We went east today to Durango. It is another cute town in this area that exists because of mining in the 1880s. The weather was a bit rainy, so we put off the scenic drive until tomorrow. There was a wonderful trail along the Animas River, so we decided to take a long walk. In addition to being by the river, part of the trail was right next to the railroad tracks for the Durango and Silverton narrow gauge railroad. We were not lucky enough to see the train, but Don (and other photographers) got to take pictures of the tracks. New city, new brewery. We went to Steamworks Brewing Company. Don recommends this brewery if you are ever in Durango.
We fled Gunnison a day early to avoid the snow that was supposed to fall all day today (is this fall or winter?) and drove further south toward the San Juan Mountains. There are 28 peaks in this mountain range and 19 of them are more than 13,000 feet – 7 of them are over 14,000. The first four pictures show the gorgeous views as we were driving. The mountains in Colorado are breathtaking.
Something we have been looking forward to was going to Telluride and eating at Brown Dog Pizza. Last year we ate Detroit style pizza for the first time at Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit. It is the best pizza we have had. Don found that a relative of the owner had moved to Colorado and opened Brown Dog Pizza, so we have been looking forward to trying it. In truth it is not quite as good as the original, but it was pretty close and a whole lot closer than Detroit.
We decided to take Merlin for a quick walk before we went on to Delores to spend the night. We happened upon the Telluride gondola which is a one-of-a-kind transportation system – the first and only free public transportation system of its kind in the United States. Lo and behold, dogs were allowed, so Merlin got to take his first gondola ride. The views were very nice. One of Leslie’s biggest fears on a gondola is having it stop while in-transit. Evidently, they were trying to help her get over it as it stopped 5 times during the round trip (add to that the 25 mph winds and it was a lot of fun to be hanging there). There was not a problem, someone was getting married at the mid-point, so they had to load equipment, etc. so it took longer to load some of the cars. The last two pictures show the beautiful view while riding the gondola.
The weather in Gunnison was not nice today, so we decided to go to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (which is an hour away). The Gunnison River drops an average of 34 feet per mile through the entire canyon, making it the 5th steepest mountain descent in North America. By comparison, the Colorado River drops an average of 7.5 feet per mile through the Grand Canyon. The Black Canyon is so named because its steepness makes it difficult for sunlight to penetrate into its depths (certain parts only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day). As a result, the canyon is often shrouded in shadow, causing the rocky walls to appear black.
This park is Merlin’s favorite national park because he was allowed to walk on all of the overlooks. The next to the last picture is the river down in the canyon. We can attest to how steep the canyon is. We took a 4 mile windy road at a 16% grade to get there. We have never been on a road that steep. The ranger said to put the car in 1st gear the whole way down and we would be fine. That’s what we did. The good news is the road is paved and had some wide shoulders, so at least it wasn’t insane to drive down there. The last picture is from our first visit to the canyon about 20 years ago.
We did not have a beautiful sunny day today, but the clouds can sometimes make for interesting pictures. We drove to Ohio Pass on a 22 mile dirt road. There were a lot of ranches in the first few miles and then it gave way to aspen forests. Someone told us that aspens are the world’s largest living organism, so we had to look it up. We found that most aspens grow in large clonal colonies, derived from a single seedling, and spread by means of root suckers; new stems in the colony may appear at up to 98–131 ft from the parent tree. Each individual tree can live for 40–150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony is long-lived. In some cases, they live for thousands of years, sending up new trunks as the older trunks die off above ground. They are able to survive forest fires, because the roots are below the heat of the fire, and new sprouts appear after the fire burns out. There seems to be some controversy about the largest living organism part, but the botany lesson was interesting.
We found some sun and took a hike to Beaver Pond (10th – 11th picture). We also took another hike, but there is no photographic evidence because we had just gotten to the lake and it started to rain so we had to book it back to the car. We felt after our 3/4 mile run (at an elevation of 9,000 feet) to the car that we could stop in Crested Butte and go to Niky’s Mini Donuts since they only serve tiny donuts. We behaved and just got two cake donuts – one vanilla frosted and one maple frosted. Don, who can take or leave sweets, really liked the maple frosted one. It did not take much to twist Leslie’s arm to go back and get another one. Ok, truth be told, unbeknownst to us you have to buy two at a time, so we had 4 tiny donuts.
We took a drive to Independence Pass (first 5 pictures) which at 12,095 ft is the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the U.S. It was a bit of a white knuckle drive, but not as bad as we thought it might be. Do not get us wrong, in several places there were inches between the edge of the road and a drop off the side of the mountain, but we have been on worse.
The last 5 pictures are from a drive along Castle Creek near Aspen. Seems like the leaves were past their prime in some places, but this allowed Don to take his artsy pictures.
We had a fantastic day hiking in the White River National Forest to see The Maroon Bells (first six pictures). The Maroon Bells are two peaks in the Elk Mountains. Maroon Peak, at 14,163 feet is the 27th highest peak in Colorado. North Maroon Peak, at 14,019 feet , is the 50th highest. Hard to believe Colorado has so many mountains over 14,000 feet (there are 53). There was beautiful scenery no matter which way we looked. We took a 5 mile hike to Crater Lake (9th and 10th picture). The lake was not near as pretty as the one by the Maroon Bells that we walked a quarter of a mile to, but it was great exercise on a beautiful day.
Well after a snowy evening, we woke to a beautiful morning. We had to move today, but decided to take a hike to Lilypad Lake before we left. The first half of the hike was through some beautiful aspen groves. Don has been wanting to take pictures looking up through a bunch of aspens on a beautiful sunny day and he finally got the chance. It was a beautiful hike.
On our way to Breckenridge we stopped at the Glenwood Hot Springs. We had to really work to get there as the entire town of Glenwood Springs is under construction. It was worth it though. Glenwood Hot Springs is the world’s largest hot springs pool with over 1 million gallons of 90 degree mineral water. They also have a smaller pool that is 104 degrees.
After our relaxing dip, we drove through beautiful Glenwood Pass. There are no pictures because there was no where to stop. The aspen were about half changed and the beautiful yellow, with the light green of the other aspens and the deep green of the pine trees was beautiful. The 4th picture gives an idea of what is what like (although this is from Guanella Pass) for miles and miles.
The next morning we took a drive on the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway (pictures 2 – 7). It was a bit over cast and there was freezing rain at the top, but it was still a beautiful drive. The last remnants of the sun provided us with a rainbow as we came down the pass into Georgetown. The next three pictures are from Breckenridge. Don and Merlin went on a walk while Leslie shopped at the Columbia outlet. Don found three beers that he liked at the Broken Compass Brewing Company. They had a coconut porter that Leslie would have actually bought, but it only came in growlers and there is no room in the RV fridge for a growler.
We went the same distance west that we went east yesterday and found the desert. Grand Junction certainly has variety. We are enjoying the last few days of summer with beautiful warm weather. According to the weather man, Friday is the first day of fall and the temperatures are going to drop 20 – 30 degrees. Oh well…in the meantime we had a great time at Colorado National Monument enjoying the beautiful scenery.
We spent today driving and hiking on top of the Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. It has an area of about 500 square miles and stretches for about 40 miles between the Colorado River and the Gunnison River. The Grand Mesa is flat in some areas, but quite rugged in others. The first three pictures show some smaller mesas that we saw on the way up. The 4th picture shows some beautiful badlands. Thank goodness this road has lots of pull-offs. We found some beautiful color when we got to the top. According to the official website, this area is 60% turned. Hopefully it will hang on to the weekend because a lot of places are having “Color Weekend” events. The variety of geology in this area is amazing.