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Summer's end

After spending more than a week at our Owl Creek Pass campsite, we had pretty much covered the nearby photo opportunities, and were ready to move on—well, James was. He gets itchy feet long before Jan and I do. In fact, on day nine, James had moved to a location on the other side of the mountain, in the vicinity of Montrose. Jan and I were to follow the next day.

It was hard to leave our Owl Creek Pass location, though. I'd never seen such magnificent scenery at a campsite. If it hadn't been for the fact that the internet connection was so slow and iffy, I'd have stayed another few days. Here's what we had enjoyed as a background during our stay:

Hoodoo ramparts

But that's just a tiny slice of the panorama that surrounded us. Here's a better, broader view—and I encourage you to click on this next picture to see an enlarged version. These rugged spires and colorful foliage formed the view from my office window, as I sat at my computer editing these pages.

Owl Creek panorama

The next day we moved. After stocking up in Montrose on groceries, water, gasoline and propane, we drove fifteen miles up a steep dirt road—the worst washboard that I'd seen in a long time. It was first gear all the way, and at times we had to slow to 5 mph.

About three quarters of the way up, we came upon an old Dolphin motorhome that had broken down. The mother and son who owned it were stuck on a steep, narrow road that offered no place to pull over, and were expecting to have to spend the night there, stalled in the uphill lane—a very dangerous situation. I talked with them, but it was obvious there was nothing I could do except wish them luck. But later that night, I wished I had at least given them my safety triangles so they wouldn't get rear-ended in the middle of the night by some rancher in a pickup, and maybe pushed over the edge. (They were still there the next morning, according to James, but were gone later in the day when Jan and I passed that way, so they must have managed to find a towing service.)

We finally arrived at dusk, to find a muddy, very unlevel campground covered with cowpies—and cows. Setting up in the rain was no fun; I very nearly got Skylark stuck in the mud; and it ended up nowhere near level, even though it was up on three inches of Lynx blocks. Walking around inside the rig, I found myself staggering like a drunken sailor... but I was just too tired to try to get more level that night.

I was in a pretty bad mood by that time, muttering to myself "I had better like this place a whole lot more tomorrow than I do tonight, or I'm going to go stay at the state park." But James made supper for us—quite good, and very welcome—and then I came back home and caught up on email, thanks to a good Verizon internet connection.

The next day Jan and I tried to maneuver our rigs into... well, less unlevel positions. We had little success, and Jan's rig got stuck in the copious mud. Fortunately, a similar experience earlier this summer had taught us that our orange Lynx blocks were not only good for leveling—they make ideal traction aids. Better than carpeting, better than commercial traction mats... their gridwork digs in firmly, their tops grip the tires, and they never, ever, get shot out behind by the spinning wheels, the way mats often do. (Having spent most of my life in the northeast, I've tried all kinds.)

We got Jan's rig unstuck in jig time, and then went back to trying to get level. I ended up using all 40 of my Lynx blocks under the two left rear wheels, yet still wasn't completely level from left to right. However, it was a lot better than before.

Anti-skid Lynx blocks

Late that night Jan's friend Reb, who's also a photographer, pulled in, and the next morning, he and Jan went off to look for pictures in the Telluride area. The day was gloomy, cold and rainy, and when James invited me on his afternoon photo shoot, I declined. Instead, I stayed home and worked my way through piles of accumulated email, application updates and file downloads.

But toward evening, the skies opened up and the sunset brought out beautiful colors in the clouds. Rather than let the sunset go to waste, I photographed its reflection in the mud puddles at our campsite. Later that evening Jan and Reb returned with tales of the "magical" sunset they'd photographed over Telluride. But they were kind enough to say nice things about my mud-puddle sunset.

Muddy sunset

No, I wasn't holding the camera crooked! That's just how unlevel our campsite was.

The next evening we drove into Telluride and ate supper at the True Grit Cafe, named for a John Wayne western that had been filmed in the area. The "Wayne & westerns" decor theme was laid on with a trowel, but the food was pretty good. After dinner we all agreed that we hated our muddy campsite, and decided to move.

Next morning, we all moved to another dispersed campsite. This one was at 9,700 feet, several miles from the Telluride airport on yet another long washboard road. (I must admit that I'll be glad to get back to paved roads when this boondocking summer is over!) Unlike the previous site, this campsite was reasonably level, had no cattle... and best of all, offered an expansive view across colorful valleys and mountains. It also had a good Verizon internet signal.

Today's view

Some of the mountains had striking shapes, accentuated by a recent snowfall at higher altitudes. This one is called "Lizard Head," although I can't see the resemblance myself. Maybe you have to look at it from a different angle...?

Lizard head

At sunset, the flaming clouds made it look as if the end of the world had begun just over the horizon. (Well, after all, the light was coming from a giant thermonuclear fireball—the Sun).

Fiery clouds

And one night, James and I were lucky enough to catch the full moon rising over a gap in the mountains. Even by moonlight, the colors of the trees were remarkable.

Tonight's view

We made several visits to the town of Telluride, which was about half an hour away from (and a thousand feet below) our campsite. Telluride is a small, pretty village in a spectacular box canyon. Like many Colorado towns, it's a former mining town that turned to tourism (especially skiing) after the minerals boom went bust. I was told that many rich and famous people live—or at least summer—there, such as fashion marketer Ralph Lifschitz (better known as Ralph Lauren). It's a pretty ritzy place. Most of the construction I saw was new, but had been carefully and expensively designed to blend in with the few remaining original buildings.

For me the most interesting part of town was the 365-foot Bridal Veil waterfall and powerhouse at one end of the canyon.

Bridal Veil Falls

Built in 1907 to provide power to the Smuggler-Union mine, and restored to operation in the 1980s, this is the second oldest operating AC powerplant in the US. Its 350-kilowatt output provides about a quarter of the power used by Telluride. The man who restored it, Eric Jacobsen, actually lived there for nearly twenty years with his wife and children. Can you imagine?

Telluride powerhouse

I found a side view on Wikipedia that shows just how close to the edge the powerhouse is situated.

The road that leads up to the powerhouse is another 4WD-only, super-zigzaggy affair, but James and I drove as far up as his Jeep would go. I found out later that the Jacobsens moved into a house in town when their children reached school age, and I can understand why. No school bus could traverse this route even in good weather, and in winter it's frequently blocked by avalanches.

If you're wondering what it would be like to live in that house, here's what you'd see from your bedroom window:

View from the powerhouse

Magnificent, isn't it? I invite you to click on that image to see a super-sized view, so you can really get a feeling for the landscape below the falls. Telluride's business district is just visible in the distance, where the road curves to the left.

Telluride is also known for its unusual public transportation system. In addition to the free "Galloping Goose" municipal buses, a free gondola system carries passengers up and over a 10,500' ridge to the neighboring town of Mountain Village—which, believe it or not, is even ritzier than Telluride. The gondolas run continuously from 7:00 a.m. to midnight year round, except for six-week maintenance closures in the spring and fall. James and I rode the gondolas a few times, and I enjoyed just watching all the machinery at work. I was especially fascinated by the elaborate lightning shields on most of the towers.

Telluride gondola

Although the 13-minute ride is pleasant, it's tamer than you might expect. The Telluride gondolas travel only 20–80 feet above the hillside, so you don't get stunning views (or, hopefully, acrophobia).

View from gondola

For that sort of thing, I recommend the Sandia Peak Tramway near Albuquerque, New Mexico, where you'll see views like this:

View from Sandia Peak Tramway

Of course, if you really want the best views...

Riding the Tramway

(WARNING: Trained professional wearing safety harness shown. Do not attempt at home.)

But let's get back to Colorado. In the final week of our stay, the fall colors were at their peak, and everywhere we went, we saw brilliant—almost unreal-looking—color.

House and pond

The 9,000' Dallas Divide is an all-too-popular spot for photographers at this time of year, but you can't blame them (us)—just before sunset, the autumn landscape glows with color. James and I joined the throng of shutterbugs on the evening of September 29th.

Dallas Divide sunset

Some of the photographers were grumbling that the sky needed more clouds to make a really good composition. Personally, I thought it was fine... but later, as the sun sank further, a layer of clouds drifted behind this mountain and began to take on the look of pink cotton candy. ('Fraid I can't tell you what mountain it is—I wasn't taking notes.)

Mount ?

Although I'd been shooting expansive scenic photos for much of the summer, Jan and I took time for some smaller subjects.

Fall leaves

I was glad I'd brought my calf-high Walmart gumboots, which let me wade across streams to get the photos I wanted. (Jan has hip waders, but I wasn't willing to go quite that far.)

Small cascade

Even in a single leaf, you could see all the colors of fall.

Aspen leaf

As September turned to October, it was hard to believe that my summer in Colorado was rapidly drawing to a close. I'd spent the season traveling with Jan and James, seeing sights unlike anything I'd experienced before. I'd driven on worse roads than I'd ever seen before. I'd gone for four months without paying for a campsite or plugging into electricity, relying solely on my solar panels, batteries and generator for power. I hadn't dry-camped for this long in many years, and it felt good to be completely "off the grid."

I'd spent four months at an average altitude of two miles, with excursions up to nearly three miles—pretty rarefied stuff for a former New Jersey resident. Back there, the highest point is 1,800 feet, and the average elevation is just over 200 feet above sea level.

Group portrait

On our last day, Jan and James and I went to lunch at the Brewpub in Telluride, where I had a very good (and very filling) ham/swiss/honey mustard sandwich with onion rings. Then I came back to Skylark and spent the afternoon working on odds and ends such as checking tire pressures and preparing for tomorrow's departure. I made a banana cream pie with an Oreo crust, which we shared in the evening. After chatting for an hour or so, we said our goodbyes, and they went back to their rigs.

So my Colorado summer comes to an end. It's been a reminder of what RVing is like at its best: fantastic scenery, great photo opportunities, and good friends. Although I look forward to revisiting my favorite New Mexico state parks and (especially) having electric and water hookups, dump stations and trash collection, I hope I can keep from sinking completely back into my comfortable New Mexico rut. I'll have to challenge myself to go to new places in my adopted home state.

Sunny curve
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