Colorado – summer 2022

Friday, July 29

Sad to leave Ouray, but don’t mind leaving the cold and the wet behind us. Apparently, Ouray is in one of the wettest parts of the state and it’s been a rainy summer, too. Regardless, I’m really glad we visited this town and enjoyed our stay in the comfy and historic Hotel Ouray. From town, we drove north but lower in elevation so it quickly got warmer, sunnier and drier. The goal was a quick day trip into Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, which is about 15 miles to the east of Montrose. After visiting the park, which we also came to see (and camp in) in 2018, head north and east toward Snowmass and Aspen.

When we camped there in 2018, we stayed on the north rim and as is similar for the Grand Canyon, the south is more popular / easier to access and as a result, there are bigger crowds. Nick no like more people. I’m 100% spoiled and freely admit this, but when I go to parks, part of the goal is to get away from lots of people and large crowds. It’s one of the most important and confounding issues for the National Parks: how do you maintain the popularity and keep them open so everyone can enjoy them, while at the same time, manage crowd size? Obviously, these aren’t MY parks, their OUR parks. Still… 😬

Anyway, rant over. Black Gunnison is one of the newer parks, established during the Clinton administration in 1999, but you have to wonder, what took us so long? The canyon’s walls are breathtaking, dizzying, mesmerizing. From the south rim, we were afforded clearer views of the Gunnison River, slicing its way through millions of years of time and rock. Quite literally, you’re looking into the planet’s past.

Views from the south rim
Looking east and down into the Gunnison River
Looking across the canyon to the campground on the North Rim
The River, the north rim and the “Painted Wall”

We did a relatively short hike, the Warner Point Trail, at the far western edge of the south rim, giving us views of the canyon’s end as well as back south and west to Montrose.

Along the trail
Looking back east into the Canyon
Nearing the trail’s end
North and west as the canyon ends
Moody skies over the canyon
Thunderstorms rolling in…
Views from Warner Point
Warner Point, before heading back to the car

I’m glad we made a return trip to this National Park; its beauty is quite remarkable. From the park, we had a 3+ hour drive up to Snowmass, where rest and relaxation are on the agenda! 🙂


Colorado – summer 2022

Thursday, July 28

Switzerland of America Jeep Tour! Because of a mudslide, we couldn’t go up to Yankee boy basin, like we had planned yesterday. But we were able to do a different drive up into the mountains above Ouray instead.

Their headquarters in town

It’s a very cool drive south of Ouray, back up the million dollar Highway, towards the Red mountains and Corkscrew Pass and Corkscrew Gulch. It was rainy and a little cold, but our guide and driver, Steve definitely showed us a great time! they were about 10 other people in the back of the truck with us, one big family from Texas, and three people from India. And one of those people, will be attending Wharton in just a few weeks!

Box canyon

Bear Creek Falls

After working our way out of town, we drove about five miles south toward County Road 20A and from there, we began making our way up into the Red Mountains.

Red Mountains:,_Colorado)

About halfway up
Views of Corkscrew Pass
You can see why they’re called the “Red Mountains”
Our chariot, with Andrea popping out of the top

The drive up was slow and wet and chilly but provided some great views of the Uncompahgre River Valley!

Looking back across the valley toward Imogene Pass

In 1999 or 2000, I came to Ouray with my family and my friend, Erik Volland. We did a similar tour on the opposite side of the valley and worked our way up to Imogene Pass, with views of Telluride below. It was an incredible adventure and lives on in family lore!

A lone columbine, the state flower of Colorado
This columbine has a great view!
Andrea near the top of the pass as the clouds roll back in…
The road back down
Some guy taking a pee
Another columbine near the side of the road
A moody day but great views!
A Jeep traffic jam on the way up as we are going back down (plus a “Go Eagles!” for the family of Cowboys fans 😏)
The bumpy descent
A few more Jeeps pass us as they’re going up

When we finally made it back down to the bottom, near the Million Dollar Highway, we were all a little wet and cold, but Steve gave us the option of going to see Ironton, which used to be a main mining town in between Ouray and Silverton but is now not much more than a Ghost Town. Of course, the kids in our group definitely wanted to check it out and it was an eerie glimpse into Colorado’s past.

Information about the Ghost Town
Not much remains but this tree still gets decorated for Christmas! 🎄
The Larson Brothers house, from the outside
The Larson Brothers house, from the inside (much creepier)

Despite the weather, it was an excellent excursion and Steve was a great mountain guide! If you ever make it to Ouray, I highly recommend the Jeep Tours.

Colorado – summer 2022

Wednesday, July 27

Today was our last day in Durango. We got up, had another great breakfast, thanks to Ralph, and spend a few hours in historic Durango. it really is a charming little town, with lots of shops and restaurants and bars, the railroad, the Animas river, and beautiful neighborhoods too. Kind of like a mini Boulder…

The main road in Durango, looking north
An ice box, just like our family’s!

Andrea did some shopping, while I walked up and down the main drag it into a few of the neighborhoods. It was quiet and relaxing and a nice down day. we stopped for some chocolates and a coffee, and a very nice little chocolate shop, and even got some truffles!

The train station in Durango
Slow-mo capture of a hummingbird

We walked along the river too, before eventually getting back into the car for the drive up through Silverton and into Ouray, where we’re staying tonight. Tomorrow (Thursday), more adventures into the wilderness!

Colorado – summer 2022

Tuesday, July 26 (part 2)

The second hike of the day was going to be either Knife Edge or Point Lookout, even though we were both tired. We drove back north from the southern end of the park to the Morefield Campground area, which is relatively close to the Park Entrance. Despite our fatigue, we chose Point Lookout, which has a short but steep climb at its beginning, with lots of switchbacks. It’s about 400 feet up to the top of the mesa, with great views to the north and west, including Cortez and Sleeping Ute Mountain.

The trailhead

It felt good to burn some calories and get my heart racing, and halfway up I got a second wind. At the top we were rewarded with great views and had the WHOLE trail to ourselves. There wasn’t even anyone else parked in the amphitheater lot. In fact, the park itself was pretty quiet, perhaps in part because we were there on a Monday and Tuesday. Mesa Verde really is a fascinating place. I guess it’s a “lesser” national park and certainly not as popular as many of the others, but I’m certainly glad we visited.

Nearing the top of Point Lookout
Wait for it… 🐇
Point Lookout’s spectacular view, including looking down toward the Visitor Center
One more video from up high
A rainbow above the valley
Not a bad view… 🌈
The sky, the valley, the Mesa, the clouds…
All good things come to an end.

Colorado – summer 2022

Tuesday, July 26 (part 1)

Today was the best day of the vacation so far! Shout out to Ralph for an awesome breakfast at the Fairfield Inn in Durango. Ralph is just a kind and caring individual, and his main goal in life is to make the guests of the hotel enjoy their stay that much more. He goes out of his way to be accommodating to every guest and is especially great with kids. Plus he makes a mean salmon avocado toast!

After breakfast, we returned to Mesa Verde to continue our exploration of the park. We picked out three hikes, thinking we would probably do two, and having spent the day in the park on Monday, I really felt like I had my bearings down and was oriented to the park that much more. The first hike was a return to Petroglyph Point, which is the sister trail to Spruce Canyon.

Trailhead for Petroglyph Point and Spruce Canyon
Spruce Tree House from above the trailheads

Petroglyph Point Trail is really cool. There are some scrambles and some narrow passageways in between rocks and boulders. It’s not necessarily difficult, but there are a few points, especially toward the end, where you can feel your heart racing. For the most part, it’s a little bit of up-and-down, and you are hiking along the canyon wall, with steep drops off to your right and the cliff side on your left. The goal, which is at the end of the first half of the loop, is the petroglyph wall.

A narrow passageway where you might lose an arm…
Careful going through…
Almost there…
Made it!
Hiking to the Petroglyphs
Looking back across the canyon toward the museum
So many nooks and crannies and places to explore…
Finding daylight within the rocks
Ancient ruins protected within the cliffs
The petroglyphs!
Another angle
Do Not Touch!

After a short scramble up above the petroglyphs, we were on the rim trail ready to head back towards the museum.

The Petroglyph wall from above
Views of the canyon from the rim
Evidence of fire as we approach the museum
Spruce Tree House information by the Ranger Station

As we finished this hike, we hoped to do one more for the day, but sadly had to leave the Chapin Mesa area to work our way back north. Knifes Edge Trail or Mesa Verde Point Lookout Trail was next!

Colorado – Summer 2022

Monday, July 25

Woke up in the Fairfield Inn, just outside Durango, where we had a nice breakfast and got ourselves organized before heading into Mesa Verde National Park. This is my 26th National Park overall and with Andrea, our 15th together!

We made it to a new one!

I must admit, I did not have high expectations for this park. But I was wrong. It’s beautiful and there’s a reason it’s been around since 1906! We stopped at the visitor center when we arrived, and it was our first visitor center in a number of years. Last summer we didn’t get to make it to the one in North Cascades, nor did we visit the ones in Rainier or Olympic.

Mesa Verde NP Visitor Center
Visitor Center

The only disappointment of the day was that the park is fresh out of maps. And I love me a map. We drove up from the visitor center into the park, ascending away from the valley up onto the Mesa, or I guess as it’s more accurately described, a Cuesta.

The park itself is not unlike Bryce Canyon NP, in that there’s really only one road in and out, with the exception of a few dirt roads and trails. The main road itself runs north and south, with points of interest along the way. We decided our hike for the day would be the Spruce Canyon Trail, but we also knew we wanted to explore the park a little bit, which is exactly what we did. We drove around the Mesa Top loop, which gave us great views of the valleys below, and worked our way over to the cliff palace loop.

Driving around the Chaplin Mesa

We could see Cliff Palace and also stopped to see the Sun Temple .

The Sun Temple
Sun Temple
Cliff Palace
Standing above Cliff Palace

Unfortunately, we hadn’t made reservations to get the guided tour of the cliff palace, but we still got great views above it.

The length of Cliff Palace
View of the valley beyond Cliff Palace

Leaving that section, we drove back to another part of the Mesa, where we wanted to do our hike. There is a museum there, as well as Park headquarters, and two main trails: petroglyph trail and spruce Canyon Trail.

The trailhead below the museum
The section of the park we hiked

The Spruce Canyon trail wasn’t too terribly long or strenuous, but it wasn’t exactly easy, either. A good swift descent took us to where the two trails split and then there were several switchbacks down into the valley. For the most part, it was just us and two other guys on the trail and it felt good to be so removed from crowds (although the park itself was relatively quiet; a benefit of visiting on a Monday!)

Hiking down into the canyon
Hiking along the canyon floor
A recent Rock slide blocking the path

The trek back up out of the canyon was beautiful and since it was our first real hike of the trip, we took our time and went slowly. Out of shape, high altitude, fresh legs, etc. But the trek up and out felt great and provided beautiful views along the way!

Looking back into the canyons near the top
The wash, the canyon and a little dance
She love me, even when I’m sweaty and gross
Rock hunting along the wash above the canyon
Made it back up to the top!

As we worked our way back to the car, we could see and hear the storms starting to roll in, and though we wanted to explore some more, decided to start working our way back north to the main road.

We stopped a few more places along the way out, including Park Point, the highest point in Mesa Verde NP.

Park Point
Storms to the east
Views from Park point; looking south and west you can see New Mexico, Arizona and Utah
The Fire Lookout Tower at Park Point

It was a great first day in Mesa Verde National Park and we plan to head back tomorrow (Tuesday). We drove back into Durango and had a great Mexican meal (and each had a margarita too).

A good way to end the day!

Colorado – Summer 2022

Sunday, July 24 (part 2)

We spent most of the day yesterday driving from Denver across the state, south and west to Durango. We had a really nice breakfast with Josh at a place called B&B in Castle Rock. That was a great way to start our Sunday, and really, start our vacation.

Andrea, Nick and Josh after breakfast in Castle Rock

After breakfast, we had a nice little walk around town before parting ways with Josh and heading south on 25. From Castle Rock, we drove to Colorado Springs where Andrea met up with a friend she met through Twitch named Po. Po is a really talented artist who is currently an apprentice in a tattoo shop in the Springs, and he invited Andrea to come in to get a new addition to her tattoo collection. And yes, it’s a tattoo of Mabel! While she was sitting with Po, I “worked” on a jigsaw puzzle of a cat. And during that time, Andrea got a tattoo of a cat! Cat-orado? 🤔

Po working on the Mabel tattoo
Po and Andrea

After the tattoo, we said our goodbyes and got back into the car to continue our drive. From the Springs, we worked our way south and west. We drove up in the mountains and worked our way to Salida so we could stop and stretch our legs. It’s a charming little town and we really enjoyed our visit there four years ago, but we didn’t stay for long because we wanted to make it to Durango before dark.

If you were to drive straight from Denver to Durango, I would probably only take 6 1/2 hours or so. but we took our time, and meandered as we went. We didn’t stop a lot, but we weren’t in a hurry either. It really is a beautiful drive!

From Salida, you head south and west, through the San Luis Valley, with views of the Sangre de Cristo Range, in south-central Colorado.

Passing through Pagosa Springs and Chimney Rock, through off-and-on rain, we finally made it into Durango around 8pm. We stopped for a nice dinner at a local microbrew (I had the poké nachos and two glasses of Malbec), before we made it to the hotel around 9:30 and crashed for the night.

Time Lapse video of some of the drive from Salida to Durango

Colorado – Summer 2022

Sunday, July 24

Made it to Denver! Yesterday’s travel wasn’t nearly as hectic or headache-inducing as our last two travel experiences (California in April and Lake Tahoe over the 4th of July).

This time around, we were able to make it out of Philadelphia relatively easily. Southwest flights (not American) and direct to and from Philly. The day was not without drama, however. While waiting for our flight in the E terminal in PHL, the flight next to our gate was cancelled (we were in E16 and that flight was departing from E17). An entire plane’s worth of people trying to get to Nashville were sad and angry, disappointed and confused, irate and upset. One particular woman was livid and I understood her perspective. I felt bad for the rest of the people who were left in the lurch because their plane hadn’t been staffed properly. Southwest informed them that there were ZERO available flights today (Sunday) and the best they could offer was the hope of a flight on Monday. The airline industry truly is a mess. If that were me, I would have seriously considers cancelling my flights and just driven to Nashville.

These stories and these experiences have made me reconsider big trips requiring airline travel. They’re expensive and inconsistent at best, and it seems that far too often, these types of nightmares are happening. It’s a shame because I used to really love to fly, especially before the pandemic, and I LOVE to explore and vacation in the American and Canadian west. We’ll see if airline travel improves as we move forward, but maybe next summer’s vacation is a driving adventure.

Regardless, we made it to Denver without too much hassle. Josh was kind enough to help us get our rental (thanks Groove Subaru) and then he came to get us at the airport. And oh yeah, he hiked a 13,000 foot mountain earlier on Saturday. He never stops!

We’ll be meeting Josh for breakfast in Castle Rock, then on to Colorado Springs, south on 25, and eventually west toward Durango, where we’ll be staying tonight and the next 3 days.

Mesa Verde National Park is on the agenda, a new one for both me and Andrea! And photos and videos will start populating these posts. 🙂