OUR FINAL WEEK - COLORADO, UTAH, NEVADA
Monday Sept 26
From the reservoir at Taylor Park, we head west down a lovely canyon to Almont in central Colorado where we
turn right on Rt 135 heading north for Crested Butte.
Just outside Created Butte, we encounter a road repair delay where we must wait for a half hour to pass thru a mudslide they are repairing near the top of the Kebler Pass. On the other side, we pass thru the most awesome aspen forest for 30 miles. Keyhole shots of Mt Gunnison at 12,719 are breathtaking.
We both take photo after photo of all we see, hearts singing the whole way! At one stop, I pull out my sketchbook and briefly sketch an inspiring vista. That evening I play with my watercolors on the sketch.
I definitely have paintings of aspen trees in my future!
Heading south towards Rt 40 between Montrose and Gunnison, we see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (River) National Park. A drive in takes us to a steep chasm craved by the massive volumes of water and magma instrusions.
Years ago, I had a fear of heights that went on for ten or so years until I finally grew out if it. Looking down brings it right back as it is so dizzying for me that my stomach flutters and my hands shake!
We head a bit east to camp along the huge reservoir east of Gunnison called Blue Mesa Reservoir. We find a campground that has two sites- a single site we take and then a gated large group campsite along the stream filled with beaver dams.
An hour later, a fellow on bicycle (it's obvious by his gear that he is doing a cross country trip) comes by. Dong is from Tianjin, China (China's third largest city after Beijing and Shanghai) and has been traveling the world by cycle for four years!! His story is amazing and we invite him to share the campground, talking into the darkness about his wondrous journeys thru South Africa, New Zealand, Iran, Tibet, and now the Americas! An IT technician, he periodically returns home to work to finance the next trip. But the road keeps calling him and soon he is off again. He's 35 and carries a load of apx 100 lbs. He has several equipment sponsors- his bike and panniers- and uses his iPhone with ATT (best coverage he says) for his route maps and instant translations from Mandarin to English. There are several bike routes for crossing the Americas on the Internet. He's been principally following the TransAmerica Route since leaving the Midwest.
Tuesday Sept 27
We spent the day driving around Ridgway and Ouray in SW Colorado and looking at properties for sale. We are so struck by the awesome vistas of the two mountain ranges of this valley. Ahead looking south (right) are the San Juan Mountains with 3 peaks over 14,000 in close association near Ouray.
To our left (SW) is the Cimmarron Range.
We are in agreement that the vistas here are the prettiest to we've ever seen. But vistas come at a steep price and we realize after some inquiries and Realtor.com that suitable housing may be out of our range! One lovely 13 acre property with an 800' log cabin rented thru VRBO, a small pump house and a couple of small outbuildings, and a stream running thru it is asking $650,000! That's $50k/acre with no suitable house on it! Yikes!
Hard to see but that's Collin on the balcony just below the yellow orb talking to another diner.
We camp at Ridgway State park where we have a lovely view of the Cimarron Range and a shower the next morning (equally important!)
Wednesday Sept 28
Our tire pressure is low on the back right tire so we return 23 miles to Montrose Big O Tires for repair and again head south on the 550 to Ridgway then Ouray. We stop to walk the short walk up Box Canyon to see the slot falls.
Box Canyon Falls
From there, it is on up and over the alps. One overlook has a large sign stating 'The Switzerland of America'. Having lived in Switzerland back in the '60s I have to agree with them.
Turning off apx 20 miles past Telluride, we hope there is a campground down the way as there was a tent sign. Seeing a fellow unloading his tri-pod to photograph, we stop to ask. He tells us of a lovely CG just a few miles further. I notice he is wearing a t-shirt I recognize. It has an old airplane on it and says 'Plein Air'. Sure enough, he is a fellow Plein air artists who bought the t-shirt at the 2013 Plein Air Convention in Monterey I also attended! Great talking with Mark Simpkins of Carbondale CO who followed a friends advice to move to Colorado 7 years ago because of his love for painting and photographing mountain scenes. We stay at the lovely Woods Lake CG that evening. It's magic and I hope to paint tomorrow morning but rain all night dashes that hope.
Thursday Sept 29
We missed going into Telluride yesterday so we head back up the 20 miles to see it. The town ends and the road goes on for a short distance into the box canyon at the end.
Barely discernible in the photo above is a long waterfall streaming down the cliff. A white building next to it has an interesting history of having originally been a hydro plant, then purchased in the 70's by a fellow who changed it into his home, living there until the 90's, when it resumed its uninhabited status and became part of state govt property.
From Telluride we head basically north towards Grand Junction along the Uncompahgre Plateau. Two years ago, my friend Suzi Long and I drove to Albuquerque for the biennial Pastel Convention (IAPS) and took this route. It was one of the best parts of the whole trip so I have convinced Collin it is an essential route (pretty easy).
At one overlook, we stop to read about the Hanging Flume that is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, it was listed in the World's Most Endangered List.
The terrain becomes red rock canyons filled with startling buttes and mesas. Suddenly- poof! - we are at Gateway Canyons, a five star resort miles from anything. It was built by the founder of the Discovery Channel and houses his Auto Museum- filled with cherried-out vintage cars, including a +$2 million highest car ever sold at auction!
To cap off another day of awesome sight-seeing, we camp at Colorado National Monument's Saddlehorn Campground. High on the plateau, surrounded by hoo-doos and balancing rocks, we look down over Grand Junction, Colo, near the border of Colorado and Utah.
Friday Sept 30
Reluctant to leave Colorado, Collin suggests we head north to Dinosaur National Monument and the Green River which later joins the Colorado River to go thru the Grand Canyon.
From there it's over towards Vernal Utah. We are blessed with another mountain range of flaming aspens!
Outside Ephraim Utah, we head up a canyon to find a small 12 site campground on a gorgeous little lake - Lake Hill CG. Grabbing a bottle of Chardonnay, two small glasses and our chairs, we perch lakeside listening to a strange drain sound. Collin explores to find the lake is fed by a spring which has a metal filter around its tap.
As the sun sets, I snap close to 20 photos of this view and wake up early to paint it the next morning!
Saturday October 1
Collin takes a hike while I dive into the scene. I love it when the name of the painting occurs to me while I'm creating it. This one is called 'Dancing Aspen'.
Realizing our journey is almost over makes me sad. Not one day of these 8 weeks has been without seeing beauty, wondering about something unfamiliar, moments of sheer ecstasy in a view, and just riding on and on, always seeking what's around the next corner!
Today we head into the High Desert of western Utah and Nevada. Going west, this next 450 miles to Carson City, NV is all Basin and Range - a seemingly endless series of north/south ranges interspersed with great wide basin valleys, all formed by the North American and Pacific plates clashing together. It extends all the way from the Sierras to the Rocky Mountains. Years ago Collin read and passed on to me John McPhee's fascinating account of this phenomena entitled 'Basin & Range'. It is a fabulous read. McPhee was a writer for the New Yorker Magazine for years. A story has it that his fellow writers felt he could make interesting any topic so they challenged him to write about a topic of their choosing. His book 'Oranges' on Florida's orange industry was the result and indeed proved the man can make any subject interesting!
At one of my favorite parks, Great Basin Ntl Park, we decide to go thru Lehman Caves. Too bad because on This Particular Saturday they are having an Astrological Festival and all cave tours are booked. On we go to Cave Lake Campground just 10 miles before Ely. There we find another excruciatingly cute mountain lake. I pick out a scene to paint the next morning as I have now decided to commit to another painting challenge - 31 Paintings in 31 Days, this one hosted by the Facebook Group 'How to Pastel'. I missed September's online one I usually do because it wasn't compatible timing with our trip but as we will be home day after tomorrow, I can still do my daily Little Gems - small size painting that I post online and sell unframed.
Sunday October 2
Brilliant sunshine and fluffy clouds greet us at daybreak. Collin takes a bike ride while I paint a scene at Cave Lake CG. Instant title again while painting - 'Mountain Flames'
When we pulled in yesterday, we met our camping neighbor, Donnie Grogan from Las Vegas. After I finish the painting, I walk down to the lakeshore where he is fishing and talking with Collin. Formerly a professional photographer but always a marvelous story-teller, I remark to him that IF we were staying another day and IF he were to catch some fish, I would happily trade my painting for a couple of trout. So happens he has two from yesterday in his freezer! It's a deal and we head back to camp where I exchange the painting for tonight's dinner!
Donnie is an Air Force Veteran disabled during the Vietnam war by Agent Orange (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for 10 yrs now-and doing surprisingly well from his look and spirit!). My dad was Air Force and we discover they were based close to each other in northern Thailand (Uban & NKP) but during different years. We spend a glorious half hour swapping stories and reluctantly leave as we have +300 miles today to reach my sister Jo in Genoa (catchy phrase!) where we started this magnificent trek on August 10th. Between us and her lie ten plus ranges and an equal number of basin valleys.
Tomorrow we will drive the final two and a half hours to our home in West Sacramento. At about four weeks into this Bucket List Trip, we were both road weary and claimed we may never go out for more than three weeks. Now, having passed thru that phase, we are both sad and happy to return to 'Normal Life'! Already we are talking about the places we want to go - which just goes to show - THE JOURNEY NEVER ENDS!