Friday, June 26, 2015

Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado

June 14 - 21, 2015:

As we leave Matterhorn Campground it’s nothing but blue sky, it feels real good !  I slowly wind back down the long steep hill from Matterhorn to route 145.  We are backtracking a bit, something I don’t like to do, taking route 145 to route 62 to Ridgway, Colorado and then back onto route 550 to Ridgway State Park.    

I meet Twinkles at the town of Ridgway where we attach the tow bar to the jeep for the final few miles tow to Ridgway State Park.  This keeps us from paying the idiotic $7 a day extra vehicle charge at the State Park.  Also at most other state parks when you pay for a campsite, the daily use fee is waived, but not in Colorado. Paying the daily use fee brings the daily campsite fee up to $29 per night for an electric only site.  The good part is that Colorado has a reasonably priced annual camping permit at $70 that eliminates paying the daily use fee.  You need to stay at a Colorado State Park 10 days to break even and we expect to do that.  These State Campgrounds all have slightly different rules, it can be very confusing and the reservation systems are pretty terrible and add additional cost.  If we had reserved a campsite, paid a daily use fee and the extra vehicle fee it would be costing more than a nice full hookup private campground with all the amenities.  These things are no big deal for those vacationing, but when you are doing this full time, within a budget of sorts or possibly just being cheap (we are), you need to cut costs when possible.

I knew the town of Ridgway was small and would be very scenic but was surprised by the number of restaurants, shops, a museums, a theater and a brewery.  It’s another historic railroad town, where the Galloping Goose railcars were fabricated.  The volunteers have reconstructed a completely authentic and functional reconstruction of Galloping Goose number one.   Of course, they have a museum with lots of local railroad history.  I can’t seem to get away from the Colorado rail fan tour ?  There is much to do here, hopefully the weather will improve as we’re really tired of the rain.  The locals will not say anything bad about the rains as they have had drought conditions for the past few years.

Many old buildings in Ridgway

I just missed that show, it happens !

Interesting old fire department, now a sculpture studio

Galloping Ghost #1

And some old freight cars, a hundred feet of track
thats all that is left

I love their sign

A nice view

We are here mainly for the spectacular town of Ouray, so without delay we head there on Monday.  It did not disappoint, We did a partial hike on the “perimeter trail” which climbed steeply up the mountain side to the Cascades Waterfall.  As we started hiking the clouds rolled in and by the time we reached the waterfall we were in a light drizzle.  This cleared shortly and we the had lunch at the “grumpy old Man Saloon” which Twinkles insists I am fast becoming.  We then did a walking tour of the town and some shopping.  We were told not to miss the candy store and now we know why, it’s simply fabulous !  I am too cheap to buy the chocolates but the “scrap cookies” are really good.

Twinkles taking a break along the trail

The trail ahead has me a bit nervous

This is around the corner

As we wind back downhill it sure is pretty

Time for a cold beer

The views here are stunning !

One of the finest Hotels in Colorado in it's day

We spent some time on the upper patio of the brewery

Great details on this building

Love the paint scheme

No Walmart in this town !

Public Library is pretty special

Another great view

It was then about time for a jeep ride so we headed for Yankee Boy Basin which was a beautiful ride, but it’s early in the summer season and these roads are still under repair, barely open in places causing us to turn around a couple of miles short of the end.  In the first few miles, the road was wet and there was a sign saying that Calcium Chloride was being applied to the road.  We thought little of it as others were also driving on the road, until we noticed all this gooey gray slime being flung all over the side of the jeep from the tires.  It was caked on about an inch thick under the fender and wheel well areas and I latter had to spend about an hour at a car wash to get it off. I am staying off those roads from now on !

An imposing section of road to drive through ?

Roadside view

That's Twinkles on the road to add perspective

Just a general observation, everybody around here waves to you here, especially on back roads and I’ve noticed many vehicles with a rock placed behind the wheel on steep slopes.  

We headed to downtown Ridgway at 8:15 PM for their Tuesday night movie in the park series which I had seen advertised, but no one was there, no movie, no nothing !  It was supposed to be “The great Lubowski” and we were really looking forward to seeing it again.  So we instead went to the Colorado Boy Pub and Brewery for a beer.  Halfway through our beer, the bartender comes over and tells us it’s time for last call.  We didn’t want another, but sort of laughed about them closing at 9 PM.  I kind of wonder about their work ethic, they open up at 4 PM, have a good crowd, but push all the customers out at 9 PM, or is it a city ordinance ? The Colorado Boy Brewery has something special to draw a crowd, really good pizza and something called the “cowboy can”, it’s a 32 once can of draft beer that that they pour fresh and then with their special machine at the bar crimp at top onto it.  I gotta have one of them !

Another must see Ouray attraction is the Box Canyon Falls which were way better than we expected.  It is a 1/4 mile walk partially on a steel walkway secured to the side of the slot canyon that takes you to this wild crashing waterfall and then down stairs near the bottom of the gorge.  We then took a more difficult short hike up above the Falls that connect to the Perimeter trail which goes around Ouray.

The waterfall drops down between and behind the
rocks and is difficult to photograph

The noise and water spray are intense

Ouray was the home territory of the Ute tribe who were the predominant tribe in this San Juan Mountain area of Colorado.  They were removed, as the westerner’s say, when gold and Silver mining became a profitable endeavor.  The leader of the Ute’s during this time of conflict was Chief Ouray, who the town is now named after.  He was a chief who tried to keep the peace diplomatically, but virtually every treaty made was violated, his territory was taken away and they were put onto a tiny reservation, another sad story.  The site of a farm that the US Government gave to Chief Ouray to live on is now the Ute Indian Museum.  It gives the history of the Ute tribe and has a really great collection of photos and Ute indian items.  The museum is located in Montrose, Colorado about 20 miles from Ridgway.
Paintings of Chief Ouray and his wife Chepita

These are known as ledger drawings that were drawn
by Indians after they were moved to reservations

Actual items worn by "Buckskin Charlie"
another famous Ute chief after Ouray

Buckskin Charlie and his very attractive wife

The Ute's did some amazing bead work

Another general observation, the sun and the heat have returned this week, summer is here and all of a sudden it’s close to 90 degrees and we are about ready to jump in the lake at the campground to cool off. 

This area of Colorado is heaven for jeep and ATV enthusiasts, there are remote back roads going everywhere.  We go off on another one on Thursday to Owl Creek Pass.  It tops out at 10,022 feet elevation about 3,000 feet higher than the campground.  It’s an easy drive, some potholes and washboard, no water obstacles but lots of dust.  It takes you into the Uncompahgre National Forest over Owl Peak Pass with an up close view of Chimney Peak and is most scenic.

Chimney Peak is way more impressive that this photo

Another mountain view that was equally impressive

A beautiful meadow, scenes from the John Wayne movie True Grit
were filmed in this area
Ouray has a hugely impressive museum, the Ouray County Historical Museum, with twenty some rooms on area history, railroads, toll roads, mining, rocks, an old soda fountain, mail delivery, land surveying, the Ute indians, it goes on and on for twenty rooms.  The building was originally the Miners Hospital and most of the hospital equipment remains in the upstairs.

A photo of the old Ouray toll road gate

We found an upscale Hotel in Ridgway with the ” four corners cafe”, which has live music most nights during dining hours on their outside deck. It is in a beautiful setting, the food is better than average, but the music was not so inspiring, but pleasant.

View from the patio

We didn’t want to move to another more expensive campground over the Fathers Day weekend and this place was filling up fast with weekend reservations.  As a result, we make a reservation for the weekend here, while there were still openings.  This campground is a really popular park with boaters, fishermen and even has a small beach area.

Next week we have reservations for two nights at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, all we could get, but hopefully once there we can get into another first come first served campsite.  There are other back up options in the area as well.  

Next stop is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park,
Twinkles and Slick

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Telluride, Colorado

June 8 - 13, 2015:

It’s a move day and finally the sun is out as we prepare for the death-defying drive (not really) on route 550 known as the Million Dollar Highway.  Actually it didn’t seem like that much of an uphill climb since we started out at 9,318 feet in Silverton, Colorado.  The road peaks at 11,008 feet at Red Mountain Pass snaking around many tight curves with avalanche warnings on one side and shear dropoffs on the other side.  It’s amazing scenery if you dare take your eyes off the road.  (Twinkles drove the Jeep solo and is now an accredited mountain driver.)  On the downhill side we came upon the beautiful town of Ouray in the valley surrounded by mountain peaks.  They call it the “Switzerland of America” for good reason and we will be back, if I have anything to say in this!   We continued to Ridgeway, another quaint mountain town, then took Route 62 to Placerville where we take route 145.  We bypassed Telluride to get to our destination at the Matterhorn Campground near Ophir, Colorado.  The last 8 mile stretch of road was another scenic wonder, going steeply uphill.  The campground is in the Uncompahgre National Forest, a beautiful wild spot and looks like a postcard view.  We could only get reservations here for two nights and expected to have to move into a dry camping site, but another full hookup site opened two campsites away.  We actually hopped to get into the Telluride town park, but when we looked at it, it was small, congested, full of tents and sort of dumpy looking.

Photo taken on a calm section of the ride

Giving the Hawk a rest after a long uphill climb
almost at the campground

Twinkles relaxing in the campground

The campsite was most scenic

Telluride is another classic old mining boom town that didn’t die.  It was founded in 1878 as “Columbia” then renamed as Telluride in 1887 to avoid confusion with another town of the same name.  It was named for the mineral Telluride which ironically was never found in Telluride’s mines.  Early travelers to Telluride also referred to it as " To Hell You  Ride" due to its remote location.
The town got a big boost when the Rio Grande Southern Railroad came to town which greatly improved shipping cost for the mines.  Another huge boost came when the worlds first hydro electric AC power plant was constructed to supply cheaper power to the mines and the town. This put to rest the debate concerning AC power verses DC power.   As the mines played out, skiing and tourism took over and by the 1980’s Telluride became, for a short while, a best kept secret travel destination.  That is no longer true, the ski area and Mountain Village is now world class and it is a year round outdoors sports mecca.  Real estate has since gone through the roof of course, but they have kept development somewhat in check and managed to preserve the original downtown character. No fast foods,big box stores or Walmarts yet !

Galloping Goose # 5 parked in Telluride

Downtown Telluride view

The San Miguel County Courthouse

Bridal Veil Falls and the old electrical power
house at the end of the box canyon

The Ski area is huge

Telluride banker Charles Waggoner swindled
money from New York banks to save his
Telluride customer's money 

The Telluride area and Colorado as a whole have had about three times the normal rainfall in May and it is continuing in June, everything here is wet and flowing.  The forecast is for periods of rain every day this week which is putting a damper on our outside activities.

On Wednesday morning we took a jeep ride on a nearby mountain road to the old mining ghost town of Alta at 11,000 foot elevation.  Luckily it was the only dry part of the day with a few moments of sunshine.  The road continued beyond the Alta ghost town site for a few miles to Alta Lakes with the mountains covered with snow and the lakes still ice covered.  The route guide said it would be a picture perfect view which we found to be 100% accurate.  Along the roads we saw several snowmobiles just left in snow banks, kind of a mystery, but I guess that’s what you do here ?  It’s almost mid June and lots of snow still in these mountains, it must last well into July.

A smooth section of the road

There were several old mine structures like this remaining

We parked the jeep and walked to the Alta Lakes amid
these snow drifts

Alta Lakes were beautiful but still frozen

It was a mountain top view with imposing clouds

We have found another great bakery, “Baked in Telluride” which also has great food and seems to be town favorite.  It also has free WiFi so we will be hanging out there quite often.  There are endless shopping and dining opportunities in Telluride if so inclined.

Thursday morning we took the jeep on the road to Ophir, another old mining town a few miles from the campground.  It’s still a real town, even has a post office and many of the houses are fairly new but made to look rustic.  The town sits in a beautiful valley with many old mines dotting the hillsides.  This road gets very narrow and wild beyond the town and a sign said it was still closed.  If open, the road continues to the ghost town of Old Ophir, then crosses the mountains at Ophir Pass and connects to route 550 between Ouray and Silverton. This is the shortest way between Telluride and Silverton.

An old mine site in the hills

It's a beautiful valley

We then took Forest Road 625 into a lush valley along the south fork of the San Miguel River, past the town of Ilium, where we came upon a Nature Conservancy Preserve area.  We took a short hike there on a trail that ran parallel to the river.  This road eventually connects with route 145 just west of Telluride.

Twinkles next to a large tree felled by beavers,
I suppose once it fell they couldn't drag it

The river was flowing so full and fast

We then returned to Telluride, stopping again at our favorite “Baked in Telluride” for lunch and getting a mail delivery at the post office. The weekly Farmers Market going on a block away and we rarely pass one of them.  It was well attended, many vendors but quite pricey, like everything in Telluride.  Adjacent to the market location is the downtown station for the gondola up into the ski area and the impressive ultra sophisticated Mountain Village.  The gondola is a great ride, very scenic, it is free and and you get to see how the one percenters live in the village.

View from the Gondola

One small section of the "village"

It was another jeep adventure on Saturday, taking it out on the “Last Dollar Road” which starts off going through rolling ranch terrain, stands of Aspen, a few upscale wealthy homes and then climbs uphill into dense mountainous forest lands.  The road gets progressively more narrow, rough, rocky, muddy, rutted and flooded as you go along. Our jeep is stock and not up for any real wild terrain so we eventually wimped out and turned around.  
We did a similar thing latter in the day on Tomboy road in Telluride.  The sign said that the road is only maintained in the summer and it started getting really steep and rough, obviously not maintained yet, so we stopped and backed down to a turn around point. Backing down a steep rough hill on a narrow road with a shear drop off on her side had Twinkles very nervous !

A " John Denver" country roads Aspen view

These Aspen stands are beautiful

An old cabin along the road

Next stop is Ridgway State Park north of Ridgway, Colorado,
Twinkles and Slick