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 . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Crested Butte and Three Lakes Trail

Gunnison, CO

We left Ridgway on September 13th and drove about 90 miles east to Gunnison, CO.  The drive took us through the town of Montrose (5,800′), where we will be staying next week, and across US 50.  After crossing over the Cerro Summit (8,000′) and the Blue Mesa Summit (8,850′) the highway parallels the Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado.

We easily found our home for the week at Palisades RV Park on the west side of the town and were escorted to our site.  Once set up we drove into town to check out the visitor center.  Upon our return to the park we hit a snag in our plans for the next couple of days.

One day previous to leaving Boulder City, soon after having the oil changed, we detected the smell of gasoline in the garage.  John checked under the hood and the floor but couldn’t see anything leaking.  When no smell was detected the next day we decided it must have come from a passing vehicle and forgot about it.  But recently the faint smell has re-occurred.  Again, nothing appeared to be leaking.  But this time the smell was quite strong.  John again raised the hood (the bonnet to our English friends) and could see fuel leaking from the fuel line right in the center of the (hot) engine.  Not a good thing!  Of course it was approaching 4:30 on a Friday afternoon.  We found a nearby repair shop that had good ratings and was open on Saturday so John immediately headed there (1.5 miles away), fire extinguisher in hand, to check the place out and see what they could do.  Owner Robert of Robert’s Auto Repair looked at the Jeep and immediately called to order parts.  The parts would not be delivered until Tuesday so, since it was too dangerous to drive the Jeep, we spent Saturday walking around Gunnison and watching football, then rented a car for Sunday and Monday.

The leaking fuel line

On Sunday we drove our rental car north about 25 miles to the ski resort town of Crested Butte (pop. 1,600 – elev. 8,900′).  This old mining town is a mixture of hippie/artsy types and the rich (most of whom reside in the nearby ski area of Mt. Crested Butte).  We went into Crested Butte to visit the weekly farmer’s market.

The farmer’s market was pretty good for such a small community.  As is typical, there were also many arts and crafts displays plus some sort of a strange festival going on with participants wearing weird costumes.

Festival participants weaving headgear from vines (???)

Foot massage near the food vendors, hmmm . . .

Festival participants coming out of a small park

The main street of Crested Butte is very colorful

Friends Joe and Gay stayed a month in nearby Gunnison a couple years ago and we relied on their blog for many of our explorations in this area (good-times-rollin).   One of the hikes they did was the Three Lakes Loop.  Since it was a trail easily reached with our rented sedan, we decided to hike it.  To get to the trailhead we drove about 17 miles out Kebler Pass Road, a well-maintained dirt road, and turned south at the sign for the Lost Lake Campground.  After two or three miles, just before the campground, we found the large parking area for the trailhead.

The trailhead

The first of two easy water crossings

The trail took us up along the first of the three lakes, Lost Lake Slough.  The sky was cloudy during our hike, so we were disappointed in the views, and photos.  To see them on a sunny day check out Gay’s photos from their visit (see earlier link).

Lost Lake Slough

After passing the first lake the trail continued up the hillside.

Rocky trail heading up the slope

At a “T” junction we turned left for a short hike to the second lake.

Dollar Lake

Lost Lake Slough in the distance

Returning back to the main trail we past a nice waterfall near the trail.

The elusive “Butt” tree in the wild!

After passing the waterfall the trail continued down the hillside to the third and final lake, Lost Lake.

Lost Lake

It was a short hike from Lost Lake back to the campground and parking area.  We enjoyed this hike but were disappointed with our photos due to the cloudy skies, especially when we looked at Gay’s beautiful photos taken on a sunny day!

We didn’t see any wildlife on either the hike or the drive but we were stopped by the flock of sheep in the photo below,


We wondered who was in charge of this group, but we soon drove by the boss who quickly forced them off the road and into the trees.

The Boss

We have one more day until the Jeep is repaired so our next adventure will definitely not involve any rough terrain.  Chevy Impalas don’t have much clearance!

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

The Perimeter Trail – Ouray, CO

Ridgway, CO

Ouray’s Perimeter Trail is a unique six mile hiking experience that takes you up and around the town.  The trail begins across from the Ouray Visitor’s Center on the east side of US 550.  Parking space is available behind the Visitor’s Center.

To begin the hike walk across the main road to a large pink boulder, sign and tree.  The trail starts on a wood edged path north of a planted berm behind some condos.  It climbs wood stairs in the hillside to Cascade Cliff.

The trail begins with a steep gain in elevation

Once up on the ridge we enjoyed nice views of the town below as we hiked.

Town hot springs and pool

The narrowest part of the trial

Whitehouse Mountain in the distance (13,492′)

After a little over a mile we came to Cascade Falls and the Cascade Creek bridge.

After a steep uphill climb and a short walk on Amphitheater Campground Road we hiked a short trail along Little Portland Creek to a nice area called the Baby Bathtubs.

We followed the trail up through the woods  and onto Portland Mine Road.   The road goes uphill a short distance and the trail turns right into the old miners’ Potato Patch. (They really grew potatoes here.)

The Potato Patch

The trail went across the Patch to a rocky knoll that features great views.  This is the highest point (8,500′) on the trail.

Lunch with a view

Climbing down from our lunch perch we crossed US 550 (carefully!) and followed one of the trail signs down a dirt access road for a half mile before turning back on to a trail.

A short distance down the trail a bridge crosses the Uncompahgre River (un-COME-pah-GRAY).

Uncompahgre is a Ute Indian word that means “dirty water” or “angry water” or “red lake,” because mountain minerals color the water.

Uncompahgre River

After crossing the bridge we continued uphill to a large water pipeline and a metal stile.

Moving down the trail we passed a wall of rock on the other side of the river.  This area is known as the Ouray Ice Park.  In the winter, sprinklers pour water from the pipeline, allowing giant icicles to form down the gorge’s walls, attracting ice climbers from all over the world.

Summer view of the ice park wall

Winter in the ice park (internet photo)

Passing the ice park the trail goes along a beautiful little reservoir filled with crystal clear water.

Past the reservoir the trail veered slightly off the road and soon crossed CR 361.  It then heads to the Box Cañon high bridge  over Cañon Creek’s spectacular gorge,

View of Cañon Creek from the bridge

Past the bridge, the trail passes through a low-hanging tunnel that was built for a water pipeline project in the early 20th century before it was abandoned in the 1950s.

Once through the tunnel the trail goes down a steep set of steps with a fence on the edge and a cable along the wall to help hikers.

The remainder of the circuit consists of road walking, beginning with a downhill stroll on the unpaved Pinecrest Drive.  After crossing Oak Creek you take a left on Oak Street, a residential drive that parallels the Uncompahgre River as it heads northward.  At the town maintenance garage take a right and cross the pedestrian bridge over the river and follow the path back to the Visitor’s Center and parking lot where the hike began.

Cool deck built around two trees

The 6.5 mile Perimeter Trail is a great way to experience a variety of terrain while enjoying great views of the town of Ouray.  If you are a hiker, this is a must-do experience while visiting Ouray.

Next up for us is a visit to the towns of Gunnison and Crested Butte.  More on that later . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

Jeep Roads and the Million Dollar Highway

Ridgway, CO

One day during our visit here we drove south on US 550 through the little town of Ouray and up and over the San Juan Mountains for 23 miles to the town of Silverton.  One of the main objectives of this trip was to drive the Million Dollar Highway, which is what the section of US 550 from Ouray to Silverton is frequently called.

The road was originally built as a toll way in 1883 and operated as such until the 1920s, when it was rebuilt.  No one is certain of why this highway has its name.  One explanation is that an early traveler was so overcome by vertigo on the steep and winding stretch of road that he insisted he would never travel it again, even if he was paid a million dollars.

Another explanation is that the construction of the road in the 1930’s cost one million dollars per mile, or that the land cost a total of a million.  Also, some people think that the name has to do with the fact that builders used gravel from the nearby silver and gold mines and that the dirt was so rich in ore, it was worth a million.  Who knows what the reason, we just know that the views are worth a million of something!

A snow shed over the highway

This journey takes you winding and weaving through the mountains, clinging to tight curves with breath-taking views. It climbs up three very steep high mountain passes: Red Mountain Pass (at an elevation of over 11,000 feet), Molas Pass and Coal Bank Pass.

High mountain meadow

Looking south from a high pass

Another view to the south

After crossing over the mountains we arrived at the little town of Silverton (pop. 630).  Silverton was founded in 1874 to support the numerous mining operations active in the area.  Silverton no longer has active mining, but subsists by tourism, maintenance of US 550 , mine pollution remediation, and retirees.  Most or all of the town is now included in a federally designated National Historic Landmark District called the Silverton Historic District.

Silverton is the northern terminus of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a three foot narrow-gauge heritage railroad that operates 45.2 miles of track and offers tourists a tour through the mountains between Durango and Silverton.

The train pulling into the station

We by-passed the train ride and headed north out of town on County Road 2 (Greene Street) to explore a section of the Alpine Loop, a series of unpaved roads winding through the mountains between Ouray and Silverton past a number of abandoned mines and ghost towns.  While the meadows and tundra are accessible to ordinary passenger vehicles, a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle is required to travel the entire route.

The initial section of the loop is on a well-maintained road

A herd of vicious Llamas guard the roadway

The loop is quite scenic

One of many abandoned mines in the area

As the road gained in elevation we passed a number of still unmelted banks of snow.

Soon we came to an area where a huge avalanche during the past winter had blocked the road.  Apparently this section of the road was only opened for travel in late June.

The road narrowed and became rougher as we drove north.  After about 12 miles we came to our destination, the ghost town of Animas Forks.  At over 11,000 feet, Animas Forks is one of the highest mining camps in the Western US.

Buildings of Animas Forks visible along the tree line

The town’s first log cabin was built in 1873 and by 1876 the community had become a bustling mining community.  At that time the town contained 30 cabins, a hotel, a general store, a saloon, and a post office.  By 1883 450 people lived in Animas Forks and in 1882 a newspaper, the Animas Forks Pioneer, began publication and lasted until October 1886. Every fall most of the residents of Animas Forks migrated to the warmer town of Silverton.  In 1884 a 23 day blizzard inundated the town with 25 feet of snow and the residents had to dig tunnels to get from building to building.

When mining profits began to decline, investment in Animas Forks was no longer justified.  The Gold Prince Mill closed in 1910 and in 1917 most of the mill’s major parts were removed for a new facility in another town.  The mill’s dismantling signaled the beginning of the end for Animas Forks.  The town was a ghost town by the 1920s.

The Gold Prince Mill

Below is a photo of the Gustavson House, built in 1906.  A couple from Scandinavia lived here year round with their four children for four years.

Residents had beautiful views all around them (we wonder how much time they had to enjoy them)

The rehabilitated 1879 William Duncan House (below) belonged to one of the first miners to live in Animas Forks year round.

Duncan House in 1905

Main living area inside the Duncan House

After exploring the ghost town buildings we headed back down the loop road, going back through the avalanche area.

Returning back over the Million Dollar Highway we had some great views during the descent back down into Ouray.

Next up for us is a hike on the Perimeter Trail, a loop trail going high around Ouray.  More on that later . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

A Visit to Telluride, CO

Ridgway, CO

After a three night visit to Cedar City, UT we headed north on I-15 then east on I-70.  Heading east the highway climbs up into the mountains, cresting at Clear Creek Summit with an elevation of 7,180 feet.  It then descends into the Sevier Valley and goes around the cities of Richfield and Salina.  After leaving exit 56 in Salina, I-70 continues for 104 miles  to the first Green River exit 160.  Though there are a number of exits in between the two cities, this is the longest distance in the Interstate Highway System with no motorist services directly along the highway.  About 30 miles west of Green River the highway descends through a series of beautiful canyons that are part of the San Rafael Swell.

Approaching the San Rafael Swell

Going through the Swell

Once down through the Swell the landscape flattens out all the way to Green River.  We stopped there for the night at Shady Acres RV Park, a decent park for an overnight stay, before continuing into Colorado.

Heading toward Green River, UT

After our overnight in Green River we continued on I-70 to Grand Junction, CO where we turned south on US 50.  Driving through Grand Junction, Delta, and Montrose we arrived at Ridgway State Park, where we had a reservation for five nights.

Site 221 in Ridgway State Park

Ridgway is a nice state park right along the Ridgway Reservoir and the Uncompahgre River.  The park is in three sections, with two located along the reservoir and one north of the dam along the river.

Fly Fishing along the Uncompahgre River near our site

The Ridgway Reservoir

Driving south between the separate units of the state park the Sneffels Range of the San Juan Mountains comes into view.   Many of those peaks are over 13,000 feet with the highest being Mt. Sneffels at 14,150 feet.

The Sneffels Range

Our first activity in this area was a visit to the ski resort town of Telluride, about 40 miles southeast of Ridgway.  The town is a former silver mining camp on the San Miguel River in the western San Juan Mountains. The first gold mining claim was made in the mountains above Telluride in 1875, and early settlement of what is now Telluride followed.   The town sits in a box canyon at an elevation of 8,750 feet.  A recommended way to visit Telluride is to park in the nearby small, upscale community of Mountain Village almost a thousand feet above Telluride and ride the free gondola system into the town.  We followed that advice and parked in the free parking garage in Mountain Village.  There we boarded a gondola for a 12 minute fairly level ride into the center of Mountain Village.

In the main section of Mountain Village we boarded another gondola that took us up over the San Sophia Mountain ( if hiking or biking the mountain you get off here), then steeply down into Telluride.

Looking back down into Mountain Village

Crossing over the peak and looking down into Telluride

Exiting the gondola in Telluride

Looking back at the gondola entrance

Telluride is a neat little upscale ski town with a population of 2,325.  The main street is filled with shops and restaurants.

No hot dog vendors in this town!

After exploring the main area of town we boarded the gondola and enjoyed the cool ride up and over the mountain, stopping in the center of Mountain Village to enjoy a few moments at one of those chain coffee shops out of Seattle.  Pam had read in Ingrid’s blog (Live Laugh RV) about a Jeep road called the Last Dollar Road that went 18 miles up and over the mountains between Telluride and Ridgway.  We asked about it at the visitor center and found that it was open to high clearance vehicles.  It sounded like a fun drive so off we went.  To get to the Last Dollar Road we had to head into Telluride, giving us a spectacular view of the box canyon where the town is located.

The view heading into Telluride

We turned north at the sign pointing at the Telluride airport and headed up the mountain.  Just beyond the airport the pavement ended and we continued on a well maintained dirt road that rose up into the mountains in a series of switchbacks.

Nearing the summit the road became rough and narrowed to one lane.  We didn’t need four-wheel drive but high clearance was necessary in some areas.

When the leaves change this “tunnel” should be quite stunning

At the high point we could see the the main road below

As we drove up the Last Dollar Road we could see Wilson Peak (14, 023) behind us.

The peak may look familiar to those who enjoy a Coors beer, as it is the peak featured on the beer’s label.

As we descended down the Last Dollar Road we were treated to a beautiful view of the mountains near a pass called the Dallas Divide.

Next up for us is a drive up and over the mountains on the Million Dollar Highway.  More on that later . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 41 Comments

Hiking Near Cedar City, UT

Cedar City, UT

Upon leaving Boulder City, we headed north on I-15 into Utah.  The winding, usually speedy, ride through the Virgin River Gorge in Arizona is very beautiful.  But construction in the gorge brought traffic to a crawl for a bit, allowing us more time to enjoy the views all around us.

Exiting the north end of the gorge


After a drive of 200 miles we arrived at Cedar Breaks RV Park on the north side of Cedar City for a three night stay.

The next morning we drove back south on I-15 for about 20 miles to the Kolob Canyon section of Zion National Park.  We haven’t done much hiking in a while so we decided to start off with the Taylor Creek Trail, a five mile out and back that we did during a visit here a few years ago.  That visit was in early March and the trail was covered with snow, so we were interested in experiencing it in warmer weather.

Taylor Creek Trailhead

The trail goes up a canyon along Taylor Creek, crossing the water 54 times one way.  In March it was covered with ice and deep in some spots making some crossings a bit interesting.  But this time the shallow water made all crossings very easy.


The trail passes two restored cabins constructed in the 1930s, one of which is pictured below.

The end point of the hike is the Double Arch Alcove.  It’s a large concave rock formation with white and black stripe patterns where water has found its way through the wall.

Lower Alcove

We don’t see these as “arches” but the alcove is a beautiful place to enjoy lunch before returning back down the creek.

Upper Alcove

It was a hot day when we did this hike so the over 100 steps out of the canyon to the parking area seemed extra strenuous.

Kolob Canyon consists of one six mile road that leads up to a viewpoint.  After completing the hike we drove up to the viewpoint to enjoy the spectacular vistas.

The next day we drove 20 miles east up into the mountains on UT-14 to repeat another hike we did a few years ago.  Cedar Breaks National Monument sits at a bit over 10,000 feet above a beautiful natural amphitheater of colorful rock.  The rock of the amphitheater is more eroded than, but similar to, formations at nearby Bryce Canyon National Park.  It has much of the same beautiful vistas but without the crowds.

We hiked the Ramparts Trail, which goes down along the edge of the canyon for two miles.

Numerous openings along the trail provide spectacular views of the colorful canyon below.





Vegetation along the rim is a bit sparse due to the harsh conditions at the high elevation.  But it is a perfect spot for one of the oldest living things on the planet, the Bristlecone Pine.

Bristlecone branch

One of the living things in this photo is very, very old


The trail ends at Ramparts Overlook.


We left Cedar City the next day and headed north on I-15, then east on I-70.  We’ll spend a night in Green River, UT before heading into Colorado to explore the mountains around Montrose and and Gunnison CO.

More on that later . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Summer Summary – Back on the Road

Boulder City, NV

Since we last shared a blog (Fourth of July), we have been enjoying quiet days here in Boulder City.  With temperatures well over a hundred degrees every day, any outdoor activities needed to be done early in the morning, with afternoon spent in and around the swimming pool.

In mid-July we enjoyed a brief visit from our daughter, Jessica.  While the main activity during her visit was enjoying the water while floating in a pool chair . . .

. . . we did take one excursion to the Spring Mountains, on the north west side of Las Vegas.  We drove the 65 miles to enjoy cooler temperatures at the higher elevations while hiking the Bristlecone Trail in Lee Canyon.

Mother and daughter ready for a hike

We enjoyed great views as the trail rose through the pines

Lunch with a view

Heading back down the trail (find John in the blue shirt)

Our son, Kevin, has lived in Atlanta since graduating from Law School back in 2003.  Since leaving the law field he has worked his way up through the pilot ranks to flying airliners with Delta, where his base was still in Atlanta.  Recently he switched aircraft and moved his base to Los Angeles.  Apparently after visiting with us in Nevada the weather and lifestyle of the west strongly beckoned.  As luck would have it, his first trip on the Boeing 737 was from LAX to Las Vegas and back.  At first we intended to fly back with him on stand-by, but the flight was full.  But we did find a great viewing area for airport landings and take-offs and were able to watch his first take-off in the new airplane.

The dot in the cockpit is Kevin. His mother was disappointed he didn’t wave or toot the horn!

Kevin now rents a great little apartment just a short drive from the parking lot for LAX and a short walk from the beach.

Walk a quarter mile up a hill and this is the view

With the airport nearby, there are no residential areas for a long stretch of beach, limiting visitors in that area.

Walking along a paved trail and you can enjoy the beauty of the Pacific while watching airliners of all sizes head for locations far and near.  What a great location for someone who has followed the airlines since he was a small child.

Back home in Boulder City we fell into a low pressure daily regiment.  One of our frequent stops has been at nearby Hemenway Park to check out the herd of Big Horn’s who hang out there enjoying the only shade in the area while feasting on the well-maintained grass.

Below is the outdoor temperature for an afternoon in early August.  While that afternoon was one of the hottest of the summer, every day the thermometer went well over one hundred.  So what does one do when the temps hit triple digits?

Enjoy the comfortable 85 degree temperatures in the pool!

Who is that swimmer?

Now that vacation season is over and the kids are back in school (Why do they need a vacation anyway?) it is time for the retired people to hit the road.  We’re now  heading into Colorado to enjoy some hiking and exploring.

More on that later . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 25 Comments