On Monday morning we checked out of our Denver hotel and walked to the nearby Budget car rental where we had a mid-sized SUV reserved.
Instead of a mid-sized, they had a Toyota 4-Runner for us! Only it had a poorly repaired crack right across the windshield in front of the driver. We were also offered a smaller GMC SUV, or, this white four-door Ford F-150 that was ready to go. Jeff barely hesitated for a moment and jumped at the new pick-up truck.
The back seats folded up leaving a large area in the back seat for our suitcases and backpacks. Perfect!
We didn’t have much of a plan, other than a few places we’d like to see, if the weather stayed nice and the snow stayed off the mountain passes. We decided to head southwest towards Cortez, Colorado and I plotted a route through Monarch Pass to get there. If you haven’t been to Denver, it is surrounded on the west and south by the Rocky Mountains, so you need to be ready for significant winter. There are chain-up areas and truck run-away ramps. And so much beauty!
First, we stopped at a Walmart Superstore on our way out of the Denver suburbs so we would have a case of water, some snacks, and lunch with us. Turns out it is pumpkin spice season! I had already had a hot pumpkin chai tea in Denver, followed the next day by an iced pumpkin chai latte. Now in this Walmart I was in pumpkin spice heaven!
I skipped the Cheerios, but grabbed the Goldfish! I haven’t eaten goldfish crackers since they were one of my only food groups during chemo and radiation. But these were different! They were graham cookie goldfish with a pumpkin spice flavour. They were really good and one bag lasted the entire rest of our vacation!
There was barely a cloud in the sky as we headed through the Monarch Pass. And we thought Denver had a high altitude! At the Monarch pass, the elevation was 11,312 feet !! I could really feel it in my face and sinuses. This pass marked our crossing of the continental divide. Since it was the last week in October, the rest area was closed, so I had to shuffle down behind the parking lot into the woods to relieve myself. And the <5 metre walk back up the steep drop-off to the truck had me panting and almost a bit dizzy! Wild what a difference in elevation can do!
We stopped a bit later on a pull-off to eat our lunch. Everything was so many shades of brown, since it is well into fall, but yet still beautiful. And the sky was so blue!
Today turned mostly into a driving day, so we could get away from the city, and well on our way to our first stop! Here are some more pictures from along the drive.
We weren’t sure how far we were going to make it before dark, but decided to push for Silverton, Colorado. Between Ouray and Silverton is the Million Dollar Highway, named for the cost per mile. Particularly just south of Ouray, the highway is nuts. Yep, that’s right. It’s nuts!
It is super curvy, with a high mountain canyon beside the passenger door, with no guard rails, and there are places where there is nothing under the edge of the road’s pavement. I felt like we were on a scary road you’d see on TV from India.
I started just pointing my phone camera out the window without looking and letting it take its own pictures because I was freaked out! Unfortunately these photos do nothing to portray the nuts-ness.
Soon the river took a weird shade along the side of the road, after we moved away from the cliff edge. Further down the road we saw several touristy hot spring motels, so I would suspect the shade was due to the hot spring mineral content.
North of Silverton, Colorado the mountains really started cutting off the sun and we knew we were just about out of light for the day and really didn’t want to drive in the dark. I booked a room for us up ahead in Silverton.
We started seeing mining relics, which we just love! Old wooden cabins, old headframes, piles of old lumber, piles of tailings.
Look at this pretty rental car!
As we pulled into Silverton, the sun was just about gone. We spotted the backside of the Triangle Motel I had reserved and we both said “Lisa, what did you do, WHAT DID YOU DO!?”. The place looked super sketchy and run down and we had visions of our Cantwell, Alaska reservation that Jeff bailed on.
But it turned out to be fully renovated inside and was great! I checked us in at the attached store, we dumped off our luggage, and headed down the street to find a hot meal.
Silverton is an old mining town with a ton of history. It actually reminded me a lot of Dawson City. Everything seemed old and historic. There were very few modern buildings or homes. The town’s population is only over 600 people now, but has seen boom and bust since 1860. Right now it is in a mining bust period. The last mine closed in 1992 and now the primary business in tourism. There are off-road rental vehicles available from several vendors so you can explore the mountains and old mines. They even have rental Polaris Slingshots like the one Uncle Paul has! Skiing is also popular here in the winter, although the mountains are high and the avalanches have killed many. The town sits at 9,318 feet!
We found the Avalanche Brewing Company in an old building on the main strip and ordered some comfort food. That’ll be a local beer and burger for Jeff, and a Coke and personal-sized pizza for me.
Right away the lady at the table beside me complimented my new yellow fleece from REI. She was wearing the exact same one!! She bought hers in February so she missed the 50% off deal that I got! I love this new yellow sweater and wore it most of the rest of the trip!
Look at these really neat ceiling fans. They are all running off of one belt and pulley. Old? Or just extra cool!?
It was totally dark and a bit quiet and spooky along the main drag when we headed back to the motel.
That night wasn’t a good one. The motel had some radiant heat on that was HOT, so we had some of the windows open. There was snow in the forecast overnight so the night air was crisp and cold and super smokey from some smoldering wood-burning stoves in the nearby houses, making our motel room smokey. But the right side of my face was in agony from the high altitude. We were hot, and then cold, then smoked, and I kept waking up pushing my fist and knuckles into my face to try to relieve the pressure. Knowing that not sleeping all night was going to mess up my next day, and I was a bit fearful of bruising my face with all the pressure I was putting on it, I dug out my allergy medication so I could take a Tylenol without getting hives (I’m allergic to Tylenol & Advil now), and that combo let me sleep for a few hours.
Of course Jeff experience no symptoms from the high elevation whatsoever.
Here’s the route we drove on this Monday (324 miles):
The next morning I woke up with a puffy under-eye. The face pressure was still present, but tolerable. I really wanted to do a mine tour but it didn’t open until 10am and we were itching to move on, knowing we only had five days to see everything. We at least drove through Silverton to see the town and mine in the daylight though.
Overnight, the tops of the peaks did indeed get some snow! While I was looking at the Mayflower mine from the old gravel road, Jeff noticed the ore buckets were still hanging from the tram lines above us!
^ This is the Mayflower Mill that offers tours. It is no longer operating, but is apparently fully preserved. In fact, I read it is now a National Historic Landmark. It mined gold, silver, and other base metals from the hard rock ore.
From this next photo you can see it was still snowing on the peaks after sunrise.
Here are some quick photos of Silverton in the daylight from the truck window.
Here’s the historic Grand Imperial Hotel! You can take a historic steam train to Silverton from Durango in the south and stay here overnight. We thought about doing that train trip, but we just didn’t have enough time to do so. If you do it, you can book a package to stay in this hotel for the night, or you can opt to just walk around town a couple of hours and hop back on the return train ride. This is the train ride that riders recently spotted a sasquatch along the way!
I *loved* Silverton. If I get a chance to come back here, I want to visit every store, spend time in their museum, tour the mine, take an offroad trip up to the mine at the higher altitude, and take the time to get my face accustomed to the altitude. Maybe even take the train ride. I guess I have a history of spending time in old, historic mining towns (I spent 3 summers working in Kirkland Lake, Ontario in my teenage years, and now in Dawson City). I have never mined, yet still have a passion for its history.
Here’s the view of Silverton as we started climbing out of the town for Tuesday’s adventures.
Where do you think we went next!?