Contact: Rich Kurz Page content last updated 02/02/2011
The Trip - Loveland, CO to Durango, CO and back (map is 1 MB)
RED - Loveland to Denver by car /
BLUE - Denver to Grand Junction by Amtrak /
ORANGE - Grand Junction to Durango by car - lunch at Montrose, Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton / B&B in Durango /
GREEN - Durango to Grand Junction by car over Lizard Head Pass (red star) /
BLUE - Grand Junction to Denver by Amtrak
Scenery from the train as it goes around bends
(Hold cursor over preview image for file size)
DURANGO / Sunshine B & B
(left) Movie of Hummingbirds feeding
(middle) Pics of birds feeding
(right) Looking south towards Durango
Lizard Head Pass (ele. 10,222 ft.)
Scenery from the train as we head home
(Hold cursor over preview image for file size)
We NEEDED to take a vacation for our anniversary, but where to go? Durango seemed far enough and I wanted to take the train across the state ever since I moved to Colorado. It turned out to be a good choice. Once you are aboard, you cannot make it go faster. The trip takes 8 hours, plus unexpected delays. Figure on adding an hour for every eight. It was surprisingly affordable, too - $60 per person each way.
So at 6:30 we left home to catch the 8:30 train out of Union Station, Denver. Because of flooding in Iowa, we departed an hour and a half late, with another half hour on a siding waiting for a work crew to complete its work. Speed builds slowly as the Zephyr works it way out of metropolitan Denver toward the foothills. In the foothills it is climbing and going thru, what, some three dozen tunnels? Finally we exit the six-mile long Moffat Tunnel and viola, we are at the ski resort of Winter Park at the south end of the Middle Park. We stop at Fraser and then at Granby and then continue along the Colorado River down to Glenwood Springs. Between Granby and Glenwood we travel thru a narrow canyon and observe kayakers getting overturned by the rapids. Looks like a rough sport to me. Just after noon we pull into Glenwood Springs for an extended stop.
As we leave Glenwood, we can see the famous burning mountain where an undergound fire has been buring for decades. The mountain itself is barren, due in part to the devasting forest fires of 15 years ago that took the lives of 14 firefighters. It is a sobering reminder of the danger facing us on the Front Range with all the beetle kill just to our west. We now follow I-70 and the Colorado River, and move into Glenwood Canyon, which reminded me of a GM Futurama model. One side of the canyon has this two level built up highway whose traffic we are pacing. We are on the other side, and both are down by the water. And while the canyon walls may not be very tall, it is all very dramatic because of their vertical rise. We are slowed down to near walking speed for a half hour near Rifle. We learn that a couple of boys had disappeared in the Colorado after swinging out into it from a rope. The entire area had been put into emergency alert and all traffic had been slowed down.
The last hour we pass thru the last canyons noting the irrrigation diversions along the Colorado. We come out in the well irrigated truck farms and peach orchards of Palisades and slow down for Grand Junction, out destination. It is after 6 - we arrive two hours "late". We pick up our rental and check into our motel, eat, and enjoy our rest.
We drive to Durango today leaving about 8. The surrounding hills are dry and alkaline and the terrain is rutted by mini-canyons. Lunchtime is at Montrose. We drive into the deadend valley that Ouray sits in. The surrounding mountain sides are a maroon-colored rock. We begin the steep climb rising immediately out of Ouray along the Million Dollar Highway. We heard two stories about its name. One says it is so named because it cost a million dollars to build. Well, maybe, but that was a lot back in the 1800s when it was built. And seeing how narrow and minimal, really, it was back then, I think if that were so, the contractor made more on it than the miners. The other says it was so called because of how much wealth came down it from the mines. That is a more likely explanation to my mind. Driving along the highway gets a little anxious, especially in the first few miles (see the stereo image). There is almost no shoulder and the drop-off is immediate and disorienting if one has any vertigo. It may be only 200 to 300 feet down, but who wants to take that shortcut?
The weather clouded over within a half hour and it began drizzling, which turned to all out rain going south from Silverton. The mineral wealth that attracted the miners is evidenced my the orangy rust colored Red Mountain between Ouray and Silverton. A web search will produce much better photos than what I could show here. If you want good photos, travel the highway in the morning. Each time I have driven it, it has been in the afternoon and always cloudy. The Durango area was having great moisture this year, unlike the Front Range. We had a wet spring, but after June, we were unusually dry for the rest of the year. So we descended from Silverton down to Durango to our lodging for the next few days at the Sunshine Bed & Breakfast. We arrived by 3 so we went into Durango to look around before going back to check in. Our purpose was to attend the evening concerts of the Music in the Mountains festival. And that we did and it was wonderful! The first evening was a concert by the summer's students, and they were good and the pieces were youthful. The second evening was an oboe concert with full orchestra under the tent at Purgatory. Outside was in a downpour, but we were dry. The third evening was back at Ft. Lewis Collede auditorium and a the full adult orchestra and guest pianist. We felt well fed after each performance. Our stay at Sunshine and our time spent in Durango was a true vacation, and the first we had enjoyed just the two of us since we began our family over 20 years ago.
What follows is my "review" of our stay at the B&B. I recommend this one to you.
This B&B turned out to be every bit as nice as it made itself out to be on its website. And the hosts, Walter and Jodi, were every bit as down to earth and congenial in person as they sounded on the phone. Walter serves up a truly special breakfast every morning, served as often as possible on their back deck, complete with place settings and an interactive show at the bird feeders in the close-by oak tree. Located about 10 miles north of Durango (about 12+ minutes from the downtown), one has easy access to the cultural events and social life of the town as well as to the nearby attractions. During winter the Purgatory ski resort is only 10 miles up the road. But what I meant to call attention to was the Colorado forest setting Country Sunshine sits in. We had been to Durango before. All we wanted to do was nothing this time around, and that we did. The grounds are large enough to find a quiet corner and read or snooze or sketch (as I did), or to just take a couple of good long naps. One does not have to go anywhere to fully enjoy one's stay on site. One is free to come and go according to one's own schedule. We also enjoyed meeting and conversing with the other guests. The rooms are well furnished and private. Between the location, the hospitality of the hosts, the congeniality of the guests, breakfasts to make you smile, the warmth of the furnishings, and the laid-back atmosphere, who wouldn't want to book a stay--again and again. The only thing to make it better would be for us to live closer. And from reading their guest comments, we are not alone in our estimation. May your bookings be full, Walter and Jodi. We look forward to seeing you again!
But we had to leave at last, and at least it was a sunny blue-sky day. We had resolved to not go back by way of Silverton, even though it was sunny - too much driving along the precipice, meaning the driver could not enjoy the scenery. Instead we wanted to try going west and around by Telluride. A good choice! West we went towards Mesa Verde cutting off up to Mancos (pronounced "man'-kus"). The Mesa was on the left with lots of rolling semi-brush, semi-pine terrain used mostly for ranching. At Mancos, we headed northeast up the Mancos River valley towards Lizard Head Pass. Take this drive during aspen season! They were en mass, but of course in July, they were still green. It's a gentle climb to Lizard Head, but in about an hour one arrives at the pass. Up and over and down we go to Telluride, but we don't turn off into its deadend valley. It lies on the western side of the mountain from Ouray. From this point the rocks are all an intense deep red/maroon red color, rather sandstone like. Another hour and we join up with the road to Montrose and Grand Junction we came down. We arrive about 5 at our motel, eat, and have a nice drive around town during sunset.
The next morning we turn in the car and report to the Amtrak station, only to discover that, again, the train is two hours late. Not a problem - we catch a nap on the benches. It arrives and we board and we are heading home. Past Palisade, past the alkaline mesas and bluffs, into the canyons of the Colorado. This time I claim a seat in the observation car - not an easy thing to do. I use the moving train as a means of lateral displacement to take stereo pictures. The train is doing maybe 5- to 60 mph, so the distance between photos is pronounced. Some turn out acceptable and give a good idea of the depth of the scenery. I try lunch in the diner and enjoy my table company. They fill up the tables with passengers, not necessarily of the same party. The food is expensive and acceptable and prepared before hand, so service is within five minutes. It must also be said that the workers and conductors are pleasant and don't take themselves too seriously - down home sort of. It's back thru Glenwood Canyon and stopping once more at Glenwood Springs. Many passengers disembark with their mountain bikes to spend the day or a weekend. We continue on leaving the interstate and follow the Colorado towards Granby. We enter the high park prairie surrounded by the Rockies, the day becoming more and more overcast. Then to Winter Park, and start descending thru the Moffat Tunnel coming out south of Boulder above the edge of the prairie along the Front Range. The sky is still cloudy but in the setting sun the colors are coming out as we go by the western neighborhoods of Denver at about 35 mph. One final wait to pull into the station (we sit for 1/2 hour). And there we are in the terminal being greeted by our daughters who are picking us up.