Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day trip to Colorado National Monument

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Only about 70 miles north of Montrose is the largest city of the Rocky Mountains “Western Slope,” Grand Junction.  The city is surrounded by 2 large plateaus that signal the end of the Utah red rock canyons and start of the Rocky Mountains.

I had always just skipped a visit to this park as the red rocks of Moab a couple hours West are certainly much more impressive, but now that I had a free day, it was time to check out Colorado National Monument!   The park consists mainly of a 20-mile road that rides along the rim of several sandstone canyons carved into the western plateau overlooking Grand Junction.

It was a great visual change of pace from the San Juans, and a fun way to spend the day!

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weekend in Montrose

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The San Juan mountains have so much visual richness, that after a week, I was feeling visual sensory overload and needed to take a temporary break.  At first, I only planned to stay at the Centennial RV Park just one night, but I liked the park so much that I decided to stay the weekend and get my shopping and laundry done as well. 

Such a refreshing change to have a big wide-open full-hookup site with speedy internet for only $16/night!  Well, that’s actually half their going rate.  I have a Passport America camping club card that gets me a 50% discount at select parks on select  days.  While many parks don’t give the discount over weekends or during the peak summer months, Centennial did.  They even had a pretty good deal on laundry—only $2.25 a load to wash and dry!

After chores were done Saturday morning, I noticed that the town of Montrose had a city park up on top of one of the mountains nearby that supposedly had a few small lakes—perhaps an opportunity to get the Sea Eagle kayak out?  Millie and I decided to go check it out.

Buckhorn Lakes Park was about 12 miles from the RV park.  The road up to the park started out paved, then gravel, then dirt, then a 4-wheel drive obstacle course!  Guess that keeps most of the tourists away!   The view from the mountain was pretty neat—I could see the RV park! (here it is circled in red):
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The lakes were absolutely perfect for paddling.  I found a nice picnic spot right on the waterfront to easily unload and inflate the kayak.  Within a few minutes, Millie and I were on the water!
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At the end of our trip, Millie discovered that the kayak bag also made an excellent dog blanket (made my job of getting the kayak all folded back up a bit of a challenge!).
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On our way out of the park, we saw a few free range cattle grazing in the Aspen groves. and of course, more wildflowers!!!.
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A terrific afternoon!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Exploring Red Mountain

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There are 3 vividly-colored peaks call the Red Mountains located between Ouray and Silverton.  Their reddish colors come from exposed oxidized iron.  This area was prime for mining silver, lead, zinc, copper, and gold starting in the late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s, but most mines are closed today. 

Their relics are still very common along the 4-wheel-drive trails in the area and one of the best trails to view these old mines is called the Red Mountain trail which parallels the Million Dollar Highway (Route 550) across Red Mountain Pass.  When you drive the highway, there’s a rest area near the top of the pass where you can view a few of these mine buildings in the distance on the mountainside across the highway. 
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Most tourists only see these mines from this distance.

But, fortunately with a 4WD, I could drive right up next to these old mines!  Here’s what the Yankee Girl mine (the same as the one in the middle of the photo above) looks like up close:
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And even from behind!
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The Red Mountain trail also had a few wildflower meadows and I encountered a few deer out eating their dinner.

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The trail supposedly went on for 20 miles, but I somehow took a wrong turn after 4 miles and ended up back on Highway 550.  It worked out fine as it was nearing nightfall and I could always try to pick up the rest of the trail another day.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yankee Boy Basin

Seems like every single vehicle in Ouray and at the campground was a Jeep or 4WD of some kind. Many folks rented their Jeeps from a number of rental agencies in town. And where did all those 4WD vehicles want to go? Yankee Boy Basin!  It’s the most popular trail in the region, and with good reason. A fun, relatively easy drive for most of the trail with scenic spots and wildflowers, and a more challenging top end of the trail that ascends up to nearly 13,000 feet near the peak of Mt. Sneffels.

I took this drive twice and, even though it seemed like rush-hour in Chicago at a few spots, the scenery more than made up for the traffic.

Here’s the prime spot to take a photo of your vehicle as you head up the trail called “Drinking Cup”
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Soon after, you drive under this impressive rock overhang:
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About 3/4 up the trail, you arrive to the basin itself, brimming with wildflowers and beautiful mountain peaks all around.  THere’s also a number of waterfalls, including a set of 2 falls called, appropriately enough, Twin Falls.

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The final mile and a half of the trail is much more challenging—a very steep, narrow and very rocky climb to near the top of Mt. Sneffels and other “14’er” peaks.  I wasn’t sure if the little Tracker would make it, and the skid plates hit a few rocks at times, but we indeed did reach the summit!
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There was a terrific, emerald-colored pond at the summit that even had a bit of blue-colored “iceberg” floating in it.
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The drive down was, thankfully, much easier.  Some wonderful views that direction as well!
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All in all, an amazing trail!

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