Colorado has always held a special part of my heart. For years we made the trek across Kansas with our family to hit the slopes. Those were fast trips as work and school were a part of our lives. Most of our travels were along the I70 corridor with an occasional visit to the Colorado Springs area to visit friends and most recently north of Denver to spend time with family. We had never seen the southwestern portion of Colorful Colorado With the help and recommendations of our good friends we winter with in Tampa we planned the adventure last fall.
Our travel day from the Flagstaff area to our first stop across from Mesa Verde National Park was not so much fun for my Handsome Chauffeur. The wind was gusting at 45 mph with steady winds around 30 mph hitting us on the side of the Circus Train. It took all of him to keep us on the road! As we came uponwe contemplated on stopping, but I for one was ready to get parked at our next “home” and get off of the “rollercoaster” ride. It didn’t take much persuasion to get my Handsome Chauffeur to agree so I clicked a photo of the sign and we proceeded to our destination with the idea of coming back to see it another day.
We made it safely to our camp ground just outside of the National ParkSo thankful to be stationary and be able to call this beautiful area home for a week with amazing vistas for as far as one could see. Soon we hopped on our Harley to start exploring.
First stop Mesa Verde National Park Home of over 600 cliff dwellings made by Pueblo people from 550-1,200 AD. We joined Ranger guided group to explorer. Down very narrow rock cleftsDown approximately 10 stories to get an up close look at these spectacular architectural feats. It is AMAZING to think how they built these with rudimentary tools and the engineering involved! Once the tour was completed… what goes down must go up so we began our climb of several wooden ladders to the topI am not saying that we are in poor shape, but coming from the flatlands we certainly were sucking wind after the climb! It was all worth it though!
Just as in Arizona, Colorado was in a severe drought. No open fires, no charcoal grills and no smoking outdoors. While we could see snow on some of the distant mountain peaks the lower areas were dry and yellow. Many of the rivers were drastically low due to the lack of snowfall this past winter. We were told by the locals that depend on tourism with river rafting etc… many outfits were already closed down due to lack of water flow. Wildfires were breaking out just north of Durango which was a route my Handsome Chauffeur had considered taking to our next location. Many evacuations and major road closures were hurting the economy in huge ways. Thankfully, we were advised by locals to take a different route, not only due to the fires, but Red Mountain Pass was in their opinion not the best drive for our traveling Circus Train😉! Even Facebook was watching over us
While the fires were to the east of us we were able to take a ride and found beautiful McPhee Reservoir nestled in the San Juan National Forestthere too we could easily see how the levels of this reservoir were low due to the lack of snow. The campgrounds within the forest were like Ghost Towns. Just after we made our ride through, the entire forest was closed to people because of the extreme high fire danger and the 2 large fires already burning with only 10% containment.
As we left Mesa Verde area with our sights set on our next “home”, Ouray, CO. there was smoke visible everywhere!Our travels took us over Lizard Head Pass at 10,222 feet in elevation through the San Juan mountains. If this was a “better pass” than the Red Mountain Pass my Handsome Chauffeur wanted to take you could have fooled me. The steep climbs and the descending about gave this Nervous Navigator a heart attack!!
Fellow Nomads gave us some sage advice… they travel on Saturdays as the traffic is usually better. No worries about hitting cities during Rush Hour and most folks are already at their destination by Friday. From our previous travels this advice seemed very reasonable to us….. until we were traveling on a Saturday over Lizard Pass! The winding pass with very few guard rails was a busy road filled with weekend drivers!Loads of cars, Fellow Circus trains AND Bicyclists!! Holy Cow, I cannot even tell you what it was like to come to a curve and meet up with a vehicle rounding the bend going the opposite direction AND a bicyclist on our side of the road with little to no shoulder! I wish I had a photo to share, but things happened so quickly there was no way to take a photo while holding my breathe, eyes closed and PRAYING all of us made it through the scene!
My Handsome Chauffeur handled the pass like he drove it daily! He often had to remind me to open my eyes and take in the glorious sights Indeed they were SPECTACULAR!
We arrived in Ouray and immediately fell in love with the quaint town. Our campground was situated in the middle of town and surrounding us by the San Juan Mountains… breathtaking!Ouray’s nickname is America’s Switzerland. Not only are there mountains surrounding the city, but they also are home of seven natural hot springs! A short walk through our campground brought us to the community hot springs pool that offers three different pools with temperatures of 88-105 degrees and miraculously no sulfur smell!!!The entire downtown is on the Historic RegisterOuray was originally established as a mining community. Miners chasing gold and silver. There are still mines in the area. We took a Jeep tour to get a closer look at the mines and the many beautiful waterfalls! What a treat for my Handsome Chauffeur!! He was able to relax and enjoy the beauty! I assumed my same white knuckle anxiety filled ride as we traversed single lane mining roads up, up and UP until we reached the waterfalland snow If the Jeep ride wasn’t enough of an adventure for my thrill seeking husband… we HAD to make the drive over the Red Mountain Pass (11,000 ft in elevation) aka as the Million Dollar Highway. Thankfully, we did the ride on our Harley which for some strange reason doesn’t create as much anxiety for me. It must be that we have more room on the road than when traveling in the Circus Train😉.
True to the description the road way is filled with narrow lanes, winding and hairpin turns. The side of the road is covered with yield signs that show not only vertical curves but horizontal as wellThere are a few theories of how the road got its nickname “The Million Dollar Highway”. The roadway was originally founded by Otto Mears in 1883 as a toll way for Miners and operated as such until 1920 then rebuilt. There is also rumor that when the road was rebuilt they used gravel from the nearby gold and silver mines hence the road was rich in ore which was worth a million dollars. My favorite theory is that a traveler had experienced such a bad case of vertigo from traveling the steep and hairpin winding road, he said he would have to be paid a million dollars to do it again … I think he and I are kindred spirits!
The pass is accurately named. As we wound through the turns Red Mountain came into view… Our journey ended in Silverton, CO. For as far as you could see the roads were full of ATVs. Many waiting to be rented. Yet, even though the air was filled with smoke from the fire, a few people were out for adventures. We also noticed many of the restaurants and shops were closed. We spoke with one shop owner that informed us due to the fires and road closures the once bustling town filled with tourists was virtually a Ghost Town. Many couldn’t afford to stay open due to the lack of customers. The town itself was preparing for pre-evacuation. Such a shame. The scary part was the fires still were not contained and they still were unsure of how it had started! We spent a good portion of the day touring the town’s museum dedicated to mining learning about the amazing dedication of the folks who settled the area.
Sadly, our stay in Ouray came to an end. The morning we woke to leave our windows were covered with “snow” from the enormous Cottonwood trees everywhere!It’s no wonder we had trouble with allergy symptoms. Between the smoke and the blizzard of cotton off the trees! Even given the CrAzY ride over the mountain passes, smoke, fires and mounds of cotton in the air …Ouray has stolen a piece of our hearts! We most definitely will be back! We hated to leave this little piece of heaven on Earth. Next stop Gunnison, CO!
The trip to Gunnison was also filled with narrow winding roads. You would think that I would get better managing my anxiety… alas I failed. I will admit it wasn’t AS bad, but I have yet to figure out how not to gasp LOUDLY as we make a curve around the mountain when there is a STEEP drop off less than 3 feet from my Navigator seat!
Finally the stunning Blue Mesa Reservoir came into view The photo does not show how really beautiful blue the water is! The Blue Mesa Reservoir is the LARGEST lake located entirely within the state of Colorado. It is a fisherman’s meca. It is filled with Lake Trout and Kokanee Salmon. Our home for the next week was located across the street from a portion of this beauty. In fact most of our neighbors were here solely on a fishing mission. They were gone by day break and home in the afternoon limited out.
While the Reservoir was beautiful we came across a snafu that has not happened in the entire 4 years of being Professional Nomads….. neither of us had cell phone service!! Rutro Houston we had a problem! We each purposely have different cell phone carriers to hopefully never be without communication. This area was a big FAT dead zone! I was a bit distressed. The campground offered free internet for emails ONLY! I immediately sent email messages to our parents, children and friends who knew we were traveling to let them know we arrived safely and would not be able to be reached for a week. The lack of ability to communicate was equal to being on a deserted isle! People often ask “How can you be away from family, friends and your precious grandchildren?” Which I retort .. “No problem as we talk often with everyone via text or FaceTime!” Well no instant communication ability with our family and friends about made me insane!
The beauty of staying near Gunnison there were wonderful Harley rides to take. Every day we set out to new location. First stop Crested Butte.The ride there was spectacular. The wild flowers were just starting to bloom. Pops of yellow, blue and orange peeking out along the mountain side. We were a bit early to see them in full bloom the locals informed us. I guess they are stunning the first 2 weeks of July. Maybe our next time out we will plan to see them! For know my eyes were peeled on the mountain tops in search for cell phone towers! Each and every time one came into view I would send family an update letting them know we were doing well!
Another day ride to the Black Canyon!At the rim we were 8,000 feet of elevation! Below the Gunnison River cuts through the mountains 1,800 feet below. When we entered the park the Ranger told us we should consider taking the ride to the base of the canyon. He told us the ride is about 5 miles in length filled with lots of curves and many folks on motorcycles really enjoy it. So off we went! What the Ranger left out was that the road grade was 16%!!!!! Oh MY GOODNESS… I get choked up and so anxious on a 6% grade when traveling in the Mobile Condo… this 16% grade on the Harley about did me in!!! AGAIN with the hairpin curves, no guard rails and steep drop offs I was BEGGING my Handsome Chauffeur to please turn around there was absolutely no need to see the bottom of the canyon! But noooooooooo we were going to see this! I believe he had bruises on his sides as I had a death grip on him! We are a team and if one of us goes over the side of the canyon we were for darn sure going together as my death grip grew tighter and tighter! Finally we reached the rivers edge safe and soundThere were a few folks fly fishing and picnicking. I was trying to compose myself and summon the courage that was needed to go back up the 16% grade from HELL! My mind was reeling with the thoughts that we had no cell phone service, our kids had no idea where were and they would never find us in the depths of this canyon…. but what a majestic place it was indeed! Finally, I got on the Harley and just like the Mountain Goats we have seen, that Harley climbed up the mountain and got us back up to 8000 ft in elevation! As we made our way back to our campground I kept my eye to the sky in search of cell towers to let our family we were still alive, but did not share our latest escapade we just did! Why worry them🤣!
It was time to head to our next destination Colorado Springs, CO. The next pass to conquer was Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet in elevation, 7% grade located on the Continental Divide. You would think this would be old hat for this Nervous Navigator, but sadly I was a wreck! You see there were a few mechanical things going on with our Mobile Condo that My Handsome Chauffeur had been working feverishly to figure out what was going on. Our Mobile Condo uses air pressure for her braking system. When we start up our engine to travel we watch our gauges to see the air pressure build up for safe travel. We also have a nice beeping noise that indicates that our pressure is too low to operate the brakes. Wellllllllll, the pressure was taking so long to build up the beeper must have gotten laryngitis as it stopped warning us! The first thing MacGuyver did in Mesa Verde ,at the advice of the folks who are professionals,was change the air dryer filterUnfortunately, that did not fix the issue. The air pressure DOES build up for safe travel, but takes longer than it should. MacGuyver has spent hours on the phone, reading our manual and has a better idea of what it could be, but his little red tool bag doesn’t have the tools needed. We were heading for “civilization” and He made a reservation for service in Denver area, BUT we had to get to Denver which caused me a WEE bit of anxiety. Not only do we have that pesky air pressure issue our fuel gauge went on the fritz and reads EMPTY even though we filled our tank.Often times we are asked by folks “What kind of gas mileage do you get in that thing?” My reply always is that we have no idea what mileage we get. That bit of knowledge would not change how we travel and would only put a HUGE damp rag on our party😉. Now that we have NO working fuel gauge that little mpg calculation would have come in handy!!!
After about 30 minutes of the engine idling, the air pressure gages were up to where we could be assured our brakes would work. The fuel gage still read empty and there was a screeching coming from the engine compartment that could “possibly” be an angry belt???!!? Off we head over Monarch Pass.Thankfully the air pressure held and we had no need for one of theseI had to laugh as they had a sign 2 miles before the ramp letting drivers know that it was coming up… or it was giving you warning that if your brakes went out you only had 2 more miles to gain excessively higher speeds due to the grade and to Hold on Nelly🤣….
We made it safely over the pass and down without incident. I was never so glad to see a flat straight away in my life!We decided to stop to top off the fuel tank as we had no earthly idea how much fuel we used climbing the mountain pass. To our astonishment we only could fit 6 gallons of fuel in! Holy COW!
It was hard to believe we only used 6 gallons of gas going over the mountain pass, but it was a pleasant surprise indeed!
Soon we arrived at our new home, The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO! A sigh of relief from this Nervous Navigator! No more mountain passes, civilization, cell service and closer to repairs getting done! While we wait for our appointment day at the repair shop we hopped on the Harley to explorer The Garden of the Gods We took a long ride to the Royal Gorge. There were people walking a bridge across and zip lining! It all looked like fun, but we decided to spend our time taking the Gold Belt Scenic Byway back to the Academy. Riding through the mountains catching glimpses of Elk, Alpacas and cattle. The ride was not only beautiful, but breath taking with Pikes Peak in the distance.
We spent an entire day touring and learning all about the Academy. What an amazing place! The new group of Cadets were scheduled to arrive a week after we had to leave. It would have been fantastic to see that! We got a taste of what they would be going through by watching a video in the Visitors Center and speaking with the Docents stationed here and there on the campus. It brought us a sense of inspiration and a swell of pride watching the video of young men and woman going through their steps from beginning to end of their schooling then serving this great Nation. Pops made future plans for our 3 year old grandson to become a Cadet😉
One of the beautiful buildings on the campus was the Chapel.Stunning both outside and inside! We were so thankful to be able to tour it as it will be closed soon for the next 4 years to be renovated. Since it has been built, it has leaked water which was evident on some of the upholster and wood pews. When it was being constructed they were rapidly going over budget and made some cutbacks in not only the size, but what they used to put it together with. Sadly, it has leaked from the time it was built in 1962 until now due to inferior supplies. The plan is to completely dismantle the structure and put it back together. What an undertaking this will be!
The setting of the entire Academy is beautifully situated in the mountain side looking down onto the city of Colorado Springs. Founded in April 1954. It is home to 2 of the most beautiful courses we have played
The day of our appointment with the mechanic was upon us. We made a change in plans. Instead of service in Denver we chose to have it done at our next location of Loveland, CO. We have family to see in Loveland and IF we had to move out of our Mobile Condo while repairs are made we could stay with family. This sounded like a great plan except Loveland is about 60 miles further travel! The symptoms that we were experiencing earlier in our travels were there, but miraculously our fuel gauge was reading correctly.. so strange!
We made it to our appointment without a hiccup. The mechanic made the diagnosis. We were in need of a new alternator (the screeching noise), we needed a new governor for our air compressor ( air pressure for brakes) and we most likely will have to replace the fuel sending unit (for the fuel gauge to register accurately) and our radiator hose had seen better days! The next hurdle was to locate the parts! My Handsome Chauffeur changed his cap again to Procurement Specialist! It took an entire day for him to get parts ordered. The next day he drove all over to pick up the parts. Thankfully, the mechanic came to us at our campground to make the repairs. Four hours later my Handsome Chauffeur fires up the Mobile Condo… air pressure built up immediately, the screeching sounds was gone and our fuel gauge read accurately! Whew we are back in business.
We have enjoyed spending time and doing life with our extended family who get to call Loveland, CO home. They were a soft place to land through all the CrAzY repairs.
As we close on our month in Captivating Colorado I have to pinch myself. I feel as though we have been dreaming for a month! The beauty we have seen, the people we have met on our way and even the challenges we have endured(and overcome) have grown our hearts and our faith in unimaginable ways! Yes, we will always have our memories of this amazing time and we WILL return to make more memories… you can count on it Colorado!
I am clicking my ruby red slippers as Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz and quoting her “There’s no place like home.” We’re off to Kansas to start the next part of our journey seeing family, friends and “framily”! The road we traveled so many times over the years is a familiar FLAT route, but at the end of the journey we will be surrounded by LOVE! Kansas here we come💗!