In the last blog post, our little crew explored the Earthships of Taos, New Mexico and the Rio Grande Gorge. After spending only a short couple of days in the area, we realized that we needed weeks, not days to explore this part of the state. There was so much more we wanted to see but if we were going to visit Colorado, we had to get moving. ‘Never enough time’ – this seemed to be the theme of our trip home from Guatemala and the feeling only intensified when we reached Colorado.
Trusting the advice of so many travellers we’d met along our route, we swerved west from Taos – even further off the most direct route home and made our first stop in Durango. It seemed that every time we told someone we were going to Colorado, they said “Go to Durango”. The drive from Taos took us through huge mountain passes with nothing but white-capped mountains, evergreens and livestock. The scenery was breathtaking – our first glimpse of what was to come in Colorado.
When we arrived in Durango, I felt exactly what John Denver conveyed in the lyrics to his song ‘Rocky Mountain High’: “coming home to a place he’d never been before”. We felt like we belonged in this outdoorsy little city. Fashion seemed to be based on the hardcore-ness of your outdoor wear. Everyone was on their way out to do something adventuresome outside… mountain-biking, hiking, running, rollerblading, baseball, etc. And at the end of the day, people were heading into town for dinner at a restaurant, an apres-hike coffee or beer or to buy yet more cool gear at one of outdoor outfitter shops.
The only disappointment for us was that it seemed none of the patios were dog-friendly, which is unusual in the US. In fact, many patios even had a ‘No Dogs’ sign posted at the entrance. We’d almost given up when we found the Visitors’ Centre and decided to ask. The super friendly Visitors’ Centre host gave us a list of 5 or 6 restaurants with dog friendly patios and also shared some great advice about the best hikes in the area and the most scenic route for driving north. We’ve learned over time that Visitors’ Centres are the absolute key to making the most of your time in a new place.
Following the advice of the Visitors’ Centre host, we awoke early the next morning and headed to the Animas Mountain Trailhead, right off the city’s main highway. As promised, the trail had amazing views of the city, valley and surrounding mountains. It was a long hike but not too difficult – perfect for a couple of Vanlifers in a bit of a rush. After a few hours of hiking, we treated ourselves for the effort at Grassburger, one of the dog-friendly patios and what was no doubt the best burger in the city!
Keeping to our tight schedule, we hopped back into the Sally after lunch and headed north to Silverton, just an hour away. Silverton wasn’t planned as a destination, but rather a free night of camping between destinations in what we had heard was a cute town. We wound our way through snow-capped mountains until we caught a glimpse of the cutest little mountain town I’ve ever seen. Silverton is known as a “Victorian Mining Town” and appears to be lost in time. The architecture has an old west look to it and a very shabby chic sort of vibe.
As we drove around town searching out the perfect boondocking spot, large dark clouds accumulated overhead. Within 30 minutes of arriving in the town, the weather went from beautiful and sunny to dark and frigid with freezing rain. We’re not accustomed to mountain weather and this was not what we were expecting!
We woke-up the next morning to snow and below freezing temperatures. What?! Didn’t someone tell Colorado that it was the middle of May? We turned on the propane heater and desperately dug out our puffy jackets, long underwear hats and mitts. Snow was accumulating and we didn’t dare take rear-wheel drive Sally with her all-season tires through a mountain pass to our next destination. Instead, we wandered around the town, peaked into some cute little shops (spending probably more time than appropriate in the one with a wood stove) and huddled under blankets in the van drinking lattes from the Coffee Bear a stealing their WiFi.
In a turn of good weather luck, the clouds dispersed as quickly as they had formed the previous day and by mid afternoon, the sun came out, the snow started to melt and we decided to make a break for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison where the forecast promised warmer weather.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Driving to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison took us along the Million Dollar Highway, one of Colorado’s most scenic driving routes. We chose to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison based on claims that it’s a hidden gem as far as US National Parks go and more dog-friendly than most.
Upon arriving, we circled the campground seeking out the best site. During our drive-through, we found 4 other Roadtrek vans just like Slow Sally – yes, 4! Apparently we Roadtrekkers all have the same good taste ;).
In anticipation of a day of canyon exploring, we got up early only to discover… you guessed it… snow! Again! Colorado, you are beautiful but seriously, WTF?! Despite on and off snow all day, we got out for a long hike, using the road when dog-friendly trails weren’t available and checking out every little canyon lookout along the way. The spectacular scenery almost made us forget how cold and damp we were.
Garden of the Gods
The Garden of the Gods was our last stop in Colorado. It was a Quebec couple who we met in Taos that recommended the place, with the assurance that it had been their favourite place in Colorado. If it was good enough for the gods (and a couple of Quebecers), surely we’d be impressed.
We’d done no research about the Garden of the Gods and therefore had zero expectations so as you can imagine, we were pretty impressed when we pulled up to these towering, red sandstone rock formations.
The weather was absolute crap all day – cloudy, rainy and cold – but we were lucky enough to get a 2-hour clearing of the skies, which allowed us to get out for a little hike and some sightseeing. We raced back to the van just before the start of another deluge – very lucky timing.
With the weather as it was, we figured we might as well start driving east to get out of the rain and make the next days’ trip a little shorter. We got just 30 minutes outside of Colorado Springs when the rain turned to snow. Not flurries – full on snowstorm snow! We drove until it seemed unsafe and then raised the white flag and pulled into a Walmart for the night. Within an hour, we were completely snowed in. There are worse places to be trapped I suppose, surrounded by retail and restaurants. Under the circumstances, it was an entirely appropriate way to end our time in Colorado, a state that clearly doesn’t follow the rules of the season.
Despite the often-times dreadful weather we experienced in this mountainous state, Colorado was without a doubt one of the highlights of our trip home. It was well worth the big detour west and there’s no doubt that we’ll be stopping in again on a future road trip… next time hopefully with less time constraints.
The next post will be the last from our 2019 Road Trip series. We’ll tell you all about the long drive home from Nebraska to Quebec and our adventures along the way.