Monday, September 26, 2011

Sort of a Rest Day

This post was originally published in My Trip Journal on May 27, 2011

After a very busy couple of days, we are taking a bit of a breather today. Following a delicious breakfast of omelettes prepared by the in-house chef aka Bill, we got caught up on stuff happening at home and then decided to go for a bike ride. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's back up to Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, we set out for our first hike in the Durango area. We chose the Animas City Mountain Trail, a six-mile loop with an elevation gain of 1400 feet mostly gained in the first 1 1/2 miles. The trailhead isn't far from our condo and we were on trail by 9:15. After some pretty hard climbing through switchbacks, the trail then meanders for several miles along a ridgeline near the edge and offers totally amazing views of Durango, the Animas River Valley and the majestic San Juan Mountains. Near the summit, some thoughtful trail maintainers have built a couple of log benches with a long distance view that seemed never-ending and that is where we enjoyed our lunch. Although the trail narrative said you'd most likely see deer and elk, we never saw either. Can't believe I've been in Colorado almost two weeks and have yet to see an elk. That'll change when we get into Estes Park. Most likely they'll be lying in our front yard waiting for us! We finally had a day to hike in which NO afternoon storms were predicted, so we were able to take our time and enjoy some longer breaks because it didn't matter when we finished.

Thursday was a road trip day with visits planned to the mining town of Silverton and the restored victorian town of Ouray. Between the two towns lies 24 miles of what is called the
Million Dollar Highway. Noted as one of the 10 most scenic drives in the United States, it is a winding (that's putting it mildly!) two-lane road which travels up and over several high mountain passes and sits between a number of high cliffs and sheer dropoffs with not quite room for two full lanes of traffic. It also is seriously lacking in guard rails!! The road is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are worth any white knuckle moments. We opted to drive through Silverton intending to catch it on the way back and made our way directly to Ouray.

We left Durango at 8:15 arriving in Ouray in just under two hours. That's two hours to drive a total of 74 miles - gives you a bit of an idea of the max speeds this road allows. After our harrowing experience (LOL!), our first stop was at the Visitor Center to find out where the best bakery in town was. We needed coffee and a pastry. We were given excellent advice and after a to-die-for cinnamon roll and some kind of apple fruit thingy at the Artisan Bakery, we headed toward Cascade Falls. Although not far in distance, the walk to the falls trail on the edge of town was UP a very steep hill. In fact, just about everything in Ouray is UP! It truly is built on the side of a mountain. But Cascade Falls was worth the walk. Because of it's height and location, it can be seen from just about anywhere in town, but is still worth the short walk to the base of the falls. We spent some time exploring the buildings on Main Street which have all been beautifully restored to their original Victorian splendor. After a couple of hours, we headed out of town for our final stop in Ouray which was a visit to
Box Canyon Falls and Park. This was on our "must-see" list for Ouray and is something not easily explained. Yes, it's a waterfall, but you actually don't see the entire waterfall so that really isn't the draw. It's the walk on the suspension catwalk through the very narrow box canyon to the base of the falls and then the unbelievable roar and power of the water as it tumbles through the rocks into the pool. The link explains it much better than I can. I can say that it was something unlike anything we'd ever seen. Not fancy - didn't take long. Just an incredible work of nature and demonstration of the power of falling water. We did hike to the suspension bridge above the falls and creepy as it was (for BOTH of us), we managed to stand on the bridge and look down at the top of the falls. Great place - highly recommended!!

We made our way back across the Million Dollar Highway. With a couple of exceptions, heading south isn't quite as harrowing because you are against the cliffs and the sheer drop-offs are on the other side. Oh and I forgot to mention earlier that due to this year's record breaking snowfall amounts and now rapid warming, there were avalanche warning signs everywhere. We weren't quite sure what to do with this information since we are fairly certain no avalanche would give you time to turn around and head back to Ouray before proceeding down the mountain. So we motored on watching the mountains carefully and hoping we'd know an avalanche if we saw one!

Quite frankly, Silverton was a bit of a disappointment. We realized belatedly, that Silverton has built it's tourism industry around the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad which is a well-known tourist attraction train that runs between the two cities. The train is an all day excursion and right now, is running two trains daily. (See note at end of post) We arrived back in Silverton 15 minutes before the last train departed for its return trip to Durango. We had planned for an early dinner in Silverton and thank goodness, we entered the cafe we had chosen BEFORE the train left. Before the steam from the steam engine had disappeared around the curve, we saw the stores shutting their doors and flipping the sign from "open" to "closed" faster than you could say "I was getting ready to spend $10,000 in your store, thank you very much!" Before our food arrived, the same happened where we were and by the time we'd finished our food, they'd counted the till, mopped the floors all around us, cleaned up all the other tables and were giving us the "aren't you about through?" look. We didn't linger.

It is obvious that Silverton revolves around the trains and when the trains leave, the town closes up. Perhaps, that's understandable. Granted there were VERY few people milling about as we strolled up and down the historic Main Street and notorious Blair Street (where all the brothels and saloons were located), so guess you can't expect them to stay open just in case I might want a t-shirt or pound of fudge. We did enjoy reading the markers designating the historic buildings, but we didn't linger long. By the time we pulled out, we truly felt we were in a ghost town and expected to see tumbleweeds rolling down the very dusty and empty Main Street as we pulled away.

It was a great day, but we were tired so called it an early night after deciding that today would be a day with no set agenda.

About 9:30 this morning, we set out on the Animas River Bike Trail which runs a little over six miles along the Animas River through town and along several miles of rural areas north of town. It runs between the building our condo is in and the river, so we can access it directly. We rode the entire length of it this morning and enjoyed every mile. It is a gentle trail with only a couple of small rises. What neither of us realized was that we were pedaling ever so slightly uphill on the way out which made for a delightful ever so gentle downhill all the way back. We stopped in town for a mid-morning healthy (cinnamon roll and apricot strudel) snack in order to have enough energy to complete the return trip!! It was great ride and I'd say we'll be doing it several more times while here.

Once back, rest day agenda really kicked in. We've enjoyed a quiet afternoon reading and relaxing. We've noted, as expected, that the holiday traffic has really picked up and ever so slightly changed the tone here in Durango. We're thankful for a nice out of the way "home" where we can spend the holiday weekend either biking or walking wherever we want to go without having to negotiate traffic in the car.

NOTE: In case anyone is wondering, we have elected not to ride the Durango & Silverton Scenic Excursion Train. By all reviews, it is an extremely nice train trip and coming to Durango and NOT riding the train is unheard of, but at close to $100 (including taxes & fees) for EACH ticket (and that's the CHEAPEST fare), it's an adventure we chose to forgo. Other reviews say it's become too "touristy" and with the many other scenic excursion trains in Colorado, you are better off choosing one that's more authentic. We've done enough trains in different parts of the US and for us, the price was just too steep for the return value!

Thanks for reading!

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