Monday, September 26, 2011

A Collision of Wealth And Nature

Originally published in My Trip Journal on June 2, 2011

As you might expect, I have a lengthy travel bucket list that just keeps growing and growing. Many of the things on it are easily explainable, others not so much. One of those rather unusual items is to visit all of the major ski resort towns in the US. For someone who doesn't ski and has no desire to learn to ski, that seems a little odd. But nevertheless, the curiosity is there, so obviously, Telluride, Colorado, the playground of the rich and famous, is on the list. And to Telluride these two Tennessee hillbillies went. We went, we saw, we fell in love, we hiked, we left!! It is absolutely gorgeous and has done an excellent job of branding itself as a "festival" town thus becoming a year-round playground rather than just during ski season. It sports the only "free" gondola in the US which transports people between the village of Telluride and Mountain Village where the ski slopes are found. The gondola stops operating when the ski slopes close, but then reopens for the summer season. I was never able to find specific dates for the reopening, so was uncertain if it would be running or not. We were delighted to learn that it had just reopened and we were able to take that 13-minute (each way) ride which provided unbelievable views of the village surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

I wanted to do a short hike while in Telluride, so we chose the five-mile Bear Creek Falls hike and it did not disappoint. Any waterfall in Colorado right now is at it's peak flow, so always spectacular. It was beautiful and we were able to chat with several locals about living in Telluride. Not surprisingly, no one we spoke to was actually BORN in Telluride. All had migrated there from somewhere else. Most stated its beauty and small-town atmosphere as prevailing criteria.

Back in town, we chose to eat at Brown Dog Pizza, a local establishment I'd found on Trip Advisor. Megabucks, so-so food. We wish we hadn't. Enough said.

We spent the remainder of our afternoon in Telluride walking around in the wonderful residential area which boasts Victorian homes that have been magnificently restored and it almost looks unreal if that makes any sense. In fact, to be honest, much as I loved the whole Telluride experience, it was almost too perfect to be real. Sort of Disneyesque! Even the stroll along the 2.75 mile river path was "perfect" with rock borders, pots of flowers and lamplights.

Telluride was great, but it was time to move on.

Next on the list was
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. And why am I always so surprised when a National Park takes my breath away? If it wasn't something spectacular, it wouldn't be a National Park! Sadly, this one is WAY off the beaten path (translation: not near a major interstate or tourist trap) and my guess is that lots of people pass it by because it isn't convenient to get to. If they do, they've missed a gem in our National Park system. The history of this park is too involved to write here, but if you share my love for the National Parks, do go to the website and read about the gorge, the river, the tunnel and ways it is used today.

We visited the Park Visitor Center first where we viewed the 30 minute film. The introductory films are so well done and always a great overview of what you are about to see. Following the film, we drove the six-mile rim drive which has several stopping points with short walks out to places where the gorge can be seen at different angles. The most mesmerizing is called the Painted Wall and for perspective, we are told that you could place the Empire State Building at the base of the gorge and it would reach LESS than half way up the wall. We both just stood with mouths agape and Bill kept saying, "no way," then he'd look across the gorge, down again, look back at me and say, "no way!" I've completely run out of words and am so weary with amazing, gorgeous, spectacular, exquisite, yada, yada, yada, but it was ALL OF THE ABOVE!

The Gunnison River which runs through the bottom of the gorge is considered Class V to Unnavigable rapids in rafting/kayaking terms, so that gives you an idea of the rapids we were seeing. Imagine this: at over 2500 feet above the rapids standing on the rim of the gorge, at times the noise of the water was so loud, it was hard to talk. The NPS offers pontoon boat tours from a point downriver, but those (obviously!!) are in much calmer waters and unfortunately, we had a lengthy drive back across the infamous Million Dollar Highway, so the boat tour will have to wait till next time. We only skimmed the surface of things to do in the park. Even with the "problem bear" signs posted prominently on each trailhead (seems just like home in "my" Smokies, doesn't it??), I would've loved to have hiked a couple of the trails.

The drive back across the Million Dollar Highway took on an entirely different feel than one week earlier. It has been warm this week and much snow has melted although believe me, MUCH still remains especially at the passes and elevations over 10,000 feet. Melted snow means water everywhere - too much water in some places. We will get to drive the Million Dollar Highway one more time as we leave southwest Colorado on Saturday morning. It is truly one of the most scenic drives we've experienced, but four times will have been quite enough of those dizzying curves, steep drop-offs and NO GUARD RAILS!

Tuesday and Wednesday wore us out, so today (Thursday) has been a rest day although this morning, we did bike the River Trail to our favorite spot on the other side of town. This afternoon, I've spent reading and writing. Bill is quite contentedly listening to music already making selections for his choirs this fall. Tomorrow, we plan to hike one last time before leaving Durango very early on Saturday morning.

This post was long - if you made it to the end, thanks for reading. I hope my love for these places is reflected in my writing along with the gratitude I feel for being able to actually experience the places I've read about and wanted to visit since I was a child. I'm a lucky girl indeed!

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