The day started peacefully enough in Gunniston. It was a bit cool, but it warmed up as we found our way to a lovely national park – Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This is an amazing gorge formed by the Gunnison River, with views many believe rival the Grand Canyon.
However, when your travelling companion suffers from extreme vertigo, this is not such an exciting stop. He’ll enjoy these pictures, but at the four outlook points we visited, Don could usually be found closely examining a rock formation a dozen yards from the outlook. In some cases, he was getting absolutely intimate with those rocks while I was shooting pictures. As one of the outlooks is named Chasm View, you can probably understand.
The gorge is a half-mile deep and it was only surveyed in the last century by very gutsy guys, who were determined to understand it. Eventually their work lead to the construction of a water tunnel that now irrigates a considerable part of the land surrounding the mountain. It’s called the Black Canyon because it is so narrow that not much sun penetrates it. At one point, it is only 40 feet wide. The Painted Wall – with the striations – is the tallest vertical wall in Colorado, and is a favorite of rock climbers. Don will not be coming back to tackle it.
We then went to the town of Montrose, which is home to the Ute Museum, located on the land the Ute Indians inhabited till Washington did their infamous treaty revision tricks. Chief Ouray led the tribe until the government forced them to migrate to Utah in 1881. The museum is small but impressive, and we started to see what must be Utes in the area. The Bear Dance is one of their most sacred rituals, and is still performed. You’ll see a painting which references the dance being revealed to an Ute warrior by a bear.
On our way to Durango, we had the opportunity to travel what is called the Million Dollar Highway, from the town of Ouray to Silverton. It’s called that because the road was so difficult to build over the San Juan Mountains that it cost $1,000,000 in 1884. The trip is in the “1,000 Places to see in the US Before You Die,” and we almost thought it was the place we would see as we were dying. We started by staring out at the mountain we were going to climb. What you can’t really see is the narrowness of the road we climbed up that mountain, and the lack of a shoulder between us and the chasm. This was real white-knuckle driving, but I swear I wasn’t the one screaming. The guy with vertigo had a real hard time, as he was on the outside with the view.
We thought we were okay once we finally got to Silverton. It’s a real old West mining town, sandwiched between the mountains – important in its day.
But we hadn’t seen anything yet. We climbed up the San Juan mountains again, being most grateful that there was now an occasional shoulder, and then it started to snow. Really snow. And then it started to hail. Really hail. And at the same time, there was terrific thunder and lightning. Let me tell you, that was not the same day we experienced earlier in Ouray, when it was in the 60’s. It was extremely scary, but at least there was less screaming. We were concentrating too hard on seeing the road. There are NO pictures to illustrate this part of the trip, but we will remember it forever.
We finally found level ground and entered the wild west town of Durango. We went straight to the legendary Strater Hotel, and its Diamond Bell Saloon, a haunt of folks like Bat Masterson, Butch Cassidy, Louis L’Amour and assorted other famous bad guys. One drink later, we were stabilized enough to find our hotel and lock the door for the night. From a half mile down to who knows how far up, we have traveled the distance today!