Continued from Southern Colorado Road Trip – Day 7
After roaming around New Mexico and Southern Colorado for 7 days, on day 8 we had reached the Northern most part of our entire trip. We visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and then we started our return journey by slowly heading South, back towards Dallas, Texas.
Trip Date: 30th December 2016
Plan for adversity
It always helps to keep your itinerary flexible, so that you can easily accommodate unplanned events or bad weather. That is exactly what happened to our trip. As per our original plan, on day 8, we were to spend a little more time exploring Telluride and Placerville and then leisurely head back to the town of Ouray for an overnight stay. However, the weather app was stating that a big winter storm was headed our way and it would snow heavily during the night. Which literally meant that we cannot stay overnight in Ouray, else we might risk driving back home from Ouray in heavy snow. So at the last minute we had to cancel our hotel reservation in Ouray, Colorado and instead chose to stay in the city of Farmington in New Mexico, safely away from the winter storm.
The Angler Inn
I had written a little bit about the gorgeous Angler Inn we were staying overnight, in Placerville. However when I woke up and opened my windows, I myself didn’t expect to be treated to such beautiful views. The inn’s roof was covered with snow and so was the surrounding mountains. It was truly a memorable location to stay overnight. I wished that the winter storm hadn’t interfered with our original plan and we only had more time to explore the location further. They also offered a complimentary continental breakfast along with the stay. Since I usually get a complimentary breakfast at hotels, I wasn’t expecting much. But this one was far superior than any other breakfast buffets I had eaten at. They had a whole lot of fresh baked croissants, quiche, bagels, etc. apart from cereals, juice, coffee and other regular stuff. The food was certainly delicious.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
After having the delicious continental breakfast, we were headed to the next national park of the trip. It was early in the morning, the roads were not crowded and the scenery on both sides was magical. So the 1.5 hours drive to the black canyon national park, just flew away so quickly. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one other national park, which has a lot to offer in the warmer months. Due to the location, it snows heavily during the winter months and just a few view points is accessible. I didn’t have much of an idea of this national park and just wanted to treat it on merit.
The first stop entering the park was at the Tomichi Point. This was our first amazing view of the deep canyons sprinkled with snow. The park was on similar lines to the Grand Canyon. However the appearance of the canyons and mountains were way different. This one was more blacker, and the combination of the black with the white snow was simply pleasing to the eyes. This Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was certainly one of the highlights of our entire trip.
And next we drove to the second stop at the South Rim Visitor Center. The rangers here were again very helpful and had recommendations on what can be done on that day. Since we were not into snowshoeing, they suggested watching the movie at the center, going through the artifacts and then showed us to a short accessible trail near by.
It was a slippery 10 mins walk on the trail to get to the view point. The trail was fairly well maintained considering the conditions. We got another fantastic view of the black canyon and a closer look at the Gunnison river which was flowing deep below. You can easily spend a lot of time, just sitting down and admiring the beauty of the black canyon.
If it had been Summer, we would have proceeded on the Rim drive road heading to other overlooks and view points. However, snow had covered the rim drive road and we were not allowed to drive any further than the visitor center. So we decided to turn back and made our move to our next stop.
We were really hungry by the time we were done with the national park and hence we decided to stop next for lunch @ Guru’s Restaurant in Montrose. It was a Nepalese restaurant serving a lunch buffet located right on our way back. While we had tasted Nepalese food earlier, this was the first time trying it out as a buffet. The buffet spread was fairly basic with pakoras, curries, rice, noodles, etc. and the food tasted Ok. But, the town itself was very beautiful and the roads leading to the next point was very picturesque.
Ouray and Box Canyon Falls
We had originally planned to stay at the town of Ouray, because we were excited by its title of Little Switzerland of America. We had expected to enjoy in Ouray, a relaxed feel, gorgeous views and possibly a dip in the Hot Springs. With our changed itinerary, since we were not able to make an overnight stay, we thought that we would atleast drive through the town and make a quick pit stop. Ouray surely stood up to its name as well as our expectations. Though we stopped in Ouray just for a few mins on the way, we were able to briefly admire the cute little town. We are surely going to return back in a warmer month.
We still had a little time left with us to explore nearby. Hence we decided to make a quick stop at the Box Canyon Falls in Ouray. In summer months, you are allowed to take a de-tour from highway 550 and park close to the Falls Entrance. You get to pay a fee there and you will have a very short trail taking you to the falls view points. However in winter, we had to park right next to the highway, in a make-shift parking place. We had atleast a 15 mins slippery walk to get to the falls from the highway and there was no entrance fee. However once we got there, the view of the falls made every bit of the walking worth it. To our surprise, the force of the flowing water was so high that it was still alive and not frozen. After spending a short while there, we decided to get back to our car.
How to start your car in snow conditions
Having come from Texas, RK never had prior experience driving on snow covered roads. Even in this trip though there was snow on both sides of the road, the roads were always well maintained and devoid of any snow. However, the parking lot of box canyon was fully covered in snow / ice and this was our first experience driving on it. RK could not get our car moving and the wheels were just spinning keeping us at the same spot. For a moment, we got nervous. However, luckily for us, there were a few locals out there who were really helpful. They asked us to back up to a more flatter surface on the parking lot and then asked to take it easy on the break and gas. RK released the brakes ever so slowly and then we had our success. Our car which was used to dry Texas roads until that time, was able to make it across the slippery parking lot and back onto the highway.
Million Dollar Highway
We had read that highway 550 is known as the Million Dollar Highway for its amazing views. Though many of them had called out that the road was dangerous to drive during winter, we decided that we will be a little adventurous and take it back South. We are happy that we took that decision and drove right from Montrose to Durango and beyond. Though there were steep fall offs at many places without any guard rails, we did not find it to be as intimidating as people had written. The road was excellently maintained and when driving as per traffic rules, it was a fairly a safe drive.
We had however got the chance to cross multiple mountain passes including the Red Mountain Pass, in-numerous snow covered peaks and overall it was worth every bit of the drive. If you take it slowly and carefully, it is a beautiful drive anytime of the year.
Pinkerton Hot Spring
You do not always have to get to remote locations to enjoy natural beauty. Pinkerton Hot Springs was one such beauty which was located right off highway 550, closer to Durango. Since we were anyways crossing that place, we made a quick stop there. The mound from which the hot water was flowing was very colorful, and unique. We then quickly tested the water for warmth and wrapped up the brief stop.
There was nothing else we had planned along the route. So we drove straight to our hotel in Farmington in New Mexico continuing on highway 550. It was very scenic throughout the route. The landscape was more snow covered in parts of Colorado but turned into more of a grassland and small towns as we entered into New Mexico.
Once we reached our hotel, we ate some of the fruits and snacks for dinner and then went to bed early.
– To be continued in New Mexico Road Trip from Dallas – Day 9 –