Colorado Adventure, Day 5 // Monday, September 14, 2015
Up to this point in the trip, things had been going really well on our adventure, but we felt like we were going through too fast. Having not done a lot of research on places to go, we felt like we were missing lots of places as we drove through the Rockies. So today, we decided to go off track a bit so that we could see more of colorful Colorado. We didn’t have any commitments until the following Monday, so why rush this trip? To start off our day, we drove West on highway 50, over Monarch Pass. (Our 4th and final crossing of the Continental Divide!) The skies were overcast, but the views were lovely all the same. We drove to Gunnison, then instead of continuing West, we drove North on highway 135 to Crested Butte.
Top 2: Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery // Bottom 2: Entering Crested Butte
This road is called the West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway. The road goes between a 2 lane highway and dirt mountain roads as it circles the West Elk Mountains and drives through Gunnison National Forest. We learned about this road thanks to a letterbox series, and this decision turned out to be one of the best we’d made yet.
We first stopped for a letterbox near the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery and enjoyed the colors around the East River. We took a short walk around the fish hatchery, then went on our way. Not that it wasn’t interesting to us or anything…but we were ready to move on. 🙂 Next, we drove through Crested Butte. (Go ahead, laugh…) We passed through, grabbed a few letterboxes, then continued on the scenic highway. After a bit, the road went from paved to a well-maintained gravel, and we were off into the wilderness!
We went off the highway for a bit to enjoy Lake Irwin, and walked around a little there. A huge dog, unleashed and without its owner, followed us around for a bit, making Charlotte very uneasy, but she handled it like a champ and finally it left us alone. We stopped another time at a gravesite for a mining town which was once here. We decided to wander around a bit here on an unmarked trail, just because we could! The trail led us through a beautiful hidden meadow. Quiet, beautiful, and no one else anywhere in sight. Perfect!
Our first good view of the West Elk Mountains had us stunned and amazed. They stand out from any view, reaching up into the heavens. [See the top photo of this post for the best view of the mountains!] The cloud cover today made them seem even more glorious! One of our favorite things about this whole drive were the gorgeous aspens. It was the perfect season to drive through and enjoy their golden leaves, contrasting the green white colors which also brightly covered the roads. We stopped at several more scenic overlooks throughout the afternoon. We just couldn’t get enough of the views! Neither could Charlotte, and she was pretty ticked when we wouldn’t let her out at every stop. 🙂
After leaving the Gunnison National Forest, we drove through the coal mining town of Paonia, and then Hotchkiss. We stopped for another letterbox and looked for a place for dinner, but found nothing. Our plan was to camp on the North rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, even with the threatening dark clouds looming over the area. We decided we had enough food on us to survive the night, and so we finished our drive to the canyon. We set up our tent in the park campground, and were very glad to find that Charlotte was allowed on select trails here! I think she was pretty happy about that as well. 🙂
Ahh, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was breathtaking. It is so vast, so deep, and so hard to capture in a picture. Trust me on this, you’re going to need to go there yourself to see what I’m talking about. We were there right at sunset, as the sun finally made its way out of the clouds that had been hiding it all day! While there were others at the campground, we were the only ones here enjoying the views. (And after visiting the Grand Canyon, we know it’s really a big deal to be by yourself at a gorgeous national park like this!)
Then we turned around and saw…a rainbow! It only lasted for a minute, but it made our short hike perfect. What if we had just settled in and decided to hike the next morning?? We would have missed this beauty! We could only see the ends of the rainbow, one on either rim on the canyon. It was truly amazing. Our hike was short, just along the rim, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s hard to take your eyes away from something so incredible.
Well, with those lovely clouds came more rain and a thunderstorm that night. I don’t know what I was more afraid of while we camped – being struck by lightning, blown by the heavy winds into the canyon, or being eaten by a bear. But somehow, we lived to tell about this anything-but silent night. 🙂 (However, Curtis told me he slept better this night than any other night camping. I have no idea how?!)