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Into the Great Wide Open - A nine day road trip

Into the Great Wide Open - A nine day road trip

May 8th, 2019, 12:43 PM
  #1  
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Into the Great Wide Open - A nine day road trip

Objective: Take a trip that didn’t involve getting on a plane yet offered something new for a couple of jaded Coloradans. Avoid as many other tourists as possible by hitting the most popular spots from Mon-Thurs. Go early enough in the season to avoid the heat. Incorporate some natural hot springs, moderate hikes and good food.

The driving itinerary: Home-Ouray-Moab-Durango-Ojo Caliente-Home. Eight nights, three states, 1,725 miles and one cracked windshield.

April 28 -

We drove west on Highway 24 towards Buena Vista – 50 F and cloudy, not a green leaf in sight. I always look forward to the first glimpse of the Sawatch Range and Collegiate Peaks from Wilkerson Pass, but today the views were less than ideal.

The rain started as we drove through South Park – spotting bison, horses, deer and antelope (including one running along the highway, confused and frantic, poor thing).

We turned on to 285, made a pit stop near Buena Vista, then eventually joined Hwy 50 and worked our way over Monarch Pass, the temperature dropping to 36 F, lots of snow still around…and entirely too many large rocks on the road that had to be carefully dodged.


Sawatch Range

In Gunnison we made a beeline to The Twisted Fork for an Asian Fusion lunch (good chicken curry and Korean pork).

Then it was back on Highway 50, skirting the seriously low Blue Mesa Reservoir and eventually joining 550 to Montrose, amazed at how green and warm (74 F) it was over here on the Western Slope.

Some six hours after leaving home, we checked into our favorite Ouray accommodation, The Box Canyon Lodge, surprisingly busy and noisy with kids – say what? Spring break was long over.

After getting settled, we walked to Red Mountain Brewery, new since our last visit, Bill rather enjoying the sour wheat Berliner. It was windy and warm, hummingbirds buzzing about, one of my favorite sounds.

We whiled away the late afternoon gazing at those gorgeous Ouray views.


Ouray

Then it was pizza at the Goldbelt (new for us, and not bad) and a long soak in the natural hot springs. Lovely.

Note: Sadly, our favorite Ouray establishment, Buen Tiempo has closed its doors permanently. No green chile chowder for me, total bummer dude.

To be continued...
Melnq8 is online now  
May 8th, 2019, 01:33 PM
  #2  
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April 29 –

We were up and out the door early, backtracking the nine miles to Ridgway for breakfast at our favorite establishment there, Kate’s Kitchen, fortunately still open and thriving. Lemon ricotta blueberry pancakes for me, Eggs Bennie with ham for Bill, excellent both. Then it was back to Ouray for one last soak in the hot springs before check-out – 55 F and cloudy.

We were back on the road by 10 am, taking 550 to Ridgway again, then turning left towards Telluride on CO 62 (with a stop to photograph a herd of elk, creating an unintended stampede). Loads of leaf-free aspen through here, must be spectacular in autumn.


Elk stampede!

Just past Telluride we joined CO 145 and drove through the gorgeous San Miguel Canyon via the Scenic Byway – new territory for us. The road was winding, the landscape ever-changing, vibrantly green one minute, New Mexico-esque the next.

A few miles past Naturita we turned onto Hwy 90, the rain now serious as we passed through the aptly named community of Bedrock, seeing very few other cars.

Soon we were on Hwy 46 and crossing the border into Utah, the views getting more interesting, the skies dark and moody.


CO-UT border, CO side

We eventually joined US 191, now surrounded by stunning red rock, arriving in Moab some 3.5 hours after leaving Ouray - 68 F.

It was too early to check into our hotel, so we had a quick lunch in town and then followed US 191 north to Utah 128 to take in the tremendous views we’d been told about (the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, spectacular even in bad light!).


Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway

We made the detour to Fisher Towers and then drove the very squiggly La Sal Mountain Loop Road – the mountains covered in snow, our immediate surroundings green and red – the contrast stunning, all we lacked was blue sky. We drove the entire loop, ending up back on 191 south of Moab, tired and ready to get out of the car.


La Sal Mountain Loop

Our accommodation – a newly built Hyatt Place, fresh and modern; a good use of 32,000 points (four nights).

This was our first ever visit to Moab; we knew it would be busy, but the traffic on US 191 was a bit daunting none-the-less (jay-walking despite semis barreling right through town, congested and chaotic). As with our hometown in CO, Moab seems to need a bypass.

We were surprised by the number of new hotels under construction – evidently Moab is still growing and will be getting busier and busier.

Dinner was at Sultan Mediterranean Grill - excellent (and as a bonus they let us order off the lunch menu).

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; May 8th, 2019 at 01:37 PM.
Melnq8 is online now  
May 8th, 2019, 02:30 PM
  #3  
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April 30 –

Up and out early, we drove US 191 north to Arches National Park (five miles from Moab). We queued at the Visitor’s Center just after 7 am, to purchase a Southeast Utah Parks Pass (which we later upgraded to an annual National Parks Pass) only to discover they didn’t sell them.

A young Park Ranger told us we had to buy one at the entrance gate (which was closed when we drove through). We asked what time it opened; he said he couldn’t tell us for security reasons (what the?). So, we drove around, killed some time, and then drove back down to the entrance gate to purchase a pass – evidently the ‘secret opening time’ is 8 am.

We set out to hike the moderate two mile Park Avenue Trail, which follows a canyon bottom, but turned back when it began to pour. We had our Gortex jackets, but I’d left my waterproof boots at home. Who knew it rained so much in Utah?

Fortunately, the skies eventually cleared and revealed some pretty spectacular scenery...and a gazillion people.

We did the tourist thing, made the rounds, took photos, and walked several of the easy/moderate trails; my favorite was Broken Arch, freshly scrubbed and beautiful after the rain.

The rock formations and arches were fascinating, but I was most taken with the abundance of vegetation and how it contrasted with the red rock, sand and cloudy skies. The flowers were pretty amazing too. Photo nirvana.


Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

The park got busier and busier as the day wore on - so much so that parking was an issue – more cars than parking spots, overflow lots full, cars parked alongside the road, etc.


Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

We had a picnic, explored some more and eventually ran out of steam.

Tacos Gordos at the Moab Food Truck Park worked a treat for dinner.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; May 8th, 2019 at 02:32 PM.
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May 8th, 2019, 03:49 PM
  #4  
 
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Sounds like a great trip so far. Keep it going, thanks!!
emalloy is offline  
May 9th, 2019, 09:13 AM
  #5  
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May 1 -

We drove north on 191 and then turned southwest on 313, our destination Canyonlands National Park (Utah’s largest), some 35 miles from Moab.

Island in the Sky is situated on top of a huge 1,500 foot mesa and offers some spectacular views in all directions. We were now in canyon country - and it was a sight to behold - all the more so with those blue skies.

Canyonlands, Island in the Sky

A ferocious cold wind and a temperature of 37 F tried to dissuade us early in the day but we persisted...we visited all of the overlooks (a few more than once) and took the hikes to Mesa Arch, Grand View Point and Upheaval Dome (although I had to bail on the second overlook because my knee screamed when it saw the final ascent, but Bill finished).


Canyonlands, Island in the Sky

Canyonlands, Island in the Sky

Although dogs are not allowed on the trails, we saw a few. Dog owners who flaunt park rules annoy me to no end.

We heard many languages, saw vehicles from Germany and Queensland and a large contingent of Korean visitors, who made our ears bleed with their shouting to each other from the two overlooks, but peace was restored when they moved on.

The views were tremendous, the landscape rocky and exposed, quite a contrast from Arches.

To be continued...
Melnq8 is online now  
May 9th, 2019, 10:16 AM
  #6  
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May 2 –

It was 44 F when we left for the Needles District of Canyonlands, located ~75 miles southwest of Moab via US 191 and UT 211 (the drive on 211 was gorgeous!). They weren’t kidding, this park is BIG.

UT 211 is the only paved road leading in and out of Needles; it’s more remote, and on this particular day, much quieter and warmer than Arches or Island in the Sky had been.

We drove all of the 2WD roads in the park and took all of the short hikes – Roadside Ruin, Cave Spring, Pothole Point (so named for the ‘potholes’ that have formed in the slickrock on the trail – these trap water after rain and house worms, snails and shrimp), and Slickrock Trail (the most challenging – two hours – all of it on, you guessed it – slickrock, outcroppings of smooth weathered sandstone, fortunately dry today).

It was perfect hiking weather, the lizards were lively and the flowers stunning.


Pothole Point, Needles District, Canyonlands

Needles District, Canyonlands

Needles District, Canyonlands

Needles District, Canyonlands

That afternoon we drove a section of Utah 128 again to visit Castle Creek Winery and take advantage of the blue skies for photos.

To be continued…
Melnq8 is online now  
May 10th, 2019, 06:41 AM
  #7  
 
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Really enjoying your report! Great photos and good descriptive text. Some of the places I've been and others I've not but it looks like a trail well worth following! (cracked windshield excepted, of course) Thanks for sharing your journey.
obxgirl is online now  
May 10th, 2019, 09:17 AM
  #8  
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Well thank you obxgirl and emalloy for following along! New windshield installed Tuesday. Was hoping we'd not have to replace it, but the crack was too big to repair. So it goes.
Melnq8 is online now  
May 10th, 2019, 10:45 AM
  #9  
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May 3 –

We gassed up and left Moab early on this Friday morning as vehicle after vehicle crawled through town towards Arches – we might have timed this well after all.

We’d estimated the direct drive to Durango at just under three hours, but what’s the fun in ‘direct’? Instead we set out south on US 191 towards Blanding, turned onto UT 95 and then joined UT 275.

Somehow we missed the turn and had to backtrack 10-12 miles, but we finally found the entrance to Natural Bridges, which sits high on Cedar Mesa. We popped into the Visitor’s Center, explored the overlooks and took the walk to Owachomo. We’d like to have taken one of the loop trails, but there just wasn’t time.


Natural Bridges

Natural Bridges

So we wound our way back to US 191, turned south and eventually turned east on 262, the road bouncy and full of huge pot holes. We followed a series of county roads, hoping we were going to end up at Hovenweep (neither of us had heard of Hovenweep until mlgb suggested it on my planning thread – thanks for that!).

The landscape was desolate and thirsty – the roads neglected and in poor condition – we thought perhaps we’d taken a wrong turn, but eventually a surprisingly large Visitors Center appeared - we’d arrived.

The sign on the door advising that rattlesnakes were on the trail was a bit off-putting…but I borrowed a ‘snake stick’ and we set out on the trails to Hovenweep Castle and Tower Point, which gave us a nice taste of the area (and saw nothing but lizards thank goodness).


Hovenweep

Hovenweep

Hovenweep

We continued our drive in the direction of Cortez, the dry barren landscape soon replaced with vibrant green fields of….I’m not sure what. The county roads had no signs, we weren’t even sure which state we were in. We eventually turned south on 491, passed through several farming communities, and then turned east on 184/145, the views getting prettier and prettier. We knew we were back in CO now, but we weren’t quite sure where we’d crossed the border.

We’d not eaten since leaving Moab, so when we spotted Chavolo’s in Mancos, we turned the car around and went to investigate. Great choice – fantastic enchiladas.

Then it was back on 160 for another ~30 miles, arriving in Durango some 9.5 hours after leaving Moab.

Entirely too much BIS (butt in seat) for my tastes, but a good day.

Our accommodation – Hampton Inn – perfectly adequate, but it really paled in comparison to our Moab digs; we'd been seriously spoiled.

To be continued…
Melnq8 is online now  
May 10th, 2019, 01:36 PM
  #10  
 
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I was wondering if you made it to Hovenweep...
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May 11th, 2019, 11:41 AM
  #11  
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Yep - it was interesting, but not a place I probably go out of my way to see...well not any more out of the way than we went
Melnq8 is online now  
May 11th, 2019, 12:12 PM
  #12  
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May 4 –

After a lousy hotel breakfast we searched out Taste, a coffee shop I’d run across during my research – I’d read that they make Australian approved flat whites, so I had to see for myself. This former temporary Australian was impressed.

Being early birds, we arrived well before they officially opened, but the barista was kind enough not to kick us out. Fun décor here – an homage to the auto repair shops and fuel stations that used to call this particular corner of town home; now the 11th Street Station Collective Eatery.

Then it was off to hike the Animas Mountain Trail, which I’d hiked many moons ago (in the rain and mud no less) and was anxious to revisit. It was a lot harder than I remembered (I’m sure age and crap knees had nothing to do with that) – moderately steep and very rocky with some freakish drop offs and fabulous views.

We thought we’d lost the track a few times and it just seemed to go on and on…the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge steam train could be heard whistling far below us throughout the morning.

Spring had definitely sprung in Durango - the temps were warm, our surroundings very green. And us, very tired after our four hour hike.

Animas Mountain Trail

Animas Mountain Trail

Animas Mountain Trail

We had a mildly disappointing late lunch at Steamworks, then took an exploratory drive to see how much Durango had changed since our last visit (when we'd considered buying land and retiring here), then it was back to the hotel to rest our weary bones.

To be continued...
Melnq8 is online now  
May 14th, 2019, 12:55 PM
  #13  
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May 5 –

We bailed on the free hotel breakfast and sought out Kassidy’s Kitchen instead, another promising venue I’d found during my trip research (four types of chile, impossible to resist). We loved how quiet and deserted Durango was on this early Sunday morning, but were surprised by the eastward growth of the town, which we’d missed the previous day.

Great spot Kassidy’s - we shared stories with owner Brian and thoroughly enjoyed our green chile smothered breakfast.

After a very good latte at 81301 Coffee House, we packed up and left Durango, via 550 S and 160 E. Before long we were entering an unrecognizable Pagosa Springs. It’d been ages since either of us was last here, but the Walmart, McDonalds and condo development threw us for a loop.

We finally found the Pagosa Springs we remembered – Historic Downtown, which is still there, just lost in the sprawl when coming from the west. We stopped for a picnic alongside the river and watched the rafters float by.

Back on the road, we eventually joined US 84 east towards Chama, the drive pretty. The highway became rough and the speed limit dropped the minute we entered New Mexico; Bill said it felt a lot like crossing from Switzerland into Italy

US 84 abruptly ended at a T-intersection, no signage whatsoever; we turned south. The landscape started to feel more and more like New Mexico – sage scrub, rocky cliffs. At breakfast Brian had mentioned something about a natural amphitheater... and suddenly there it was – the looming sandstone cliffs of Echo Amphitheater in Carson National Forest – wow (more rocks)!

As we walked the trail to the amphitheater, we heard a group of women singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, the echos bouncing off the rocks - free entertainment!


Echo Amphitheater. NM

Echo Amphitheater, NM

Echo Amphitheater, NM

We resumed our drive, soon passing through Georgia O’Keefe’s former hometown of Abiquiú. If we blinked, we would have missed it.

Then it was north on 285, arriving at Ojo Caliente 5.5 hours after leaving Durango.

We’d booked a room in the Historic Hotel (circa 1916). This was my third visit, Bill’s second. We’ve stayed in both the North Cottages and the Historic Hotel; it’s all good. Ojo has become our favorite soaking spot, we just wish it was closer to home.

After a nice dinner in the resort’s Artesian Restaurant (chicken fajitas for Bill, tortilla soup for me, very good both), we spent the evening in the mineral pools. Beauty.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; May 14th, 2019 at 01:04 PM.
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May 14th, 2019, 02:10 PM
  #14  
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May 6 –

The day began with breakfast in the Artesian Restaurant - Huevos Rancheros for Bill, Blue Corn & Piñon Nut Pancakes for me – excellent both, followed by another long soak in the mineral pools.

Then it was back on the road for the five hour trek home via 285 N and C17 (The Cosmic Highway, San Luis Valley).

https://943thex.com/drive-colorados-...fo-watchtower/

This is not our favorite drive – endless straight roads, less than stunning landscape…and today the biggest cluster of motorcyclists we have ever seen in one place – evidently participating in a charity ride.

Every one horse town in Colorado seems to have a Family Dollar store and at least one cannabis shop…and little else.

We made a pit stop in Alamosa, then continued north, skirting Great Sand Dunes National Park, reminding us that we need to revisit sometime.

The views improved dramatically as we approached Poncha Springs and Nathrop, now driving alongside the Arkansas River and surrounded by mountains.

Then another pit stop – this time in Buena Vista - for a recently re-discovered blast from our 70’s and 80’s past – Godfather’s Pizza. We thought they’d gone the way of the dinosaur, but no, they just moved into Love’s gas stations, and lucky for us, some CO small towns have Love’s stations. Hello Humble Pie.

Back on the road we joined Highway 24 and worked our way east via Wilkerson Pass. All the lush green we’d seen earlier in the trip was now gone, the trees still bare up here in the CO hills.

We were home.
Melnq8 is online now  
May 15th, 2019, 08:00 AM
  #15  
 
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Wonderful Trip Report - thanks for sharing! Your photos are dynamite!!
capecod73 is offline  
May 15th, 2019, 11:46 AM
  #16  
 
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I can’t wait to read this in its entirety. We’re currently RV’ing, about to alight in Key West. Eventually, we’ll make our way to the Western parks. Thank you!
sf7307 is online now  
May 15th, 2019, 01:02 PM
  #17  
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Thank you capecod and sf7307!
Melnq8 is online now  
May 15th, 2019, 03:16 PM
  #18  
 
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Thanks for the continued TR so I can remember some trips from the years past. We haven't been to Echo Amphitheater, so I guess I'll just have to plan to go back.
emalloy is offline  
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