Sunday, October 17, 2010 Sunny and 65 degrees----mostly
This morning we took the East Portal Road to the banks of the Gunnison River. It was a five mile drive with up to 16% grade and hairpin turns, but as mountain roads go, it was a broad avenue. (I wasn't even white-knuckled!) The sun was just reaching the bottom of the canyon, lighting up the canyon walls. We could finally see their spectacular colors. Two dams are located at the end of the road. Not only do they generate electricity and divert water to the Uncompahgre Valley, but they have tamed the river, slowing the erosion along its banks. We took a short hike along the river and marveled at the steepness and the ruggedness of the canyon walls. It just reinforced the marvel of the construction of the diversion tunnel which is still providing water to the surrounding area.
Back up on top, we drove to the end of the rim road and then worked our way back, stopping at the pull-outs we missed yesterday. The light was much better for seeing colors and the fins. We peered down at the river, and the rapids far below looked stationary instead of as turbulent as they really are.
Today we decided to take another "detour." Instead of continuing east, we turned south toward Durango and Mesa Verde NP. But there were two things we failed to thoroughly research before we headed out. First we wanted to see the section of the park we missed three years ago. Doing some reading on the way, we discovered that section of the park closes after Labor Day. Obviously, we're going to miss it again. Secondly, we have to learn not to assume what is on the map is accurate. I'll explain.
We left Montrose, CO, which is at 5,763' in elevation and headed south. We noticed, however, that we were steadily climbing. We were enjoying the fall colors, light greens, rusts, and golds contrasting with the evergreens, when we came to the beautiful, little town of Ouray (you-ray). We wound around and up above the town, admiring how nice it looked nestled among the mountains. That's when we found out that we were headed for Red Mountain Pass at 11,075'. We spent the better part of the next hour driving 25 mph around the continuous, serpentine turns. It was a beautiful drive with snow-dusted mountains above, fall colors and numerous abandoned mines to the side, and steep gullies and flowing streams below; however, the reality of the road was very different from what was depicted on the map. When we reached the sensible elevation of 8,800' we were finally able to make brief forays into the 50 mph range. Now on this trip we have purposely made trips into numerous mountains, but this unplanned trip took us to the highest elevation of all. But by now we should have learned to expect the unexpected in the west.
AN OBSERVATION: There are different types of tourists. There are the "I came, I saw, I went" bunch. They breeze through, barely glancing out the car window. Then there is the "aim and shoot" group. They wheel into the parks, aim their cameras out the car windows and shoot before moving on. Then there are the wanderers. They are out and about in the parks, but they don't seem to know where they are or what they're doing. And, then there are those who seem to drink in everything they see and enjoy doing what they can. These are the people we have enjoyed meeting and talking to. We've picked up great travel tips on how to make the most of our time and money. We're already giving some of them a try on this trip.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Black Canyon NP, US 25W to US 550S to Durango, CO