July 26-August 1
Thanks to Dad my purgatory in the Grand Junction area was more reward than punishment. With his arrival on the 25th of July we had a week to see Western Colorado unfettered by a backpack. We were able to see a large chunk of country and I had a chance to rest my aches and pains. Eating regular hot meals and not sleeping on the ground were pretty nice perks as well.
1. Revisit a Monument: Dad had not seen Colorado National Monument, so since we were on the doorstep already we went there first. I've discussed the place in detail before and will not burden you with a rehash (see "Blots in the Stone").
I did glean one extra smidgeon of knowledge about Wedding Canyon, the most recently named of the Monument's canyons. John Otto's nuptials took place there, thus the appellation. The memorial to the event has already outlasted Otto's marital bliss - the union was terminated after only three short months.
2. Meet the New Arrival: The walls of the Book Cliffs and Monument Canyon are many miles apart, erosion has created the Grand Valley where a mighty canyon existed a hundred million years ago. The younger Grand Canyon has had six million years to form, a perfect age to acquire the aesthetics required by tourists. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is the new kid on the block, formed by an uplift of the earth's crust only two million years in the past. The result is a narrow chasm with imposing cliffs towering as much as 2700 feet above the Gunnison River. The sight from the rim reminded me of Wiley Coyote and the inevitable plunge which always followed his attempts at capturing the Road Runner with a malfunctioning Acme product of some sort.
Sunlight rarely penetrates to the bottom, earning the canyon its name. The walls are not without color, however, as a pink rock known as pegmatite provides a dash of flash. The pegmatite slashes and splashes across the otherwise dark stone, creating an endless series of abstract designs of which Picasso would be proud. You might want to come view the display. To me it is a lot more awe-inspiring than anything at the Louvre.
3.Head to Switzerland: After B.C. we drove down to the San Juan Skyway, a circular tour through three hundred miles of the Rockies' greatest hits. The San Juan range boasts the youngest hills in Colorado, still retaining the craggy and uneven forms of geological childhood. Our first stop was the town of Ridgway, where the movie "True Grit" (the original version) was filmed. We played the role of tourists well, entering the cafe of the same name. The True Grit had all the kitsch you would expect, walls covered in John Wayne and Glen Campbell posters. Missing was the Hard Rock Cafe food. Instead of the mindless corporate menu of microwaved mediocrity we enjoyed fresh, perfectly cooked hamburgers accompanied by a couple of well-crafted local ales.
A half day's walk away, or fifteen minutes via my current mode of transport, was Ouray (Your-ray), the Switzerland of America. The town was given the nickname for the Alpine surroundings and a refusal to become embroiled in conflicts involving neighbors Silverton and Telluride. The didn't appear to make chocolate, cheese, watches, or hoard money stolen from Jews if you are wondering. The glacial valley is split by the Uncompahgre River. With mountains higher than ten thousand feet on all sides the water has to come from somewhere above, which is usually accompanied by falling. As a result a couple of cataracts exist around Ouray. Cascade Falls is a pedestrian site in Colorado. What would be a state treasure in Mississippi is as common as a bris in Tel Aviv here.
Box Canyon Falls, on the other hand, would be unique virtually anywhere. This cataract drops into a stone cave, barely revealed inside its Pre-Cambian chute. The cavalcade of noise cannot be ignored, however, and even those who doubt the power of water may wonder how this fiercely rushing force could fail to move mountains.
Ouray would not exist today if not for man's ability to do the same. The walls of rock which attracted today's tourists would have imprisoned the early miners, who had no easy path to get their ore to market. Freedom came thanks to Otto Mears, who constructed a toll road through the difficult terrain. Even today this stretch, known as the Million Dollar Highway, is not for the faint of heart. Exiting Ouray toward Silverton we were treated to ten straight miles of potential death were the wheels to stray from the asphalt. I've seen guardrails in Iowa next to ten foot drops, but Coloradans don't seem to view this safety feature as a necessity even when riding next to a bottomless pit.
4. Check out Condos: Southwest Colorado is home to one of the earliest Native American apartment complexes, Mesa Verde. The Anasazi originally built pithouses atop the cliff, but later moved below the rim, which would have been protected from the elements and easier to defend from invaders. Within one hundred years of accomplishing this difficult architectural feat they were gone. Archeologists originally surmised that the culture disappeared entirely and began to ask why. Recent scholarship has uncovered clear links with modern tribes such as the Hopi and Zuni, revealing that the Anasazi were not raptured to heaven in Kokopelli's space ship as some have conjectured. The Anasazi, who are now grouped in with the Pueblo tribes and referred to under that name, merely got a Mayflower fan and moved. There still is a mystery as to why they would leave a place like Mesa Verde or even more elaborate sites at Chaco Canyon and elsewhere. We surmised a combination of drought and fire, which would have devastated most of the food sources. There was a long drought at the time and we saw recent evidence of great blazes across the mesa. Over fifty percent of the park had burned in the last dozen years.
5. Have a Birthday: I devoured a scrumptious birthday dinner at the Smuggler's Pub in Telluride courtesy of Dad. The steak fajitas were washed down nicely thanks to their Belgian Trippel, which I chose not based on taste but rather ABV. Facebook claims I am a hundred and one, although I feel much younger. I credit my religion, Buddhist extremism, which has allowed me to meditate sixty four of those years without remembering a thing.
6. Try Out the Public Transport System: The day after I got older we explored Telluride with a more sober countenance. Set in another glacial valley adjacent to Ouray the town boasts waterfalls as well. The most impressive, just to the east, is Bridal Veil Falls, the highest in all of Colorado. Amazingly, I wasn't all that impressed. Perhaps drving around and seeing so much beauty so fast has desensitized me. I may need to return to my slow walking pace in order to absorb my surroundings. Racing about gives me the feel of having overindulged, like stuffing my gob with a pound of Hershey's chocolate. The quality of each individual piece is lost.
I did, however, rather enjoy the free public transportation in Telluride. A system of gondolas was recently constructed connecting the town to the slopes as well as some of the outlying resorts, most notably Mountain Village. The gondolas reduce the carbon footprint of residents and tourists alike, who no longer have to make the eight mile drive.
At Mountain Village we visited Poacher's Pub for a brew and a nice lunch. There I met Curt and Hawkeye, a couple of serious outdoorsmen. Curt was a college volleyball player at the University of New Mexico and Hawkeye is a triple crown hiker. They both are now avid mountain bikers and encouraged me to check out the new paths in Fruita upon my return to the Grand Junction area. Hawkeye is planning to hike the Colorado Trail for the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program, a group which helps the disabled to engage in activities like skiing, biking, and horseback riding. Check out his page at gohawkeye.com.
7. Mine the Gap: We still had a three hour trip back to Grand Junction, through old mining territory on the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Highway. The main game here was uranium, which was found in and around towns such as Nucla, Uravan, and Vancorum. Up until the 1980s the radioactive rock was removed and used to scare the Russians (and all other sane individuals). By then we could blow up the entire planet fourteen times over and the workers were beginning to suffer from serious illnesses.
Earlier miners have left an unique historical relic, Hanging Flume. Water is essential in the process of obtaining most ores and the substance was lacking in the dry lands of Western Colorado. The harsh landscape made known methods of delivery difficult and the Lone Tree Mining Company was not sure they could fully develop the claim - that was until engineer Nathaniel Turner came up with the brilliant plan of attaching a trestle carrying a flume directly to the canyon walls. Of course, his design was only genius if it worked and obviously it did not disappoint or I would be making fun of him. In the end the disappointment was the claim, which yielded significantly less ore than Lone Tree had expected. Their investment failed and Hanging Flume was only in operation three short years.
Despite the dark and unlucky history, the countryside of possessed a rambunctious nature, changing constantly as we drove between the canyons and hills. The mountains were at first green as leprechaun blood, then dry and red as tired eyes after a coke binge. More turns and suddenly we were surrounded by bluish green mesas the color of a tarnished penny, followed by the yellowish brown hills denoting our approach to arid Grand Junction.
I've become a bit of a nomad over the course of the journey, so coming back to the same town again makes me feel like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day." That interminable movie eventually ended and so will too will this pass.
8. Roll on the River: Dad and I chose to spend our last full day together on the less than mighty Colorado. The river is fairly tame on the Blue Heron Run. We weren't even needed to row. Our guide Luke propelled us on a placid trip which felt more like a Venetian gondola ride than a whitewater excursion. We did leave the raft on several occasions, but not at the invitation of powerful waves or massive whirlpools. Luke suggested we swim every now and then to cool down. Complete lack of any physical exertion can really wear you out.
9. Say Goodbye: The first day of August was departure day. We took a quick ride up Mesa Grande, had an excellent pub meal at Naggy McGee's in Grand Junction, and said our goodbyes. Dad's arrived last week at the perfect moment, allowing me to escape ennui and get a last glimpse at the wonders of Colorado. My wounds seem to have healed as well. Our week together will be treasured forever by most of my personalities.
0 miles/lots of total miles