Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Spectacular Anniversary

August 29, 2015
Panoramic View from Molas Pass
Today was Joe’s and my 44th wedding anniversary—the years sure do fly by! Last year, we spent our anniversary driving from Ohio to Michigan and celebrating at the first Michigan State football game of the season that night. This year, we drove on an All-American Road from Cortez to Ouray, Colorado. We have driven on some spectacular roads—my two favorites are the Bear Tooth Highway from Montana to Yellowstone National park, and the TiogaPass into Yosemite. But the Red Mountain Pass is right up there with them, emphasis on “UP there", at 11,018 feet.

I woke up this morning twice—once  at about 5:30, and after I read for a little while, I fell back asleep until about 8:00. I puttered around a little bit, called my mother, and made plans for the day. We decided not to linger in Cortez—we were here in 2007 on our first cross-country RV trip, and had both a great time and several intense adventures. So instead I followed up on some research I had done in advance by calling the 4J+1+1 RV Park (what a name, right?) in Ouray, to see if they could accommodate us tonight. It turned out that they had a space for us, by the river, so I gave the lady my credit card number, realizing that the way we dawdle, we might not make it by 5:00 as she suggested.

After that, we packed up and left Sundance RV Park. Our first stop was literally across the street at the Colorado Visitor Center, where we picked up a bunch of brochures covering our plans for the next few days in Colorado. I also discussed our route with them—there are two routes north to Ouray. Together they, plus a couple of other roads, form a “loop” which are the San Juan Skyway.  The thing is, route 550, which includes a section called the “Million Dollar Highway”, is reputed to be full of very narrow roads with tight twists and turns (no guardrails!), whereas the other route, while also very beautiful, is “easier” to drive. The lady at our RV park had told me that she literally could not drive that particular stretch, between Silverton and Ouray, because of her fear of heights, and that she’d seen people show up at her park literally shaking. However, after due reflection—and remembering we got over the Beartooth Highway with Mo—Joe decided that there was no problem, and Route 550 was for us.

We came from that road down there!
So we set out east on US 160 . We passed the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, and continued on until Durango. There we stopped for gas and then headed north on Route 550. It immediately began to climb, and I calmed my nerves by concentrating on taking photos. Several times I just closed my eyes as we went around the curves, even though Joe did a GREAT job driving. We went through two passes, both well over 10,000 feet high.
View of Coal Bank Pass, 10,640 feet
 The second one, the Molas Pass, was totally gorgeous! We actually spent an hour up there, with me taking photos and Joey and Cassie wandering in the meadow, before we had some lunch (it was already 3pm, we discovered in surprise.) 
Molas Pass meadow view
The road began to descend from the Molas Pass with some quite nerve-wracking twists and turns until we arrived in the town of Silverton. Silverton (and also Ouray) are both designated as National Historic Districts, being full of well-preserved Victorian architecture from the late 19th century when both towns were connected with the discovery of silver and other precious metals, and the development of large-scale mining in the area. Since it was already getting a little bit late, I probably would have just passed Silverton, but we inadvertently took the turnoff to the main street, and it was so charming that we just had to stop. We parked our RV and wandered down the street, looking in windows and snapping photos (and Cassie was making friends with people and other dogs.) Besides all the cute little touristy shops in the vintage buildings, with the mountains for the backdrop, we came across a tiny park filled with various kinds of musical instruments, all played with mallets. There were hanging chimes, horizontal ones, and a fairly standard xylophone-type thing. It was all a kind of participatory art piece, and I heard someone saying that it was the work of a particular artist, who makes these musical installations for parks around the country.

The Road into Silverton
We didn’t do much to help the Silverton economy until Joe spotted a store which had batteries and data cards for cameras. I had been a little concerned that a couple of days ago, my batteries ran out. We thought we had plenty of AA batteries, but it turned out we didn’t! Luckily, we’d bought a gift and bought a small package of batteries to go with it, so I used those. I’ve had batteries on my shopping list since then. Then last night, just as we hit that extraordinary sunset, my data card read “full”. I took most of my sunset photos last night on my cell phone.  Here I was, about to begin driving the “Million Dollar Highway”, and God forbid my data card would be full! So I went in and bought both batteries and a new data card.

Joe and Cassie enjoy Silverton's Main Street
Harmony Park (Joe is playing at left)
As soon as we left Silverton, we began going up and up and UP again, and the roads became a lot more winding. We have gone over hairpin turns before, but you never really get used to them. The scenery, however, was as advertised—gorgeous. So I refused to look at the road too closely, and got out my camera. Wouldn’t you know it, the data card was FULL! I was SO VERY glad we’d picked up that second card!
It is only about 25 miles or so between Silverton and Ouray, and I probably took about 3-5 photos/mile. I’ll just put a bunch of them up here—there’s no point in trying to describe it! But when we got to the Red Mountain Pass, that is when all bets were off. As with last night, we’d timed it perfectly—it was about 5pm and the sun was low enough to bring out all the reds in the rock face. That, and the fact that the mountain was spectacular, ALMOST distracted me from the fact that the road was insanely twisted. I think we went down most of the way in 2nd, if not in 1st, gear. There were S turns and looping turns and hairpin turns and it was completely crazy—one set of turns had a 10 mph speed limit, it was so twisted and difficult to negotiate! Luckily, at the end of the worst set of twists, there was a big turnout for a scenic overlook, so Joe could park Samantha, get out, and really SEE the mountain. Man, it was incredible!

Red Mountain
From there we drove the rest of the way to Ouray—the road was beautiful, but not nearly as scary most of the rest of the way. There were two scenic overlooks that we could not stop at, because they were on the other side of the highway (where the cliff was dropping off) and on curves with double yellow lines. I didn’t envy the people on the other side of the road, however…. Near Ouray there was some construction and there was one section with a single lane, and there was NOTHING on the other side of the concrete barrier. The people going UP at that point were going to be looking down the side of a cliff the entire time.

We came down into Ouray at about 6pm, and found our campground without much difficulty. Ouray, like Silverton, is a lovely little Victorian town. The reason I chose this RV park, however, was entirely due to its location. It is right on the river; it is about two blocks from the center of town; and it is only a 5-10 minute walk to the town’s Hot Springs Pool, which is a public facility making the most of the fact that Ouray sits on natural hot springs. The Hot Springs Pool is like a big swim club with several pools of varying temperatures, plus a lap swimming section and a shallow section for young children. There’s also a massage facility right there, and a fitness center on the second floor of the bath house.

Our campsite is RIGHT on the river, and I mean ON it. Or rather, OVER it—our bedroom (the back end of our RV) is hanging over the edge. Our neighbors are as close as they were last night (these town-located RV parks are always quite stingy on the size of the individual sites) but we should have the sound of the river lulling us to sleep all night.

Anyway, we ate an anniversary dinner of grilled lamb chops, grilled romaine lettuce with a yummy dressing, and mashed potatoes. Then we quickly washed up and walked to the Hot Springs Pool. The facility is very nice, but it was pretty noisy and crowded—I guess being Saturday night, that’s not so surprising. We enjoyed our soak very much—it was a great ending to a great day—but we had to agree that we preferred the hot springs that we went to in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, back in 2011. 

After about an hour, we got dressed again and walked slowly back to our campsite. Now I have about a million photos to go through to illustrate this blog! I’m hoping to sleep in tomorrow, though. We are waiting to hear from Ben and Miriam to finalize our plans for the next couple of days.

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