Next morning we packed up and headed into Glenwood Springs CO for a major food provisioning spree. From there we'll be heading on down to Hotchkiss CO (see point "P" on our route map). We've rented a house there which will be our base camp for the next 5 days. Hotchkiss is a very small town so it seemed wise to stock up with provisions before we got there just in case the Hotchkiss supermarket was not up to scratch.
We were really looking forward to visiting Hotchkiss because we'd arranged for friends Mike and Chris Paulick to be our guests for a few days. Mike and I have been email friends for 20 years but had never previously met. I've mentioned Mike several times earlier in this narrative because he had a huge input in helping Lynn and I to construct this epic Rocky Mountains tour. Frankly I'm a little nervous about meeting Mike in person after all these years. I bet he's terrified about meeting me too.... and who could blame him?
In due course Mike and Chris arrived after driving down from Vail CO where they live. Within 30 minutes everyone is fairly relaxed and we're soon all chatting away like best buddies. It didn't hurt that margaritas are Mike's favourite tipple and he mixed up about a gallon of the stuff soon after arrival. I've become rather partial to the beverage myself !!
Next day we packed a picnic lunch and set off on a fairly ambitious itinerary to drive around half the Black Canyon of the Gunnison rim and thence onto Crested Butte and Gothic. After that we plan a circular route back home up over the Kebler Pass and on back "home" to Hotchkiss.
We had a perfect day to explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mike was pretty knowledgeable about the area. In fact he's a veritable font of knowledge about so much of the Rockies and especially the ranges which run through Colorado.
Shortly after lunch the weather turned bad in an unpredictable manner and by the time we reached Crested Butte the rain was bucketing down. Mike was noticeably disappointed because the next 30 miles or so was going to be one of the highlights of the day. Lynn and I were disappointed because we wanted to take a good look at Crested Butte. It was on our shortlist as a more picturesque alternative base camp to Hotchkiss. In the end we dismissed it as being too high at 8,000 plus feet. Lynn and I both have breathing trouble when trying to sleep above about 5,500 feet or so. Still we wanted to see what we'd passed up.
Notwithstanding the bad weather we decided to push on with most of our planned route which was now on slippery dirt roads. It felt like some yellow clay was mixed in there as well. Still I was feeling safe and comfortable driving at 30 mph but given the conditions my three passengers wanted me to drop down to around 20 mph or less. I had to comply in order to keep everyone happy.
We pushed forward until the road became very cut up and uncomfortable. Then we turned around and drove back to Crested Butte where we took the road over Kebler Pass. I had expected this high pass to be somewhat challenging but it turned out to be a piece of cake. We were therefore able to enjoy the misty mountain scenery, waterfalls and wildlife along the journey as we made our way back to Hotchkiss.
Our 5 days in Hotchkiss ended surprisingly quickly and we moved on to our next base camp in Montrose CO (see point "Q" on our route map).. It's a pleasant small city of 12,000 persons and we'd booked an apartment about 5 miles out of town. It was nicely situated on a small hill overlooking a lovely green valley with the San Juan Mountains in the background. The apartment was bright and spacious with a large deck offering panoramic views over everything (see photo above).
On our first evening we decided to head into town for provisions and found the main street cordoned off with some kind of Annual Fair in full swing. We seem to be very lucky in this respect and so often find ourselves in the right place at the right time wherever we travel throughout the world. It's a real bonus but I hope I haven't jinxed myself by mentioning it here.
A nice lady tried to sign me up as a Republican party member but I explained the futility of this in my case. We talked on a while and had a few laughs before she mentioned that her relief person was overdue. She added that she hoped the relief guy arrived soon because she badly needed a comfort stop. So I offered to mind the Grand Old Party's booth for a few minutes whilst she solved her most immediate problem. I asked for some forms and brochures and added, "sounds like you need a relief in more ways than one.... so go for it".
Guess how many people came up to me seeking info about the Republican Party whilst I was briefly in charge of their Montrose Branch booth? Off the top of my head I'd guess it was approximately zero. Very disappointing.... I was hoping to have a lot of fun being a fake Republican Party big shot. Anyhow, there I am below.
Next day we set off on an adventure which will be remembered for more reasons than one. We took a long circular drive down to Ouray, on to Silverton along the "Millon Dollar Highway" then westwards over Ophir Pass to Telluride, through Placerville and back to Montrose. We don't know how the Million Dollar Highway got Its name but it certainly had million dollar views.
This sure was a truly memorable day in more ways than one. The scenery was simply wonderful and we loved the orange, red and green mountains strung out along the highway. The other memorable event was a near death experience whilst descending Ophir Pass! I'll elaborate on that statement a little later on this page.
There's no way my paltry photos can do justice to this magnificent piece of highway. Lynn and I were in raptures most of the way and so glad that Mike Paulick had included it in the suggested touring itinerary.
Now, let's bring you up to date on the 11,000 feet high Ophir Pass. Perhaps extracts from an email I wrote to Mike next day will spare me from fully reliving the event. After a little self censorship, here's what I wrote.....
"Now to Ophir Pass. At first I found it pretty straight forward if you ignore the fact that it gave my stomach muscles a real workout and it didn't help my overfull bladder either if it comes to that. I was actually starting to think "piece of "cake" and then about two miles below the pass we met the "Colorado Toyota 4x4 Club" (or something similar) coming along in cohorts of 10 to 15 vehicles at a time in the opposite direction. The lead vehicle in each group carried a sign marked "Trail Leader".
"After a few such convoys went by we started to count the vehicles. It totalled somewhere between 140 and 143 Toyota's. Well "damn", there's no place along Ophir Pass where 15 vehicles can get off the road and give right of way to good old Brian on his way up to the Pass. This meant that it was always me who had to jack two wheels halfway up the mountain to let a convoy past."
"It was the descent down the mountain into Ophir village however that got really exciting. There's sheer mountain rock on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other side of a VERY narrow little road. Yet the convoys of 10 or more Toyota 4x4's just kept coming. It was very, very hairy most of the way down and we had one really bad "oh shit" moment halfway down the descent after all the Toyota convoys had passed and then two lone Jeeps confronted me in an impossible location. On that occasion I couldn't create any space by putting a couple of wheels up the mountain because that was sheer hard rock. Frankly I would have risked tilting my Jeep up to 45 degrees to provide a fraction more space to the oncoming vehicles but unfortunately I had sheer vertical rock beside me. And the oncoming drivers couldn't get by me without going clear off the edge of a huge cliff."
"We all stopped and had a pow-wow. The guys in the oncoming vehicles decided to back down the hill about 100 metres where there was a very slight belly in the road on the drop-off side. It gave just enough extra room for me to draw abreast of one vehicle provided he placed himself on the very, VERY edge of the drop-off. Then the other vehicles and myself joggled a foot at a time so that after 10 minutes or so we finally wriggled out of our joint dilemma. It was truly, truly hairy and scary but the two Americans seemed as cool as a cucumbers. One mistake on their part or MY PART would have sent them over the edge to certain death. I was on the comparatively "safe" side of the road but still had my heart in my mouth. If I had been the other guys I'd have been terrified that one accidental bump from me at such close quarters would have sent them to oblivion. For my own part, I'll never forget it." Something strange..... whilst all this was going on the other side of my brain was trying to remember the details of our vehicle rental contract. Was the insurance excess (front end deductible) $1,500, $2.500 or $4,500? I was pretty sure that it was the latter on this particular vehicle but I had no option but to cuddle up to that rock wall for all I was worth. Lynn had her window open and was calling across to me.... two centimetres, one centimetre, YOU'RE ALMOST TOUCHING !!! Still I didn't have any option under the circumstances."
Fortunately the rest of the descent was uneventful and we breathed a sigh of relief as we drove into quaint little Ophir village.... population 163 plus domestic pets (see photo above).
We used our last day at Montrose to drive out to the western side of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was quite different to the other side we'd visited a week ago. It had a much wilder feel to it and there were less tourists around as well.... always a blessing.