Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Great Colorado Trip (finally)

I finally have the whole trip blogged and all of my photos uploaded. I thought indexing the posts here might make it easier to read. Enjoy!


Day 1: Go west, young woman! (Denver to Alamosa)

Day 2: "Down New Mexico way, something about the open road" (Alamosa to Chama)

Day 3: Iron horses and wild horses (Chama to Mesa Verde)

Day 4, Part One: Mesa Verde, the Museum (Mesa Verde National Park)

Day 4, Part Two: In the footsteps of the Anasazi (Mesa Verde National Park)

Day 4, Part Three: Pots and baskets and jewelry, oh my! (Mesa Verde and Cortez)

Day 5: Coyote is waiting (Cortez to Teec Nos Pos to Telluride to Durango)

Day 6, Part One: "San Juan Scenic Byway" is an understatement (Durango to Silverton)

Day 6, Part Two: The Million Dollar Highway (Silverton to Grand Junction)

Day 7: Colorado River Country (Grand Junction to Golden)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Colorado River Country

The last day of my week-long trip through Colorado took me across the northwestern part of the state from Grand Junction to Denver along I-70, considered to be one of the country's top engineering marvels by the US Department of Transportation. And given the often challenging terrain it traverses, that's no surprise. The road follows the Colorado River valley much of the way before climbing up into the Rockies and over the Continental Divide.

Mt. Garfield dominates the skyline as you drive east out of Grand Junction.

The road then winds north, following the meandering Colorado River towards its headwaters high in the Rockies. 


The Colorado River valley is broad and green, bordered by rolling hills to the north and south. The dichotomy between the terrain from one side of the road to the other is fascinating.

To the north/west, the hills are more arid.
To the south/east, the vegetation is much more lush.
Gradually, the hills close in on either side as you approach the spectacular Glenwood Canyon stretch of I-70. Completed only in 1992, it was the last part of the transcontinental interstate system to be opened to traffic. The narrow canyon was first traversed by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in the late 1800s to provide a corridor to parts west without having to take long detours through passes in either Wyoming or New Mexico.

The Union Pacific still operates on the tracks on the south
bank of the river.
After some political wrangling, the Glenwood Canyon route was secured for traffic as well, and the engineers who built it did their best to preserve the natural beauty of the canyon. 

To do so, and because to the narrowness of the canyon itself, several special measures were taken
such as tunnels...

and elevated roadways.

The walls of the canyon rise well over 1000 feet above the river.
My pictures can't really convey how awe inspiring Glenwood Canyon is, so check out this fantastic dash cam video by Cosmo Photography of a drive through the canyon.


One of the best features of the canyon, besides its incredible beauty of course, is a pedestrian/bike trail that runs beside the river for 16 miles between the towns of Dotsero and Glenwood Springs (incidentally, the final resting place of Doc Holliday). I am looking forward to the day when I can ride that trail and pay my respects to one of the most colorful characters of the Old West.

At Dotsero, the Colorado River makes a hairpin bend to the north, but the road continues east following a tributary, the Eagle River. The land flattens out into a broader valley, but the elevation continues to rise.


Before too long, snow capped peaks appeared on the horizon.


We passed through several ski resorts such as Edwards, Eagle, and Vail, and we were impressed by the amount of snow still on the ground even in late May. I was also interested to see more  pedestrian/bike trails that followed the highway between the towns.

Near Vail Pass (elevation 10,662 feet)

By driving through the Eisenhower Tunnel, we crossed over Loveland Pass as well as the Continental Divide at 11,992 feet, the highest point in our trip through Colorado.


We continued east, but made a few detours along the way in several mining towns.

The Silver Plume museum
An ore cart
We stopped at an overlook above the Georgetown Loop and were accosted by this extremely friendly chipmunk.


The Georgetown Loop is a stretch of narrow gauge track between the towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume. The towns themselves are only about 2 miles apart, but the tracks traverse a big loop of about 4.5 miles in order to make the climb of 600 feet in elevation to Silver Plume.

The bottom of the loop, a spectacular trestle bridge
Finally, at the Georgetown welcome center, we found a big horn sheep. Not quite what we had in mind when we traveled through Big Horn Sheep Canyon earlier in the week, but beggars can't be choosers.

And a mountain lion for good measure.

We checked out a few antique stores in town and the local trading post to look at Navajo jewelry before getting back in the car. This part of Colorado was part rich in gold and silver, and a number of mining structures still exist.


Past Georgetown, we turned off I-70 onto US Highway 6 which follows Clear Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River.While not as deep as Glenwood Canyon, it was equally picturesque.

For perspective, that rock was bigger than our van.
As with other places in Colorado, the old railroad roadbed along Clear Creek has been converted into a trail for walking, biking, etc.


The road took us past the Coors Brewery, by which Clear Creek runs, so they're really not kidding about mountain fresh water. (I can't say for sure of course; I never acquired a taste for beer. But they do have an amazing location.)


To close out the day, we stopped at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden. Originally founded in 1958 in Alamosa to preserve Colorado's history (which was largely driven by the railroads), the collection includes rolling stock such as engines, boxcars, cabooses, etc; old railway records; and various equipment. The museum also boasts an excellent, interactive HO-scale layout as well as an impressive bookshop.
Galloping Goose #7

One of many neat items preserved by the museum, a sign from the long-gone
Lizard Head Pass depot/section house.
Absolute heaven for an avid railfan like my dad.
Golden really is a neat town. I can't wait to go back!
One last bit of CO public art.
And a hazy farewell to the Rockies. Until next time!
I was very sad to reach the end of my extraordinary, life-altering week-long trip. I wanted to turn around and do it all over again---see more places, climb more mountains, explore more out of the way corners of the southwest. As a friend of mine put it, you end up leaving a piece of your heart there. But the good thing is that you carry away a piece of the landscape with you in your memory and soul. No matter how long you're away, it's there, waiting to be looked at and remembered and yearned for. The more I go back, the more sure I am that Colorado and the southwest is where I belong.

The trip also made me finally realize not only where I wanted to be but what I wanted to be. I'm not there yet in either aspect, but I hope to be soon. As John Muir once wrote, "the mountains are calling and I must go."