(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow, and then hit "escape" to get back to the text. Also, a note on the photo credits: as always, both Felice and I took these shots, and many of my shots resulted from her suggestions. I do the photo editing using Lightroom; my goal is to reproduce just what we saw, as faithfully as possible.)
Friday, September 25: We had planned to leave Aspen and drive to Canyonlands in Utah, but a severe heat wave was building in the desert (as well as back home in California). So, at the last minute, we changed our plans and headed for the high country of Southwestern Colorado. We stopped in Montrose for an exceptionally delicious lunch of Mexican roasted chicken at Pollo Asado 2 – we highly recommend it! We then got some great info from a helpful ranger named Julie at the Forest Service office in Montrose. That night, in need of a Laundromat, we stayed at the KOA in Ouray (pronounced “you Ray,” with the accent on Ray.)
Saturday, September 26: We drove over Red Mountain Pass. Due to construction, there was only one lane open, so there was a very long delay. (One lane of the road had completely crumbled into the canyon – the red sedimentary rock was pretty but weak.) There were a lot of mining ruins up at the pass – lots of photographers shooting the ruins against the aspens. (Not our cup of tea, but to each his own.)
We took the Little Molas trail near Silverton, with great views of the surrounding mountains – that is Little Molas Lake in the foreground:
Along the trail, we were struck by the relatively undisturbed “layer cake” geology, more like Utah than Colorado. Most of the mountains we had seen in Colorado had been metamorphic rock, uplifted and warped, but the ranges south and west of Silverton appeared to be intact sedimentary plateaus that had been cut down by erosion:
That afternoon, on our way back to Ouray, we looked at Molas Lake Campground, operated by the town of Silverton. This is a place to keep in mind for another time – there were world-class views of the surrounding mountains from the campsites. We also scouted Amphitheater Campground above Ouray, which was crowded on Saturday but turned out to be empty the next day, on Sunday.
Sunday, September 27: We moved from the KOA to Amphitheater. (Note – do not bring a big rig to this campground!) Site 25 was perfect for us, with good views and a level pad:
This was the view of Twin Peaks from our campsite – Felice obligingly
hopped up onto a picnic table in a neighboring (vacant!) campsite:
(Site 6 would also be good, for future reference.) After getting situated, we hiked parts of the Ouray Perimeter trail. The Lower Cascade was not impressive – very little water. We then took the “Baby Bathtubs” trail, named for the potholes gouged out by the creek. There were great views of Twin Peaks from the highpoint of the trail:
We could see why this area was called the Amphitheater – a volcanic eruption had carved out a semicircular gouge from the canyon walls. The campground is tucked behind the knoll with the orange foliage:
Monday, September 28: We drove out to the area between Ridgway and Telluride to hike the Blue Lake trail. The access road was long, bumpy, dusty, and difficult, but it was worth the effort. The hike was excellent, with a mix of forest cover and great views. The lake, a glacial cirque, really was astonishingly blue, especially when viewed with the sun behind the camera:
That afternoon, as we bumped back down the access road, a herd of horses posed in the valley for their portrait:
This shot shows the whole Mt. Sneffels area – Blue Lake is in one of those canyons:
That evening, we had one of our very rare campfires, complete with hot chocolate:
Later that night, the full moon illuminated Twin Peaks across the canyon and the reddish-purple cliffs above our campsite:
Tuesday, September 29: We took a long (but enjoyable) drive to Telluride. The little town was very congested (no surprise) and had no visitor information center (which was a surprise). But with the help of Mike, the manager at Clark’s Market, we eventually found free parking in the southwest corner of the town.
We first rode the free ski gondola to the top of the ski area – this is worth doing, even if it is a little touristy. From the top, we had great views of the Wilson Peak area and the Lizard Head Wilderness in the San Miguel Mountains. That whole range looked like a great place for camping and hiking.
That afternoon, we happened to talk to some other hikers, who told us that they had just been boondocking in the Silver Jack area east of Ridgeway and that the foliage was unbelievably brilliant. We had been planning to leave the next day for Cedar Breaks in Utah, but we again changed our plans on the spot! After that pivotal conversation, we hiked to Bear Creek Falls, above Telluride. The falls were lovely but would be even better in a season with more water:
Felice decided to do some "boulder hopping:"
Late that afternoon, on our way back to Ouray, we just had to stop for more aspen-gazing – one would think that we would get saturated with it, but that never happened in a month of leaf-peeping: