June 18, 2004

Fruita, CO – Colorado National Monument, Biking and Kayaking

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:32 pm by diandy2004

From Ridgeway we headed north to Grand Junction, CO. We stayed in Colorado River State Park in Fruita, a ‘burb of Grand Junction. A private campground across the street offered WIFI, which we were able to access. Unfortunately, they were having internet problems so we kept losing our connection. Not a huge problem except that I had tried several times to update this blog, and when I would try to ‘post’, it erased my text. So, if any descriptions seem abbreviated, it’s because I’ve written this previous section three times now.

Our first night welcomed us with a beautiful sunset from our campsite:

Sunset at Colorado River SP

Sunset at Colorado River SP

We drove through Colorado National Monument, which was an unassuming mountain range just outside our doorstep. Once we drove in however the scenery changed. There are canyons, red rocks, arches, painted deserts, and all of the western formations. We did some short hikes in here as well.

Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument

Diane Sitting at an Overlook

Diane Sitting at an Overlook

Formations at Colorado Nat'l Monument

Formations at Colorado Nat'l Monument

Another day we put our kayaks in and did a 9-mile stretch of the Colorado River. Our GPS said we averaged 4.2 mph, and we didn’t paddle much! Paddling was only required to get through the little rapids and steer us around the bends. We got to see deer crossing the river and a variety of birds including “bank swallows”, which lived in holes bored into the riverbank.  Since this was a one-way trip we had to set up a self-shuttle system. We left our car at Blue Heron Point where we put in the kayaks.  Upon reaching the boat ramp at the State Park, we carried our kayaks back to the RV.  Then we got on our road bikes (which we left at the RV) to pedal back to Blue Heron Point to get our car. Just a ten-mile bike ride, except it started to rain on the way. Of course it rained. It hadn’t rained in how many months now and we hadn’t ridden our road bikes since San Diego. Oh well…It was still a nice day overall.

The next day we took our mountain bikes for a ride. Mary’s Loop was recommended as a first ride to riders new in the area. It is a 9.3-mile loop with about 4 miles of it being on Kokopelli’s Trail (a 142-mile bike trail from Loma, CO to Moab, UT). What a great ride. Challenging but doable. Gorgeous scenery: Colorado River, meadows, white sandstone, red rocks, a box canyon, slickrock, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to ride when there is so much to look at.

We also went into the town of Grand Junction. GJ has a historic downtown area with nice shops, restaurants, etc. One night they had a Farmer’s Market/Arts & Crafts Festival going on. They closed off Main Street so it was a pedestrian walkway only. They even had belly dancers doing a show (Geri, we thought of you!) and one intersection was ‘drumming’. A bunch of drums were provided and people could sit and join in on the so-called jam session. Everyone did a different beat, and the various drums made all different types of sounds. The result was actually very good, not what we would have expected. We also had to visit the Rockslide Brewery on Main Street, of course.

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June 14, 2004

Ouray, CO – Million Dollars, Black Canyons, and Biking Telluride

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:29 pm by diandy2004

The drive from Silverton to Ouray was breathtaking, and not just because of the steep drop-offs. It is referred to as ‘The Million Dollar Highway’, which we know is because of the expense to blast the road, tunnels and water diverters out of the mountain, but it still is a deserving name. The view along this road is of snow-capped mountains, forests, a deep gorge, and waterfalls.  Somehow, it was my day to drive the RV again.  This was another segment we chose to drive separately, so Andy was behind me in the car.  We use walkie-talkies to communicate on these drives.  At one point Andy radioed to me that my outside dualie was hanging off the edge of the road.  Parts of the road were under construction and the white line was missing in sections.  My choice was to trust the inner dualie in order to avoid the semi-tractor trailer coming at me taking the curve in the road with a wide swing.  Tough choices on these roads without guardrails!

We are still adjusting to the multitudes of greens in Colorado. There is the deep-greens of pines, firs and junipers, the bright-greens of meadows, the light-greens of quaking aspens, and the gray-greens of shrubs. And usually they are all patch-worked together in one setting.

A Common Colorado Scene

A Common Colorado Scene

Our first stop in Ouray was the Box Canyon Waterfalls. A ‘box canyon’ has walls on three sides. The waterfall cut through one wall and roared between the other two. We took two hikes – one to the top of the falls and the other to the bottom. It was about 20 degrees cooler inside the canyon. The canyon walls consisted of the black and pink rock.

Andy in Box Canyon

Andy in Box Canyon

Our second stop was the Ouray Hot Springs. We soaked in the mineral springs for about an hour or so. The different pool temperatures ranged from 74 degrees (for lap swimming) to 106 degrees. Afterwards we went back into town for lunch and a little shopping. Downtown Ouray is very quaint. The Main Street is lined with old-style brick buildings and the residences are mostly Victorian-style. The town is surrounded by a mountain range referred to as “The Amphitheatre” and National Forests.

Downtown Ouray

Downtown Ouray

We stayed at Ridgeway State Park up the road from Ouray. That first afternoon we decided on a short mountain bike ride. The beginning of this ride was a little challenging with switchbacks and a slope noted as 32 degrees. Warning signs were posted in this area and with good reason. We mostly “hiked-a-bike” up and down this section. The rest of the trail was great though with rolling hills above the reservoir. We saw several deer jumping pasture fences and lots of birds.

From Ridgeway we day-tripped to Black Canyon of Gunnison NP. This canyon got its name because in one section it is more narrow than deep, casting continual shadows into the canyon. We liked the pink Pegmatite rock. Pegmatite was originally red-hot lava that was injected into fractures of the black rock during an eruption and turned pink after it cooled. This created some fascinating patterns in the black rock.

Pegamite of Black Canyon

Pegamite of Black Canyon

Overlooking Black Canyon

Overlooking Black Canyon

Another day trip from Ridgeway was to Telluride, the well-known ski town. We took a hike up to Bridal Veil Falls and another waterfall. We took the free gondola ride up Telluride Mountain to Mountain Village. During this gondola ride we talked with several people regarding biking options. All bike trails are rated “difficult”, but one just looked like a jeep road. We decided to try it anyway. We got our bikes and went back up the gondola. They have bike racks on the back of the gondola to get your bikes to the top of the mountain. San Sophia is the highest point at 10,535 ft and is the start of the trail. The Telluride Trail is a double-blue-square rated ski slope, which is “advanced intermediate” or one step below a black diamond. What made it a difficult bike ride was primarily the speed. Our hands ached at the end from gripping our brakes to maintain our speed. There was a lot of skidding and fishtailing due to gravel and rocks. The tight switchback turns required complete control. And, humps in the path could cause you to catch airtime if you hit them at too high of a speed. Overall, it was a complete adrenaline rush. But once was enough.  Note:  We were hesitant to do the ride after we arrived at the top of the mountain with our bikes and met another biker – in full BMX gear with all of the protective guards, including a full helmet.  And here we were in our spandex!

Overlooking Telluride

Overlooking Telluride

We went back into Ouray for an afternoon and visited Ice Park, a slot canyon in which they water the cliff walls in winter to create ice cliffs for climbers. We also hiked to Cascade Falls, another beautiful waterfall right on the outskirts of town. The stream below Cascade Falls was filled with Malachite – a green rock. I just can’t get used to the colors of rocks out west. Aren’t ‘rocks’ supposed to be boring brown or black?

June 11, 2004

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNGR)

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 2:26 pm by diandy2004

We loved the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNGR). We selected to ride in the open-air gondola car and we got speckled with soot and misted with steam, but that was all part of the fun. The trip was as beautiful as expected. We started in Silverton and headed south towards Durango, passing waterfalls and rapids and a deep gorge of black and pink rock. The rail line itself was usually just a foot or so from either the cliff edge on the riverside or rocks on the mountainside. Sometimes it was that tight on both sides. Every once in awhile a tree branch would slap alongside the cars. So you had to be careful as to when to poke your head out for a better view. The train followed the Animas River the whole way passing through the San Juan Nat’l Forest. It was just beautiful.

The Train Approaches Silverton

The Train Approaches Silverton

Pulling Into Silverton

Pulling Into Silverton

Winds Along the Animas River

Winds Along the Animas River

Views of the Royal Gorge

Views of the Royal Gorge

Open-Air Gondola vs. Closed-Car

Open-Air Gondola vs. Closed-Car

Water Stop

Water Stop

While in Durango we stayed at the Strater Hotel, which was built in 1887. It’s been restored to the original Victorian-style and even the clerks were dressed with narrow string ties. It was very romantic, but we didn’t spend much time there unfortunately. We visited two of the local microbreweries in town – Steamworks and Carver. With the beers having between 4.3% – 7% alcohol it didn’t take long to get a buzz.

Silverton is what you would think of when you try to picture an old-west town: Dirt roads and old wooden buildings with porches and wooden platforms. Unfortunately all the little shops closed after the last train pulled out with most of the tourists. That was at 2:45 pm. And there wasn’t much else to do in the afternoon.

June 8, 2004

Durango, CO

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 3:20 am by diandy2004

After leaving the Cortez area, we moved onto Durango, CO. We got lucky in that we were in the area during two festivals – the Mancos’ Old Time Fiddler’s Festival and Durango’s Animas River Days Festival. So we spent an afternoon in Mancos listening to amateur fiddlers compete, and who would’ve known there are so many good ones out there! And we stopped down at the River Days Festival periodically to see different events. We watched kayakers play in the rapids doing tricks, we saw a downstream race, and a “big dog” stick competition (they threw a stick into the river and the first dog to get it won). The current and rapids in the Animas River are pretty intense. Those dogs had to do a mean doggy-paddle to get back out!

Kayakers Race on Animas River Festival

Kayakers Race on Animas River Festival

Downtown Durango is cute with the old brick and stone buildings, city square blocks with lots of restaurants, shops, microbreweries, etc. The Animas runs along the edge or through town and the city has built a great walking/biking trail for most it’s length. This area is very focused on outdoor living probably because it is located near national forests and lots of open space.

On Sunday we drove 30 miles north of town to hike a trail called Coal Bank Pass. Starting elevation 10,700′, ending elevation was to be at the tree line at 12,000′. Yes, we expected there to be snow at this elevation, but we did not expect 10′ snow drifts on the trails and the slopes surrounding us. Boy was it beautiful though with pines and aspens taller than I could guess. And it smelled just like Christmas. In the four hours we hiked we only saw two other people. They figured it was still a little early to be using that trail, especially after we lost the trail and it took about 1 hour to find it again. We never did reach the tree line however, because we were watching our time and didn’t want to be out at dark. Along the way we had beautiful views of other snow-capped mountains and a mountain lake with snow still lying on the surface. It was a slow-moving hike because of the snow. We would frequently find our feet dropping feet into the snow, sometimes up to our hips, so you would have to pull yourself out and hope to find a more solid spot with the next step. Some of the trail was on a steep slope and once I lost my footing and found myself sliding down the slope on my butt for about 20 feet before I caught myself on a tree trunk – what a hoot! Needless to say, by the end of our hike our feet were soaked from snow going in the tops of our boots and our pants were wet from sinking into the snow. Good thing the air temp was a comfortable 72 degrees.

Andy Crossing Snow Drifts

Andy Crossing Snow Drifts

Snow-Covered Views

Snow-Covered Views

We also took a side-trip to Spud Lake:

Beaver Dams at Spud Lake

Beaver Dams at Spud Lake

Well we will be leaving Durango tomorrow – sort of. We are driving to Silverton, but will take the Narrow Gauge Railroad (an old-fashioned coal-powered steam engine) back to Durango. We’ll spend Wednesday night in a hotel in Durango (so we can enjoy the local microbreweries) and then return to Silverton on Thursday. The railroad follows the Animas River between the two cities and will cut through the national forest. It’s supposed to be a very scenic ride. Note: the NGR is not responsible for damage to persons or clothing by coal cinders or soot. Say what?

June 4, 2004

Cortez, CO – Mesa Verde and More

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:19 am by diandy2004

On our drive from Page to Cortez, we had to make the obligatory stop at Four Corners.  It’s one of those things you have to do, right?  Get out of the car, pay $6 to the Navajos, and step on a small marker denoting the spot where you are touching four states in one footprint.  We think that this whole process took about one minute!

One of the first things I learned in Colorado was that the descriptions of bike trails are a little different. When they say “intermediate” I will now consider it an “expert” trail! We took a bike ride in the Cortez area (Sand Canyon’s East and West Loops) that did have some nice or manageable sections – rolling hills, sandy spots, fun downhills- but other sections had slickrock drops so steep I had trouble carrying my bike up or down, or sections of jumbled boulders I couldn’t imagine anyone crossing. The elevations are something else we keep having to adapt to as we move. This ride was between 5400 – 5900 ft. Quite different than our house at 13′. So, we keep on learning…and struggling to breathe. But the views on this bike ride were great – we saw arches, red rocks, cliff dwellings, and pinon pines.

Biking Sand Canyon

Biking Sand Canyon

We took our kayaks up to Dolores, CO and put in at the McPhee Reservoir. There is a side canyon called House Creek Canyon that we paddled up the arm until the water just ran out.

Kayaking House Creek Canyon

Kayaking House Creek Canyon

We spent a day at Mesa Verde NP touring the ancient cliff dwellings. We took two guided tours here – the Cliff Palace, which is the largest, and Balcony House which is considered an “adventure tour” because of the ladders to climb and tunnels to crawl through. Both were fun and very interesting. Two-thirds of the park have been burned by forest fires within the last 10 years, so it was interesting to see the various stages of life-after-fire and to learn just how long it will take before these high-desert trees reach any height.

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

Climbing the Ladders at Balcony House

Climbing the Ladders at Balcony House

Don't Look Down!

Don't Look Down!

Navajo Dancers

Navajo Dancers

A panoramic view of Mesa Verde:

Mesa Verde