Montrose, Colorado, and Black Canyon at the Gunnison National Park

Decision time had arrived. Our original plans were to hang around Mesa Verde for a few days or a week and then drop down into New Mexico, staying on the road until the first part of November. Except one of those life-happens-as-your-making-plans moments popped up on the day before we began our Summer 2018 Tour.

When my cardiologist broke the news that it was time to repair my weakened mitral heart valve, I thought I could push it off until April or May. After spending a month and a half on the road, I realized it was best to get the surgery over with as soon as possible. The worry hung over me like an anvil and I needed to get out from under it. We cut our trip short and turned the truck for home on September 9, 2018. But that didn’t mean we weren’t going to stop to see a few more sights along the way.

Preferring the back roads, we took the scenic route heading west on U.S. 24, making a left at U.S. 285 and continuing to U.S. 50 toward Montrose, Colorado, passing through Monarch Pass. The colorful hills and forests kept us alert during our 4-1/2 hour drive.

The hills begin their fall displays
San Isabel National Forest
Dillon Pinnacles and Gunnison River in Curecanti National Recreation Area

We checked in at Black Canyon KOA, a nice campground with large spots and plenty of shade trees. Our focus for staying in Montrose was to visit the Black Canyon at the Gunnison National Park. Established as a national monument in 1933, Black Canyon became a national park on October 21, 1999.

South Rim

The park features a 7-mile road along the south rim with 12 overlooks where we found differing views of the canyon and the river 2,000 feet below. Some of the overlooks were more popular than others, especially with the tour buses. If we missed an overlook going one way, we caught it on the return trip.

Tomichi Point View toward the east
View from visitor center

While at the visitor center we noticed what looked like a natural bridge. When we asked one of the rangers about it, he said, no. Not a bridge. He had never seen it before and guessed the rock recently fell and wedged itself between the pillars. It was cool to think we were one of the first people to have seen this phenomenon.

I dub thee Fallen Rock Bridge

The Painted Wall was definitely a do-not-miss overlook. The cliff stands 2,250 feet above the river. The stripes on the wall consist of pegmatite, a type of granite containing quartz, feldspar, and mica.

Painted Wall with photographer
Painted Wall with Gunnison River
Spires in Black Canyon of the Gunnison

When we arrived at the High Point overlook, we were ready to stretch our legs on the 1-1/2 mile Warner Point Nature Trail. The pamphlet led us through pinyon pines, juniper, Douglas fir, and Gambel oak trees.

We kept our eye on the storm brewing across the valley. Luckily, it stayed east of us during our entire walk.

Keep eyes on any storm
View of Uncompahgre Valley from Warner Trail
View of Adobe Hills and Uncompahgre Valley from Warner Nature Trail
Warner Nature Trail – Fall is rushing in
Warner Nature Trail and greener pastures thanks to the Gunnison Tunnel

East Portal

The East Portal road is the access route to the Gunnison River, Gunnison Tunnel, Gunnison Diversion Dam, Crystal Dam, a campground, and picnic area. It sounds like a lot to see after reading that list, but everything is contained within about a mile, so not really. And a chainlink fence with concertina wire on top prevents anyone from getting near the Crystal Dam. Take note that the road includes a 16% grade and numerous switchbacks. Vehicles over 22 feet long are prohibited.

East Portal Road switchbacks

Water diverted from the Gunnison River flows through the Gunnison Tunnel, built between 1905 and 1909. I marvel at the engineering it must have taken to blast through rock to create the 11-foot by 12-foot tunnel 5.8 miles long through the granite cliffs of Black Canyon. Starting at opposite ends of the mountain the workers met in the middle using a heading and bench system. First, a heading was cut out of the rock at the top of the bore then cut down six to eight feet, leaving a bench of seven to five feet. Then they cut deeper into the rock and eventually removed the bench portion. President William Taft dedicated the tunnel on September 23, 1909.

Gunnison River from 1/2 way up the East Portal Road

The tunnel is not visible, however, a pump house containing a 5-hp pump and a flat surface under the water is.

Gunnison River Diversion Dam
The dam at end of East Portal Road
Gunnison Tunnel and Diversion Dam Parking and Picnic Cabana

All of our sightseeing must have been too much for us (I mean Jon) to cook dinner while in Montrose because we ate out twice in the short time we were there. First up was the Horsefly Brewing Company. We both opted for the fried shrimp basket. I had sweet potatoes fries with mine, and Jon chose onion rings. A crisp cold Hefeweizen washed it all down.

Horsefly Brewing Company

Check out the barstools at the end of the bar on the right.

Horsefly Brewing Company

Mi Mexico served bargain margaritas for $3.00 when we stopped in for an early dinner. While a bargain price wise, the restaurant did not skimp on the volume or taste. The taco/enchilada lunch special filled our bellies and did not disappoint our taste buds.

Next up we leave Colorado behind and head for Richfield, Utah.

Safe Travels

 

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Moving day arrived on Tuesday, September 4, 2018, the 43rd day of our Summer 2018 Tour. We checked in at Garden of the Gods RV Park in Colorado Springs for five nights. We had no problem whatsoever getting reservations. In fact, the RV park never reached full capacity during our time there. We must have entered the shoulder season, that time before and after peak season.

Pikes Peak

Speaking of peaks, the campground sat nestled below the foothills of Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain, and only three miles from Pikes Peak Cog Railway in Manitou. Unfortunately, the railway had closed due to the need for repairs. Their website now says they plan to reopen in 2021. I hope we are able to make a trip there when the railcars once again traverse the steep grade to the top of Pikes Peak.

Watch your step

Of course, had the railway been running, we would have missed the beautiful drive up the mountain and the many W turns. Vehicles can only drive so far up the 14,115-foot mountain due to the ongoing construction at the top. Parking and shuttles are available at two locations. The first is at the 7-mile marker and the second is at the 16-mile marker. We opted for the 16-mile marker. The less time I spend in the back of a crowded van on a twisty-turny road the better. Motion sickness is not my idea of fun.

Parking lot and shuttle pick up

When we first arrived at the top, cold seeped through to the bone of my face and legs. Why did I not wear a base layer under my jeans? After a trip to the bathroom and a spin around the gift shop, I walked out onto the back patio and it didn’t seem so cold even though the ground was covered in snow.

View from the visitor center and silent railway

With all the construction, melting ice, and snow, we walked gingerly to avoid falling on our butts on the muddy walkways. The need for reconstruction was evident in the condition of the bathroom and gift shop. I’m sure it had been at least 30 years since the building last saw upgrades.

A few people (not pictured) hadn’t planned ahead, wearing flip-flops, shorts, and no jackets or sweaters, in the slushy snow and mud. Crazy.

Railway and buildings at top of Pikes Peak

The views from the peak were the best part of our trip and we saw that the cog railway ended conveniently at the back of the visitor building.

View from Pikes Peak
This photo shows switchbacks in the form of a W on Pikes Peak road

Miramont Castle High Tea

We missed out on tea at the Dushanbe Tea Room in Boulder, so when we saw that Miramont Castle in Manitou served High Tea we called for reservations. They serve the goodies different from what we have experienced in the past. Instead of displaying all the food onto a tiered serving tray, each course comes separately. We started with scones. Then a dish of fresh fruit with strawberries cut to look like a tulip flower, spiraled grapes stuffed with blueberries, and melon balls of cantaloupe and watermelon.

Fresh fruit served icy cold.

Next came the sandwiches. I liked the fig and chicken Paninis the best. The pickle and mayonnaise sandwich was not as tasty, but I ate it anyway.

Dessert was an assortment of bread pudding, yellow cake with buttercream frosting, and a salted chocolate caramel truffle. I can’t believe I ate it all along with a pot and a half of two types of tea.

Yummy goodness
Two choices of tea included

Before and after our reservation, we had time to poke around the castle. Contractors Angus and Archie Gillis constructed the building in 1895—adding a wing in 1897—using plans developed by the owner, Fr. Francolon, and his father.

Solarium Photo 1

The 14,000 square foot home features 40 rooms, some of which are eight-sided. There is also a sixteen-sided room, a solarium, and arched doors and windows. There are nine separate architecture styles represented in the construction including Queen Anne, Romanesque, English Tudor, and Moorish. With two-foot thick walls made of native green sandstone, indoor plumbing, and electricity the castle was ahead of its time.

Solarium photo 2

Fr. Francolon came to Manitou for its popular healing waters and clean air hoping to restore his failing health. His mother arrived from New Mexico in July 1893, bringing four French-speaking servants because she did not speak English.

Bedroom 1

It is believed that the Francolons left for France unexpectedly in 1900 taking valuable artwork with them but leaving furniture. They never returned to Colorado.

Staircase

The Sisters of Mercy, who operated the Montcalme sanitarium nearby for the treatment of tuberculosis, purchased the castle in 1904. After a fire in 1907 destroyed Montcalme, they moved their operation to the castle until 1928 when they discontinued their treatments.

Bedroom 2

The property then served as a boarding house for the wealthy and a retreat for clergy. It stood vacant until 1946 when it was sold to private owners. Manitou Springs Historical Society purchased the castle on February 17, 1976, and began restoration. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 3, 1977.

Example of Moorish architecture?

Besides a photo gallery, there are five other exhibits throughout the castle including history and displays about the Manitou Volunteer Fire Department and Pikes Peak International Hill Climp, which will hold its 97th Race to the Clouds on June 30, 2019.

Garden of the Gods

We visited and returned to Garden of the Gods a few times during our stay. Our first trip was to the visitor and nature center where they have interactive exhibits on geology, wildlife, and history of the park. On subsequent trips, we hiked one or more of the trails.

View of Garden of the Gods from the visitor center

The city park, registered as a National Natural Landmark, has free admission. Highlights include red rock sandstone formations that attract over one million visitors each year.

Kissing Camels

Fifteen miles of loop trails intersect as they wind their way around and through the formations, giving hikers, bicyclists, and horses plenty of places to roam around the 1,364 acres.

Hikers yield to horses

Perkins Central Garden trail is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers along its concrete paved 1.5 miles. The city only allows climbing in certain areas with a permit.

Siamese Twins – Hello out there
Central Garden Trail

We have Charles Elliott Perkins and his family, William Jackson Palmer, and  Colorado Springs to thank for public access to these unusually shaped rocks.

Cathedral Spires

A portion of Garden of the Gods was included in 480 acres of land Perkins purchased in 1879. When he died in 1909, his family gave the land to Colorado Springs with the stipulation that it would be a free public park.

Steamboat on the left and Balanced Rock on the right

When Palmer died, he donated his Rock Ledge Ranch to the city. Today, Colorado Springs parks and recreation staff operate and maintain the visitor center and park.

No, Jon. You won’t fit through that crack.

Old Colorado City

We happened upon a huge farmers market at Bancroft Park in Old Colorado City. The colorful canopies, mouth-watering aromas, and friendly people laughing and talking was a delight to see. Had we known about the market we would not have loaded up on fruits and veggies the day before.

Bancroft Park Farmers Market

Lunch is what we were after. Bon Ton’s Café looked like a good bet and we were not disappointed.

Bon Ton’s Cafe – a great place for breakfast and lunch

We both had coffee and the apple streusel pancake. It was so huge it covered the entire large plate. There was no way we could have eaten more. Well, perhaps Jon could have.

Then we spent about an hour scoping out the historic buildings.

This 1904 public library has been in continuous use as a library since it opened.
This cabin, built in 1859, has had many lives, even as the capitol of territorial Colorado in 1862.
Example of architecture in Old Colorado City
Old Colorado City in reflection

It was nice to settle in Colorado Springs for the few days we were there. We had plenty to see and do without driving long distances. This we appreciated after our stays in Strasburg, Lyons, and Rocky Mountain National Park. We saved other attractions for our next visit when we have more time.

Safe Travels

 

Strasburg, Colorado – Visits to the Comanche Crossing Museum and Limon Heritage Park and Museum

Saturday, September 1 seemed like a good day to visit the local Strasburg museum. Unfortunately, the museum’s last day for the year was August 31. I would think they would want to capture the Labor Day weekend traffic. Then again, the people who operate the museum may have needed a vacation after their summer work and before they settled into their fall and winter activities.

Comanche Crossing Museum

Although we could not go inside the buildings, we wandered around the place reading the signage and looking at the outside displays. I even managed to take a few photos through windows.

Homestead House 1910
Farm Equipment and Barn
Strasburg Railroad Depot
Inside depot through the window

Still itching to spend some time in a museum, we drove to Limon, Colorado. There wasn’t much to see on Interstate 70 between Strasburg and Limon except the Great Plains. Miles and miles of wheat, corn, and hay fields dominated the land to the horizon and windmill farms covered the small hills that rise above the grasslands.

Fall comes early to Limon the Hub City

It was a slow day when we arrived in town. Although we could see that businesses occupied some storefronts, many of the buildings sat empty. No cars lined the streets making us think we had landed in the Twilight Zone.

Deserted city streets
Limon Town Hall

Our greeting by a docent at the Limon Heritage Museum train depot eased our fears of having landed in another dimension. The docent explained that Limon was once a hub for freight and travelers. When the interstate was built, the town began its slow death. “No one wants to live in Limon anymore,” she said, although she seemed happy to live there.

An F3 tornado tore through the city in 1990 destroying most of the downtown business district. Due to the brick construction, the depot still stands today even though the tornado tipped several train cars on their sides. The docent also gave us a brief history of the depot and invited us to look around inside and view the train cars outside.

Depot waiting room
Control room
Drugstore display
Native American artifacts
JT surveys the train cars
Meal car. Not much room for passing between the stools and the windows.

Besides the depot, a warehouse type building houses artifacts and other exhibits. Sunflowers and other bee and hummingbird attracting plants filled the garden in front of the building. I’d love to have such a colorful plot in our yard. It would be my little contribution to improve the environment by providing a place for bees, hummingbirds, and maybe a few butterflies to rest and gather their fill of pollen. Somehow, I believe all the effort to establish such a place would fall to ruin when we are traveling.

Limon Heritage Museum garden
Military History exhibit
Example of 1930s attire for women
Prairie living room and kitchen
Wheat industry exhibit
Sheep wagon, cook wagon, and more

For a town with a population of fewer than 2,000 people, we found the museum well organized and the artifacts presented professionally and recommend anyone traveling on Interstate 70 to make Limon, Colorado, a stop on your route. They are open 7 days a week between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

We drove around town, including the residential areas, before leaving town. Most of the homes showed pride of ownership in their well-kept yards, fresh paint, and newish roofs. That was a switch from some of the little towns we’ve seen. I wondered if the residents are happy with the situation preferring the rural atmosphere, or if they preferred more restaurants, shops, galleries and such to move in as an attraction for tourists to visit. If the museum had still been open, I would have gone back and asked the women at the museum.

I’m glad we took the time to drive out to Limon. We learned more history of the railroad and the town at the center of the crossroads for freight and travelers passing through. The roads that intersect the town include Interstate 70, U.S. Highways 24, 40, and 287, and State Highways 71 and 94.

Next up, we move to Colorado Springs for six days, checking in at an RV park near Garden of the Gods.

Safe Travels

 

Strasburg, Colorado, and a bit more in Boulder

Happy New Year One and All!

Jon and I wish everyone a healthy, joyful, and prosperous 2019. Thank you so much for joining us on our journeys. We appreciate all of our followers, their likes, and comments.

Now, back to our travels in Colorado during August and September 2018.

Our short drive to the Strasburg, Colorado KOA on Wednesday, August 29 was clear sailing with very little traffic. The campground, often typical for RV parks, was near a railway and a freeway. Neither of these transportation infrastructures bothered us too much, to our delight. Besides, after numerous phone calls the day before, we were grateful to procure space in Strasburg on the Labor Day weekend. Shame on us for not making reservations earlier, but we had completely forgotten about the holiday. Retirement is such a joy!

Suburban sprawl has hit the small farming community of Strasburg with new housing developments going up, including some with a good amount of property included. The best restaurant in this town of 2,500 was the Patio Café. The good food and friendliness of the servers and patrons compensated for the lack of charm on the outside.

Patio Cafe in Strasburg, Colorado

We drove around town and found a few fascinating old buildings. I liked this one for the colors and geometric shapes.

Commercial Building

The Historic Strasburg Inn did not look like it was still in operation. On their FaceBook page, there is a photo from 2016 with the name of the place stenciled on the white sign. Now it is a blank slate.

Strasburg Inn no longer in business?

We wondered how long this log cabin had been standing. It looked like it may have started out small and then expanded. The garden and winding pathway to the door is what drew me in.

Log cabin house

Then there was this commercial building with little figurines and other trinkets embedded in the rock wall. I could have stood there for an hour finding all the little treasures that someone painstakingly cemented into the wall.

Rock wall building
Detail of rock wall building

We spotted an old tractor and piece of farm equipment in a field next to the railroad tracks. It would be nice if it ended up in a museum somewhere.

Chautauqua Park

On Friday, we made the hour drive to Boulder. Our objective was to visit the Chautauqua Park National Historic Site where we could enjoy the outdoors, take a hike, and maybe eat lunch at the dining hall. The City of Boulder purchased the 80 acres of land over 100 years ago to be used as a Chautauqua. What is a Chautauqua? We didn’t know. Merriam-Webster dictionary lists Chautauqua as “a stationary or traveling institution that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries providing popular education usually combined with entertainment in the form of lectures, concerts, or dramatic performances often presented outdoors or in a tent.”

Chautauqua Arbor

Boulder’s Chautauqua began its life in 1898 as a Texas summer school for teachers. Through the efforts of the City of Boulder and the Colorado Chautauqua Association, the property has been in continuous operation since it began. Today the park offers lodging, concerts, cultural events, education programs, and recreation.

Wildflowers still in bloom

Situated at the foot of the Flatirons, the Chautauqua property contains a variety of trees that number over 500. Along with the native Douglas fir and spruce trees, there is an array of maple and oak plus other species. I can only imagine the wonderful color show the trees produce when the seasons change.

JT consults the map

We picked up the McClintock Trail near the auditorium, then transitioned on to the Bluebell Trail to the ranger visitor center. We walked along a slightly rocky route under tree limbs that intertwined overhead.

McClintock Trail

The shade kept us relatively cool in the 80-degree weather. For half of the hike, we only encountered one other person. Then a few people here and there until we got close to the trailhead where we encountered quite a few people making their way up the hill.

This tree isn’t letting a little erosion ruin its life
Bluebell Hiking Trail going uphill toward the Flatirons
Bluebell Hiking Trail going downhill

Afterward, we checked in at the Dining Hall for a scrumptious lunch. I had some kind of fondue dish that included ham and fingerling potatoes and poached eggs on top. Although the eggs were cooked through and no juicy goodness spread throughout the rest of the ingredients, the dish was still yummy.

Chautauqua Dining Hall
View from Dining Hall

How wonderful for the Boulder community to have such a special place to visit and spend time. With so many activities offered, the Chautauqua is a place people can return to throughout the year. We would have liked to have stayed longer.

A road above Chautauqua that leads into the mountains is a nice drive to see some awesome views of Boulder.

Overlook of Boulder and the Baseline Reservoir

Dushanbe Teahouse

On the way out of town, we stopped at the Dushanbe Teahouse in downtown Boulder to take a photo. Boulder’s sister city Dushanbe, Tajikistan, created the teahouse as a gift. The building is a work of art made by artisans in Tajikistan using skills that date back 2,000 years.

Dushanbe Teahouse entrance

Inside, the ceilings and columns are hand carved and painted. Carved plaster panels and copper sculptures also contribute to the design elements. Eight ceramic panels adorn the exterior. The artist sculpted the panels, cut them into smaller tiles, and fired them in Tajikistan. Then the tiles were shipped to Boulder where the artist positioned them in place.

Side patio of Dunshabe Teahouse showing artistic panels

Photo of teahouse

The teahouse serves breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner Monday through Friday and brunch, tea time, and dinner on Saturday and Sunday. Reservations for tea time are required 24 hours in advance and are probably needed for other mealtimes, too.

Detail of crafted panels at Dushanbe Teahouse

A trip back to Boulder was definitely in our future when we pictured ourselves sipping tea and biting into tiny sandwiches and other delectables at the Dushanbe Teahouse.

We nixed any plans to return to Boulder or head into Denver during this visit to Colorado when we hit the freeway from Boulder back to Strasburg. Friday afternoon was not a good time to head out of town with the thousands of commuters making their way home in the suburbs. Our one-hour drive into town took us two hours to return.

During the rest of our Labor Day weekend, we stayed close to base camp, relaxing and completing chores. We did, however, find a couple places to explore that didn’t require a drive to the population centers. Stay tuned for the next post.

Safe Travels