Tuesday, October 6, 2015

San Juan National Forest

Colorado Adventure, Day 7
Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Up until this point in our journey, we had a pretty set plan of which roads we'd take to work our way Southwest through Colorado. With the Rockies, there really isn't any straight shot, so we embraced the adventure that came with driving around these mountain ranges. After Montrose, we saw we had 2 options for getting down to Mesa Verde - we could either take highway 550 through Ouray and down to Durango, or we could go East on 62 then South on 145, past Telluride and down to Cortez. We did a little research the night before and looked into letterboxes and attractions, and ultimately decided to take 550 to Durango, and spend some time in the wilderness outside of Ouray.

However, once we passed the turn for highway 62, we saw some construction signs for 550. Apparently just South of Ouray there was a mountain pass undergoing construction during the weekdays and was impassable during that time. We pulled over, checked the map, and talked it over, finally deciding that we didn't want to deal with working around that complication. And so we set off in the opposite direction, without much idea of what we could do on our new route. But we had gone this far just winging it, there was no reason why we couldn't be flexible and find something new!

Curtis had happened to save a few letterbox clues for Telluride, so we decided to go for one that was a short hike to a waterfall. This took us through the ski town of Telluride (which was quite busy due to a festival going on in town) all the way to the end of the main drive. Here, you can either park or drive up the 4 wheel drive road to see Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest free falling falls in Colorado. The 4WD road continues on for quite a ways after, going over the mountains to Ouray. For today, we opted to just park and hike up to the falls. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the colors of the Telluride area were stunning.

It was a 1.5 mile hike up the rocky road to the falls, switchbacking and climbing in elevation the whole way. 

Charlotte was very brave crossing the small stream that flowed over the road. :)

There's Telluride in the valley - I loved the red rocks peaking out of the cliffs.

There are the falls up ahead!

And the falls up close. They were pretty tame today compared to some of the pictures we'd seen. Still, we enjoyed getting out of the car and getting some exercise while enjoying the beauty of Telluride!

We found the box and stayed a bit longer to enjoy the falls before heading back to our car. We decided to skip the town and whatever the festival was that was going on, and continued heading South. We stopped at a pullout to enjoy the views, then decided to take another detour and follow one of the National Forest access signs, leading us up into the San Juan Mountain range. All the sign said was "Alta Lakes," and we decided whatever that was sounded like another good stopping point!

The dirt road to the lakes was pretty well maintained, going through the forest and quickly climbing the mountain side. As we neared the end of the road, we came across an abandoned gold boom town. There were several structures scattered around, some in pretty decent shape. We parked near a trailhead sign here and decided to follow the trail wherever it went.

It ended up not being that long of a trail, and it took us to a campsite and where the road we had been driving up ended. But we decided it was worth it - there were giant puddles and flowing water on the road after the point where we pulled off, and the hike was very pleasant. And we just loved the views at the Alta Lakes! Finding hidden lakes on hikes is probably my favorite part of hiking in Colorado.

After that, it was getting later in the afternoon so we decided to finish the drive to Mesa Verde, where we planned to camp for the night. But first...Sonic!

These pictures of Curtis and Charlotte ordering are some of my favorites. Sonic is Charlotte's new favorite restaurant - she just knows that whenever we pull up in those parking spots, she's going to get a hotdog! She jumps up to sit on Curtis' lap and then eagerly waits for the friendly Sonic employee to bring her her dinner.

Of course, it takes her all of 20 seconds to devour both hotdog and bun, then she's back up front begging for our tots. 

After that, we finished the rest of the drive to Mesa Verde National Park. The campground was really something - it was huge, had an area with several services such as a General Store, restaurant, gas station, and more, the campground bathrooms had running water, and there was wifi! Of course this made it a more expensive camping experience than any of the other places, but we managed. ;) Being at a lower elevation than we had been before, temperatures for camping were really becoming more comfortable. We turned in for the night, planning to explore Mesa Verde the next morning.

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