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Trip Report Four Day Mother-Daughter Road Trip - SW Colorado

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For those who’d prefer the short version, here’s the Trip Wow slideshow:


As a Colorado girl who’s lived outside the country for many years, I make an effort to reacquaint myself with my former backyard whenever I’m in the good ol’ US of A.

On a recent month long trip to my hometown of Colorado Springs (originating from Perth, Australia), I did just that, taking a mother-daughter road trip to Pagosa Springs and Ouray in Colorado’s southwest.

Day 1 -

My 74 year old mother and I left Colorado Springs on a beautiful Mother’s Day morning, temperatures in the 80’s predicted.

We took I-25 south to Walsenburg, then turned west on 160. We made the five mile detour to La Veta, a tiny town in the shadow of the Spanish Peaks, merely because I was curious about the place. The visit was short as there’s just not much to it, although the Sangre de Cristo Mountains certainly make a nice backdrop. Just minutes earlier my mother had told me that the area is known to have plenty of snakes...I was skeptical, thinking she’d absolutely croak if she encountered some of the snakes that I’ve seen while bushwalking in Australia, when lo’ and behold, a big slithering snake appeared on the road directly in front of us…seconds later the car bumped and rumbled as we squashed it to bits. Ewww…the only good snake is a dead snake right?

Back on 160, we continued west, with Blanca Peak (the fifth highest mountain in CO) looming to our right. By now I was cursing the lack of public toilets, a theme that would become familiar over the next few days.

Fort Garland to the rescue…Mom recalled from a previous trip that there was a public loo at the museum. How she remembers these things when I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast never ceases to amaze me…

After our pit stop we continued west on 160 through the barren, thirsty looking landscape towards Alamosa. Sure, there were mountains in the far distance, but the immediate area was, well…ugly. As I uncharitably described approaching Alamosa as a ramshackle, POS town, my Mom reminded me that not all of CO is pretty. We were now in the San Luis Valley, and I was looking forward to leaving it behind. We made a brief stop for lunch and gas and then continued west, my mood improving as we approached the slightly more interesting towns of Monte Vista and Del Norte. Then it got seriously pretty as we drove through South Fork and began to climb Wolf Creek Pass. Now this was more like it.

My rented Toyota Corolla struggled mightily as we puttered up the 10,850 foot high pass and I began to wonder if the car was adjusted for Colorado’s altitude. Ominously, the car’s “maintenance required” light came on…this can’t be good.

Luckily, we survived Wolf Creek and before long we were cruising into pretty Pagosa Springs, where we sought out our home for the next two nights, Healing Waters, which I’ve reviewed here:


We were a bit knackered after our 5-1/2 hour drive and the uncertainty of whether or not our little Toyota was up for the task. We got settled in our room, then set out on foot to explore nearby Old Town Pagosa. We stumbled upon The Pagosa Baking Company, which I’d run across during my trip research and hoped to try out for breakfast during our stay. As it happens, they were to be closed for the next two days for spring cleaning, so we bought a couple of muffins, which we heated in the hotel’s microwave for breakfast the next day (they were good – blueberry and raspberry chocolate).

We picked up a sandwich for dinner, opting to spend the evening at our hotel, soaking in the thermal pools and generally relaxing. We learned via the news that evening that CO was in the grips of a dry spell, with humidity between 3-10 %. No wonder my skin was having fits.

To be continued...

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    Day 2 –

    We woke to gloom, the warmth and sunshine of the previous day long gone. We walked across the street to the Visitor’s Center and enquired about easy hikes in the area.

    Shortly thereafter we were in the car, bumping along unsealed Piedra Road, about 16 miles north of town in San Juan National Forest. We parked at the Piedra River Trailhead, and then set out on the trail to Ice Cave Ridge. This is an easy trail with a gradual incline; it took us about an hour to walk to the top of the ridge and back, due to the loose rock underfoot, which slowed my Mom down a bit. I really admire this woman…74 years old and arthritic, yet still willing to go hiking. I can only hope that I’m a fraction as fit and motivated when I’m her age. The fissures were particularly interesting, and there were some nice views of the Piedra Valley from the top of the ridge.

    We decided to next explore Piedra Falls, so we collected the car and continued, taking the turnoff to the falls, a sign indicating a further eight miles. Just as I was wondering whether or not we should be driving up here in our rental car, we were flagged down by three young travelers who’d knocked out the oil pan on their VW Bug after hitting a rock in the road. We offered them a ride, backtracking to the Outfitters we’d seen on the way in, and then my mother and I resumed our drive to the falls. It was a slow, rough drive and we began to wonder if we’d ever get there. We eventually arrived, surprised by how pretty it was - we were suddenly surrounded by looming sheer rock and forest – gorgeous, but sadly, the gloom sabotaged my photos. We parked and walked the ½ mile to the falls, via a few stream crossings. A small section of the trail nearest the falls was a bit treacherous, but otherwise it was an easy trek. The falls were thundering off a cliff at full force, quite a sight.

    We eased our way back to town, popping into the Made in Colorado Shoppe in upper Pagosa to poke around for a bit, before tackling a more serious problem, our rental car. I’ll spare you the details, but by dinner time we had a replacement vehicle and were optimistic about the rest of our journey through the Colorado Mountains.

    That night we sought out Farrogo’s Market, another place I’d come across during my research. We shared a chicken Panini with fries and a chocolate brownie, both were very good.

    Then it was back to the hotel for a long soak in the thermal pools. It was still cold and overcast, so the water felt even better than it had the night before.

    To be continued...

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    Day 3 -

    We seemed to be the only guests in our building, which made for another peaceful night. We checked out of the hotel, and headed west on 160, stopping for breakfast at the cute and welcoming Boulder Coffee Café. I carb loaded with biscuits and gravy, chased with a decent chai latte. My Mom opted for the waffle and coffee. Both were pretty good.

    Sated, we continued our drive west on 160 towards Durango. It’s been a few years since I was out this way and I’d forgotten how pretty Durango is. It was also incredibly green, quite the contrast from dry, brown Colorado Springs.

    Our next destination was Ouray, a relatively short drive from Durango via Red Mountain Pass, but we’d decided to take the long route around via Telluride, as neither of us had been there in ages.

    We took 160 from Durango to Mancos, and then joined 184 to Dolores, where we turned onto 145 and meandered alongside the river through the Dolores River Valley. Ugly Alamosa was a distant memory as we worked our way to Telluride, amidst some pretty spectacular scenery. We crossed Lizard Head Pass (10,222 feet) with barely a groan from our replacement rental car. There was plenty of snow on the ground, but the roads were mercifully clear. For this I was thankful, having lost my winter driving mojo in the years I’ve lived in countries where snow is as rare as hen’s teeth (a Momism).

    Upon arrival in beautiful Telluride, we ditched the car and walked up and down the main street looking for lunch. We ended up at The Butcher, The Baker, noshing on some pretty good potato leek soup. We poked around town some more, took some photos and gawked at the views and architecture. Quite by accident we stumbled upon Telluride Truffle; chocoholics both, we absolutely had to investigate. We indulged on one truffle each, Tequila dark chocolate and salt for me, milk chocolate with Chambord for Mom. They were excellent…I should have bought a big old boxful.

    We left Telluride and headed towards Placerville, encountering a herd of Bighorn sheep on the roadway. I was so startled that I didn’t realize what I was looking at and missed my chance to pull over and get a photo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Bighorn sheep in one place.

    We continued, eventually turning onto 62 towards Ridgeway. I seem to recall liking Ridgeway, but I’d never approached it from this direction before. It’s bigger than I would have guessed. We next turned onto 550 and puttered our way to Ouray, arriving 6-1/2 hours after leaving Pagosa Springs.

    It had been a full day of eye-popping, glorious scenery. I was momentarily tempted to fly back to Perth, pack up the house and return to Colorado for good.

    It took us a few minutes to locate our accommodation for the night, The Box Canyon Lodge, as I’d forgotten where it was. Ouray is tiny, so it didn't take long to get sorted; we were soon checking in. Review here:


    We got settled, and then set out to explore the town on foot, wandering through neighborhoods overlooked by the looming San Juan Mountains. I’ve always loved Ouray, and at one point considered living here, but I’m not sure I could do it.

    We wandered around for quite awhile, taking photos of the deer on the front lawns, peering into the windows of shops, etc. We sat on a bench on Main Street watching the world go by as we waited for our favorite Ouray restaurant to open for dinner, but eventually got chilled and retreated into the Hotel Beaumont to warm up. Wow. I’d never been in this hotel before and was quite impressed. Hotel Beaumont was built in 1886 and is Ouray’s only luxury hotel. The words austere and elegant come to mind.

    Dinner that evening was at Bien Tiempo, a lovely little Mexican restaurant on Main Street. We both chose the green chile chowder, the perfect meal for a cold day. I finally got around to trying out one of their margaritas too, which was excellent.

    That evening was spent soaking in the outdoor hot tubs at our lodge. We didn’t last very long though, as we ended up in the upper tub, which was the hottest of the bunch.

    Final day up next...

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    Day 4 –

    We woke to several inches of snow. Ah, yes, I remember this…the exact same thing had happened on my last springtime visit to Ouray. At least I didn’t have Red Mountain Pass to contend with this time around.

    We waffled between leaving Ouray early or sticking around for a few hours, thinking maybe the roads would clear up if we waited.

    In the end we opted to get an early start, leaving around 8:30 after some tasty muffins and coffee in the lodge’s lobby. This turned out to be a wise decision, as Monarch Pass was closed to vehicles without snow chains later in the day.

    We left Ouray via 550 to Montrose, the snowfall and visibility becoming considerably worse as we drove on, my white knuckles more obvious as we progressed. I was worried about what lay ahead on Monarch Pass, me with my rusty snow driving skills and in an unfamiliar car to boot. I was relieved to see the snow gradually turn to sleet as we entered the town of Montrose. We gassed up and continued on, the weather alternating between sleet and rain for the duration of our drive.

    We worked our way towards Gunnison, skirting Blue Mesa Reservoir, which caught me by surprise, as I don’t remember it being so pretty through here. We stopped for lunch in Gunnison, popping into the first interesting café we ran across, the Firebrand, where we shared a good ‘Hot Hammi’ sandwich chased with root beer. I liked what I saw of Gunnison and wouldn’t mind an in-depth exploration sometime.

    Back on the road we followed 50 over Monarch Pass, the snow and sleet once again flying, but fortunately not sticking. We hydroplaned a few times, but we survived the 11,312 foot high pass without any drama.

    We plugged on towards Salida and Cotopaxi alongside the Arkansas River, me once again enthralled by the scenery…how could I have forgotten about these beautiful gorges? We eventually entered Canon City and momentarily misplaced the turn off to 115, which was further east than expected.

    Before long we were lurching and bumping north along a very rough and neglected 115, dodging potholes and loose asphalt. I got a bit flustered as we entered Colorado Springs near Fort Carson…the city has grown a lot in the years I’ve been away and I didn’t even recognize it. I find the incessant sprawl discombobulating. I bumbled around for a bit, eventually finding my way, re-entering familiar surroundings which had greened up considerably in the few days we’d been away.

    Ouray! We were home (well sort of), arriving some 6–½ hours after leaving snow covered Ouray.

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