Colorado Jul-Aug 2007
Dates: July 30 - August 8, 2007
People: Mark, Sarah, Luke, Jonah, Denny, Marcia, David, Grandpa & Grandma Wa., Grandpa & Grandma Wi.
- 7-30 (Driving day)
- 7-31 (Driving day)
- 8-1 (Handies Peak)
- 8-2 (Redcloud & Sunshine)
- 8-3 (Albuquerque, Four Corners, Mesa Verde)
- 8-4 (Silverton Gold Mine & Ouray)
- 8-5 (Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad)
- 8-6 (Open day)
- 8-7 (Driving day)
- 8-8 (Driving day)
MONDAY JULY 30
We began our big Colorado trip early, early this morning. We left Chicago around 4am trying to make it to Omaha by lunch. We had a nice stop at a McDonald's for breakfast which also had a playplace for Luke (and others) to run around in. It even had a small room with various hoops and tubes for throwing a rubber ball through. So Mark and Dad W. played a bunch in there with Luke.
We had a beautiful sunrise as we road along I-80 through western Illinois and Iowa. It was finally right around noon when we hit the Omaha area to visit with Sarah's Aunt Marie and cousin Carli. We visited at their house for a while and then headed over to Red Robin for a big lunch. We spent almost 2 hours with them until hitting the road again sometime after 2pm. We had an easier afternoon drive trying to shoot for Ogalalla, NE for the evening. Driving on I-80 through Nebraska is typically uneventful and today was no different. We got in at the hotel in the middle of the evening and settled in for the evening to catch up on sleep.
TUESDAY JULY 31
Early this morning one group left to make an attempt at getting to Durango in time to pickup a rental jeep for tomorrow's 14er hike. The other group ended up getting delayed in Ogalalla for a time. Mark at some point in the last 2 days got an infection and so he and Sarah went to the hospital's medical clinic right away at 8am this morning to get it checked out. They gave Mark 4 zithromax pills and a booster shot to help clear him up quickly. This group got left later than they'd hoped (prob around 11am). They were also late picking up David at the airport as he got in a little before noon. An hour and a half late we got David from the Denver Intl. Airport and then made our way out of town. We were all hungry for lunch but kept missing exits on I-70 in Denver. We finally hit US-285 heading southwest out of Denver into the mountains and still hadn't found lunch. We eventually stopped at a gas station which had some of the refrigerated cold cut sandwiches. We ate there. All the while Mark was feeling pretty bad and so David was doing the driving from our lunch stop on. There was some great concern as to whether Mark would be ready for the 14er hike tomorrow and we even talked of cancelling the jeep reservation.
The early group did make it to Durango around 5pm and did get the jeep reservation filled. The other group made it along slowly making stops for diapers and bathrooms along the way. We made it to Montrose around 7pm and had dinner at an Arby's there. Mark's appetite, which had disappeared, was just starting to return by this point. From Montrose on it was dark and David got to do some heavy mountain driving heading for Ouray and on. We didn't realize in the dark just how steep the cliffs were along US-550. Also of interest on this drive were the 50-plus deer we seen on and beside the highway as we drove past. David did a great job of spotting them and being sure we stayed clear of them with the van. It was close to 10pm when we finally made it to the condo at Durango Mountain Resort after a long 2-days of driving.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 1
We left the condo around 5:30am this morning to head for Handies. We made the drive up to Silverton and then found CO-110 heading northeast out of Silverton (also County Road 2). This road travels for about 7 or 8 miles out of town on a mostly flat dirt road. You'll then hit what seems to be an RV park where the road starts heading uphill and gets much rougher though still passable for 2WD. After a few more miles of bumpy driving you hit the ghost town of Animas Forks. From here the 4WD road heads east and you have a choice between Engineer Pass or Cinnamon Pass. We went up and over Cinnamon Pass which turns out to be a beautiful drive. The 4WD isn't bad and the road is mostly straight with not too many switchbacks. At the summit of Cinnamon Pass you're up in a green meadow area with ridges of peaks to the north and south. The trailhead for Handies in American Basin was only about another mile from Cinnamon Pass.
We left the trailhead for Handies at 7:45am. We had gone to the extent of the 4WD road in American Basin (as did several others) which cuts about 1/2 mile off your trip heading in. The climbing was very good and the route easy to follow as you headed up into American Basin. As you get about a half mile into the basin you start to veer left (southeast) into the upper parts of the basin. The trail will take you to the bottom of a green slope on which you climb several steep switchbacks which will take you to just below Sloan Lake. From here you traverse along a rocky trail east across the back end of the basin to a few longer switchbacks which take you up to the saddle at the southeast end of American Basin. Once on the saddle you're at roughly 13,500 feet elevation. From there it was a steep climb up the summit ridge to Handies. There is really no exposure along any part of this trail and the path is well-defined the entire way. We summited at 10:15am, only 2 1/2 hours from the trailhead. There were 3 or 4 other groups at the summit some of which had come up the Grizzly Gulch trail. The view was hazy but we were able to pick out most of the other San Juan 14ers.
We spent a good half hour on the summit talking to the other hikers. We found out much of our group up there were schoolteachers. We headed down from the summit at 10:45am and made a quick hike back to our jeep getting there at 12:15pm. The legs still felt good when we hit the bottom and the altitude didn't even get us today. After having spent last night in Ogalalla, Nebraska at relatively low elevation we were calling Handies our acclimation hike for the trip.
Once in the jeep we spent the next 2 hours plus once more driving Cinnamon Pass and heading out to Animas Forks and Silverton. We spent a little bit of time at the ghost town on our way out. The road at this point in the early afternoon was littered with ATV's and tourists making their runs on the rentals into the mountains and the ghost town. We got home around 3pm and had a nice grilled cheese snack.
THURSDAY AUGUST 2
As with yesterday we got up very early (like 5am) to head on the road to our peaks for the day. Once more we made the drive to Silverton, dodging a few early morning deer, and made the trek up and over Cinnamon Pass. Today we stayed on the Cinnamon Pass road past the turn off for American Basin and Handies and went another 2 miles down the road to the Silver Creek-Grizzly Gulch trailhead. This is a very well-marked area and can't be missed. We found many other cars and even a few tents setup there. There are also outhouse facilities at this trailhead.
We left the trailhead at 7:38am and headed up the steep trail into the forest. In the first 2 miles of the trail it is climb, climb and more climb. There are two small stream crossings you get to do in the forest and eventually as the trees begin to thin you meet up with Silver Creek. You hike side by side with the creek until you get to the edge of the basin north of Redcloud Peak. There is a rocky hill that marks the end of the basin which the trail will take you left (north) around it. Once past this hill we followed a very smooth and well-marked trail which curves around the north and east sides of the basin. We saw a backpacker's tent on the southwest end of the basin as we hiked through. The basin was gorgeous and sunny as we hiked this morning. It is a mostly grassy basin with good wildflowers. As you reach the south end of the basin the trail gets steep once more and a set of switchbacks takes you to the saddle at 13,000 feet. From here you finally get your first glance at the aptly named Redcloud Peak. From the saddle it is a steep climb up switchbacks along the northeast ridge of Redcloud. The climb takes you up to a false summit just 200 feet below Redcloud. From there the final summit ridge of Redcloud is again a steep climb but a good one with almost no exposure. As we ascended the final hundred feet I commented upon the steadily increasing red rock that Redcloud seemed to have rolled out the "red carpet" for us on the approach. We hit Redcloud's summit at 10:51am, a 3 hr. 13 min. hike up the roughly 4+ miles and 3600 feet of elevation gain. At the summit we noticed the clouds going bad and quickly. We had several white puffballs coming around us and the ones over our head were even starting to darken. No rain had shown up yet and with Sunshine only a mile away we couldn't pass up the opportunity to head on over. The thought of reclimbing Redcloud all over again to get Sunshine also didn't sit well. So we spent only a minute on Redcloud deliberating our options and then we quickly started the 1 mile ridge to Sunshine. We'd heard reports it takes 45 minutes and they were right. By the time our tired legs had made the finall 500 foot steep ascent up Sunshine from the connecting ridge it was 11:40am, about 49 minutes from Redcloud. We'd felt a few sprinkles but the rains were still holding off, and thankfully, no sign of any thunder or lightning. We spent about 10 mins on Sunshine getting a drink, some pictures, and a snack and then headed back for Redcloud. We made the return trip in 55 mins having passed one hiker who had ascended the steep scree field to the west of the Sunshine-Redcloud connecting ridge. We saw the sign warning hikers not to descend that route (though many trip reports out there describe having done this) and decided ourselves to make the trek back to Redcloud. This time on Redcloud we got to spend a few more minutes there finally rejoicing in having gotten both summits this day. We finally left Redcloud at 12:50p to make the long hike down.
When we rejoined up with Silver Creek only a mile or two from the trailhead we ran into a pair of hikers who had descended the scree field from the Sunshine-Redcloud ridge. They said it was slow climbing but not too bad. It definitely cuts a few miles off the trip. They said after the scree field there is a well-marked trail leading you out of the basin back to the Silver Creek trail. The rains didn't find us until the last half mile from the trailhead. Even then they never turned into a downpour but rather just enough of a sprinkle to force us to put on the gore-tex jackets for the last bit of the hike. We hit the trailhead at 3:15pm it a roughly 7 1/2 hour day to climb both Redcloud and Sunshine.
Once more we made the long 2 1/2 hour drive out over Cinnamon Pass, past Animas Forks and into Silverton. We made it back to the condo around 6pm. After supper this evening we went down to Durango to return the jeep and walk around downtown Main St. and see the nightlife of Durango.
FRIDAY AUGUST 3
We had two groups go there ways today. Group 1 left the condo around 9am to run David down to Albuquerque for his flight back home. They spent all day on the road and found there to be very good 4-lane driving most of the way to/from Albuquerque. Group 2 left the condo a little after 10am to head down to the Four Corners monument. Going that way we found some beautiful driving as we got down close to the New Mexico-Colorado border. There were several rock chimney formations we could see and the road was lined with small no more than 50 foot canyons. The strange thing we saw was that this was primarily a desert area yet the highway was lined with green bushes and yellow flowers next to the road.
At Four Corners we found that the indians were now charging you $3 a person to get into the monument and see this free space of American soil (what a rip!). The place had also been built-up a little since we were last there in 1987. Instead of what I remembered as several tents with Indian souvenirs it was several long roads of wooden sheds surrounding the monument with things for sale. The monument itself was in very nice condition and people were constantly on it taking pictures. We too got our own pictures and the boys made their first trips into Arizona and Utah.
We did a picnic lunch out of the back of our van and watched as a large storm began to roll in from the southwest. We headed out around 1:30pm to drive back up the highway to Mesa Verde N.P. We hit Mesa Verde after 2pm and found that if Grandpa W. purchased the senior gold passport for all national parks it would get our whole car in for just $10 instead of the otherwise $15 fee. Plus it was a lifetime pass for Grandpa, very good deal, go National Park Service! We drove the long 15-mile road into the park leading to the primary visitor center. It was starting to push 4p by the time we were there and we realized many of the park features might not allow us enough time. We ended up doing just the Mesa Top Loop Road which afforded us little walking to do. The loop road has 10 stops each with bits of history. The loop road also gave us several views of the main cliff dwellings in the park including the main "Cliff Palace" dwelling which is the trademark of the park. We didn't have time to do any of the actual tours into the dwellings but did get some great pictures from the road of the dwellings.
We left the park just before 6pm and drove the long road out once more. We headed for Durango and found that the other van group was just getting back from Albuquerque. We met up at Wal-Mart on the south end of Durango and then headed over to Main St. and ate supper at Francisco's, a good Mexican (heading towards American) restaurant.
SATURDAY AUGUST 4
Today was mostly a free day. We spent the morning relaxing around the condo. Mark and Dad, Sarah and Luke along with Mom & Grandpa Wa. went over to the lifts to check them out. Mark & Dad got alpine slide tickets while Mom & Grandpa got the scenic ride tickets on the ski lift. They went up right away and made it to the top. Mark and Dad waited in line for about 45 minutes only to get within 3 people of the front and the line closed because of weather. Mom & Grandpa quickly made their way down the lift seeing the storm clouds roll in. We were bummed we did all that waiting for nothing.
In the afternoon we hopped in the car and drove up 550 to Silverton. We went to the Old Hundred Gold Mine. We got there just in time to squeeze into the car leaving to head into the mine. We got dressed up in the mine helmets and rain jackets and headed in. They take you in about a half mile on a train car and then let you off. A real experienced miner was our guide. He walked us in a loop through about 4 or 5 rooms and stops showing us some of the mining equipment they use and various other things about the mine. Luke seemed to be okay with the mine but Jonah was a little fussy through it all. Neither boy enjoyed much of the loud equipment the miner showed us either. By the end Jonah was doing good with it all.
After they took us back out the mine they had some troughs where you could try your hand at panning for gold and silver. Luke enjoyed playing in the water and the sand. Mark and Sarah made an effort at panning and found a little bit of silver.
From Silverton we drove on up 550 to Ouray. The steep cliffs and tight turns on US-550 through this section were of interest (and perhaps shock) to many of us. Ouray was a beautiful little town surrounded on all sides by mountains. Even the road coming in from the south goes down a few switchbacks to get into town. We spent about 20 minutes walking around town before we had to head back to the condo because of supper plans.
Mark grilled brats at the condo as we got home this evening on the small charcoal kettle grill we had there.
SUNDAY AUGUST 5
- today's pictures
- Heading towards the canyons on the Durango-Silverton rail.
- Heading right past the canyons on the Durango-Silverton rail.
This morning we got ready to leave the condo by 7am. We got down to Durango just after 7:45am in order to board the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Luke was already excited about finally being on the train we'd been seeing around the past few days. The train left Durango station around 8:15am. Luke wasn't entirely sure what to make us the first section of the ride. He even napped for parts of the trip up to Silverton. The weather was beautiful all morning and not even all that cold. The train car we were on wasn't full so everyone in the group was able to spread out and fill empty seats. The viewing was good out the windows and the flying soot coming back wasn't even all that bad. Mark made occasional trips to some of the forward cars with more open viewing out the sides. As we made our way closer to Silverton the clouds started to come out and we even got some rain nearer Silverton. We got into Silverton station at 11:30am with cloudy and almost foggy conditions. The temps were upper 50's.
In Silverton we did lunch at the Shady Lady restaurant on the "infamous" Blair Street. Apparently the Shady Lady was one of the last brothels to close in Silverton back in the big mining days. The food there was average and much of the restaurant seemed unclean and old. After lunch we had an hour or so to walk the town. Most of the group did some shopping along the main street in town. Weather gradually warmed up while we were there and so Jonah didn't get too cold in it all.
The train left Silverton promptly at 2pm for a good ride back down to Durango. The weather started to show some sun on the way back. Mark and Dad were keeping track of the hikers who were getting on and off the train all day. At the Needleton stop along the Durango-Silverton line is where the trail to Chicago Basin can be picked up. From Chicago Basin the Eolus group of 14ers can be hiked. Apparently Chicago Basin gets pretty crowded these days with small tent cities of hikers.
On the way back our side of the train finally had the good views down into the canyons that the rail line passes. The train finally made its way back into Durango around 5:30p. Luke enjoyed his ride all day and even did some napping on the train. Jonah enjoyed it too, although I'm sure he didn't know what to make of it all.
On our way out of Durango we did supper at Serious Texas BBQ. They had fantastic BBQ meat there. Almost everyone did either the pork loin sandwich or the shredded pork sandwich. Very good stuff and their cheesy potato sides were also fantastic.
MONDAY AUGUST 6
Mark and Dad W. began this day as an attempt on Mt. Sneffels. We headed out around 5:30am and drove up US-550 through Silverton and Ouray to a county road heading out of Ouray to Sneffels. We got 5 miles in on the road and found the road was washed out. The night before was heavy rain all through the San Juans and the road to Yankee Boy Basin below Sneffels was in poor shape. The water had cut several deep gullies through the road and washed lots of loose (although small) rock onto it. The county roads guy went past us in his pickup truck with 4WD and made it through. We talked to him however and he told us there could be more washouts ahead. He would be coming back in an hour or so to fix the roads but even if that worked the weather for the day was suspect for a safe climb. We bailed and headed into Ouray. We did check in with a jeep rental guy there but he had rented his last jeep. He also shared some pessimism on the day's weather and climbing conditions. This was our first failed 14er attempt, at least it happened before we even left the car. The only bright spot of it all was David didn't have to worry anymore about missing out on this attempt.
We headed back to the condo to get a little more sleep. Mark & Dad W. took Luke up the ski hil at Durango Mountain Resort on one of the bike trails. We went up a mile or two and a could hundred feet to let Luke do some climbing. I think he was more interested at this time in drinking the sweet powerade than he was hiking the mountain.
We didn't do much all afternoon but rest and read and play around the condo. Mark and Dad made another attempt to use their alpine slide tickets but the strange afternoon weather had closed the slide and lifts for the day. We spent the evening getting things packed up and ready to leave for tomorrow's big drive home.
TUESDAY AUGUST 7
We left early this morning on our long (roughly 1500 mile) trek back to the midwest. Everyone got up around 5am and we were out the door by 6am from our condo at Durango Mountain Resort. We did a quick gas stop in Durango and then headed west along US-160 through Colorado. Was a beautiful morning for driving and we got some nice pictures of roaming clouds in the mountains. We did breakfast at Pagosa Springs at Sonic and found out they have fantastic breakfast sandwiches. We tried their "toasters" sandwiches which are texas toast with egg, cheese, and your choice of meat on it. Very nice!
From there we kept driving east on US-160. Late morning we got our first views of the Sangre de Cristo range across the San Luis Valley. Always a beautiful sight and we got some good pictures. We decided to take 160 to Walsenberg rather then heading the northern route which meant we didn't get the full spectrum of the Sangres from the San Luis Valley. As we drove by we got several good shots of the Blanca group at the southern tip of the Sangres where we were hiking in 2004. We did lunch at Carl's Jr. in Alamosa.
Past Walsenberg the driving was pretty plain. We did the cross-country route up to I-70 the rest of the day instead of taking I-25 into the Springs. Out of Walsenberg we took Colorado-10 up to La Junta. From there we caught US-50 and took that to Garden City, Kansas. From Garden City we followed K-156 up to I-70 just west of Salina. Along that route we saw some amazing storm clouds. In the pictures you will see what almost looks like a very wide tornado in front of us. What we figured is it was a downrush of cloud from the upper atmosphere to the ground. As we drove through this storm the temps dropped from 103 degrees outside the storm to 73 degrees in the center. Winds were pretty strong and it was raining heavily in the middle. We couldn't believe the 30-degree temperature drop. The semi truck in front of our group was fish-tailing through the winds and it seemed he would nearly be blown off the road.
After the great storm we saw some more beautiful Kansas weather. Just when we hit sunset we passed several miles worth of fields that were severely flooded. As we look out both sides of the car it looked like we were in the middle of a lake. Sarah got some beautiful sunset pictures of the area which almost look like a sunset over the ocean.
We made it into our Quality Inn in Salina past 9pm after a very long day's driving.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 8
This was our last driving day. We woke up in our Quality Inn in Salina, KS at 6am, did some breakfast, packed up the cars and were on the road by 7:10am. We did heavy driving all morning along I-70. We did a rest area for diapers and bathrooms sometime after Kansas City. We did lunch at a Wendy's in Columbia, Missouri. From there Mom W took over driving in one van while Dad W continued driving the other. We made it around St. Louis and headed for our stop at Altamont where we would drop off Grandpa & Grandma. We got to Altamont just after 4pm. We took a break there in the sweltering heat (101 degrees). Met up with Calvin, Chris, Todd, Connor in the pool. Jonah and Luke quickly got gator rides from Grandpa while we were there. Mark and Sarah's van with the two boys headed out about 5:15pm for home. We did a Fazoli's food stop in Terre Haute and another gas stop along the way. We took I-70 into Ohio north of Dayton and caught I-75 north from there. It was a long evening of driving. Had to take a stop at a rest area about 40 miles south of Toledo for a break. Finally got to the house about 1:30am and quickly unloaded the car. Both boys were long asleep.