This was a big day, and I was excited to be able to travel over the Million Dollar Highway again. My plan was to travel from Durango back north up to Montrose, CO on Hwy-550, then turn east onto Hwy-50 towards Salida, CO where I would spend the night Why Salida? It's is the perfect jumping off spot to head north again to the Rocky Mountain National Park, a must see attraction in my book. They also have a Super 8 motel as well. Oh joy, so I booked it.
Along the way to Salida, I planned to visit another attraction that looked interesting, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
It's about 8 miles east of Montrose, and then another 4.5 miles north on Hwy-347.
I went down to the Super 8 breakfast nook again and repeated my uninspiring breakfast of yesterday. At least it hadn't rained, so packing up and heading out was quicker.
It's a green colored GPS map day. In my usual manner, the first picture shown below is the route planned for the whole day. The second and third maps detail the Black Canyon NP. More detail on it will follow.
The trip back north on US-550 was spectacular. There was road work at one point that had traffic stopped for about 10 minutes, but after that and a few passes by big trucks going uphill, then the trip was fairly isolated and I had time to enjoy the views with a couple of stops The pictures below show some parts of The Million Dollar Highway including Red Mountain and the Bear Creek Falls bridge with reader boards about the geology.
After reaching Montrose, CO I turned east on US-50, and travelled 6.5 miles before turning north onto Hwy-347 which takes you to The Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park. Hwy-347 is a beautiful yet unassuming country road that gently climbs 5.7 miles through open cattle ranches to the rim of the canyon. On the way up, I actually ran into a small group of Black Angus on the road, and waited until they slowly sauntered off down the hill. When you enter the park you have two choices: go left along the canyon rim, or turn right and take the road to the bottom of the canyon. I decided I would take the road down to the river at the bottom of the canyon. Sounded like fun.
Well,... check out the third and fourth pictures below. You ride a gentle rim route for a bit, and then the earth just falls away. In about 4 miles, you decend some 2,000 feet in sections that are up to 14-percent grades. Be warned, the pavement is not very good, and the ruts caused by heavy trucks and cars are a challenge. You begin to wonder how your brakes are holding up on a road like this given the turns, grade, and ruts. The bottom of the canyon is beautiful. The Gunnison river was flowing gently this time of year. There was a town here called East Portal in the early 1900's to build a dam and a tunnel to provide electricity and support agriculture in the valley around the canyon.
The ride back up the canyon was just as exciting. Keeping traction wasn't easy with the ruts.
So the next stop on the agenda was to ride the north rim route, which offers an entirely different view of this canyon.
There are a number of outlook points along the route to stop at, including a Visitor's Center.
It was nearing 3:30 PM in the afternoon, and the skies were beginning to look threatning as they usually do about this time in the Rockies. With at least 2 hours to ride before Salida, I left the park and travelled east on Hwy-50 again. About 20 miles later I had to stop and put on my rain gear. It wasn't raining hard yet,... but I'd started to learn that getting it on early was better than waiting too late.
It was a very wet ride past the Blue Mesa Reservoir where the Gunnison River tunnel starts and on through the town of Gunnison.
While I knew I was going to travel through the Gunnison and San Isabel National Forests on the way to Salida, I had no Idea I would be doing some serious climbing again up to Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet. Check out the graph below. It was dry up[ the pass, but it rained hard again on the east side and on into Salida.
I rolled into Salida dripping wet at 5:45 PM and settled into the Super 8. Fortunately, there was a really good family restaurant The (Country) Bounty right next door (to the east). It was both a good dinner, cocktail, and breakfast place, and I didn't have to eat at the Super 8.