wildlife wildflowers and waterfalls: Colorado - Hwy I-25 to Durango, Hwy 550 (Million Dollar Hwy) to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - August. 2010

wildlife wildflowers and waterfalls

because "...you can't invent more time." Lemony Snicket

Dan and Linda's Travel Journal

Monday, August 30, 2010

 

Colorado - Hwy I-25 to Durango, Hwy 550 (Million Dollar Hwy) to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - August. 2010

Western Kansas and Wondering How Long to Perk Coffee August 19, 2010
Right now coffee is on the stove.  It is perking and I have the flame turned low.  The sound brings back memories of when coffee was made like this every morning.  I received at least two coffee pots for wedding gifts.
 
I can’t remember how long I let the coffee perk, though.  I checked on the internet and the time varies with the longest being about 15 minutes—that seems long.

Well, I just turned it off and am letting it settle.  It smells good.
 
As I look out the window, the sun is coming up behind a cloud—it rained last night. The sky and ground meet as a lid fits on a pan.  Yes, we’re in western Kansas.
 
Posts might not be real regular but I’ll try to stay in touch.  I will also post short updates on the Twitter feed on the left.
  
For now, I’m having some HOT coffee!


Life on the Plains and on to the Mountains August 21, 2010

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We took Hwy 40 from Oakley instead of going on to Limon. Billed as a shortcut, it doesn’t seem that way but it was interesting to see different scenery.  Well, not too different, I guess.  Wheat fields and grain silos….
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Windmills and cattle pens.
IMG_7790 The most interesting stop was the Fort Wallace Museum in  western Kansas.  Extremely well done facility and exhibits.  I will post more pictures and tell about it when I get home. 

We’re getting ready to go to a fishing resort.  Doug’s company is a member.  I’m thinking fish for supper.  We’ll see….


Fishing and Camping August 22, 2010
Carly and Trent were excited about their success in trout fishing.
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Getting ready for breakfast


The Great Sand Dunes and Big Meadow Lakes August 23, 2010

The drive south on I25 to Walsenburg was quick and uneventful.  We then turned west on 160 and over LaVerta Pass where we passed a wheel chair and two bicyclists following.  What courage.

This area is a valley with Hamilton and Blanca Peak on the north and a green basin with distant mountains on the south.  We always find these Colorado vistas especially beautiful.
 
Our destination was Durango, but the Sand Dunes took longer than expected.  It happened a thunder storm was moving in over the Dunes which made for beautiful shadows.  Up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, there is no bad view from the information center.  This is a National Park and the rangers are always interesting.  Sadly, I can only post small pictures for now. 
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From the Sand Dunes we cut across the basin which was once covered by ocean.  The basin is also on a aquifer which allows extensive irrigated farmland.  Other than wheat, one of the more numerous plants turned out to be potatoes.  We know that because we turned off the highway and Dan pulled up one of the plants.  We kept one stud
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Unfortunately, we did not have time to stop at the Gold Medal trout fishing waters of the Rio Grande between De Norte and South Fork.  There are numerous private campgrounds as well as National Forest and State Park campgrounds.  This could be a place for another time.

Just as we started to ascend  Wolf Creek Pass, we saw a turn off for Big Meadows State Wildlife Area.  The Big Meadows Lake sits low with pines reaching up around it.  Here is a picture of the overflow.
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We decided to drive further up the gravel road to see what was up the mountain.  It was a little worrisome as the road was a bit muddy. The rain that came over the Dunes hit here first.  What we found was another postcard like blue/gray lake.  The sign said “National Forest Service” which means free camping.  So here we are right by the lake parked on top of a couple big rocks.  It is quiet except for occasional ducks.  There is a full moon out our back door.

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Sunset

Big Meadow to Haviland Lake August 24, 2010

Dan tried his luck one last time before we left Big Meadows area this morning.   Birds, ducks squalking and far off howling, coyote or wolf we don’t know, but no fish were jumping to our bait.
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From here we were back on Hwy 160.  Not far down the road is the Chimney Rock Historical Site.  This is Chimney Rock
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This rock marks the site of ancient ruins of a fairly large settlement of Pueblo Indians.  Around AD 1100 the Charo culture of which the Chimney Rock Publoans were members started to decline.  Mesa Verde, also a Puebloan culture was deserted by AD 1300.  No one knows for sure why these settlements were left behind.    We were too late for a guided tour of the central meeting Kiv that sits atop this mountain.  Here is the picture—the Kiv is very low, the taller building is a fire lookout. Chimney Rock is on the left of the picture.
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We did the self guided tour of the individual family Kivs and their garden locations.   Tonight they were having a full moon tour with Native American flute atop this mountain.  We couldn’t stay, but would have been awesome.

Next over Wolf Creek Pass and the long descend into the valley where we eventually entered Durango.  A little grocery shopping and a short stop by a gun shop that was nearby and then on to our present location at Haviland Lake, another State Wildlife Area. We are now on the Million Dollar Highway, Hwy 550 north out of Durango.  Here we are after a steak, potato, corn and wine dinner.
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And the sun goes down
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Million Dollar Highway Durango to Ouray August 25, 2010

What a crazy day.  We only made it to a little beyond Silverton on the trip north. 
First, we see Old Lime Creek Road.  It started as a mining road, but continued even after the mines closed to be used as a way to cross the mountains into the moutain valleys..  It said “four wheel drive” road on the map.  We have that, don’t we?  We actually follow it for about a mile—one lane, big rocks and straight down on one side.  Finally, we found a place to turn around but I had to get out and tell Dan when to stop so we didn’t go over the side.  This picture doesn’t do it justice.  Looking back on it, fun.  At the time, extremely scary.
IMG_8029 As a side note on this road, it would be a lot of fun in an appropriate vehicle.  And, nearby where it started there were free campsites by the stream. 

Just a few miles further, I spotted a waterfall.  Here is Dan’s reaction.
IMG_8063  Here’s the waterfall
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I had Andrews Lake circled on the map as a possible fishing stop.  As most Colorado lakes, it is surrounded by mountains, although these were not as rugged.
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The parking lot is nearly full of hikers because there were only two others fishing.  Thankfully, I  purchased my license in Durango because I was feeling it.  Sure enough—a shore lunch!
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It is about 2:00 after we (Dan) cleaned, cooked and we both ate the fish.  Nothing went to waste because two blue jay type birds stopped by and flew off piece by piece with all the skin and scrapes.

Silverton is a quaint little town.  It doesn’t seem to have caught the tourist bug like some Colorado mountain towns.  Most side streets are unpaved.  We drove around a bit and then took off again on Hwy 550.
We are cruising along (too fast downhill for my liking) when all of a sudden Dan turns around on a pull off.    He saw that we just passed a road that seemed to lead up into this unbelievable valley.  We immediately saw it was an old mining road as there were tailings from two mines on up another one of those one lane roads we were on earlier.  We did go a ways up it, but end up backing down (certainly no turnaround on this one) and park at an open space at the bottom.  The following are views of the valley.  First, east. The camper is the spot in the lower right corner.
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One sideIMG_8099
A bigger waterfall on the west
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Closer, there is an upper falls
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After a supper of cereal and a Klondike bar with Strawberry dessert wine over it (Dan can’t go a day without ice cream no matter where we are) we walk up the old mine trail.  Dan climbs up to look in one of the caves.  There was a sign saying “Colorado Mine Reclamation Project”  It has steel bars over the entrance.  Thank goodness, I did not want him going in there. We did wonder if some of the old mines are being reclaimed, though.

I walk on up the trail to a second mine.  (Dan’s knee was hurting after his climb).  What I didn’t know was the trail turns back into the mountain.  When I rounded the curve, this is what I saw.
IMG_8123 I finally got back to where Dan was waiting for me and he had spotted two elk feeding across the valley.  That was more exciting for him than me finding the waterfall, for sure.  I did get a fair picture but I’ll have to do a little work on it when I get home.
 
So that finds me ready for bed with a mountain stream as a lullaby.  This won’t get posted tonight because, for the first time, I don’t have a hookup

We expect to make better time tomorrow—that is unless I see a waterfall.


Million Dollar Highway continued August 26, 2010

What a beautiful spot and a good night’s sleep. 
The next morning, we start out again heading north on Hwy 550.  This definitely is the most beautiful and thrilling part of the route.  Lots of switchbacks and beautiful valleys along a road with nothing between the road and the scenery.
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Red Mountain Mining District is at the top of the pass.  In the 1880s valuable columns of silver ore called pipes were discovered.  By 1883, 40 mines were in operation of which Yankee Girl was the most valuable.  In today’s prices, over a quarter of a billion dollars worth of ore was taken from the mountain.  In the 1930s a 5 1/2 mile underground tunnel was built which connects the Idarado Mine with Telluride.  Now, there are many off road trails connecting the mining area with Telluride which is probably why we saw many four-wheel drive vehicles as well as trailers hauling ATVs.  We know they are not for us to travel in our rig, but jealously read of the beautiful scenery on each “white knuckle” route.
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Ouray also sits in a valley.  It seems larger than Silverton and possibly more tourist oriented.  Still a quaint town. 
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We drive around a bit and continue on Hwy 550 to Montrose.


Ute Museum Montrose August 26, 2010

The Ute Museum at Montrose  was not in the plans, but once again it proved one should be on the alert for spur-of-the moment stops.   Ute Chief Ouray and his wife Chipeta built a modern, for that time, home hoping to prove the Ute Indians could stay on their land and assimilate into society.  It did not work out as he hoped. When Chief Ouray died, his widow, Chipeta was sent to the reservation.  The museum sits on the site of their home. 
We watch a video about the Bear Dance and view exhibits of the native culture.    Throughout there were sayings of the Ute people.  Here are two I especially like.
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After the museum we stock up on supplies and head to the Black Canyon.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park August 26, 2010


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“The reason this canyon was named “Black” is because it is so deep, so sheer and so narrow that very little sunlight can penetrate it.”  This quote from the NPS brochure is the very reason I could not get a good picture of the canyon. Hopefully, here are a few that convey the beauty of this natural wonder.
My first impression is how sudden it drops
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After looking into the sheer, straight down canyon, I wonder what crazy thing people have tried to do.  It did not take long to see just that day what two were starting to do.  I can’t even imagine dropping over the side of that edge.
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This is a close up of the stream at the bottom.  Before dams were built upstream, the flow in the spring was enough that house sized boulders were carried downstream.
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The canyon was carved by the Gunnison River over so many years, it is hard to comprehend.  A visit to visitor’s center is a must.  There is an informative video and information about the layers of rocks.  Also, the story of the first to navigate the canyon and the rail road that was built through the upper part.  (The railroad was built by hand in 1 1/2 years by Irish and Italian immigrants)

Black Gunnison is a must see.  Beautiful, majestic and just plain scary are words that come to mind.  There are many viewing areas on the south rim.  We visited each until it got late and we felt we had experienced the wonder.  We then began our drive to the upper part of the canyon and the Curecanti National Recreation Area.  I’ll finish that tomorrow.


Curecanti National Recreation Area August 27, 2010


The lower, more dramatic and rugged part of the Black Canyon is the National Park.  There are two dams on the upper part of the canyon which is called the Curecanti NRA.  The Blue Mesa reservoir is our destination.  The campground at the ranger station is disappointing.  All concrete—we would have been level, I guess.  We are reminded again to always ask a ranger at a National Park.   The one at the office told us the campground we want is called Ponderosa and is up an arm of the lake.  Fishing is best there.
We fill up with water and take off on a seven mile gravel road to the campsite.   We arrived barely in time to see it in daylight.  A nice rocky fishing area is a short walk away.  Here is our welcome committee.
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Up at dawn, we carry fishing equipment with coffee down to the lake.  Well, I did.  On the way, Dan struck up a conversation with the camp host.  Several nice trout jumped, but not to my tempting hook filled with worms.  I had fun and it is a beautiful, quiet place.
 
The camp hosts had been at this same site for 13 years.  They were a joy as well as interesting as they remembered the area before the dam was built.  Here is a picture of our spot.  The lake is in the middle, right, but doesn’t look like water.IMG_8236 The arm we camped on goes off to the left in this picture.
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Leaving the area, we took Hwy 92, which follows the north side of the canyon.  In some ways, this area is as beautiful as the more dramatic views from the south side.  The other lake is Morrow Point Reservoir.  It cannot be reached by car.  At one lookout by the lake, a ranger pointed out several popular hiking trails down to its shores.  There is also a United States Park Service tour boat that runs once a day.  It would be a beautiful hike down to the boat as well as the ride.  As might be expected, reservations have to be made in advance and are $16 adults & $8 children.  Seniors are half with card.  Certainly affordable.  The ranger said the tour takes the same route as the railroad once did and tells more about its construction.  Next time.
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Hwy 92 eventually leaves the canyon and drops into another mountain valley.  As we wind north, we begin to see fruit trees and, yes, wineries!  The state of Colorado has a no drinking and driving campaign that has us convinced we do not want to make too many tasting stops.  We choose Black Bridge Winery named for the bridge across the Gunnison River at their entrance.  Is there really bad wine?  I don’t think so.  We bought several bottles, including a peach dessert wine.  They had ripe U Pick peaches on their trees,  too far for us to carry home, I thought.  I counted 76 wineries in Colorado in a brochure.  Our Colorado family says they are good, too.  Next time.

From this point, it is all about heading east--the horse is headed for the barn. Finally, we stop at the top of Vail Pass mainly because there is a quiet bike trail parking lot there for us to pop up and bed down. 


Wilson Lake and Home August 28,2010


We sleep well at the top of Vail Pass even though my thermometer says it is 39 degrees in the morning.  I had three blankets with us, but the key one is the old wool belonging to Mom and Dad.  Find one if you can.
We occupy our time on the road by counting RVs.  It did make the time go fast.  I’ll post the results later as it surprised us
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We decide Wilson Lake in Post Rock country Kansas will be our destination.  At one point during the day, it is 96, a 58 degree difference from the night before.  Had we arrived in time, we would have checked out the town of Lucas and their folk art.  As it turns out, once again we barely park before the sun slips down.  Even in the dark, we managed to catch six or seven small stripers.  It is a windy night, probably not uncommon at the clear grass fed lake

Wilson Lake,  in its own way, is just as beautiful as any lake we visited in the past ten days, mainly because….sun down and
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sun up, something we really missed in the mountains.
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So here we are toasting to a wonderful trip but glad to call ourselves Kansans.  And, the kicker, we stopped at the Wilson exit wine tasting room so the wine in the glasses is Simply Red Smoky Hill Wine!

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Wild Card Wine Trail Hermann Missouri May, 2012

St Patrick's Day, Weston Missouri March 2012

Alaska, 2011

Texas Hill Country Blue Bonnets 2011

Colorado - Hwy I-25 to Durango, Hwy 550 (Million Dollar Hwy) to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - August. 2010

Butterfly Pavilion, Denver CO April 2010

Colorado, Phoenix AZ, and Palestine Lake near Tyler TX March 2010

Indiana Christmas Roadtrip December 2009

Symphony in the Flint Hills 2009

Missouri Chocolate Wine Trail February 2009

Oktoberfest Hermann Missouri, October 2008

Black Hills-Buffalo Roundup-Devils Tower Sept 2008

Cache La Poudre River, Routt National Forest and Colorado State Forest July 2008

Symphony in the Flint Hills 2008

Breckenridge Family Ski Vacation January 2008

Iowa and South Along the Mississippi River November 2007

Cherokee Land Rush October 2007

Missouri Wine Trail October 2007

The Great American Cattle Drive Ellsworth KS Sept. 2007

Overbrook Fair August, 2007

The Woodward Topeka KS July 2007

Symphony in the Flint Hills 2007

St. Louis April 2007

Cottonwood Falls Scenic Byway December 2006

Acadia National Park and New England States Fall 2006

Destination Phoenix January 2006

Kansas: Home along Hwy 56 January 2006

Canadian Fishing Trip August 2005

Missouri Trees and Wine October 2005

Kansas: Goodland to Home Hwy 36 July 2005

Breckenridge--Family Vacation July 2005

Flint Hills Barn Tour October 2004

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