Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Brief Foray into Colorado

I'm falling behind. As I write this post I've already completed another trip to southwestern Colorado and I haven't even worked through the Bryce Canyon photos from this trip, yet. So much to do; so little time.

This post covers my last stop on my way home from Overland Expo 2013 in Flagstaff. In the last post I was leaving Utah on my way to Colorado. I took US-491 from Monticello, UT to Cortez, CO. Another area where I had no idea there was so much agriculture. Apparently beans are a major crop in this area, and cattle ranching. In Colorado on the way to Cortez I saw genuine cowboys herding cattle from horseback.

Since I hadn't planned on coming to Colorado this trip I hadn't yet purchased the Benchmark map atlas of Colorado and since it was a week-end the forest service information stations were closed. No matter, I refueled in Cortez and I'd wing it. Other than a quick trip up to Colorado Springs and Denver last fall when I drove my sedan up to check out the Four Wheel Campers in person, this would be my first return to the state since the mid 1970s.

I headed north on Colorado Highway 145, a.k.a. Railroad Avenue, which runs alongside the Dolores River toward Telluride. Once I got to the town of Dolores the countryside changed from open piñon and juniper to forests and mountains. Unfortunately, I was so busy admiring the view I forgot to take a picture.

As I made my way up the canyon into the San Juan Mountains a big smile crept across my face. This was looking like the Colorado I remembered and loved to visit back when I was a young man with a VW Campmobile! Nothing as beautiful as the west slope with the towering, snow-capped mountain peaks.

View along the highway, part of the "San Juan Skyway" scenic highway route.

I took a few photos of the mountains from the highway, but they just don't convey the beauty of the area. As I got closer to Telluride the peaks got higher and even more beautiful. I wasn't sure if I'd visited Telluride all those years ago. I remembered Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Gunnison, and Aspen, but as soon as I saw Telluride with the sheer mountain face and the long, narrow waterfall behind it, I remembered that view for sure. Breath-taking!

Telluride, Colorado

I drove into town just to see it, not really to stop and visit. Good thing, as it was crowded. I got a map at the tourist bureau and asked if the Last Dollar Road was open. The nice lady replied that the guys who ran the jeep tours business next door had just told her that it was indeed open. I hadn't planned to do that road this trip, but I did have my Colorado Backroads guide book which had directions and a map.

I left town and the turn-off to Last Dollar Road was well marked. I drove past the very small airport and marveled at the number of fancy jets on the apron and limousines in the parking lot. Yes, lots of money up in this neck of the woods. The road was graded at that point with private drives to both modest cabins and top-tier estates.

A bit farther up the road and another cowboy rode into view leading about a dozen horses. Gotta love Colorado.

Moving the horses to fresh pasture.

The road climbed and climbed and the views were spectacular.

You should view this photo in a larger size.

The road moved up into an Aspen grove and saw this warning sign - looked like they meant business.

Very slick mud when wet next 8 miles
4-wheel Drive
Good Tires Only

The road narrowed, crossed a talus field, and got quite rocky. I was remembering what the Land Rover drivers had emphasized "go as slow as possible; as fast as necessary."

Talus Slope (this photo was actually taken on my way back down the mountain.)

I came to a wide spot in the road with the ruins of an abandoned cabin in a turn-out, so I stopped there to evaluate if I wanted to proceed. I could see a water crossing down the hill and could make out the road clinging to the side of the next mountain, climbing steeply.

I saw an older model, high-clearance 4WD truck of some type come up the hill toward me. I waved and they stopped. I asked them how the road was ahead. They replied with a name I didn't recognize and I quickly realized they didn't speak English. Chagrined that I'd grown up in New Mexico and didn't speak Spanish, I nonetheless asked, "¿Via esta bueno?" As pathetic as my attempt to communicate was, they understood what I was asking. The driver shook his head and the passenger waggled his hand in the universal gesture of "not so much." As I only had street tires on my truck, I decided not to push my luck and turned around to head back down the mountain. (There is a hidden irony here which I will share in an upcoming post from my next trip to Colorado.)

On my drive up earlier in the day I had noticed some possible dispersed campsites along the highway below the village of Rico, so drove down to check them out. I'd also seen a side road next to a creek in the same area on my way up. I came to it first and turned east to check it out. It was an old wagon road following Scotch Creek that connected Rico to the Animas Valley back in the 1870s. The informational sign indicated it was only suitable for 4WD vehicles, but I was game for a try.

It was very rocky and again I was concerned for my OEM tires and walked part of the road to make sure I had clearance before driving up. I only had to go about a quarter of a mile to find a wonderful campsite right next to to the creek (which was larger than some rivers in New Mexico.) After setting up the camper, I walked around the immediate area admiring the trees, canyon walls, butterflies, flowers and always the roaring creek. Late that evening I saw my first Marmot making its way across a talus slope near my campsite. It was delightful that night falling asleep to the water's song.

This photo shows how close I was to the wonderfully musical creek.

My campsite. Didn't realize until later how the tree leaned over me.

The next morning I walked up the canyon about a mile or so, watching the birds and admiring the beauty of the canyon. At the upper end of my walk I got my macro lens out of the bag and enjoyed photographing some of the tiny flowers around my feet. Here are some photos from that morning.

Typical of the canyon walls with rock cliffs and talus slopes; fir and aspen.

Butterflies were flitting from flower to flower.

A pretty blue violet hiding in the grasses in a shady area of the forest floor. Macro photograph.

The road winds up the canyon.

A colorful Western Tanager briefly out in the open.

Teeny, tiny white flowers. Macro photograph.

The road is uncharacteristically smooth in this spot.

Many of the butterflies were also lapping up minerals where the ground was wet.

There were lots of Juncos foraging along the ground.

This individual looks worn, but not as much as others of this species that I saw.

The columbine flowers in the canyon had not quite opened. Macro photograph. 

After my walk, I had a spot of lunch and began packing for my return to civilization. This unplanned stop in Colorado had been the perfect end of a fabulous trip that had begun with Overland Expo, a run up the Great Western Trail in Arizona and an interesting journey across southern Utah (covered in previous posts.) All in all, a roaring success in my trusty Tacoma and camper!

Thanks for reading along.


  1. I am really enjoying your trip reports. Your photography is phenomenal! Don't worry about lagging behind your "self imposed" schedule. Just keep doing such a great job documenting what you did, and keep doing it. It doesn't matter if it is "late". (That's what winter is for around here, but you may not have that luxury in NM). As a future FWC owner I love seeing your rig.

    1. Thanks, sassy girl. Glad you are enjoying the posts. More to come.


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