Return To Kanab, UT

Kanab, UT

After a one night stay in Bluff, UT we had a 240 mile drive to our  next destination, Kanab,UT.  We visited Kanab last May but still have a couple of things we want to do or see.

We left Bluff and headed south on US 163.  This route takes you past two beautiful areas in Utah and Arizona.  The first is Valley of the Gods, a scenic sandstone valley that has rock formations with tall, reddish brown mesas, buttes, towers and mushroom rocks.  The Valley of the Gods can be toured via a 17 mile gravel road that winds around the formations, many of which have been given names.

The Seven Sailors

About 30 miles south of the Valley of the Gods we drove through the beautiful, iconic Monument Valley.  One of the first things you see as you enter the area from the north is the famous scene from the movie Forrest Gump.

Run Forrest, run!

We turned west in Kayenta, AZ and drove another 125 miles to Page, AZ.  We crossed over the Colorado River next to the Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell.

The Glen Canyon Dam Bridge

Lake Powell backs up behind the dam

Lake Powell is the second largest man-made reservoir by maximum water capacity in the U. S. behind Lake Mead.  However, due to high water withdrawals for human and agricultural consumption, and because of droughts in the area, Lake Mead has fallen below Lake Powell in size several times in the last 20 years in terms of volume of water, depth and surface area.

A small portion of Lake Powell

Wahweap Bay section of Lake Powell

From the dam it was a 75 mile drive to Kanab.  Along the way we passed sections of the many vermilion cliffs in this area.  The cliffs are made up of deposited silt and desert dunes, cemented by infiltrated carbonates and colored by red iron oxide and other minerals, particularly bluish manganese (as most of you well know!).

Vermilion cliffs north of US 89

After a long drive, made considerably longer by a 30 mph headwind we had to fight almost the entire way, we arrived at J and J RV Park in Kanab and set up in our assigned site.

The next day we did a hike that we missed during our previous stay here in May.  The Squaw Trail begins on the north side of Kanab next to Hamblin Park.

We’re going to climb up there!

The trail goes up 800 feet in just over a mile and a half.  It is not a real difficult hike but the elevation gain and steep climbs in some sections gives a hiker a good workout.  But the great views of Kanab below make the effort well worth it.

The trailhead

The trail first goes through a rocky canyon

The railing is a welcome assist through this section

Going up!

Hamblin Park has four ball fields located around a central building.  As we drove into the parking lot there were many vehicles parked there and the ball fields were filled with tents.  When we gained enough elevation on the trail, we got a great view of the tent city on the ball fields but thought it strange that there were no people around.

A little research revealed what was going on.  The Grand Circle Trailfest is a three day/four night event for runners.  On each of the three days runners are shuttled from Kanab to a different location for a race.  On day one they went to Zion National Park for a 13 mile race.  Day two was another 13 mile race, this time at Bryce Canyon National Park.  On day three they went to Page, AZ for an 11 mile run along the Colorado River at what is called Horseshoe Bend.  The event is run by a company called Vacation Races, who provide everything needed, including food, a shower trailer, and the tents.

Our trail continued up through a series of switchbacks until we could no longer see the tents in the ball fields.  But the views to the south were still impressive.

At the top there is a small bench where we enjoyed lunch and a nice view to the north.  But a couple of other hikers were there and the conversation distracted us (not a difficult task) and we forgot to get any photos.  But the best views are on the trail going up and back down anyway.

For the second day of our two day visit to Kanab we checked out two nearby places, one new to us and the other a spot we have visited before.  The first spot was the Belly of the Dragon.  Although the name implies something very exciting, it is really just a large drainage tunnel for the upper canyons that feed into the nearby North Fork River.  But it is a really cool drainage tunnel!

Lower entrance to the Belly of the Dragon

The tunnel is only about a tenth of a mile long, but you can’t see the other end from the entrance.

Upper entrance

If you hike four or five miles up the canyon there is suppose to be a nice slot canyon.  But the deep sand in the wash discouraged us from that adventure.

After checking out the tunnel we drove back through Kanab and headed east on US 89 for about 30 miles.  At that point we turned north and drove up a maintained dirt road a few miles to visit the ghost town of Paria.  There is not much left of the old town but that’s not why we wanted to make a return visit.  What draws us back to Paria are the colorful rock formations that surround it.

Heading north on the dirt road (with new bugs on the windshield)

The Paria River

Well, this blog concludes our fall trek through Utah and Colorado.  We had planned to stop for a short time in Mesquite, NV to hike in the nearby Gold Butte National Monument.  But with temperatures in Mesquite still in the 90s we’ve decided to skip that for now and continue back to our home in Boulder City.  We don’t have anything planned for a few months so the blog may be a bit quiet for a while, but we will definitely be back after the holidays.

But who knows what may arise between now and then?

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A Visit to Mesa Verde NP

Cortez, CO

We visited Mesa Verde for a few days last October, but rain and cold limited our exploration.  We returned this year to blue skies and warm temperatures, allowing us to visit a section of the park we missed last year.

Mesa Verde Visitor Center

After a stop at the visitor center to check on conditions in the park we headed up the entrance road.  Mesa Verde is a huge park and we had a drive of about 25 miles to reach our destination, the Wetherill Mesa (the least visited section), named after a family of local ranchers who explored the area in the late 1800s.

Lone Cone towers over the park entrance

Driving up on the mesa reveals great vistas of the valley to the north

After a drive of about 27 miles we came to the end of the road on Wetherill Mesa.  From the parking area you can hike or bike to a number of ruins left by the Ancestral Pueblo  cultures.  During the summer a tram takes visitors around a loop road to all the sites, but it was not operating during our visit.  Once parked, the first thing we did was hike about a mile down a paved trail to the Step House Ruins.

Approaching the Step House Ruins

 

The alcove containing the ruins

The ruins are named for a series of steps built by the ancients

A reconstructed pit house which was standard housing for centuries

In 1891 Swedish scientist Gustaf Nordenskiöld carved “No21” in a rock, his identification number for the Step House as he and other were exploring and digging here.  Grooves near the number were used by the residents to shape and sharpen stone tools.

No 21 in the rock

A short ladder allows access to the upper level of the ruins.

Looking down from the upper level

Large kiva in the upper level

Marks from grinding grain

We returned to the parking area and picked up a trail leading to the south.  After a half mile we took a side trail to the right and hiked almost a mile to the Nordenskiöld Overlook.  The trail went through an area that had burned in the 2000 Pony Fire.  Fire is a frequent visitor to the mesa, mostly caused by lightning strikes.

Approaching the overlook

Across the canyon from the overlook is what is called Nordenskiöld Site #16.  There is no access to this site for visitors.

The upper area was used as storage

 

Looking south from the overlook

We hiked back to the main trail and continued south for about a mile to the Badger House Community.  The Badger House Community consists of mesa top dwellings.  There are  four covered sites along a paved and graveled trail.  Each of the sets of ruins in this area are protected by a metal building. The first building houses some Basketmaker pithouse ruins.

The next site is a pueblo village which is followed by the Badger House ruins. One of the nice aspects of these various sites is how they show the progression of the Ancestral Puebloan people over hundreds and thousands of years from the archaic nomadic type lifestyle through the Basketmaker and Pueblo times.

In the Kiva pictured below you can see an opening to a tunnel.  The tunnel ran into the remains of tower pictured above.

We left the Badger House Community and hiked a short distance to an overlook where we could look down at the Long House Ruins.  The Long House village includes about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms.  It may have been home to as many as 175 people.  You can purchase tickets for a ranger led tour of this site.

 

 

After hiking over five miles through the various sites we returned to the Jeep and headed back toward the park entrance.  A number of viewpoints along the way provide great views of the valley to the north.

Looking down on Cortez

The next day we moved about 75 miles west into Utah to visit the little community of Bluff.  We’ve stayed here many times before to hike the many canyons in the area, but this visit is just a one night stop.  What we really came here for was to have a bowl of delicious chicken noodle soup at the Twin Rocks Diner.  Unfortunately they have their off season menu and don’t have the soup now!

Oh well, tomorrow we’re off to Kanab, UT.  More on that later . . .

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Another Trip Over the Last Dollar Road to Telluride

Ridgway, CO

Two weeks ago we left Ridgway State Park after a four day stay.  During our time there we drove a one lane dirt road up over the mountains from Telluride back to the highway leading to Ridgway.  Now that the leaves are changing colors, especially at high elevations, we decided to return to Ridgway and do that drive again.  While it is only 20 miles from where we were staying in Montrose back to Ridgway, and we were already planning to go right by the state park when we moved the motorhome over the mountains to Cortez, CO,  we decided to stop at the state park for a quick two night stay and a return drive over the Last Dollar Road.

View of the San Juan Mountains from near Ridgway, CO

The next day we headed south on US 550 to Ridgway, where we turned west on CO 62.  From Ridgway we drove 12 miles on CO 62 and turned south on the Last Dollar Road.  The dirt road is well maintained for 2.5 miles as it rolls through beautiful ranch country.  The bright colors of the Aspens brightened up the scenery.

About a mile south of  the highway we pulled over next to a driveway to wash the bugs off the windshield.  As we looked at the nearby house being renovated we noticed a sign on the fence.

How cool!  A John Wayne movie filmed right here.

The movie site from further down the road

We continued along the road while enjoying the beautiful vistas surrounding us.

Soon the Last Dollar Road makes a left turn and is no longer maintained.  While the road is a bit rough we didn’t need four wheel drive, but a bit of high clearance is needed.

We crossed over the highest point on the road (around 10,000′) and headed down toward Telluride, again taking in the beautiful views.

After about 20 miles, the Last Dollar Road goes by the Telluride airport and meets the main road into the town.

Looking west into Telluride

Downtown Telluride

We drove straight through the town to the end of of what is a box canyon.  At that point the road becomes dirt and makes its way steeply up the face of the canyon in a series of sharp switchbacks.  You can see the road zigzagging up the canyon in the green on the left of the photo below.

Our goal was to drive up the road to where you have to turn around (it becomes one way) near an old power plant building next to Bridle Veil Falls.

The white dot center left is the power plant

Getting closer, Bridle Veil Falls gives off a cool cloud of mist

Looking up at the power plant and the falls

Made it to the top!

Looking back toward Telluride

The road up to the power plant definitely requires four wheel drive and high clearance.  The road is steep and the switchback turns are very sharp.  Those with a fear of heights should not attempt this drive.  If you don’t have the proper vehicle or don’t like heights you can park below and hike up the road 1.8 miles, something many people did.

We drove back through Telluride and turned south onto CO 145 at the traffic circle.  From there it was two miles steeply uphill to a left turn leading into the community of Mountain Village.  There you can park for free in a parking garage and take two gondolas up over the mountain and back down into Telluride.  We did this ride two weeks ago, but that was before the leaves changed colors.

The first gondola takes you on a fairly level ride from the parking garage into the main area of Mountain Village.

The second gondola takes you up to the top of the San Sophia Overlook (10,540 ft.) then down steeply into Telluride

Looking down into Telluride

Moving through the San Sophia Station at the peak of the mountain

Heading back down to Mountain Village

The Telluride airport in the distance

The next morning we left Ridgway State Park and headed south.  Our route would follow the same one we took back from Telluride yesterday, but we would continue past Mountain Village on CO 145 to Cortez, CO about 115 miles from Ridgway.  Since the route would take us up and over Lizard Head Pass (10,222′) we decided to lighten the load on the motorhome and have Pam drive the Jeep following John in the motorhome.

The light traffic and slow speeds allowed both of us (the Jeep driver more than the motorhome driver) to enjoy the spectacular beauty all around us.

Trout Lake

 

We arrived at our destination, West View RV in Cortez, and set up for a two night stay.  We’re here for a one day visit to Mesa Verdi National Park.

More on that later . . .

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Owl Creek Pass and Silver Jack Reservoir

Montrose, CO

When we first arrived in Montrose, we stopped in at the visitor center to inquire about interesting things to do or see in the area.  While there we met the perfect person to talk enthusiastically and knowledgeably about his city.  One of the things he told us we must do was to take a long, circuitous route through the mountains southeast of town.  The trip, mostly on narrow, dusty roads, would take us up and over Owl Creek Pass and along the shore of Silver Jack Reservoir.

Heading south on US 550 toward Ridgway with the San Juan Mts. in the distance

We began the loop drive by heading south from Montrose on US 550 for 23 miles.  Just south of the day use area of Ridgway State Park we turned to the east at a sign designating the way to the pass and reservoir.

The dirt road was nicely maintained as we headed into the mountains, with typical Colorado mountain scenes all around us.

As we rose in elevation we began to see Aspens starting to turn colors.

Chimney Rock

After about 15 miles of dusty, winding roads we came to Owl Creek Pass.

Winding down the road on the north side of the pass we could see more leaves beginning to change in the high country of Colorado.

After descending for about eight miles we could see the Silver Jack Reservoir through the trees.  After all the twisting and turning we did going up and down the mountains we finally came to a stretch of flat, smooth road.  But we had to stop for a few minutes while someone in a pick-up gave assistance to two ladies in an SUV.

It seems that while maneuvering her car for that perfect fall picture (on the flat part of the road), she forgot to look in her mirror and backed right into a steep drainage ditch.  Fortunately, the truck was able to pull her out with little difficulty and no apparent damage to the vehicle.

We continued past the lake and pulled into the Silver Jack Campground and Picnic Area parking lot.  Right next to the bathrooms a trail leads down to an access road going to the dam.

The trail, which is paved for a short distance, leads to a handicapped accessible lookout with a nice view of the reservoir.  It then becomes dirt and heads downhill through a stand of Aspens.

View from the Lookout

Trail beyond Lookout

Once down on the road it is a short walk to the top of the Silver Jack Dam.  The earthen dam was constructed between 1966 and 1971 by the Bureau of Reclamation.  At a height of 173 feet, it is 1050 feet long at its crest.  It impounds the East Fork Cimarron River for irrigation storage.

Going over the wide top of the dam

As with all the reservoirs in the area, the water level is down in preparation for the winter.

Looking down at the Cimarron River below the dam

From the dam it was an 18 mile drive through Colorado farm land to US 50 near the little community of  Cimarron, then 20 miles back to Montrose.  This is a very scenic 84 mile loop that can be completed in any vehicle with a little clearance.

That completes our visit to Montrose.  We stayed nine days and found many things to do and see.  It is a good central location if you don’t want to move locations often, as places like Crested Butte, Gunnison, Ouray, and Telluride are within a day’s drive.  Next up for us is a return stay at nearby Ridgway State Park.  The leaves have really begun to change so we want to repeat a drive in the mountains we did two weeks ago.  More on that later . . .

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The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Montrose, CO

One of the main reasons we wanted to visit this part of Colorado was to explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  We left the town of Gunnison and drove back east on US 50 for a stay in the town of Montrose so we would be closer to the park entrance.

The Black Canyon is a 48 mile long section of the Gunnison River.  The deepest section of the canyon is the 12 miles that are within the national park. The canyon’s name owes itself to the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day.  The park is basically in three sections: the East Portal, the South Rim, and the North Rim.  While you could see almost everything in one day, we took three days and visited one section each day.

The East Portal

The East Portal is a small section of the park right along the Gunnison River.  It is accessed by a narrow, paved road that begins just past the park entrance.  The road is extremely steep (16% grades) with hairpin curves. Vehicles with an overall length greater than 22 feet are prohibited.

Going down

After a five mile drive steeply down and around numerous curves, we arrived at the fairly tranquil Gunnison River.

The main feature of East Portal is the Gunnison Tunnel.  The Gunnison Tunnel is an irrigation tunnel constructed between 1905 and 1909 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.  At the time of its completion, it was the longest irrigation tunnel in the world and quickly made the area around Montrose into profitable agricultural lands.  The 5.8-mile tunnel cut right through the sheer cliffs of the famed Black Canyon, taking water from the Gunnison River and funneling it to the semiarid Uncompahgre  (Un-come-PAH-gray) Valley to the west.

The diversion dam pushes water to the tunnel entrance on the right

The tunnel is 5.8 miles long and is 11 by 12 feet in cross-section, with square corners at the bottom and an arched roof.  It drops about 40 feet over its length.  At the deepest, it is about 2,200 feet beneath the surface of Vernal Mesa.

The ripples in the water show it flowing into the tunnel

There is a trail along the river downstream from the diversion dam.  It is mainly used for people fishing, but we decided to hike it to find a spot to have lunch.

We only hiked about a mile before large areas of rock slides made the going a bit too rough.  Time to turn around.

The South Rim

The South Rim Drive is 7 miles from Tomichi Point to High Point, and has 12 overlooks. Most are reached by walking a short trail.  There is a nice visitor center at the beginning of the drive where they show an informative video about the canyon.  After enjoying the video we did the drive and visited all the view points.

The first overlook behind the Visitors Center – Gunnison Point

Lunch with a view

Painted Wall

Most of the paths to the observation points were fairly short, about a quarter mile round trip.  But the last one required a hike of a bit over a mile to Warner Point.  We did every view point and ended up hiking about four miles total.

Near Warner Point at the north end of the national park

The North Rim

While the South Rim is easily accessed from Montrose by a 12 mile drive,  to reach the North Rim requires a 65 mile loop around the canyon. The North Rim Road provides access to 6 overlooks. The canyon walls on the North Rim are almost vertical, offering some of the most impressive views found in the park.

North Rim Entrance

Although there are less observation points, we thought most were more impressive than those on the South Rim, and there were very few people sharing them with us.

While most of the viewpoints on the North Rim are very near the road, Exclamation Point requires a hike of a mile and a half along the North Vista Trail.

Our final adventure in the Montrose area was a drive up through the mountains to Owl Pass.  We’ll share that in our next blog.

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Paradise Divide Drive – Crested Butte, CO

Gunnison, CO

On Tuesday we drove the Jeep over to the repair shop and returned the rental car.  We then walked into Gunnison and enjoyed breakfast at the W Cafe.  Thanks Joe and Gay for the recommendation as the food was delicious.

The Jeep repairs were completed that afternoon and the next day we headed back north from Gunnison to Crested Butte for a beautiful drive up over two high mountain passes.  The Paradise Loop Drive begins and ends in Mt. Crested Butte.  We followed Joe and Gay’s experience (good-times-rollin) and did the drive in a clockwise direction beginning on Slate River Road, between Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.

One of the locals keeps an eye on any visitors

The road begins as a wide graded road.  At about 9 miles it narrows and begins a steep climb.

Autumn is in the air

Going up . . .

. . . and up . . .

. . . and up . . .

. . . to the top

Beautiful small lake at the divide

Lunch with a view (ok, we cheated and ate in the jeep)

Continuing down past the divide

Schofield Pass

After going up and over Schofield Pass we turned east (left) on to CR 317 heading back down toward Mt. Crested Butte.  We soon passed beautiful little Emerald Lake.

The road’s a bit steep and narrow near the lake

The water was crystal clear

Continuing down past the lake

As we continued down toward Mt. Crested Butte we drove through the former silver boomtown of Gothic, now home to  the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

Established in the 1880s, Gothic’s heyday was short lived.  By 1890 prospectors seeking the motherlode had moved on.  In the 1920s Dr. John Johnson, a biology professor at Western Colorado College in Gunnison, led his students on field trips near Gothic.  Recognizing the rare and rich ecology of the remote high valley,  he set up a field station in 1928 within the ruins of the old mining town. Since then the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory has become an internationally renowned center for scientific research on high-altitude ecosystems.

Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory Visitor Center

One of the few original buildings (now a coffee house open in the summer)

After perusing the well done visitor center and spending time with a very informative docent there we continued down the road, enjoying the early fall colors all around us.

Crested Butte (12,168′) comes into view

This 26 mile loop is an absolutely beautiful drive that can be completed in most vehicles.  We wouldn’t do it in our Lamborghini, but any vehicle with a bit of clearance could complete the drive.  But those with a fear of heights might want to avoid it, as the road is often steep and narrow with no guard rails.

Well, that completes our visit to Gunnison and Crested Butte.  Next up is a week long stay in Montrose, about 60 miles to the west, for a visit to the lower section of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  More on that later . . .

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A Ghost Town, an Old Mine, and a Dams – Gunnison, CO

Gunnison, CO

We did a number of small hikes and drives while in the Gunnison area, but we’ll share two of them with you.  The day before the Jeep was scheduled to be repaired (new fuel line) we again used Joe and Gay’s blog (good-times-rollin) to find a drive to a neat little semi-ghost town not far from Gunnison, with a short hike to an abandoned mine thrown in.

Pitkin, founded in 1879, was the first mining town in Colorado west of the Continental Divide.  By June of 1882 there were over 60 business structures and 300 to 400 residences.  It had a population of over 1,000 and the surrounding hills were bursting.

The town’s early success began to fade by the summer of 1882.  Mineral veins that were rich near the surface began to play out and didn’t justify further development.  By the spring of 1883, Pitkin had lost half its population.

In the 1920’s and 30’s the timber industry and the fish hatchery helped to keep Pitkin alive.  The depression of the 1930’s caused further reductions in population to below 100 people, where it has remained.  During the Winter Pitkin has 80 year round residents, but summertime brings the count up to between 200 and 300.

While the main street consists mainly of original buildings (nicely maintained) many of the houses looked to be pretty new, so there is new life in the town as it has developed into a summer destination for riding ATVs and mountain bikes.

Joe and Gay also alerted us to a short hike to an abandoned mine that began just off the main road a few miles south of the town .  We found the trailhead on the east side of Rte. 73 in a small pull over parking area.

Our rental in the parking area

The trailhead

After a short distance the trail went across Quartz Creek and continued north along side the creek.

We soon came to the remains of a power plant along the creek that provided electricity to the nearby mine.

The trail went steeply uphill above the power plant to a two track road.  We followed the road around a switchback up to the entrance to the mine.  We’ve visited many abandoned mines in our travels, but have never seen such a cool entrance.

The Roosevelt Mine opened in 1907 with a great deal of promise and operated into the 1930’s.  But low grade ore and some sort of controversy stopped its operation.  We couldn’t find any information of where the mine got it’s name (OK, Theodore Roosevelt was the president so that may have something to do with it) or what the controversy was.

Later in the week we drove west on US 50 about 25 miles past the Blue Mesa Reservoir to the Pine Creek Trailhead, located just a few miles west of the Blue Mesa Dam.  This trail is typically utilized for a boat tour on the south side of the Black Canyon to the Morrow Point Reservoir. The trail starts with a 180 foot (232 stairs) descent to the river/reservoir, then follows the Gunnison River for a little over a mile along a former narrow gauge railroad bed.  The trail eventually ends where the river banks are too narrow for a trail.

Looking down the stairs at the start of the trail

Crossing a small stream on the way down

Once section of stairs

The Gunnison River below

More stairs

Down on the trail, finally!

At the base of the stairs the river is mostly rapids.  But soon it widens a bit and turns tranquil from the effects of the Morrow Dam located further down the river.

Three quarters of a mile down the trail we came to the dock used by the National Park Service for a boat tour during the summer.  We had inquired about taking the tour but the service stopped that Sunday and all tours were full the previous week.

We continued beyond the dock, enjoying the beautiful views of the Upper Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

We returned back up to the parking lot (gravity was not our friend on those stairs) and drove across the Blue Mesa Dam, a 390 foot earth fill dam.

Blue Mesa Dam on the left

The road over the top of the dam

After crossing the dam on Rte. 92 it is a short drive up to an observation point where we could see the dam to our east and the boat dock on the river below us.

That’s the dock way down below

Driving back to Gunnison along the Blue Mesa Reservoir we enjoyed the spectacular views across the water.

Dillion Pinnacles

We are nearing the end of our stay in Gunnison but have one more adventure to share.  More on that later . . .

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