps that were often very narrow, long in the step, sometimes slanted, and, quite often, with no semblance of a handrail.  The guide did not exaggerate in any way.  Some “steps” were as much as 18-24” tall that required a “side step” to get down.  I don’t exactly remember how long the trail was to the cliff dwelling as I was too busy watching my footing but I would guess that maybe it was a half-mile or so.  At a point just short of the site, the guide relayed more the sites history as well as some insights into the day-to-day activities of the Anasazi people that lived here from about the 11th to the 13th Centuries.  No one really knows whey they left the area but there are many theories.  Some believe that maybe drought may have caused them to leave yet others feel that disease could have driven them out.  What ever it was affected a very wide area of northern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, southeast Utah, and southwestern Colorado. 

Once we were at the site, the guide pointed-out the different styles of the masonry work.  Some stonework was very precise and evenly done while others were less “organized” and somewhat crude in execution.  It appeared that the people were organized into special groups.  Some were engaged in building, others tended the crops that were on top of the cliffs, others were assigned into caring for the children, and still others were in charge of gathering water to sustain life.  I often wondered why these people chose to live in such conditions that would require people (most likely the women) to carry jars up narrow crevices with nothing more than small hand holds, up the face of the cliffs, 50-100’ to the tops, and gather water.  Then they had to make the return trip without losing any of the water.  The guide said there was evidence that some water was gleaned from the cracks and fissures in the rock when the winter snows would melt in the spring and from the occasional rains.  It is possible that though life in the valleys would be much easier to sustain with easy access to streams and rich fertile soil to grow crops, but there was one problem, and that was defensibility. 

At the completion of the tour, the guide told us that the exit trail would require us to use the crudely constructed steps and the use of several ladders.  The ladders would lead us to the very narrow crevices that were most likely used by the original inhabitants of this site.  In some cases the crevices were not exactly straight up and down.  They had a slant to them that required you to ‘lean” with them while ascending the steps or scaling the ladders.  By the time that I had reached the path that went back to the parking lot, the tops of my legs were on fire. 

After arriving at the vans, we took the short drive to our next tour destination, that being the Balcony House.  The guide told us that the trail was shorter than at the Cliff Palace but there were a couple of ladders that were around 32’ or more and one area where you would have to crawl to the site.  Considering the condition of the legs and the fragile knees, I and a couple of others opted to take a rain check on this one.  The guide did tell us that there was a short trail (maybe 3/4-miles) just up the road that would take us to an overlook where we could view the cliff dwelling.  That sounded much more appealing.  We parked along the road at the trailhead and headed down the path.  Though the trail had some ups and downs, it was a whole lot easier than scaling ladders and ascending steps.  When we reached the overlook, it was about ¾ of a mile away from the site.  By using the telephoto feature of the camera, I could clearly see the ladders and the rooms of the dwelling.  I could also view the folks climbing up the ladder and gathering at the top.  From this vantage point, I took some photos of the dwelling as well as the adjoining canyon.   Following our photo session, we hiked back to our car and headed back to Cortez.  Along the way, we stopped at an overlook to get some photos of the mountains north of the town of Mancos.  I have not been able to find a name but they sure were gorgeous with the clouds casting shadows on the sloops. 

When we arrived at the hotel, we checked-in and then retrieved our gear that was stored in one the rooms.  The Baymont Inn is four floors with a center atria that encompasses the pool and hot tub.  Our room was on the second floor on the south side.  The view of the mountains was gorgeous as the sun was getting low in the west.  The others in our party had not yet gotten back to the hotel so I felt that it was necessary to sample the joys of the hot tub.  My wife came down but did not use the hot tub but chose to lounge in one of the poolside chairs.  After about 15 minutes my wife walked over with my cell phone.  Austin was inquiring about when we would be ready to head-out to dinner.  I said that it would be about 20-minutes as we would meet with everyone in the hotel lobby.

When all had gathered in the lobby, we loaded-up the vans headed-out to the Shiloh Steakhouse.  The restaurant was only about 2-miles west of the hotel so the ride was short and there was ample parking in the rear.  Austin had made reservations so we had seating in a dinning area that was separate from the common dinning area.  I was not sure if our reputation had preceded us or they felt we would like our privacy but in any case, we had the entire room to ourselves. 

After a very nice evening meal, we returned to the hotel where most of us reconvened our “meeting” on the patio deck.  While we enjoyed a few “brewskes”, we relived the day’s events with tales of our impressions of the cliff dwellings.  In my humble opinion, these little get-togethers at the end of the day are one of the more enjoyable occasions on the overnight fly-ins.  With the night air nearing the temperature of the beer and the hour getting late, it was time to call it a day and head to our rooms.  In the morning six of our group was going to play the roll of “city slickers” while my wife and I would be heading out to the airport for a flight to Show Low and a few days with our daughter’s in-laws at the mountain home in Pinetop. 


Part II, Cortez & Mesa Verde National Park


           The City Slickers Ride Again


By Austin Erwin


Note: Since I did not attend the “trail-ride” and cook-out, I asked Austin Erwin to do a little write-up about this part of our weekend event.


“On the second day of our journey a few intrepid cowboy and cowgirls headed off to Rimrock Outfitters in Mancos, CO (25 miles east) of Cortez for a real, one-of-a-kind, cowboy breakfast and trail ride.


We met up with the owners of Rimrock Outfitters, a kind husband/wife team, Perry and Lynne, who were patient and generous to a bunch of rookies.  They had all the horses saddled up and ready to go when we arrived.    The day was perfect, there was a slight chill in the air (65 degrees) and not a cloud in the sky, opposed to what the forecast said.  One rookie asked if “AAA would help with trailside assistance if our horse blew a shoe”.


Our ninety minute meandering ride led us through open fields with cows, ponds and a gorgeous vista for our senses to take in.  Along the way someone relayed a funny story about a boy who on his first trip to the forest commented that it smelled like “air freshener.”   We had the real thing here, too bad we couldn't have bottled it up and taken it back to Phoenix. 


Further along the trail the group sauntered through tall Colorado pines, across a stream, down a valley and then up to our waiting breakfast.  Someone said that “if they had to ride to Denny's like this they could get used to it”.


Perry was the cook this morning and he had flapjacks cooking over an open wood fire.  Also ready were scrambled eggs, biscuits, coffee and loads of bacon!   A comment from the cowboy gallery was “there is nothing nicer than bacon in the forest”!  It must be a camping/outdoors thing, who knows.   Our host Lynne also had a special syrup recipe that was outstanding; it was a brown sugar, regular sugar and water reduction with butter and some other ingredients that have unfortunately been forgotten.  One hunch from the crew was that it's a secret recipe handed down in most Betty Crocker cookbooks. Finishing up our cowboy chow, we tossed the scraps to the trail dogs; they had worked up an appetite keeping up with us, so they deserved a handout. 


When it was time to leave, we got both feet in the stirrups and were ready for our photo op.  We looked like the crew from Bonanza; who was Hoss?   Lynne did a nice job swapping cameras so everyone could have their picture with the panoramic background. She said “we were the best bunch of pilot cowboys & cowgirls this side of the Mississippi”.  Following our Hollywood moment, we set off on a thirty minute ride back to the ranch and our waiting Kia Minivan and the impending flight from this pristine place.


This was a wonderful morning activity.  Our hosts, Lynne and Perry were such pleasant people, who truly made our experience one to remember.  Hope we can return for another visit in a couple years.


So there you have it.  We had a great time at a truly great location and a lot of fun with some of our Breakfast Club folks.  A couple of people had to cancel at the last moment and missed-out on a great weekend event.  I want to thank Austin Erwin who spent a lot of time researching hotels, restaurants, and side activities.  Austin really put together a wonderful weekend that was enjoyed by all.  Great job Austin.


The Cortez Group


  • Warren & Jeri-Ann McIlvoy in 93MB, BC-1 & 1.5
  • Richard & Marcia Azimov in 6864Q, BC-2
  • Doug Doehrman and Libby Vance in 93M, BC-69
  • Greg Coomans and Austin Erwin in 93M, BC-48 & 86


The City Slickers


  • Richard & Marcia Azimov
  • Doug Doehrman and Libby Vance
  • Greg Coomans
  • Austin Erwin


What’s Next?


The October Breakfast Club event will be an encore visit to Lake Havasu, AZ where we will be having breakfast at the Makai Café.  This event was a big hit last year so we are doing it again.  In November we will be going south (literally) to Tucson, Ryan and dinning at Todd’s Café.  That’s all for now but remember, fly safe.


I received photos from both Richard and Austin and combined them with my own.  They supplied all of the photos of the trail ride so there may be some duplications of some scenes.  Click on the link below to see them all.


Cortez, Colorado Photos