– Montrose, Colorado to Grand Junction, Colorado –
Today our day began at 6am. After waking up and getting dressed, we went for a run down the Uncompahgre Riverway Trail, which never really seemed to be that close to the river. It crossed streets and ran behind houses, among other oddities. It wasn’t a terrible trail, just odd. The path itself was nice, though, had it not been cloudy, it would’ve been in the full sun.
After our run, we showered, grabbed breakfast, and loaded the truck. We were planning to visit a touristy town this morning, either Telluride or Ouray, and in the end we finally decided on Telluride. From our hotel in Montrose, it’s about 1.5 hours to Telluride, and about a half hour out of our way. Basically, to get where we were going later in the day, we had to drive back out the same road we came into Telluride on, backtracking for several miles. We had the time, but backtracking always makes us a little sad, regardless.
Telluride is another town much like Crested Butte, though Telluride is entirely enclosed in mountains, save for the direction we came from. There’s no other way out of town. It just ends there in a little valley. Telluride isn’t as cute as Crested Butte. It has a different vibe to it, though I can’t exactly put my finger on why.
Since we planned to spend the morning there, we climbed out of the truck and went for a walk down the main street in town. It’s nice enough, and many of the shops are still cute and fun. You can see the ski slopes practically from the street.
While we were walking, the clouds were moving in, and we were expecting a little rain. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more than a little, and we had to briefly take shelter in a small office’s car park to wait out the pouring rain. The rain slackened briefly around 11:30, and we rushed out to grab some lunch before it started again.
We barely made it. By the time we were under the awning where our sandwich shop, The Brown Bag, was situated, it started to pour again. The building has two stories, with the top floor providing a roof over a wide hallway-type area where there are several store fronts, ours with tables outside where we could eat with Ripley. We were quite pleased to have found it, although we were quite cold. The rain dropped the temperature about 15 degrees in a matter of minutes.
We finished eating just as the rain slowed down again, and we hustled back out onto the street to hurry back to our truck. It was quite a ways down the road, since we parked in free parking instead of metered, so it started to rain in earnest again just before we got there. We hurriedly loaded Ripley into the truck and fed her before taking shelter ourselves.
Perhaps another hour later, our backtracking finished, the temperature had risen to 90 once again. We turned onto Highway 145 and took it through the little towns of Norwood and Redvale, until we finally reached Naturita. That wasn’t our final destination, exactly, but something nearby was.
Naturita has a town visitor center, so we stopped by to use the restrooms and grab a few maps and brochures about the area. For a brief time, gold and uranium mines were found in this region of Colorado, and the history of the area’s gold rush is somewhat interesting.
Our destination, just a few miles down the road, was what’s called The Hanging Flume. A flume is basically a water channel used to move materials through it via gravity. They are used frequently in logging, and in placer mining for gold, as was done here.
The Hanging Flume, in particular, is a flume that stretched for 10 miles from the Dolores and San Miguel rivers to the mine, with 7 miles of it attached to the side of the river canyon’s walls. In case you were wondering, that is not how flumes are usually done. It was six feet wide and four feet deep, and was sometimes attached hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. The remnants of the flume, which was built in the 1890s, can still be seen today, and we planned to get a look at them.
Along Highway 141 out of Naturita, you can find several historic sites, including the former mining town of Uravan. One attraction is a burro, carved into the canyon walls along the road a long time ago, to pay tribute to all of the animals that worked the mines all those years ago. Another has been painted beside it today. I’m not entirely sure that counts as an attraction, but it was definitely one that was in the brochure we picked up at the visitor center.
More interestingly, we discovered that there was a road down by the river, a dirt road that ran parallel to the highway, where we could get much closer to the Hanging Flume and have a little adventure down by the water.
The road turned off in the former town of Uravan, and descended rather quickly into the canyon along the San Miguel River. The road was rutted down to washboards in a few places, but for the most part it was smooth and solid, and we had no trouble traversing it.
About 2 miles in, we started to really see the remains of the Hanging Flume. You can see braces and supports left in the canyon walls, and in one area, an entirely restored section. The section was rebuilt by experts in 2012 using tools people would’ve had during the flume’s original construction. It’s not a very large section, but it’s neat to see it and imagine what the flume might’ve looked like during the 10 years it was in use, before it was abandoned entirely when the mines were empty.
At just past 4 miles into the river road, we came to the confluence of the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers. The two rivers are colored quite differently, and you can really see the spot where the water starts to join. It’s neat, in a way. I’m not sure I’ve ever visited the confluence of two rivers before.
We took Ripley out of the truck for a walk around the river’s edge and a few photos. We didn’t want her off in the grass where there might be snakes, so we were pretty careful to pick an open, sandy spot to take a look. We couldn’t stay for long, though, as the sand was a bit hot on her feet. She had to go back to the truck a few minutes after she’d taken a look around, poor girl.
We turned around after the confluence, though you can take the road for another 16 or so miles to another highway on the other side of the canyon. We didn’t want to be over there, but it would probably be a really interesting drive.
On our way back out along the highway, we stopped at a final overlook, to see where we’d been from the top of the canyon. It’s always sort of fun switching viewpoints and seeing where you’ve just been. Mark snapped some photos of the confluence from the top, to make it more obvious where we’d just visited.
Our trip through the many canyons that lead out of that area was mostly uneventful after that, though we did stop briefly in Gateway for some Reese’s Pieces and a bathroom break, because there’s absolutely nothing between Gateway and Naturita. The homes in the area don’t even have electricity.
It’s quite a drive, too, very long, and every time you think you might finally be emerging from the canyons, you come to another turn in the highway and see canyon walls even farther in the distance. I thought Gateway would be at the entrance to the canyons, but it isn’t, really. You aren’t truly out of the canyons until Grand Junction, really.
Our first stop in Grand Junction took us to the local dog park, because our delicate princess had been refusing to take potty breaks on the dry, cracked desert ground from which we’d just emerged. She found the fluffy dog park grass to be far superior, apparently.
She also enjoyed a few laps around the park, running for all she was worth. She’d been mostly cooped up since our run and then our walk through Telluride this morning, so she was ready to burn off a little excess energy. You’ll note how quickly it builds back up. Only 5 or so hours in the car and already she was ready to run another marathon. I swear all of the exercise we give her has done nothing but build up her stamina.
We rolled into our hotel around 6pm, and found to our surprise that we’d been upgraded (because of our super special elite status with La Quinta) to some sort of King Suite with a jacuzzi bathtub in the room. I can’t say I’ve ever seen one in the middle of a bedroom that way, but I guess I knew that they existed. I just never thought I’d find one in a random hotel in a medium-sized town in Colorado. It seems like such a random feature to offer.
Once we’d unpacked, we ordered Mexican food from a restaurant within walking distance of our hotel and brought it back to our room. As with most Mexican restaurants, we got too much food for not a lot of money. It was pretty good, too, though there were raw onions in my beans. Who does that? Luckily we thought ahead, and threw the leftovers into a trash bin outside of our room, so we didn’t spend the night smelling old food.
Tomorrow we’re going to visit Colorado National Monument in the morning, then make our way across the state to hit the first part of Dinosaur National Monument in the afternoon. I’ve never been to either, but Mark has been to Dinosaur a couple of times. I’m looking forward to both.
– Trip Total : 1,435 miles –