Seeking Cooler Temps…

After a quick stop at Monarch Pass, we approach the town of Gunnison.  Gunnison, Colorado, is located 200 miles southwest from Denver and sits at an elevation of 7703 feet.  Gunnison is home to Western State College.  The economic base in the area is primarily tourism, education, and ranching.

A Gunnison valley ranch

As we drive through this western town, it’s obvious ranching is big business around here.  Cowboy hats, jeans, large belt buckles, and boots are in abundance, but the surrounding area says it best.  Ranches and cattle in the Gunnison valley can be seen in all directions.  Some are absolutely gorgeous and my photography does not do it justice.

I fell in love with this barn. I would live in this barn!!!
same barn, different angle….how cool!

Hwy 50 travels through the center of Gunnison and this is where we pick up Highway 135 and head north to Crested Butte.  First we stop for lunch where Al indulges in a tasty Buffalo burger at the Palisades Restaurant. Al and his hunting buddies would frequent this place when they used to hunt the Almont triangle.

After lunch, it’s back on the road for another 28 miles before arriving at our destination.  Al and I take our time and admire the countryside and buildings.  The valley is a combination of ranches and small subdivisions.

I’m pretty sure this is what a successful Ranch operation looks like 🙂

We haven’t decided where we’ll spend the night and, since it’s the week of the “Wildflower Festival“, we aren’t sure if we’ll find an open campsite.  Prior to lunch in the town of Gunnison, we stop in at the U.S. Forest Service for some free maps and information.  The young gal is polite and friendly.  She gives us a map of the area and notes on the map potential boondock spots (i.e. dry camping, on your own, middle of no where, no facilities, you get the picture).  Al and I look around and pick up additional free maps and brochures to aid in our adventure.

Could we have made a reservation at a campground?  Of course, but then where’s the sense of adventure or freedom?  The reservation would lock us in and what if we didn’t like the spot?  No, traveling on a whim is how we like to fly these days.  Or as Al likes to say, “flying by the seat of our pants”.  😉

Al and Bear in Crested Butte

“Are we there yet?”

Crested Butte, Colorado……this is probably my favorite mountain town.  Unfortunately it’s been about ten years since we last visited Crested Butte and even then, we never had enough time to explore and do everything we wanted.  We reacquaint ourselves with the town before continuing north toward Mt. Crested Butte.

Mt. Crested Butte

Mt. Crested Butte is the name of the mountain most associated with this area, as well as the name of the community at the base of the ski slopes.  This is the area with ski-in ski-out condos and hotel lodging.  During this particular trip, we drive past the village and continue north on Gothic Road ready to explore the back country and find a campsite.  Pavement quickly turns into gravel.  Two lanes turns into a lane and a half.  We are definitely venturing into the hinter land and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

back country off Gothic Road

More on this to come….stay tuned!

On The Road Again…

downtown Crested Butte, CO

Ah yes, I hear Willie Nelson singing that infamous song “On the Road Again”.  My little Toyota Tacoma is packed and ready to roll.  Crested Butte here we come!  It’s Tuesday and Pueblo West, Colorado, is slated for another 100 degree day.  However, this morning the sky is gloomy and overcast with the occasional rain drop.  The last two days have brought rain and some flash flooding….moisture much needed.  The high temperatures and unusual humidity remind me of the midwest.

Al and I look at each other and wonder if we should postpone the trip a day.  We will be tent camping and the two of us haven’t camped together in a tent in over fifteen years.  We briefly talk and mutually agree, “Let’s get the hell out of Dodge”.  Besides once we cross the Divide, who knows what the weather will bring.

We head west taking Highway 50.  As we pass the town of Florence, we wave to the permanent guests staying at the Supermax.  The famous shoe bomber, Richard Reid and terrorist Ramzi Yousef, leader of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, are just a couple of the famous folks calling Colorado home these days.

Rafters on the Arkansas River

Then it’s onto the quaint little town of Canon City.  Just to the west of Canon City is the Royal Gorge.  It’s a tiny tourist area growing and adding attractions.  They are currently building a nine station zipline across some of the canyons in the area, not the gorge itself.  However, the gorge does offer some amazing white water rafting down the Arkansas River.  There’s a bunch of rafting companies to choose from and most offer Rafting/Zipline packages.  Rafting trips can be 1/2 day or all day depending on the adventure one is seeking.  Rafting through the gorge is the most treacherous part of the river and reserved for adults only.  Winter 2011 brought an abundance of snow to the mountains, leading to high fast waters in rivers and streams as snow melted.  Thus the gorge was temporarily closed to rafting until the water receded to safer levels.  It was too fast and furious for even the most experienced rafter, let alone the many green tourists seeking the adventure of a lifetime.  And yes, tourists do occasionally lose their life doing this…’s called extreme for a reason.  However, there are plenty of tamer rafting options just as exhilarating.  The rafting companies are very helpful in recommending a trip for ones level of comfort.  I have thus to find my comfort level.  So no, I am not speaking from experience.

rafters being instructed/briefed before embarking on their adventure

Al and I can’t wait to try the zipline once completed.  Perhaps we’ll do a rafting-zipline package.  No rafting through the gorge for me though!  The Royal Gorge Bridge is pretty cool, but I personally think the admittance price for the overall attraction is a bit pricey for what you get.  I guess it all depends on ones expectations.  Walking across the bridge should be done in a pair of tennis shoes or hiking shoes.  Leave the flip-flops and heels behind.  You’ll be walking on planks of wood with plenty of spaces/holes and it occasionally feels a little rickety.  The scenery is fabulous.

English: The Royal Gorge Bridge, from the nort...
English: The Royal Gorge Bridge, from the north parking lot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been several years since we last visited and since then they’ve changed some of the attractions.  They’ve added a canyon swing and gondola.  Last I heard, once a year they allow some extreme activities i.e. bungy jumping, base jumping.

There are a couple of campgrounds right off Hwy 50 near the Royal Gorge.  Other accommodations are so, so.  This area hasn’t been developed much and remains pretty rustic.  There are plans in the works for future development predicated on the economy.

As we continue on our drive west , Highway 50 starts to twist and turn paralleling the Arkansas River through canyons.  There are plenty of picnic areas to pull over and view rafters on the tamer parts of the Arkansas.  This is definitely a scenic drive.

A little less than two hours into our trip, we cross the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass.  The cool fresh air feels fantastic.  In thirty to forty minutes we will be in Gunnison, at which point, we will head north to the town of Crested Butte.

To be continued………

Monarch Pass, Hwy 50