Monday, October 20
Our last full here in Great Sands. It also marks the beginning of our quick trip home. I definitely wanted to photograph dawn from the top again. The last couple of mornings were too cloudy at dawn and the light was just too flat to make the effort to get to the top. I also like to wait a day or two between hikes up there to give myself a chance to recover. Climbing uses muscles in a different way apparently, and toes and calves are usually pretty sore a day after. I managed to convince Mary that getting up at 5:45 AM, to be at the top by 7:15, was a good idea. It is probably 1.5 miles from our campsite to the top, but the end of that first 1/2 mile puts you at the foot of the 700’ dunes. Going up takes a while. Even if you pick the right route, you will be faced at some point with a steep, loose slope of sand. You wouldn’t think you could get so winded trying to get up one of these things, but it seems to goe with the territory. Out the door with our flashlights by 6:15, we got down the main trail to the edge of Medano Creek dunes pretty quickly. I was a little surprised it was still so dark. Just 3 days ago, I could easily see at this time. I guess the days get shorter faster here. I could hear the creek as it whispered by at our feet, but finding an easy path that wouldn’t freak Mary out was a bit of a challenge in the dark. In the end, from the sound of occasional splashes, I surmised she was finding her own way.We ended up on the other side eventually, but it was still too dark to see where our planned path took off from. Nothing to do but wait a bit. Too easy to run into that wall of sand to climb to correct the mistake – or go back. It wasn’t long though until we could see well enough to find the starting point. Most of the way up we stayed together pretty well. I’d stop often for views, water, and Mary. Eventually She tailed off a little more and I went on. We usually manage to meet up somewhere else on the dunes. It’s not that hard to keep track of the others’ path and eventual location. Just follow the footprints. Last evenings’ high winds over the dunes really helped smooth out footprints from the past week. Not perfect, but I was so thankful when I saw it blowing yesterday. The wind can be good!I made it to a good starting place well before dawn. There were plenty of clouds, but enough breaks to make me believe sunrise would happen, at least in part. Sunrise started with the tips of the Sangre de Cristo’s lighting up. The recent snow flurries up there have dressed them in a lovely coat of white, and lingering clouds helped diffuse the light to give the entire area a wonderful glow.
Off in the far West, I could see as the sky turned from a deep blue at the horizon to a warm rose up high. I watched as the rose lowered to the plain and slowly advanced to the dunes. Eventually, just before the clouds obscured it all, light broke on the far dunes. From this point, light just made the occasional appearance.We had time though. We did our usual waiting around thing. Shot a lot of flat light images. Some of these turn out pretty nice, but the star attraction this morning was going to be light. We wandered around for a couple of hours, getting the occasional break, until we felt that even if the sun did come out more fully, it would be very contrasty. We sat down together and split a Cliff Bar while just watching the light change over the dunes all around us.Heading down, we stopped a few more times, and of course, now the sun was shining steadily. But we were ready for breakfast and a shower. The rest of the day was dedicated to lounging around and planning our route home. We have several days built in that we intend to use in the Moab area before we really do have to streak home.
Monday, October 20
Friday, October 17We left Curecanti yesterday morning and made the drive to Salida so we could dump, restock and post some blog updates. The Four Seasons RV Park was pretty empty when we arrived – not even the operators were present. We got phone instructions for where to park and what to pay. We picked a cheaper site ($35) since it was only an overnighter. In the morning, we covered the 90 mile drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was surprisingly busy for a Friday, so we pulled into the first site in loop 1 we though would be suitable just to hold while checked a little more closely. We were going to be here for at least 5 days, so we wanted a site that would give us a great view and be as close to the dunes as possible. After unhooking the Rav, I turned the ignition to move it – nothing. Somehow the battery had lost sufficient charge in the 2 hours it took to get here. It should last hours longer before dropping below the ignition threshold. I’ve probably let it drop too low to often and now it is not able to hold a charge as long. May be time for a new battery.
What to do? I could have driven the LD around the loop again and jump started the car, but I thought I’d see if the portable solar panel could do the job. I pulled it out, set it up and attached the leads to the Rav battery. Nothing. So it obviously cannot provide enough cranking power straight off. I left it to charge while we moved the LD to another site we liked better. About a 1/2 hour later I went back to check on the Rav. It started right up. Good to know I can charge car batteries this way. It seems to be able to hold the charge, but the true test will be if it is dead again after our get-away drive in 5 days.
Saturday, October 18
Really, the best way to experience and photograph the dunes is to get up there for dawn. The whole front side of the dunes are usually covered with footprints from visitors coming from the Visitor Center, so getting to the top means being able to photograph the back side which are usually nearly pristine in appearance. Sometimes you will see a tent set up in the distance on the backside. No one walks much out that way after getting to the top. The high vantage point also allows for better views of the dunes with sun streaming across them.
I didn’t really want to get up pre-dawn our first day here to climb the dunes, but since there were no clouds I figured I should do it now. The next several days could be cloudy and that would spoil much of what I wanted to do here. Also, it being Saturday, the visiting crowds would be all over the dunes soon, leaving footprints everywhere.
Mary choose to stay in the warm bed. It was clear, very cold and still quite dark when I opened the LD door. In order to get to, or near, the top by sunrise, it’s important to get going a good hour before. It’s a 700’ slog to the top, but the reward is an amazing sunrise experience.Leaving the campground, I could only just make out the trail in the dim morning light. I followed the trail down to the now flowing Medano Creek. The creek runs all along the front perimeter of the dunes, and is rarely more that a couple of inches deep. It does tend to spread out over the flat sand and is rarely more than a couple of inches deep. It is an easy task to walk across to the dunes. This is only the 2nd time since the 80’s we’ve been here while it was flowing. Usually by this time of the year, it has sunk underground or just plain dried up. Early abundant rain and snowfall this year has accounted the increased flow.As I stepped out into the creek, I could hear crunching sounds. Ice had formed in many of the eddies. I wanted to linger here, but it was getting light and I had ground to cover. I picked out my route up the dune while sitting in the campground the evening before, and was actually able to roughly follow it to the top. There were plenty of rest stops along the way as I tried to cool my burning lungs.. Much of the dune areas are actually quite firm for walking, but there are still lots of soft sand and steep areas that will get the heart pumping. I got pretty near the top in enough time to recover from the last push to the top and set up for my first images. As the sun rises over the mountain peaks, it throws light across the dunes from west to east, and as it does, the dunes start to light up. From here it was just a matter of point and shoot. I look for interesting combinations of light and shadow, form and movement. I walked the spine of several dunes along the top, stopping and photographing often. It is great to be up here alone to just take it all in. I took moments every so often just to look at the amazing views and wonder at the sensual shapes of the landscape. After a while, I could see others beginning to make the climb, and decided it was time to come back down.
We relaxed in camp till mid afternoon, then went over to the dune area near the visitor center to see what it was like. Loads of people around, all playing in the creek, or climbing the dunes. It made for some interesting images that show the scale of these sand piles. When the late afternoon light broke through the clouds, the cottonwoods also lit up, but soon, the clouds took over again and everything was in shadow. Saturday, October 19We wee up fairly early this morning and decided to take the 4-wheel route out to the Sand Pit parking area of the dunes. Fewer people come out this way, so the dunes tend to be in nicer shape. This can be a really interesting area to photograph when the creek is running, so we spent a couple of hours walking up and down the waterway looking for images, but strangely, it was less interesting than previous visits.
The road is also a horse trail to the backcountry and we watched as several groups of horse riders made their way upstream and over the dunes. We were soon back in camp for a nice breakfast before getting ready for our planned hike up to Mosca Pass.
Mosca Pass trail is one of the few in the park. It starts just off the main road and runs up a canyon of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Though not terribly steep at any one point, it does rise 1400’ in 3.5 miles. I really expected this to be a busy trail today, but we met only one other couple the entire day – and they came down from a parking area at the top! Where the trail eventually breaks out into several long meadows, we found leafless aspen and wonderfully glowing cottonwoods tangled in the steep canyon. The meadow grasses also glowed and were backlit just right against the dark shadowed bank of trees. We stopped before making it to the pass, but from experience we knew this spot was the highlight of the hike. We headed back down and marveled at some of the views we’d missed on the way up.
Once back in camp, I noticed from our site how the sun was beginning to break out through the clouds that have hovered over the dunes most of the day. The wind was up as well. This caused sand to really fly out there. It was creating some great lighting situations, so I sat down in my camp chair, put on the 300 mm lens and started aiming at the dunes. They looked so different this evening than earlier ones. Out on the plain, dust devils spun. It was also nice to see all the previous days footprints being erased. Now I really want to climb them again.
Prepare yourself for another long post. Due to lack of decent cell/internet coverage, We’ve been unable to post any updates for the last several days. Take it in small doses, there’s a lot of photos.
Thursday, October 9
The short drive from Erickson campground to the Redstone area was pretty uneventful but very scenic. We could see the foliage was also in great shape all the way up to McClure Pass, where we drove through the campground up there again just to check it out. Lovely as ever and completely deserted. How I’d love to stay here a few days again, but we have chores to do and the tanks, while not full, need to be emptied soon.
We decided on the Redstone KOA. We’ve avoided KOA’s lately because they are usually the most expensive RV parks around, but there is little choice around here right now, and it’s better than driving further into town when we can get everything done here except grocery shop. I made a wrong turn too early when I didn’t read the KOA sign fully, and ended up on a dirt road dead end street – haven’t done that in a while. Had to disconnect to turn around, but the KOA was just 400 ft. further up 133, so we just drove separately to the park. At $34, it is pricy, but it has a laundry and is in a very nice setting along the Crystal River. We got everything done we needed to, and were now ready for the next few days of leaf peeping.
Friday, October 10
In the morning, we moved 15 miles from the KOA to another forest service campground called Redstone. This is one of the few that have water and electric hookups in one of the loops. There are quite a few very open sites and it is in a beautiful setting. We were a little confused about the cost per night - $36 if you want electricity! I thought it looked like perhaps the forest service and contracted to a private vendor to run the campground and that probably meant no discounts – that Mary’s geezer pass wouldn’t work here. Mary insisted we should only give $18 because nothing was stated to the contrary.
We had all afternoon open to us, so we took a drive to the town of Marble. The town gets it’s name for a quarry way up on the mountain behind it. All through town you will see large blocks of white marble used in countless ways, both practical and creative ways. Sometimes, it just looks like that’s where the block landed.We moved through town as fast as the 15 MPH limit would allow. Driving around the edge of a very reflective lake, we stopped for some images and to admire this amazing scene. But we wanted to get up higher for better views of the surrounding mountains, so we reversed course and headed back through town, up the narrow dirt road to where the quarry resides. Once leaving town, the road rises sharply up the mountain. We got nice views of the sedgy beaver ponds outside of town, and a little higher up the views began to open up even more. Much of the lower part of the road is lined with trees that block the best of the views, but as we moved higher, the trees parted and an amazing panoramic of the valley was before us. We sat and watched in awe as a rain shower moved through.
It was mostly overcast with intermittent light rain. Breaks in the clouds would allow sunshine to get through to light up portions of the mountains and hillsides. This was pretty nice, but just a little more sun getting through in the foregrounds of my images would have been nice.We drove up to a parking area for hikers and hunters. Our goal was coffee. This spot sits at the furthest, highest view site on the mountain. It overlooks an entire canyon full of aspen and mountain views in the distant. We sat and sipped for a time, stepped out for photos and talked with several backpacker/bow hunters. The sky wasn’t looking like it would lighten any time soon, so we decided to head back.
Back in camp, we got a visit from the Camp Host. She said we owed more for camping. So the geezer pass isn’t good here? “Oh yes”, she says, “The senior pass gets you 50% off the camp fee, but the electric fee ($5) is not discounted”. So we owed another $2.50 for a total of $20.50. Still, good enough for being where we are with lots of heavy cloud cover and cold temps.
Saturday, October 11
Today was supposed to be the nicest of the week. What that turned out to be was lingering clouds and fog hovering in the low valleys. We got out quickly and were on our way up to McClure Pass to see how things look. Fog usually dissipates quickly once the sun is up, so by the time we got the 5 miles up to the top, much was already gone. Still, there was plenty to gawk at and photograph. Our main destination for today was an improved dirt road named Buzzard Divide. In 2012, we found this backroad (actually CR 265) but only followed it for 5 miles or so. The foliage was gone by then, and while the landscape was really nice, the lack of color convinced us to turn back. This time though, tree color is still great.
We almost turned back before even starting. We pulled onto the road, and were faced with easily 40 large semi trucks with trailers lined up along the side of the narrow road. A bunch of the drivers were huddling in one spot, so we stopped to ask what was going on. Fracking we were told.
It’s not much of a cross section I guess, but Mary and I talked with a local couple we met while goofing around in McClure Campground. He felt the fracking companies have been “good neighbors” in the time they have been there. Yes, the trucks lined up and rumbling down the road are annoying, but one of the things they also do, is provide funds to keep the McClure Campground open. As much as I love this spot, I think it probably not worth the potential damage it may do.
Driving the road was a dream. A few potholes here, a few muddy areas there, but all in all, a great road to drive. It first runs through some beautiful ranch and pasture land. Eventually the road rises and begins to twist and turn up into the surrounding mountains where bunches of aspen greeted us. The beauty here was that, compared to Kebler Pass, Buzzard Divide road was nearly as good, with only a handful of other cars. The still partly cloudy skis continue to cast light and shadow, changing the contours of the landscape. We stopped for long periods waiting for the light to shine on just the right leaves or tree to make the composition. It is always a challenge, and not often successful to make an image that convincingly conveys the scene. But we try.
We ran into another cow-jam a little further up the road. At first it was just a handful of cows standing in the middle of the road. They didn’t seem eager to move aside. As we sat there waiting, a few more came trotting down the road. Then a dozen more, then more still. Bringing up the rear, a couple of wranglers and a pack of dogs. They stopped right in front of us, opened the fence to the grazing area, and herded them in. We could have kept going, but after 13 miles, we turned around for the ride home. Of course, the light had changed and made every thing we’d seen before look different. An afternoon wind had come up and began blowing leaves across the road. We tried capturing it in photos, but leaves didn’t show up well.
We finished our day with our favorite ballpark food: kielbasa sandwiches, potato chips and pasta, and watching the Giants beat the Cardinals in game 1 of the NLCS.
Sunday, October 5We had a long leisurely breakfast Sunday morning. We figured the dispersed campground we are planning to stay at would be busy with picnickers or campers getting ready to clear out. The campground is officially closed, but all that means at this point in the year is the pit toilets and garbage cans will probably be locked. I didn’t really expect the place to have many people staying. We did our chores in Montrose, then headed out on the 120 mile drive.Soon we were bouncing up the dusty road to Erickson Springs, a USFS campground. A nice little spot this is. It is in a narrow part of the canyon though, so doesn’t get much sun till afternoon. There are just 16 sites, a pit toilet and water (turned off). Most of the sites are short-ish and too much under cover of trees or brush, but 3 or 4 toward the back of the loop are open enough to get good afternoon sun to the panels. I could even get a satellite signal to watch the Giants WIN their series! Erickson is located just off CR 12, and sits at the base of the West Elk Mountains and Kebler Pass. It is a perfect location for a base. Just 4.5 miles up the road, the show begins with panoramic views of aspen and mountains. We can get into the mountains early, or stay late and not worry too much about animals on the road.
We arrived to discover the campground to be completely empty. We had our choice of sites and quickly found the one most open to the sky. Having the portable panel has come in very handy here as well. The afternoon was quite, clear and warm and we just sat out for a while. Tomorrow we make our first run over Kebler Pass.
Monday, October 6
A perfectly sunny day greeted us this morning. In the canyon it felt predawn, but looking up the mountainside on either side it was definitely post. We were up quickly-ish and out the door. As we headed up the hill, we wondered what the mountainsides would look like. There are few aspen down at camp level, so we really didn’t know what shape the foliage would be in. We’d heard last weekend was peak, and saw that Silverton was past, but were blown away when we hit the first overlook. Thick swaths of yellows, golds, browns, oranges, and even greens for as far as we could see. We are here AT peak.
We spent the next 4 hours stopping, and driving and stopping. We revisited many favorite spots and found new ones to work. It’s really amazing how many photo sites we remember from last visit in 2012. We got back to camp and relaxed until the next Giants game that night – a tough loss.
Tuesday, October 7
Another early morning, up and out. Our plan was to zoom through the first 10 miles so we could have better light on the areas further back in. But that didn’t work. As opposed to yesterdays bright sunny skies, today we have some light high clouds. Having those clouds helps soften the light on the big panorama’s so we ended up shooting the same sort of scenes, but in different light, and again playing with blurs.
We also planned to be out all day. We would drive the 30 miles to Crested Butte, do a few internet catch-ups (I forgot to mention Erickson has no connectivity). Crested Butte is an outdoor playground in summer and a ski town in winter, so it was the “quiet before the storm” in town for them right now. We had a wonderful lunch in a cafe before heading back over the mountain, only this time in afternoon light.
Again, we stopped at many familiar places, taking many of the same images, but in different light. It is going to be really tough picking out images to show. Way too many will be included. I may get sick of them myself.
Wednesday, October 8
Today we thought we would try something we hadn’t done in a while – Hike! There is a nice little trail that leaves from very near the campground. It goes for many miles, but we only wanted to do maybe 3-4. It is called the Dark Canyon hike since it runs through the deepest canyon folds, but by the time we got out, sun was reaching the bottom and lighting up both water and trees.
While the scenery is really wonderful, both high and low, the trail itself is a bit messy. It is a horse trail, but didn’t really smell like on. However, the horses tend not to care much about mud and so tromp right through the soft center of the trail. This makes extremely muddy sections that are often really difficult to get around.
That was my lasting impression of the hike in 2012. This time around, the mud holes and wet sections were still here, but much less in severity. Us both with hiking poles now also help tons – especially Mary. She virtually flew thorough some sections. We hiked up almost 2 miles before deciding to return. A nice morning.
Later in the afternoon, we wanted to do one last drive up and across the mountain. We headed up, but stopped first at a spot on the road just outside the campground. We’d been seeing this stencil on the pavement in several areas and wonder what exactly they were for. Kill spot? Pick-up spot? I don’t know, but I did enjoy the embellishment on this one.
The day became quite cloudy with moments of sunshine across the panoramas we saw again while driving through. This being our third time through, we only stopped a few times to look over scenes. It’s hard to decide when enough is enough. It’s really great just to see it all one last time.
We are moving on to another area a bit north of Kebler Pass. In 2012, our last time here, we found a forest service campground named McClure. It is situated about a mile below 10,000 ft. McClure Pass on US 133, and is in the middle of a wonderful aspen grove. Again, no services except a pit toilet, but the location is perfect for exploring either side of the mountain. Unfortunately, the weather is supposed to turn very cold and wet the next couple of days, so we decided it would be best to camp down 1,500 ft and avoid snow showers and freezing temperatures.
We will again be out of internet/cell range for a few days. More updates including our time in the McClure Pass/Marble area.
Friday, October 3
Friday dawned clear and crisp and it was time to move again. Because of the steep narrow curvedness of the Million Dollar Highway, we decided to drive separately over Red Mountain Pass and down into Ouray. Once there, we hooked up again and drove north to Ridgway State Park. Driving this route down from Silverton once again reinforced how far past peak most of the trees were, so while I would have loved to linger around this whole area another several days, it was best to move on. We drove passed Ridgway SP 2 years ago on our last aspen tour and thought it looked like a nice central spot to camp while we explored the surrounding mountain roads. The sites are widely spaced and include electricity, nearby water and a dump for $20 per night. There are several loops in this campground – all were hardly populated. We talked with a ranger at the visitor center who gave us an update on road conditions and made some recommendations for drives. We cross-referenced those with what Mary has collected and decided on CR 7 for an afternoon look. We had to drive up almost 7 miles through a rural landscape before the color started getting nice and the views nicer. Eventually we came round a bend and saw one of the iconic views in the area. Mt. Sneffels looming over a beautiful aspen encrusted valley and pasture. A few horses completed the scene in the foreground. Unfortunately, this time of day makes the light too harsh for great images, so we continued on. There were quite a few nice groves along the way, and as we often do, we stopped whenever the muse struck. We headed back earlier than we might have. We both wanted to watch Game 1 of the National League Wildcard playoff game. The Giants just barely made it into the playoffs and have to play the best team in the National League – The Washington Nationals. They won resoundingly!
Saturday, October 4
I was pretty sure the backroads would be crammed with leaf peepers today, it being Saturday, but much to our relief, there was relatively little traffic on our chosen route of Owl Creek Pass. Today was going to be quite long because the route we want to take makes a long 80 mile loop through the mountains, then back down highway 50 through Montrose and back to camp in Ridgway. We decided to wait until about the halfway point before deciding to turn around or continue on and do the loop. We got an early start and headed up the mountain. Bright sunlight meant we had to be a little more resourceful for make interesting photos. Backlighting was the best option, but I would also tend to walk into a grove to photograph so that the harsh light would be diffused in the tree canopy. The road was in pretty good shape despite recent bouts of rain and snow up here. There were a few wet patches and mud/pot holes, but it was easy to drive all the way. And the scenery just kept getting better. We made thea decision to drive the loop back to camp, and we continued on all the way around back US 50.By now it was mid afternoon and the light was beginning to get nice again. We stopped often of course, but also looked at other things beside trees. We found interesting ice formations along the road, and played with camera motion to blur trees and light. It is pretty easy to use up the day like this. But all good things end, so soon we were descending back down to highway level and zooming home. We will be pretty much out of touch for a few days. Here in the Kebler area, there is no phone/internet connections. To post our blogs and check email, we came into Crested Butte for the day.
Sunday, September 28 Today we set out of Colorado. Durango to be specific. Rain showers are supposed to be moving in, and the early morning sunrise gave way to quickly overcast skies. We were packed up and out of Bandelier by our usual 10 AM departing time and on the road. It was easy going for a while, but we could see the rain up ahead as we drove further north, and in no time we were in it. Rain always makes driving a little more stressful, but when it’s a 230 mile driving day, it gets worse. By the time we reached Durango, I was a grouchy as a new 60 year old has a right to be.
We first pulled into the county fairgrounds, looking for a place to stay. No go. There was no one in the administration building to talk with, no RV’ers parked anywhere in any of the lots to ask, and nothing to give a clue as to where we should park. So much for the cheap camping. We decided to stay at one of the RV parks around town. We stopped at Alpen Rose, about 6 miles north of town. We’ve stayed there before and it was fine. This time, all the unoccupied lower sites were flooded from the thundershowers. All the rest were up in the trees. It being Sunday, we wanted satellite for watching the season ending episodes of a couple of shows we watch. We decided to stay at the United Campgrounds, a little closer to town. Five bucks more, but we were right next to the Silverton train and the Animas River. Even though there were trees here also, I was pretty sure it was open enough to get a signal on the dish. Nope. I must have just been on the edge. But there was a very nice laundry right near our site, and we were only going to be here a couple of days for chores, so it was alright. We ended the day watching the trains rumble through the campground on their way back from Silverton.
Monday, September 29
Still raining, so Mary did the laundry and grocery shopping. We worked up a list of thing to do. We both needed haircuts, I wanted new hiking poles for my birthday (the freebie’s from Jim & Gayle had come to the end of their lives), and we needed propane. I also wanted to check out Open Shutter Photography Gallery. I met Margy Dudly, the owner, at the Santa Fe portfolio reviews and she’d offered me a show in one of the 2 galleries in her space. But things did not go smoothly.
We set out in the afternoon, first for haircuts. The Great Clips Mary had found no longer existed. Walmart had a shop and was right next door, but the wait there would be an hour and a half for the first appointment. But she did give us coupons. We found another salon, but the first appointment wouldn’t have been till 6 PM. Only one person on duty at each. On to hiking poles. The big beautiful REI that I remembered being here was not. What was in its place, was now a Big 5 or something like that. They only had really cheap poles. The other large sports store had exactly the same poles. We moved on to Open Shutter.
This worked out better. Located in a prime location of Main Street, she has a big beautiful space with loads of walk-in street traffic. Margy toured us around the gallery and showed us what she had in mind for my Nomads work. It is a smaller separate space, but well lit and open for easy browsing. The show may be as much as a year off in the future, but it will be nice! We also managed to find a nice little local sports store right across the street from the gallery where I found some acceptable poles. Now we just have to find some trails. Not necessarily and easy task with all the rain. We finished the day at the liquor store where Mary was NOT pleased with the prices. On the plus side, there was cake for evening dessert.
Tuesday, September 30
The skies were partially clearing this morning as we packed up getting ready to head up to Silverton. We’d finally found propane at a CoOp near the south end of town, but since we were on the north end, we had to drive all the way through and out of town to get there. But we were done now and headed up. More rain showers were predicted for later, but mostly it was just gray. As soon as we started rising, the aspens began looking good. We were a little worried the storms of the past 2 days would wreak havoc on the fall color, but here, it was looking great. The ride up was a thrilling blend of twisty roads and brilliant color and really sweetened our moods. We reached Silverton and dropped the RV at the visitor to check out campgrounds. Don & Dorothy Malpas told me about their favorite dispersed campground just outside of town, so that was our first – and last – stop. It is a lovely location that has plenty of wide open spots to park. We backed the Lazy Daze right up to Mineral Creek and enjoyed the views all around us and the sound of the rushing creek. Thanks D & D! As soon as we were set-up, we were back out on the road to retrace our ride up on 550 in the RAV. We drove back toward Durango for about 15 miles, stopping often for pictures. It was very cloudy, but sun peeked out occasionally. If you’ve read my blogs in the past, you know how much I prefer this. You don’t get the brilliant backlit colors so much, but my preference has always been the more subtle pastels that can be achieved with the even lighting clouds provide. It can backfire when the clouds get too heavy and dark – then everything just gets dull. We found plenty of great spots to stop and photograph, but as we progressed further down the mountain, it got progressively cloudier, so we turned around and headed back to camp. Turns out, the best lighting was all around the Silverton area. The low temperature for the evening was supposed to be 18˚, so we piled on our extra queen sized sleeping bag half and prepared ourselves for a cold night. It was actually too much because it never got that cold.
Wednesday, October 1Upon waking, we found the inside temp to be 45˚ – cold, but not that bad. The reason was the evening clouds hung around and actually dropped about an inch of snow on the ground. As much as I wanted to stay under the covers, I just had to get up to photograph the camp. I was rewarded with some great moody lighting on the mountains and a nice little rainbow right in camp. It was supposed to stay cloudy with an 80% chance of showers later in the day, so we were up and out to photograph the Silverton/Ouray side of US 550. Again, it started out mostly cloudy with occasional breaks of sun, but as we got up over the pass, it got cloudier. Much of the foliage was past peak around Silverton, but after getting up over the pass, we began seeing trees in better condition.
We found a couple of extraordinary mountainsides covered in turing aspen. For a good while, the lighting was dramatic once again. Occasional snow showers would send us scurrying back to the warmth of the car and our coffee cups, but we were out again as soon as the snow diminished and our fingers thawed. I know that doesn’t exactly sound like fun to many, but we just love being out in this kind of weather – as long as warmth is close at hand. When we hit the long canyon road down to Ouray, the fog got really thick – like 20’ visibility thick. There wasn’t much point in continuing like this, so we turned around and headed back. The afternoon rain (and thunder/lighting) had picked up, and up on the pass, snow had begun to accumulate on the road. It was looking slippery, so we were both happy to be getting down lower to our camp. Again, back at camp, the sun was still peaking out, but soon, even here it was more rainy than sunny. Tomorrow is supposed to be clear. We shall see.
Thursday, October 2
It was actually colder last night. We were still cozy warm inside, but with not a cloud in the sky now, the outside temps must have been in the low 20’s – judging by the thick ice coating on the RAV anyway. I had to move it into the sun to thaw it out. We also had a little problem with the generator starting up. It would turnover and begin to start up, then kind of weakly run for 30 seconds, then stop, leaving a blinking green light error on the panel. I feared it was the dreaded cracked fuel line that so many LD’er deal with. It continued to do this for several more attempts, until we just left it alone for awhile. Looking at the LD manual, I relearned about the altitude adjustment on the generator. We have never camped at 9000’ ft. before, so it seemed probable this was the problem. I decided to try starting it up again before messing with any controls and viola’, it started right up. We’d also been having problems with getting the burners to light with the ignition nobs. Both problems are altitude related I believe.So for our morning drive, we decided to go once again drive the Silverton/Durango side of US 550 again – this time in full beautiful sunlight. While the sun did provide wonderful warmth, it also wreaked the lighting on the hills. I think many of the leaves had also fallen, because it certainly looked much less dense than 2 days before. A little disappointing, but still a nice drive and look see. After stopping in Silverton for a few items, we were back in camp for a couple of hours, then headed out again to look over the Ouray/Silverton side of US 550 again. We keep retracing our earlier routes because many of the off road routes we might have taken are a bit too muddy for our RAV. The results here again were disappointing. The sun is just not workin’ for us right now, plus this side now looks rather spent. I think we are ready to move on to the Ridgway area a little further north.
Friday, September 26From Santa Fe to Bandelier National Monument is only about 45 miles, so we had another short driving day. We haven’t been here in quite a few years, but it has been a longtime favorite for hiking and scenery. We noticed as we got close that changes had occurred. Several miles before we arrived, we started seeing the Shuttle Only warning signs for getting into the canyon – that no cars were allowed in anymore. At 6 miles before the entrance was a big new visitor center, complete with a large concrete parking lot/RV park.
Talking with a volunteer inside, we learned about the flood of 2013. Because of a devastating fire that burned 75% of the upper canyon watershed, there was nothing to slow down and absorb the thunderstorm waters that were dumped on the area one afternoon. As a result, the rather diminutive Frijoles river that runs down the canyon to the Rio Grande, became a thundering torrent taking out much of the parking and picnicking areas that lined the stream around the visitor center. It also took out the bridges that led to those areas.We were dismayed, but not deterred. We also learned that it was still possible to drive in before 9 AM and 3 PM. Another option is to hike down to the canyon – about 700’ – from the Juniper campground on the canyon rim near the entrance to the park, then take the shuttle out. I like that option for times when we would stay for more than 2 days. We motored on to the campground and felt lucky to find a nice space to stay. There is water and a dump station and the sites are not too close together. There are quite a few sites in the 3 loops of spaces, but only a small number of larger level sites that would accommodate us. Most were already taken. This campground has usually been empty when we’ve been here before.
On Saturday, we loaded up the car with hiking gear and lunches and headed down to the canyon. It’s a short but scenic drive with a couple of turnouts to stop for views. Our goal was to hike the Main Loop trail that passes the cliff dwellings, then on to the Alcove House trail. We’ve done this hike many times, and always enjoy it. This portion of the trail was unaffected by the flood. The damage was really evident along the river trail up to the kiva. What was once a nice meandering shady tree-lined stream with lovely oak, elm and pine, was now a scoured muddy mess. There is so much stream damage and debris, I don’t think the park service will ever be able to clear it all out. Because of the long period the burn scar will take to repair itself, I don’t think they even plan on much in the way of repairs for quite some time. The area is now too prone to repeat floods. We hiked on to the Alcove Kiva, about another 1/2 mile up the canyon. To reach the kiva, you must climb a series on wood ladders up a steep cliff. Two of the ladders are quite long, but as long as you don’t look down, it’s really not scary. Upon reaching the top, we discovered even more changes. It used to be possible to climb down into the kiva. There really wasn’t much in there, but it made for a nice photograph of sun beaming into the space from the rooftop entrance. Not anymore. A sign warns about walking on the roof of the kiva. It is still a wonderful view from the alcove, so we sat and enjoyed the quiet of this special place.
After climbing down again, we though we’d continue up the canyon trail a while to see how the upper canyon faired during the flood. What we saw was not encouraging. In place of an pleasant meandering path, we now had to negotiate around huge tree snags – some as high as 10’. The path is overgrown in many places and now requires quite a few stream crossings and scrambling. Maybe at some point the park service will get around to repairing this as well, but I tend to doubt it.So our stay was a little disappointing. It is still very nice here, but options for hiking have been impacted. The Falls trail that goes from the visitor center down the canyon to the Rio Grande, has be halved by the flood. It used to pass two waterfalls, but now ends at Upper Falls. At about that point, the trails moved closer to the river, and so it was also scoured from existence. I’m sure we will return in the future, and it will be interesting to see if the park comes back or continues to suffer damage from future storms.
It’s off to Durango and Colorado now for us. We look forward to several weeks of fall color in the mountains of southwestern portion of the state.