2017 Sept 3 – Durango, CO to Montrose, CO

I have intended to showcase two very clever geocaches that we have found but the photos were on my phone and I kept forgetting to put them on my computer. Tonight I remembered so here they are:

This cache was hidden in these pipes behind the trash container at a Chinese restaurant in Pagosa Springs.

And this one was found as we were leaving Pagoso Springs to drive to Durango.   Such clever, clever people.  Oh, and I loved this tiny ammo can that was hanging in plain sight on a tree in the parking lot of a gas station.  Now for the bad news – depending on your point of view.  We had one of the most scenically beautiful days I have ever experienced. During all of our travels around the world – and especially around Canada and the USA – we have seen some glorious vistas.  Today driving through the mountain passes of the San Juans from Durango to Montrose (a distance of just over 107 miles) we were constantly in awe at the beauty and grandeur we saw around every corner.  Consequently I took more photos today than I did yesterday.  And since I primarily write this blog for my own enjoyment and armchair travels for my sister I can put as many of them in my blog as I choose.  (I did try to be a bit discriminating honest).

Highway 550 north takes you up through Silverton where we went on the steam train yesterday but the scenery is completely different and instead of being low following the course of the Animas River you go over the mountain on the other side of the river.

We stopped just out of Durango to find a geocache and I almost stepped on this little lizard.  He was tiny, only about an inch and a half long. The steam train traveled 45 miles up to Silverton, the same distance as the highway even though the routes are so different. The train took 3 1/2 hours.  We left Durango at 10 and arrived in Silverton at 12:30 – about an hour after the train arrived.  We drove through the Coal Bank Pass.  The pass is difficult to keep open in winter due to the 300+ inches of snow they get each year. We stopped at many of the pull outs and look outs and spent some time at the Molas Pass summit finding a cache hidden in a tree. There were a few caches on the side road to Molas Lake and we found the first one but the rest of the road had too many rocks and potholes to take Poppy.  I don’t know if these two chaps were getting ready to leave for an extended hike or had just returned from one but they had lots of gear and containers they were sorting. A few miles out of Silverton we caught up with a long line of traffic that turned out to the result of a construction zone.  It took about a half hour to get to the area that was being widened and there was no one working on the Sunday but the automatic stop lights were controlling the traffic. There were very few vehicles coming through from the other side and a very long line going our way.

It was a nice view of Silverton to come in from the high mountain side. We didn’t take the turn into town since we had been there yesterday but we did take the turn off on the other side of town to go half a mile up a gravel road to see the Miner’s Shrine that had been erected on the hill overlooking Silverton. We had been told that the Italian miners had a piece of Carrera marble sent from Italy to be used for the statue of Christ for safety of the miners. There was a nice view of Silverton from the shrine.  Silverton, due to its high elevation only gets about 30 frost-free days per year. Environmental Protection Agents did not listen to the advice of local miners – to drill a small test hole – before using some heavy equipment to do testing on water build-up in the 100 miles of tunnels of the Sunnyside mine.  The result was that nearby Lake Emma drained into the tunnels.  Thankfully it was a Sunday and no one was working so there were no injuries or deaths.

The rocks making up the wall at the shrine clearly show the results of all the minerals in the rocks. Between Silverton and Ouray (pronounced U-ray) we saw many of the old mines and mine buildings. The road between Silverton and Ouray is called the Million Dollar Highway due to the high mineral content of the gravel used in grading the road (and also the high cost of its construction). This passage of road is a series of S-curves.  John, of course, had fun. There was a photo of this stretch of road in one of the tourist booklets.  It was taken in the fall when all the aspen were in their fall glory but it shows what the road looked like. Not long after we negotiated all the curves we came to the Red Mountain Mines area.  There was an information pull-out so we went to read all the placards.There are three Red Mountains. The furthest northward (on the left) one is Red Mountain #2, the one that you can see the least of at the back is #1 and the one on the right is #3. The Aspen trees are beginning to change colour and every once in awhile there would be some lovely pockets of bright yellow.  Something we learned on our train ride yesterday was that, until recently, Aspen groves were considered the largest living organisim on earth.  There is one grove that covers 1 1/2 acres (recently a type of fungus that grows from a single ‘root’ was discovered in Oregon and it covers over 4 acres).  An Aspen grove is not comprised of individual trees, rather it is one tree that sends out many underground shoots to create new trees. This is why Apsens are one of the first trees to re-grow after a forest fire.  They have so many underground root shoots that even if the large center trees are destroyed new ones will soon start to grow.  Our narrator on the train called them Family Trees with the Grandparents in the center, parents a bit further out and the children, the youngest, smallest trees at the outer edge. We had been getting small looks at a golden yellow creek that ws running beside the road.  Finally there was a spot to pull over where the creek was near the road.  This is why you do not drink the creek or river water in SW Colorado; it is full of all kinds of minerals and chemicals from mine tailings.

Beside the yellow Bear Creek on this side of the road was a clear stream flowing into it from the little lake just up a bank and a few yards away. (I wouldn’t drink it either) We continued through the mountains and into the Bear Creek Pass, which was cut out of solid rock at a cost of about $10,000 per mile in the late 1880’s. Bear Creek Falls dropped several hundred feet straight down a rock wall.   If you look closely you can see the cut of the road across the middle of the mountain in the background and on the left side about middle distance. This is the only tunnel and there was only the one show shed as well.  The plows must really work long hours in the winter to keep the road open.

At the overlook just before we dropped down into Ouray we met three local fellows that had just come home from the Four Corners Motorcycle Rally in Durango. They officially greeted us to Ouray.  We had a really nice chat with them.  I asked if they had a welcome goodie bag and they said no, but I could have a beer.  I said if I liked beer I would be happy to have one. The rocks are now a purplish hue.  Ouray is noted as a Victorian town.  Many of the buildings of that era are still in use and have been beautifully restored.  Ouray is also home to a box canyon on one edge of town and a hot spring on the other.

Ice climbers come from all over the world to climb the ice on the canyon walls in winter.

The box canyon is accessed by a raised walkway attached to the sheer cliff sides.  Don’t forget to duck the low rocks.

 Look at the bridge across the top of the chasm.  Normally I would have climbed the 200+ stairs to get up there but my thighs cramp up in the middle of the night if I do a lot of stairs.  The pain is excruciating so I now avoid lots of stair climbing.

 You cannot see the waterfall.  You can certainly hear it crashing into the bottom of the canyon but the water flows down through a hole in the rock. I tried to make a vertical stitch image that would give you an idea but the rocks are so dark and the space is so tight you can’t really understand what the photo is all about.  The other one is a close-up of the only bit of water you can see where it comes out the bottom.  Really an amazing place.

 The photo on the right is the gap between the rock walls looking back down the canyon.

Ouray box canyon is a nesting site for the rare Black Swift.  They fly thousands of miles to come back to these cliffs to nest.  Most of them were gone but we could make out one flapping its wings beside a nest clinging to the far cliff wall.  Unfortunately, since the rocks are almost black and it was ina crevass on the far side I couldn’t get a clear shot even with a very high ISO.  I only put this photo in because it was there and so was I. We drove downtown and looked at the buildings before checking out the hours the museum will be open so we can come back tomorrow to go through the 28 rooms of exhibits. (I’ll bet you will be anxious to see that blog…)

 We would liked to have spent the night in Ouray but hotels here, and in Ridgway a bit further up the road, were between $600 and $400 per night.  We are spending two nights in Montrose, 30 miles up the road at $136 per night. I don’t want to buy the room, I just want to sleep in it.

As we left Ouray and journeyed north to Montrose the rocky cliffs disappeared and were replaced by bluffs and valley bottom farm land.

What an amazing day! The weather was perfect, the scenery was spectacular, dinner was really good and I finally finished my blog.  It is after midnight and after by bed time.  More adventures to come tomorrow.  I love to travel!

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