Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Scenic Route
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My sister and her friend had planned a trip to Mesa Verde and points south for a week in August. Liz needed the vacation, and wanted to spend some time seeing the further reaches of the state before she leaves for Hawaii. Sadly, her friend had a family emergency right before they were scheduled to leave. This left Liz without a companion, a car that could drive that far, and a driver comfortable with the interstate. Luckily for her, she had a few people volunteer to go with her!
I was one of those, and so early on a Saturday morning we headed south from Denver along State Highway 285. I've been down that way as far as Buena Vista in recent memory, so once we got past there it was all new to me. On a whim we stopped at the Gunnison Pioneer Museum, and what a stop that turned out to be. Not only did they have a full narrow gauge train (with bell to ring), they had one of the premier car collections in the country, a military collection with weapons from every major power in World War II, fashion from the last hundred years, a school house right out of 1925, a homestead, farming equipment and more. I was shocked to find such a unique museum just along the side of the road. It really does show that sometimes life's unplanned stops are the most rewarding.
From there we passed Blue Mountain Reservor and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was hard to keep my eye's on the road sometimes, a problem that would only get worse as we drew closer to the San Juan Mountains in the South Western corner of the state.
We stopped for Dinner and gas in Ouray. We considered stopping for the night there, but there weren't many hotels that had room, and we wanted to get as close to Mesa Verde and Durango as we could in our first travel day.
Climbing out of Ouray was something else. I hadn't realized it, but we were on our way up the Million Dollar Highway (built back when a million dollars was a lot of money!) to Red Mountain Pass, one of the most beautiful passes in the state, and this is in a state with a LOT of gorgeous high mountain passes.
We made it to Silverton around 9:30 that night, and decided to go ahead and stay there rather than push on to Durango. It was only another 50 miles to go, but we'd be summiting another pass, and quite frankly I was getting tired! Also, I kind of wanted it to be daylight for the next pass in line.
Like a good Boy Scout, I'd come prepared for the hot, dry weather in the Four Corners area and Taos, not the crips cold night air of Silverton. This made for an interesting night and morning, as I walked around town in shorts and sandals, teeth chattering.
We ate at a nearby diner the next morning, and pondered if road trips would be possible without the traditional bottomless cup of coffee. Well fortified it was on the road again, this time headed to Molas pass and then on to Durango.
Molas Pass wasn't quite as distrubing a drive as the climb out of Ouray to Red Mountain Pass, but it was still full of amazing high country views. I'll admit that like many Denver dewllers, I tend to forget that there are patches of the Rocky Mountains that lie off of I-70, and that those patches are very well worth visiting.
After a quick photo stop at the top, we made top speed for Mesa Verde, for I knew that there would be a lot of sights to see there...