After traveling nearly 1,000 miles by boat, we decided it was time to make some tracks on terra firma so we docked our delivery in Anacortes in a driving rain storm, handed over the keys and jumped on a bus to Seattle.
First stop; Three Tree Point, birthday cake, Seahawks games, family gatherings, and beach walks. This was our second pass through Seattle since leaving Happy Dance in July, so it was great to have more time to visit with family and friends before we jumped on a plane to Denver.
Next stop; Boulder canyon, golden aspens, thin air, and elk bugles. We visited our buddy Janet who helped us start this life of grand adventure by finding a buyer for the Inn three years ago. While too short a stay, we had time to visit Nederland, enjoy morning coffee under the aspens, look for moose, and spend an amazing day in Rocky Mountain National Park watching the elk (my photos of the bugling elk herds in Rocky Mountain National Park were wonderful, but alas, they were eaten by the computer gods..!).
In Boulder we picked up a car (the deal of the century) and started our driving tour with a stop in Pueblo, to meet up with some friends of Marty’s from his old neighborhood. It was a hoot for me to see old friends greeting each other after 40 years….”you haven’t changed a bit”! Terry, Rick, George, and Susie, plus all the family that could gather served us up a fantastic Pueblo bar-b-que complete with yummy green chile sloppers! Thanks clan Kratzer!
From Pueblo we headed west into the mountains. We stopped near Cotopaxi for a couple of nights and explored Canon City and the Royal Gorge. We didn’t feel like paying the exorbitant entry fee to walk across the Royal Gorge bridge, and as luck would have it we missed a ride on the Royal Gorge railroad by minutes, but we still enjoyed a walk on the river and a crazy drive on a rough (very rough) road back to our cozy cabin in the woods. At night we listened to the wind in the pines and the coyotes howl.
Our next stop was an old farm cottage situated in the valley near Ridgway, with picture windows that gave us a jaw dropping view of some of the 14,000 foot snow-covered peaks nearby. From our home base on the valley floor we explored in three different directions; Black Canyon, Telluride and Ouray. We drove on crazy roads with steep cliff edges, plenty of wow’s and whoa’s, and started making plans for a return visit.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. The Gunnison River has been working on the canyon for the past two million years sculpting a vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky into a unique beauty that left us speechless. Looking straight down the cliffs it was a mere 2,700 foot drop into canyons that squeezed the river into 40′ widths in places, where adventurers in the early 1800’s began to survey the river. It took many years before they succeeded, but today there is a 6 mile tunnel that cuts through the cliffs taking water from the Gunnison and feeding into the arid Uncompahgre Valley. Amazing ingenuity and persistence.
After spending a day looking down into the Black Canyon, we spent the next day in Telluride looking up! The town of Telluride is like landing in a picture postcard. Everywhere you look there are colorful Victorian homes framed by golden aspens and dwarfed by 13,000 foot snowy peaks. We rode the tram up and over the mountain enjoying the views and adding a few gazillion more wow’s to the count.
Originally a traditional summer camp for the Ute Indians, this area was heavily mined and the population boomed when the railroad arrived in 1890. “There are two theories as to how the town came to be known as ‘Telluride’: 1) The name was derived from the mineral tellurium, a non-metallic element often associated with mineral deposits of gold (and ironically, not found in this valley), or 2) The town was named for the famous send-off given to fortune seekers headed to the southern San Juan Mountains — “To-hell-you-ride”!”
Our final excursion from Ridgway was a short drive into the town of Ouray, named after the great Chief Ouray, a Ute Indian leader who lived here and spent his life trying to keep the peace between the Utes and the whites even as the whites continued to take more and more land from the Utes. While he is honored today, the Utes lost their land and their way of life in the San Juan Mountains by 1880.
Like Telluride, Ouray is set down in a narrow valley surrounded by mountains and rugged canyons that were mined heavily. We hiked into Box Canyon to see the falls that rush through an 8′ gap in the rock walls, then we climbed up the stairs to see the falls from the top…yikes, it’s a long way down! The canyon is a geologist’s dream and tells the story of how these mountains were created.
Leaving Ridgway we headed up and over Red Mountain Pass (11,018 ft), Coal Bank Pass (10,640 ft) and Molas Pass (10,970 ft). During the 1800’s this area was the site of some 20 silver and gold mines. They are no longer in operation, but the old tailings and rugged looking mine buildings are scattered around the mountains. If you’re ever in this area, drive Hwy 550, it’s not to be missed! Known as the “million dollar highway”, it’s also listed as one of the most dangerous roads and we could see why as we clung to the road that had been cut from the side of the mountains! We spent a couple of hours hopping in and out of the car as new vistas emerged around each corner. WOW!
Albuquerque was our next stop and we were treated to posh digs provided by a high school friend of Marty’s. It was another 40 year reunion with all the stories and laughs that go along with getting re-acquainted. Thanks so much Patsy and Ed, it was such a fun stay!
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was in full swing so we woke before dawn and headed down to the field to see the balloons taking off in the dark. What a rush! Huge colorful balloons everywhere we looked, in all stages of being filled with air, then heating the air, hooking on the basket, then up, up, and away! In the dark the balloons glows are stunning, with all the balloons firing their burners at once to create glowing orbs of color. When the sun came up all 500+ balloons ascended into the blue sky for a show that was worthy of our bucket list….check!
So let’s add it up….1,700 miles driven, 5 states visited, 8 beds slept in, and 5,843 WOWs! It has been a great trip, in an area that we hope to come back and explore much more. Since leaving Happy Dance in July we’ve traveled many, many miles through endless empty country, with varied climates, landscapes, and history and we’ve been stunned at the vast size of it all. We’ve come away with a renewed respect for the wealth of beauty in this country, the startling history, and a realization that having family and friends outweighs it all.