Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 14

This was the day the adventure finally came to a end and we returned to reality.  No, we are not home yet, but we started the morning in an unknown little mining town in the middle of Colorado, and ended in the bustling city of Denver.  We spent the night in a Hampton Inn hotel in the busy city, and we fly back home today.  The mood has already shifted.

This was the scene outside our hotel room at Red Cliff in the morning.  A light snow had fallen overnight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOff in the distance, the sun was trying to break through.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOff to the east, the sun lit up the snow-covered evergreens.  This was the direction of Shrine Pass and the road that was not taken.  That may remain a dream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe headed up the hill and out of town to get back on to US 24.  This road did not seem as narrow as it did to us the previous evening, except at the point where it hit the highway, where they seemed to have had to cut down a little bit of the side of the mountain to create the entrance to the road.  There was an overhang that seemed like it would be nasty for tall vehicles.

Then it was back on US 24 East.  There was more snow around, but the road had been cleared pretty well by that time, and it had stopped snowing. Nevertheless, one had to be extra careful when driving.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at the town of Leadville and stopped to fill gas.  Next to the town were the Sawatch Range of the Rocky mountains.  Mt. Massive is the closest high peak, over 14,000 feet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had selected a route that went through Leadville because I had read about this somewhat less known, and perhaps unremarkable to some, town in a book on running.  This is the location of the annual Leadville Trail 100, “The Race Across the Sky”, an ultra-marathon where runners covered 100 miles in the Rocky Mountains.  I do not think I am going to do that any time soon!

The town itself had a western feel to it, a feeling that we have gotten very used to during these travels.  Outside this little cafe you could hear the kind of music that one might have heard in an old western movie, typically in a saloon.  (If I remember correctly this sometimes happened before a gunfight broke out.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took this picture from the middle of the road.  I was ready for a shootout!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are more pictures of the town.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we were out of town, driving further south in the shadow of the Rockies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the snow behind after we left town.  As we drove further south, we saw signs for Mt Harvard, Mt. Yale and Mt. Princeton, all mountains higher than 14,000 feet.  What an elitist bunch of folks, the people who named these mountains!  These are also called the Collegiate mountains.

The road headed south for a long time, and then turned east just beyond Buena Vista, a somewhat sizable town.

Then we were headed east, on a big plain, on a road that ran straight and true for miles and miles.  There were fields beside us with cows and horses, and then we saw some animals that we did not recognize.  I think they were some kind of deer.

We climbed out of plains into parkland area.  The scenery was still beautiful, but not as compelling as what we had experienced in the last few days.  But to somebody who was seeing this after having spent all their lives driving in suburbia, this could also seem remarkable.

We passed a little outpost where I finally stopped to take some pictures of buildings that had a western feel to it.  This was not the best we had seen during our travels, but this was perhaps the last time we would see such buildings during the travels.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was when we entered the town of Ute Pass that we knew that we were back in civilization as we have known it all our lives.  It was a bigger place with a lot of people, a lot of commercial buildings typical of suburbia around us, and names of stores familiar to us.

Shortly out of town, we arrived at the start of Pikes Peak highway.  There were already lines forming to pay the fees and enter.  You have to drive about 20 miles to get to the top.  This picture was taken at mile 10 where we decided to stop for some lunch.  We might have sat at the picnic benches had it not been for the description they had at the place for black bears.  We ate in the car.  You can see the top of Pikes Peak towards the left side of the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the forest of evergreens as we climbed.  The trees thinned out and eventually disappeared.

The last phase of the climb involved a lot of short and sharp switchbacks up the bare face of the mountain.  You had to be really careful.  We ended up behind a very slow driver who allowed a convoy of about 20 cars to form behind him.  The directions for driving this road clearly state that one should pull over and let others pass if there are three cars behind them. (I am told that it is not good to called people names in a blog. So I will avoid doing that.) We reached the top of the mountain in this fashion, in a convoy of slow cars.

We were actually a little disappointed when we got there.  There is a wide flat area on top, and the area that we were entering through was blocked off with a lot of construction equipment.  Additionally, there were a lot of cars and people around.  There was a guy who was helping people get parking.

Here is a view of a vista at the top of the mountain (click on the picture, as usual!).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were at a height where breathing could be difficult if you were not prepared.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter stopping in the cafeteria for their world-famous donuts and a cup of hot chocolate, we stepped out behind the gift shop to take in the view.

The pictures below show the place where the cog railroad used to end.  This railroad actually operated until recent times, but is out of commission because there is extensive maintenance work needed, and it is going to be tough to get spare parts and fix something that is not a mainstream product these days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a guy who has taken off his shirt.  The temperature was below freezing!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lake blow is called Crystal Reservoir.  It serves the city of Colorado Springs close by.  We will stop by this lake on the way down the mountain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can walk the trail down the mountain.  In fact, there are supported bike rides you can do down the mountain on the road.  Can you imagine how hot the brakes are going to be as you proceed downhill!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made a few stops on the way down.  Here is a picture of the road at one of these spots, of the direction we had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis car looks like it is too close to the edge!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture of the road going down the mountain in one of the steeper sections.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken from Crystal reservoir, where we stopped for an extended break.  You can see the building at the top of Pikes peak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe blue color of the clear water was remarkable.  Pikes Peak is to the left of the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ripples in the water stopped at some point, and I could take the following picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe realized that we had taken much less time to explore Pikes Peak than what we had been led to believe would be needed.  The evening was still early, and we had to figure out what to do next.  We opened up the AAA tour guide book to the pages for Colorado Springs.  It seems like The Garden of the Gods was the topmost on the list of things to see.  That was where we headed.

The GPS device told us to go in one direction to get to the park, whereas the instructions on the city streets gave us a different direction.  We followed street signs.  It was the wrong decision.  Instead of the Visitor Center, we ended up at the Trading Post.  We parked there anyway, thinking that there might be a visitor center hidden somewhere.  It was at this point that an overwhelming sense of tiredness overcame me.  I was running out of energy.  It was time for a Clif bar. We went in to get directions for hiking and were given a map and some somewhat vague directions.  We decided that we wanted to head for the Siamese Twins.

We headed down a trail that seemed to be the right direction.  A park ranger who had been driving on the road next to the trail stopped and gave us us an official trail map of the park (which was different from what we got at the Trading Post).  We had been going in the wrong direction.

We did make it to the Siamese Twins.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture of the Trading Post as we walked back to the parking lot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had initially wanted to also walk in another section of the park, but I realized that I was too tired.  It must have been all the driving.  We decided to head out to our hotel in Denver right away.

On the way out, we passed the place where we had initially wanted to also walk after seeing the Siamese Twins.  It was actually the more interesting part of the places in the park, with its huge rock formations.  It was the place we would have ended up in if we had stopped at the actual Visitor Center. That is the way it goes.

We joined the traffic heading north on Interstate 25 towards Denver.  It was rush-hour time on a Friday evening, and there was construction on the road.  Welcome back to the trappings of civilization.

We went out for dinner soon after we checked into the hotel.  There was a Thai restaurant within walking distance.  The food was good, except that the chef had probably mixed up the dishes that were supposed to be very spicy, and I got more than I had bargained for.  Some Chang beer from Thailand helped cool things down.

Back at the hotel, I downloaded pictures from the phone to the computer, but that was as far as I got before an overwhelming urge to sleep overtook me.  I conked out the minute my head hit the pillow.

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 13

It was around freezing temperatures when we woke up, but the light breeze made it feel colder.  My fingers froze the moment I stepped out to take a morning picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were down for breakfast as soon as the place was open.  The food was the standard fare, but it was very good in spite of that fact.  The bread and the pancakes were outstanding.

And then it was off to the Capitol Reef for a morning of hiking.  We would be leaving for Red Cliff, CO, as early in the afternoon as possible.  The cold weather would not stop us hiking, but there was the slight chance of rain that could.

This picture was taken from the car as we started descending from the rise in the road.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove past the Fruita schoolhouse.PA180031.jpgThe next stop was at a roadside display for Petroglyphs. What we saw here was not as impressive as the one in Newspaper Rock Historic State Monument.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also passed a few orchards along the way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally arrived at the trail head for the Grand Wash Trail that we were planning to do.

For those who do not know, a wash is a path that water flows through naturally only when there is excessive rain and flash flooding. We had never walked a trail in a wash before.

This particular wash was a path for the water flowing between cliffs of mountains. Essentially, the wash was in a canyon, and the path of the water depended on the nature of the canyon. An obstruction in the way because of the presence of a mountain would cause the wash to change direction.

This picture was taken near the beginning of the walk.  For the purposes of the hike, you could walk anywhere in the wash.  The surface was covered with small rocks of all kinds.  It was also muddy because of the rain the previous day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt began to drizzle as we started our walk, but we continued.  There seemed to be no danger of flash flooding.

When the water encounters a barrier and changes direction, it actually eats into the rock and weakens it.  You can see this happening in the picture below.  Eventually the rock will have to collapse as more and more of it is eaten away.  This is the way of nature.  Nothing lasts forever.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture shows how the position of the mountain changes the direction of the wash.  The tall cliffs in front are a barrier to water flow.  The wash changes direction to the left of the picture.  The direction of this wash kept changing direction every few hundred yards.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe distance between the cliffs got reduced significantly in the narrows section.  Imagine the waters of a flash flood encountering these sections.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe water has cut deep into this rock as it changes direction here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the narrows section of the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wash did widen out after a while.  The rocks had interesting shapes and towered over you, all around you.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe depression in the rock in front was huge.  I am not sure what caused it, but it is in the way the water changes its direction.  It could be that a slab fell out.  It looked like an amphitheater to me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw rocks of all kinds of color in the the bed of the wash.  I did not get a picture of the orange ones.  All of these pieces are carried by the water when there is a flash flood.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe reached the other end of the trail.  You can drive on a dirt road to this point on the scenic road that I took pictures of in the previous blog.  There is even a basic restroom here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese pictures were taken on the way back.  Look at the shapes that the water has carved on the rocks near the canyon floor.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took this picture just to capture the beauty of these massive rock formations.   You can see that this mountain is a barrier to the flow of water and changes the direction of the wash.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is all created by flowing water!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we had the sighting of the bighorn sheep!  We had been waiting for something like this all through the trip, and it finally happened on our last day in Utah.  You should have seen this guy navigating the rocks.  They are very surefooted.  We have to thank the couple who were hiking in front of us for directing our attention to the animal. We could have missed it completely!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took this picture just because I was imagining what this rock face looked like.  There are a lot of faces in pain looking down on you!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe reached the end of our walk in the wash after a couple of hours.  It was around noontime. My not-so-trusty GPS said that we had walked 6 miles, while the sheet of paper in my hands said that we should have actually walked 4.4. miles.  I think the distance we covered is closer to what the GPS device says.  We stayed on the bed of the wash even when there were shortcuts beside it.

And then we continued our drive through the park to head out of town, and on to Red Cliff, Colorado.  We had a long drive ahead of us.  As we hit the east end of the park we encountered some very dark rock formations that were also quite pretty. This picture was taken from the passenger seat.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove on Interstate 70 for hours with only a short stop to use the restroom.  A lunch of trail mix and apple were consumed as we drove.

We arrived at the exit for Red Cliff near the town of Vail and took US 24 heading east.  The GPS device said that we had to drive 9.9 miles on this road to arrive at our destination, but it was also turned off at this point because it was giving me bogus directions as we drove.  (Bad software can do terrible things!)

Anyway, we passed a small little town called Minturn, quite cute, soon as we exited the highway, and then the narrow road that we were on began to climb through woods along the side of a mountain. We climbed and we climbed for a while, until we crossed a marker that said that we were about 13,000 feet!  It seemed that we had been driving on this road for a while and, with no signs of civilization around,  I was beginning to get nervous.  There were other vehicles on the road behind us who seemed to be surer of themselves.  The road was descending rapidly at this point.  I decided to pull over to the side so that we could get our bearings.

I took this picture of the green bridge crossing the valley below as Teresa turned the GPS device on.  (You could not use a smartphone with GPS in these parts because there was no signal!)  She told me that we were a couple of hundred yard from our turnoff for Red Cliff.

Sure enough, when we reached the bridge, just before the start of the bridge, off on the left side, was this narrow road to Red Cliff.  You can almost make out the marker in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was barely place for two vehicles to pass on this narrow road set against the cliff.  It  was descending rapidly.  In the valley you could see a little town with old houses and even a railroad track.  There was no way to pull over to take pictures.

The village below us was Red Cliff.  We had arrived. This is the Green Bridge Inn that we are staying at.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view from outside our third floor room.   The room was very nice, with all the modern fittings, but it also had its own character.  Rooms like this are much more enjoyable that the cookie-cutter rooms of the big hotel chains.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was taken by the look of this small village.  When checking in, I asked the girl at the counter questions about the place.  She was from that town.  She gave me a small slip of paper with some information about the village. It was at 9000 feet! It is the oldest town in the Country, formed in the late 1800s, when silver was discovered locally.  At the turn of the 20th century, it boomed as a mining town, with saloons, brothels, bank, sawmills, and even an opera house.

The girl at the check-in counter also told me about a road from the village that went over the Shrine Pass, at 13,000 feet.  She said it was a dirt road in parts, and that we could turn back and return to town any time we wanted.  There is a small sign in the village pointing to this road.  I wish we had time to do this drive, but it is not going to happen.  We have places to go.

There was a walking tour one could do, and the two of us set out on a walk after putting our stuff away.  I was told that you could get a good picture of town from the cemetery on top of the hill.  That was where we went. We were breathing hard in the thin mountain air as we climbed, but we did get there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see how high we had climbed above the village from the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe pictures of the village itself that were taken from the cemetery were not clear because of things in the way.

The houses in this village were all different from each other and they looked like they were all in different conditions. Some of them were pretty. I don’t think there is a concept of zoning.  Here is a picture of one of the houses.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople have to depend on satellite signals to connect with the outside world.  We saw people taking walks with their dogs.  The dogs were usually running free.  We could hear people talking to each other outside the homes.  You crossed a bridge to get from one side of town to the other, and below the bridge you could see a stream and the abandoned rail tracks of the old Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.  The trains ran through the valley in these parts during its heyday.

It snowed lightly when we were walking up on the hill. It also felt very cold but I did not know how cold it actually was.  Being up in the mountains, I imagine that temperature can be really low.

We had to find a warm place when we returned from the walk. We walked into the only eatery in town.  It was called Mangos.  This place is not open every day of the week.  We were fortunate about the day of the week we had arrived.  The inside of Mangos turned out to be very modern.  It was primarily a bar and most folks were at the counter, drinking and watching American football or hockey on the big screens.  Our waitress/bartender was very nice and the food was excellent.  In general, we have been very fortunate about the food we have been getting for dinner during this trip.

It had turned dark by the time we were done. Other than a few lights in the houses, the only big source of illumination were the lights from our hotel across the road.  There were no street lights and it felt dark.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had a slight headache when I went to bed because of the altitude.  We have been taking diamox for the last couple of days to adjust to the altitude.

Our overnight stay in Red Cliff turned out to be a somewhat unexpected treat.  Today we go to Pikes Peak.  It is at an elevation of over 14,000 feet.