Another glorious morning awaited us in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Before we moved on, we wanted to experience the “roar” of the Gunnison River that we had experienced only from the canyon rim. To do this, we had to take the incredibly steep (16% grade) El Portal Road which descends approximately 2,000 feet in only 5 miles. I was a tab bit anxious at first, but once the eagle-eye views of the river and the canyon came into view, my anxiety waned. There are some turn-offs available so the driver can have an opportunity to check-out the views too.
Tip: Vehicles longer than 22 feet are not allowed on the road. If you’re towing a trailer, you can unhitch it near the entrance to South Rim campground. I don’t recommend the drive for those afraid of heights.
Finally! We arrived at the canyon bottom. This area is actually part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Besides a few fisherman, we were alone. It was a beautiful spot with waist-high grass along the river that I must say, did roar. The sound bounces off the steep walls creating a sound, larger than life.
Tip: Curecanti National Recreation Area is where you can take a boat ride into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It is a 1 1/2 hour ranger guided tour starting from Morrow Point Reservoir (not within the National Park). Rangers discuss topics such as wildlife, early inhabitants, the narrow-gauge railroad, and dams. Tours run twice a day at 10:00 am and 12:30 pm everyday except Tuesday from around June to Labor Day based on conditions.
Rangers at the Black Canyon Visitor Center had told us bear sightings were quite common in the morning as they come out to find food. Unfortunately (or could be fortunately), we didn’t have a sighting. We had also been told that the river water was crystal clear; revealing fish just under the surface. Once we got close enough to see, we realized that the water was murky which must have been due to the brief storms we encountered over the past days. So, we didn’t encounter any wildlife, however, it was worth the crazy drive to experience the sights and sounds of the Gunnison River.
Tip: There is a delightful primitive “tent only” campground; tucked beneath a grove of trees and a stone’s throw to the river. Bring a picnic as there are covered tables to enjoy the river from. Don’t forgot the fishing poles!
Upon return to camp. we prepared to move to the Montrose/Black Canyon KOA, a short drive from the National Park. Once camp was set up in Site 23 (close to the pool), it was a quick lunch, then Daddy, Grandpa and the kids went for a well-deserved swim while I got going on the laundry. The facilities proved to be clean and efficient. Although the internet was almost non-existent at our campsite, I got a great signal sitting right outside the laundry room. Perfect time to get caught up on emails and life. Besides having clean laundry our day included nice hot showers. What a relief!
The next morning we had a day free to go do something. I proposed a day-trip to Telluride. We headed out after breakfast then gratefully, we made a stop at Looney Bean for another Vanilla Latte. We found our way to US-550 and began the drive to Telluride. The landscape was absolutely beautiful. Rolling ranch lands led to scrub brush, then evergreens. The road follows one river or another for most of the way. In my opinion, the most scenic part of the drive was when we turned onto State Route 145. This road meanders through a narrow canyon along the San Miguel River. I enjoyed passing through the tiny communities along our route.
Soon, we entered Telluride town limits. We were greeted by brightly colored Victorians which lined the 2-way street as we continued into the historic center of town. It was a bustling atmosphere in town as people were setting up for the Telluride Film Festival. While the downtown area was cute, our eyes were on what lay ahead of us. We could see an amazingly tall waterfall tumbling over a sheer cliff with what looked like a house perched precariously on the edge next to the falls. We had to investigate!
We continued through town which quickly changed to thicker stands of trees and fields. When we looked closely, we could see stunning mountain homes tucked within the aspens and evergreens. The paved road abruptly ends into a dirt parking lot where we got out to marvel at the amazing waterfall and the house (which we later learned was actually an electrical station). After its long cascade, the water contributes to the San Miguel River which runs through town. So beautiful! Also from this vantage point, there is an stunning view of the town of Telluride.
Back downtown, we parked and enjoyed stopping into cute shops and galleries. We could see the Gondola was working so we headed over to see how much a ride would cost. It was free! We learned that since opening in 1996, the Telluride/Mountain Village gondola has served as the first and only free public transportation system of its kind in the United States.
We jumped into a waiting Gondola and immediately started climbing. The 365 degree views of the San Juan Mountains were incredible. Drake and Mia loved looking down below to see hikers and bikers enjoying the slopes. It was a beautiful 13 minute ride to reach the mid-point station called San Sophia. We disembarked with hopes for a short hike, however, after our visit to the small museum, the light rain had turned to sleet.
Tip: Elevation Sickness can strike anyone in any season. Make sure to have your group acclimate to the environment before setting off for a strenuous activities such as hiking, biking or skiing.
Back on the Gondola, we continue our journey down to Mountain Village which surprisingly is it’s own town. We were hungry for lunch so we made a stop at Crazy Elk Pizza. The folks there were very friendly and helpful in making sure we ordered the right amount of pizza for our group of five. The pizzas came out piping hot and were delicious! Being summer, there were not a lot of people here, but I could only imagine the crowds during winter ski season. By the time lunch was over, the sun was out again so we let the kids run around run a bit before our return to Telluride via the Gondola. If weather was warmer, we may have chosen to hike down the mountain. Would have been a fun hike.
We made a quick stop for the requisite small town ice cream and headed back to our campground for another dip in the pool. It was a perfect day and I was so glad that our expected need to replace the transmission meant that we had the opportunity to made this very scenic side-trip.