Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ouray and Telluride, CO: "SSS: Spectacular Summer Scenery" (Days 6-8 of 42)

The beauty of Colorado continues to amaze and delight, as we explore the nearby towns of Telluride, Ouray, and Ridgway.  Everyone knows Telluride as the place for great winter skiing, but it’s also spectacular in summer!  We're enjoying Colorado with our Phoenix friends, Ryan and Erin Weed and Family, who were with us last summer as well in Yellowstone.

Telluride has a fast, FREE, pet-friendly gondola ride to the top, and Sprinkles loved the views of town!

See that squiggly thing on the left in the photo above?  It's not a branding iron ... it's a rack to carry mountain bikes up the hill.  Telluride has a world-famous network of mountain bike trails.  Fearless daredevils in full body armor and full face helmets risk life and limb to fly down the tracks at warp speed.  Of course Philip wanted to try!  Of course I (on behalf of his surgeons) said no!

The view out the other side of the mountain is spectacular as well!  

See the Telluride Airport landing strip behind the boys in the photo below?  The Telluride Airport is known locally as the USS Telluride because it's like landing on an aircraft carrier! Each side of the landing strip drops off hundreds of feet since it sits on the edge of a mesa and there is a huge dip in the middle of the runway. Only the top 5% of pilots are allowed to land there....if you can land at all. It is the highest commercial airport in the US and although it's not the nation's most dangerous airport, it is reportedly one of the most thrilling at which to land. 

New to Telluride this year is a "ropes course" for children and adults, at the base of Chairlift 4 in Mountain Village.

Gabe Weed (age 15) conquered the "up high" part ...

... while Kate Weed (age 7) handled the "down low" portion of the fun!

We took our trusty Jeep on a 4x4 expedition to Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado's longest free-falling waterfall at 365 feet.  Over 1.8 very-rocky miles, you gain 1,200 feet elevation and are able to experience the waterfall from the bottom, the middle, and the top!  Ooh-la-la!
From the distance!
At the bottom!

At the middle ... you're a-gonna get drenched!!!!
From the top ... a now privately-owned historic power plant.  Way up high!

View from the top of Bridal Veil Falls

We loved (!) Telluride but are staying in Ridgway, a small town with a great state park: lots of camping fun (think: campfires, s’mores, hiking trails, deer pouncing through the campsite with zero advance warning, squirrels galore to drive Sprinkles stark-raving-mad).  We also enjoyed their swimming beach on the big lake, and a fantastic farmers' market!

Ouray is known as the “Switzerland of America,” which seems kinda greedy to be both American and Swiss, but I digress. We hiked Box Canon Falls and shopped their quaint main street, but our favorite Ouray activity was a fantastic free outdoor concert where every person seemed to have at least 2 dogs along for the fun ... including us!

The windy road leading to this section of the trip gave us the opportunity for lots of great Lucky-Charm-in-action shots:

We loved these cities in the San Juan County Mountains!
Next stop ... Glenwood Springs and Aspen!  Tally ho, Lucky Charm!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Silverton, CO: The Higher the Altitude, The Better the Attitude (Days 3-5 of 42)

Traveling from the low-country of Cortez to the high-country of Silverton, CO at 9,350 feet elevation, was a slow-going affair, but in order to get to views like this ...

...you have to endure a lot of roads with signs like this:

That's the Lucky Charm!  Roaring by at 10 MPH!

The reward, however, is the charming town of Silverton,
 set into a beautiful mountain-rimmed valley.

The saying is true:  "The higher the altitude, the better your attitude!"  (insert smiley face) 

Silverton is perhaps best-known for its starring role in the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and the train pulls into town multiple times a day, depositing happy tourists in search of t-shirts, collectible snow globes, and $17 cheeseburgers.

Our RV site at Silver Summit RV Park had the best possible views of the 
mountainside, two rushing waterfalls, and the train cheerfully chugging by.  Toot toot!

Silverton has a long mining-town history since the late 1800's, and an excellent mining musuem ...

...and where you have a mining town, you have the requisite street of ill repute.  
In Silverton, it is called Blair Street and back in the day, there were more than
30 whorehouses that lined this street to give the miners some necessary relief.
The present-day buildings give a nod to their heritage.

The town's Hillside Cemetery has more than 3,300 "residents" but less than 2,000 gravestones. During the flu epidemic of the early century, more than 10% of the city perished all at once and were buried in mass graves.  Many of the burial sites have only simple stamped markers like this one.

This particularly touching grave site includes the iron crib of a one-year-old who passed.

All that death made us hungry so we stopped at Avalanche Brewing Co.
 for some of the best handcrafted brewskis and pizza around.
Check out their cute fence made of skis!

Our most exciting adventure, however, was navigating the Alpine Loop! This 72-mile, 7-hour long adventure takes you on roads that only 4x4's with 4WD can navigate, up to the highest point of Cinnamon Pass and Engineer's Pass at 12,800 feet and then back down again. Steep climbs, huge rocks, deep mud, and intense snow made for a lot of excitement!

On the Alpine Loop, you go from the warmest, driest weather ....

...to the most impassable snow-topped mountains imaginable!  All in just a few hours!

View out the windshield!  

In many places at the top, the road is about 75% of a car width wide, with sheer dropoffs on both sides.  If a car is coming from the other direction, one of you has to back up until there is room to both squeeze by each other!  The F-bombs were flying!  Divorce was threatened!  Prayers were said! Fingernails bitten off!  But thanks to Philip's expert navigating, we made it off the mountain alive.  

But truly ... it was the adventure of a lifetime!

This person did not navigate the roads very well!
Along the way, we saw abandoned mines, ramshackle cabins, falling down mills, and remnants of ghost towns from the old mining days up in those hills.  In one ghost town, Animas Forks, some of the buildings have been partially restored and you are allowed to tromp around in them.

We loved Silverton, but the Lucky Charm is on the move again ... 
next up:  Ouray, Ridgway and Telluride!  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cortez, CO: Rocky Mountain Highs (Days 1-2 of 42)

With the mercury hitting 115 degrees in Phoenix, it was time to hit the road for our annual 6-week RV adventure in the Lucky Charm:  2,911 miles round-trip throughout Colorado with a side trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota!  A trip we have chosen to name "Rocky Mountain Highs!"

Day 1 had us driving to Mesa Verde National Park just outside Cortez, CO, but to get there we had to pass Four Corners, the only point in the U.S. where four states touch each other (but not in an inappropriate way).  We just HAD to stop ... 

...but were a little taken aback by the sign at the entrance.  What prior "incident" caused them to prohibit us from bringing our spare cremated human remains along with us?

We figured we'd be in and out in 10 minutes!  But did NOT count on this line.  Whaaaat?

And, keep in mind it was still 110+ degrees.  The more enterprising Native Americans have set up booths selling jewelry and other crap, I mean heirlooms, all around the perimeter of the monument, but not selling water (or any other beverages) to sweltering humans!  Note to self, time to sponsor a "Recognizing Entepreneurship Opportunities" workshop at Indian Headquarters.  

The line also moved very slowly because every family seemed to have 8 children and each family member wanted a picture in each of the four state quadrants.  Do the math, and you can believe we weren't down for joining the sweaty masses for an hour or more.

We arrived at Mesa Verde and checked into a beautiful campground with full 
(water, electric and sewer) RV hookups -- unheard of in a national park!  
Kinda like winning the lottery!  It was gorgeous!

Mesa Verde National Park (15 miles from Cortez) was created in 1906 to preserve the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Peubloean people, and includes over 4,500 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings.  

We took a fascinating four-hour tour (highly recommended) which was led by David Whiteeagle, an extremely entertaining tour guide who is also an accomplished flute builder and player (and if you believe him, also tamed a wild coyote into a pet, and hangs drywall really straight).

The tour took us to many cool sites, starting with the earliest pit construction from approximately 600 A.D., but the "crown jewel" is the Cliff Palace, which is more of a young'un with a birthdate around 1120 A.D.  It was abandoned around 1300, most likely from a megadrought interrupting the food supply (HELLO, global warming!).  Here is a view across the canyon:

You can visit Cliff Palace with a ranger-led tour.  It is believed to have been 151 different rooms and more than 20 kivas, and was the "town square" for the tribe for a short 100 years.  Look at the scale with people in it below, and keep in mind that the majority of the walls and rooms are all collapsed down, so it was truly huge back in the day:

To get to it, you have to descend down uneven stone steps and climb four different ladders.  
Ole "new-hips" did great, just 9 weeks post-surgery!

We also visited the charming little farming town of Mancos, which boasts numerous little artsy shops and galleries, as well as a famous/popular/packed bakery and breakfast place, Absolute Bakery Cafe.

Another coffee place in town had ramshackle but adorable seating out front, 
and (creepy?) surprises coming from the original tin ceiling.

And last but not least, Mancos (like most other Colorado towns) has a brand-spanking new recreational marijuana store.  Although we are not users, curiosity got the best of us and we stepped inside, donning dark glasses and looking back over our shoulders the whole time, just in case.

The lobby was like being in somebody's beautifully-furnished living room. I snapped a picture of this really beautiful wood carving (it's massive, see the electrical outlet below?) before they told me pictures are not allowed inside the building.

Then, you are called individually into the back room, which (at least at this place) was clean, bright, shiny, cheerful.  Like shopping for cosmetics!  Your "budtender" (like bartender, get it) shows you all kinds of different products, all with ridiculous names like Strawberry Cough, Golden Goat, Trainwreck, Girl Scout Cookies, Barack O Bubba, on and on and on.  The two lady budtenders endured our endless idiotic questions with patient tolerance, of course they were high themselves FOR SURE, so what else would you expect? They've got smokables, edibles, vapes, tinctures, tonics, you name it, but what we ended up leaving with was just a really fun experience!

Colorado is beautiful, but so far we are still in the lower elevations, and we wanna wear at least one of the 22 heavy jackets we packed, by golly!  So up next, we head from 6,200 feet elevation along the pass between Silverton and Ouray, at 11,000+ feet!  Rocky Mountain Highs, indeed!