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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The tunnel is not visible, however, a pump house containing a 5-hp pump and a flat surface under the water is.
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.
Check out the barstools at the end of the bar on the right.
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.