Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hanging Out in Montrose, Colorado with Friends

It quickly became apparent to Betsy and me that a week in Montrose with Melinda and Dick was not going to be enough time.  We eagerly upped our stay at the KOA and greeted each day with excitement knowing there was adventure waiting.  The charming historic downtown of Montrose is an eclectic mix of galleries, restaurants, and shops.  Historic Victorian buildings abound and the town provides a great diversity of community events to keep people coming downtown.  One of our favorite aspects of the downtown is a serious of sculptures that dot the city streets and entertain drivers stopped at red lights.  Many are on loan for five years from a generous donor that lives south of town.  They bring the downtown to life and express the Colorado character inherent in this western town. 

Titled:  Red Fox

Titled:  Green Goat

Titled:  Memories
Titled:  Bad Decision
Our gracious tour guides readily offered to take us to Ouray, nicknamed “Little Switzerland.”  The town got its name from the valley setting that is flanked by high mountain peaks.  The town is as charming as it is old and we loved strolling the streets, eating in the diverse restaurants, and indulging in chocolate and coffee in one of the towns' historic buildings. 

A gorgeous view of Ouray from the Million Dollar Highway.
Melinda and Dick live on a gorgeous nine acres that overlooks the plateaus and adobe.  They were nice enough to let us bring Spirit over to their house and play with their dog Sobi.  The two of them got along great which led to restful nights for all.  One afternoon while the dogs were playing we helped them pick up freshly cut hay bales as a small token of our many great meals and martinis at their house.  We hated to say goodbye but it was time to move on to Telluride.

Betsy and I becoming new ranch hands.
Melinda training her dressage horse, Willie.  She hosted a dressage clinic while we were with her so we met
a lot of new "horse friends".

Sobi (who is named after Sobieski Vodka) was nice enough to let Spirit play with all his toys.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

When we arrived in Montrose our friend Melinda offered to take us to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and play tour guide.  Ominous name for a National Park but we were eager to go nonetheless. The name “Gunnison” refers to the Gunnison River that has shaped this magnificent canyon that stretches for 53 miles through western Colorado.

To say the Black Canyon is dramatic is a gross understatement.  This plunging gorge falls to an impressive depth of 2,700 feet and is the work of natural forces demonstrating their might over millions of years.  The canyon was called “black” because it is so deep, sheer, and narrow that very little sunlight permeates the floor.  Shadows create more darkness and give the walls a menacing look.  The first written record of the canyon in the late 1870’s declared it “impenetrable.”  

Look closely in the bottom of the picture
and you can see the Gunnison River.
Two brave explorers by the names of Abraham Lincoln Fellows and William Torrence were the first to brave the canyons depth and the rivers furry.  These early explorers were seeking to map the river and determine if water could be diverted to the nearby arid and desolate Uncompahgre Valley for irrigation.  In 1901, these daredevils braved the river on rubber mattresses; after 33 miles and 9 days they determined an irrigation tunnel was feasible.  And so hundreds of hearty laborers from 1905 to 1909 drove a tunnel 11 feet x 12 feet six miles through the cliffs of the Black Canyon and provided the necessary water for the valley.

Congress designated the Black Canyon a national monument in 1933 but that was later changed to National Park status in 1999.  The park is surrounded by other federal lands that ensure protection for the canyon and adjacent lands.  The lands below the rim carry the designation of National Wilderness which means the forever protection will keep the area truly wild with no roads, vehicles, mechanized equipment, or development of any kind. 

Standing on the rim and looking into the canyon is foreboding.  But looking up from the canyon floor is awe-inspiring and humbling.  We were glad to have such a good tour guide and spend time with Melinda in a truly magnificent place.

As Melinda and Betsy hiked along the East Portal road with Spirit, I decided to "wet my line" in the clear, cold Gunnison River.
Melinda and Betsy
The mighty Gunnison River running through the canyon.
At 2,300 feet, the Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado - almost twice the height of the Empire State Building.  The patterns on the rock were created by molten rock that was squeezed into the cracks and fissures of existing rock and then cooled and hardened.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Old Friends in New Places

Betsy here.  We left Gunnison and headed to our next destination – Montrose.  So you may be asking “why Montrose?”  The purpose of our stop was to reconnect with my dear college friends Melinda and her husband, Dick.

I had not seen Melinda and Dick for at least ten years when they came to New Orleans to see me and meet Nancy.  And before that it was probably twenty years.  I met Melinda at The Ohio State University where we were both doing research for our PhD’s.  She was already a veterinarian from California and Dick was a renowned professor there who developed the first vaccine for feline leukemia.  Melinda was working with cats and I was working with sheep among other animals.  But what really formed our bond was that both Melinda and I had horses and were competitive and endurance trail riders.  So throughout our years at OSU we spent many hours training horses and traveling together to beautiful places to compete and just enjoy trail riding.  It was so great to spend time with them again.  They also have a house in Tucson so we will hopefully see them again this winter.

But for now we are so glad that we headed west over the Rocky’s to Montrose.  This road trip has been so great for connecting with old friends.
My friends Melinda and Dick in downtown Ouray, the town that's called "little Switzerland".

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Crested Beautiful

We parked the motorhome along the Gunnison River in Gunnison, Colorado for a few days so I could continue wading in the trout-laden river with my fly rod, we could marvel at the golden aspens and make a sojourn to the much-hyped-about town of Crested Butte.

Crested Butte came highly recommended by friends and strangers and the consensus was that we must visit this mountain town.  We followed their advice, and undeniably, we were not disappointed.  On our way up, we decided to take the long way by traversing Ohio Creek Road (since we are not ones pressed for time).  The seasonal, unpaved road took us past sprawling ranches peppered with cattle and through stands of golden aspen that framed a memorable Fall picture.  But it wasn’t enough to just enjoy the views from the car, we had to get out and hike with Spirit to truly enjoy the grandeur of the mountain Fall.  The millions of acres of National Forest and Wilderness provided ample opportunity for outdoor enjoyment.  I heard so many "oohs" and "wows" from Betsy and I don't think we have ever hiked anywhere that had more color.  The aspens were neon gold in the sun.  We even went back the next day!  

Perfect weather on a Fall Sunday in Crested Butte brings everybody out.  The farmer’s market was abuzz with people looking for fresh produce and locals just out to enjoy chatting with friends in the cleansing fresh air.  Not ones to miss a unique museum, we hit the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum and the Mountain Biking Museum to learn more about this little towns history.  They claim they were the first to start the mountain biking craze - although California disputes this.

 Crested Butte was once the summer home to the nomadic Ute Indians.  But it was the discovery of silver in the late 1860’s that brought permanent residents and economic boom.  As the silver and coal dried up, so did the town and in the 1950’s the railroad stopped coming and mining was over.  Ranching remained the common denominator that held people in the area.  The town became popular with skiers in the 1970’s and the people flocked to the area but Crested Butte maintained its Victorian charm and uniqueness.  People here love the outdoors but are diversified with an appreciation for creative arts and free thinking.

After a leisurely lunch under the warm sun we headed for home along the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway.  The road provides stunning scenery as you transition from the high elevation back down to the desert and sagebrush plains.  Too bad we didn’t have time to drop my fishing line in the gold medal trout streams that line the road and attract eager anglers.  A trip to Crested Butte is well worth the drive especially in the Spring or Fall when the wildflowers and Fall colors are in their glory. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Out and About in Breckenridge, Colorado

When our friends from Philly wanted a break from the summer heat and the stress of work (something we have already forgotten about) we decided to have them meet us in Breckenridge.  So why did we choose a ski town in summer?  Because Breckenridge is just as busy in the summer as it is in the winter.  We could have stayed here for a month and still not done everything.  Besides the usual hiking, fishing, shopping we found lots to do.  In previous posts I wrote about our experience panning for gold and watching women wielding chain saws but here is the rest of the Breckenridge activities.

The town was founded in 1859 and despite a loss of some historic buildings due to fire and time, the downtown is well-preserved and the attractive flower-lined downtown streets are very welcoming to visitors a’ pied.  To add to the city’s charm is the Blue River which leisurely drifts through town thus inviting people (and dogs) to come in for a dip in the cool water or relax on the bank with a picnic lunch. 

While strolling through historic downtown, we discovered the Breckenridge Visitor Center and Heritage Alliance.  Low and behold, they advertised a historic narrated tour called “Behind Swinging Doors - Saloon Tour.”  Well, that didn’t take us long to sign up for especially since we were going to have part of our history lesson in a historic bar enjoying a pint and then visiting the Breckenridge Distillery for a tasting.  Our charismatic guide led us around town and brought to life the idea of a bar bustling mining town in the late 1800’s when saloons were on all four corners of the block. 


The western mountains of Breckenridge are striped with ski runs, chair lifts and a gondola carrying winter lovers to their powdery paradise.  When we saw the gondola was available to eager visitors wishing to head up the mountain, we were game.  The gondola only got us so far and if we wanted the real “view” we were going to have to brave the chair lift for a ride to the top.  Betsy and I are not keen on heights and soon we were feeling that we had made a fatal mistake by riding the lift and leaving the safety of terra firma.  The chair that suspended us swung with the wind and our feet dangled precariously above the ground as we seemed to be rising higher and higher.  Safely at the top we were treated to spectacular views of the mountains and the gold flecks of the aspens heading to their winter dormancy.  Our enjoyment was spoiled when we remembered we had to get back on the lift to go down.

The gondola was a great ride - we were safely enclosed and no dangling body parts.
The chair lift turned out to be a great  idea.  We both ended up loving it!
The view of "Breck" from over 11,000 feet was beautiful.
We had a great summer experience in this winter wonderland which was made even more fun with our friends.  Breck turned out to be our favorite Colorado city so far.

Betsy's dear friend from high school, Jane and husband Bill, rode their motorcycle to Breckenridge to see us again.
What a great surprise visit and we continued our fun!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chics with Axes

When our friend Joanne, visiting us from Philly, mentioned that she liked lumberjack shows and chainsaw carvings, we knew we had to make the short drive from Breckenridge to the neighboring town of Frisco for the annual Fall Fest.  After all, we were not going to let her go alone when we heard the festival headliner was “Timber Tina’s World Champion Jumberjills,” affectionately known as “Chics with Axes.”  Come on…who wouldn't be curious to see a festival with Chics with Axes?  And I might want to start a new career!  

Timber Tina showing off her chainsaw skills.
But these ladies can do more than just swing axes - they can throw them too!  When they finally put the axes down, they would pick up blazing chainsaws and transform sturdy logs into sawdust.  For a little change of pace they hop onto a floating log and begin the traditional lumberjack (or Jill as the case may be) competition of log rolling.  These highly entertaining women put on a great show.  Turns out they are based out of Bar Harbor, Maine and we stayed at an RV park a mile down the road last summer but never went to their show.  They travel the country demonstrating the skills necessary to compete in logging sports competitions.

The family-oriented festival provided fun, food, and entertainment for all ages.  Kids had a great time competing in the firefighter competition.  They quickly donned fire gear, grabbed a fire hose, and wrestled with the powerful steam of water until they knocked over the target.

Somebody is sizing up the competition.
Where is the fire?  
Hey, how do I turn this on?
 Other festival attractions included arts and crafts, chainsaw art, food, and kids activities (like some crazy inflated ball rolling around in water).

This is one reason we did not let Joanne go alone.
The Summit County Art community were decorating a very plain wall.
Colorado loves to show off their colorful flowers.  After all, they don't have many months to grow delicate flowers.

The town of Frisco lies in a beautiful valley between Vail and Breckenridge adjacent to the Dillion Reservoir.  The town wants to make sure visitors know that they were not named after San Francisco, California.  The name actually is derived from a combination of letters associated with the St. Louis – San Francisco Railway Company.  Ironically, the railroad never made it to town.  

The downtown visitor center and historic park museum is a great place to get insight into what life was like in the early days in Frisco.  The museum is very well done with each building having a video kiosk that illustrates and describes life in the mid to late 1800’s.

After touring the museum I can say for certain that I am glad I did not live there in the early days!  Living in poorly insulated wood houses, working in the mines, and surviving blustery cold winters (in a dress) is not my idea of fun.  It was now time to head to the modern conveniences of lunch and a beer at the Backcountry Brewery.
We decided to leave Joanne locked in the jail.