Amazing western Colorado, part 1

I didn’t intend to post while Mona Liza was in the Philippines, really I didn’t.  Blogging is mainly her thing, I’m just the peon editor in this operation.  But after driving so many miles southward through mind-blowingly beautiful western Colorado, I’m inspired to at least take down some notes about the beauty here, if for no other reason than as a reference for when we plan our trip back.  And we will be back during fall of another year!

western Colorado
Some nice scenery on my drive southward

I’ll skip the background detail that my honey does so well, and just try to give a feel for what I experienced here.  Since I’m not comfortable using her “super-cam” camera (as I call it), and she took our other camera with her, I bought a little Nikon camera to use while she’s away.  That means you won’t see the quality of her photos here, but you’ll get the idea.

Mona Liza’s last-minute flight was scheduled for the day we were due to leave Fruita, CO for Ridgway.  After dropping her off at the airport in Grand Junction at 5:00am, I went back to Betsy and had coffee before hooking up the car for my solo drive to Ridgway State Park (my review here).


Heading southeast on highway 50, I discovered that a portion of it had a lot of large dips in the road, although the road surface itself was smooth.  That forced me to slow down a bit, or be faced with picking things up off the floor upon arrival at Ridgway.  But it wasn’t really a tough drive, just long and quiet without my cute little navigator/photographer next to me.

Ah, this is more like it, some of the fabulous scenery near Ridgway

The two things we had planned to do while at Ridgway were to drive the Million Dollar Highway, and to check out the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  I’m very glad I decided to stick to those plans even though I was alone.

Million Dollar Highway –

Sorry to have Mona Liza see these photos, but this was perhaps the most amazing stretch of highway I’ve driven during our journey, not just because of the geology, but the fall colors were blasting me from all sides!  I determined that Betsy could have made it, but it would have been brutal not only because of the turns, but also due to the ascents to passes exceeding 11,000 ft.

The drive from Ridgway to Durango, my next stop, was only 80 miles via the MDH.  But while driving it in the car I quickly decided to take the 150-mile trip around to the west, which was fairly challenging in itself and included a climb to over 10,000 ft.  I did see one large motorhome on the MDH during my trek, and the driver’s eyes were bulging out in such a way as to help finalize my decision.  In my opinion, this is not a place for large RV’s!

Million Dollar Highway

The town of Ouray sits in a beautiful location indeed. I didn’t have time to hang out there, unfortunately

Million Dollar Highway

Million Dollar Highway
This kind of scenery makes you wish you didn’t have to concentrate on the road so much!


Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
In Silverton I saw a train pulled through the mountains by a real live steam locomotive.  I wonder if I could take a ride on that? Stay tuned!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison –

Wow, what a wonderful surprise this place was!  I arrived at the park about the same time the sun did, and although the fall colors aren’t prevalent here, the amazing granite canyons are about as stunning as I’ve seen anywhere – some towering 2,300 ft. above the river below.

My little camera was tested as each overlook showed a new gorge in the maze of canyons, and of course my feeble attempts at photography don’t do it justice.  The road actually runs a ways away from the rim of the canyon, so each stop involves a short to medium walk to the rim – providing a decent amount of exercise if all stops are made – and I didn’t miss any of them.

Black Canyon

The canyon has north and south rim roads, and I took the south rim as most people seemed to and stopped at all 12 overlooks.  It was about 16 miles one-way into the park on the main road, and there were places to have lunch at the picnic tables or to take a hike, in case walking to the rim 12 times wasn’t enough.

Black Canyon
I was overwhelmed by these canyons. Maybe not as grand as the Grand Canyon, but every bit as dramatic in their depth and structure

Black Canyon

There were also lots of birds here – sorry again Mona Liza!  Birds, schmirds – I was here to look at massive granite walls!  A wonderful place not to be missed if you’re in the area, and either of the rim roads can be enjoyed comfortably in a half day.  It’s quite a drive from one rim road to the other, as there is no bridge across, so plan on a full day if you want to travel both roads.

Black Canyon
This place made me feel very small…

That’s about all I had time for during my stop at Ridgway.  I had a few items to attend to on the coach, and some recipes to try out in the kitchen before moving on to Durango.  As I mentioned, the drive there was challenging mountain driving, but the fall colors kept my spirits high when I had a chance to look at them. This state is quickly moving up my list of favorites!





    • I saw that in your last post (which was gorgeous) – I didn’t know we were so near each other! I hope you make it to Black Canyon if you haven’t been before, I know you’d love it. I’m heading to Gallup today for a while, then to Meteor Crater – been wanting to see that for years. I hope you get some decent weather up there!

  1. Wow, amazing pics! In spite of whatever camera you are using! You did great. We hope to get to CO in our MH. Now we know where we’ll drive the car only!

  2. You can indeed ride that railway. It is the Durango-Silverton train. There is also one out of Chama, NM called the Cumbres-Toltec. We have done both and it is a beautiful ride on either one. We think the Cumbres Toltec is a better deal for the money. Leaving Durango, it takes a good while of your journey just to get out of Durango, and not the best scenery on the edge of town. Also, The Cumbres Toltec has an open car that is available to everyone, while on the Durango train, you have to buy a ticket especially for a seat on the open car. We enjoyed being able to go in and out of the open car, back to our seat in an enclosed car. It has been several years since we did the trip last, but we have been several times and it hadn’t changed in our experience.

  3. Now you can see why we decided to live here! We absolutely LOVE our new home. We went for a foliage drive last week from Durango to Ridgway via the Million Dollar Highway. Then returned through Telluride to Dolores. It was a-mazing!! The colors and dramatic views, right here in our own backyard delight us every day.

  4. Glad you got to see a slice of Colorado’s beauty and why we return each summer. You did great in the photography department. On the move to Phx, we drove through the painted desert and petrified forest…. quite interesting.

    • Hi Ingrid, it looks like I’ll catch Canyon De Chelly, Petrified Forest and possibly the Balloon Fiesta while I’m here in Gallup. Thank you for your suggestions regarding stops in western Colorado – I might have a new favorite state (oops, don’t tell ML). Hope to catch up with you and Al this winter…

  5. Glad you decided to post, Steve! The colors sure are beautiful. I’m glad we were in Colorado at a higher elevation and got to see this show of golden color, too. Sure made drives a beautiful journey.

    I have always wanted to visited the Black Canyon. The more photos I see, the more my desire grows. The canyons and rocks look amazing!

    Thanks for such beautiful photos:) I hope Mona Liza is doing all right with her mom passing, as well. So sorry for her loses.

    • Hi John and Pam, I’m having as good a time as possible under the circumstances, sure do miss having my honey with me during these awesome drives. It looks like you are staying busy exploring with Dave and Sue, say hello to them for me. See you all at Moab!

  6. Steve, you did a fabulous job showing us your trip. And…your photography isn’t bad either. We echo your feelings about that area, can’t wait to return. It never was on our “list” but it sure is now. Keep posting will you? Of course we love it when MonaLiza writes but you’re doing a yeoman’s job (“driver’s eyes bulging out in such a way…..”)!

    Give our love to MonaLiza and tell her she’s in our thoughts.
    Sue and Dave

    • Hi Dave and Sue, I’m jealous about your little caravan down HW-395 – I wish we could be there with you! What a great trip and we can’t wait to go back there next fall. I hope to hear from ML soon, but she’s in a fairly remote place and at least there’s a lot of family with her. Take care –

  7. Great post and photos, Steve. I’m sure you would have enjoyed it even more with Mona Liza by your side. Those canyons are truly breathtaking. Love the Albright quote. 🙂 Best wishes and hugs to ML.

  8. So fun that you posted, Steve — you did a wonderful job describing your journey. Those colors are fantastic! Although I can tell that you miss your cute little navigator companion, it still sounds as though you’re enjoying exploring that beautiful part of the country. We haven’t been there in years, and it’s definitely time for a return visit. Maybe we could meet up there. 🙂 Please give our love to MonaLiza.

  9. Oh Steve….Mona Liza will be proud! Knowing you can’t wait to have her back in your arms…now you know the ins and outs for one sweet return with your sweetie! Guess my huge 36ft 5vr would have a stuggle….so gorgeous though! Sometimes wish I’d kept the Casita!

    • The nice thing is that one can park at either end of the Million Dollar Highway – Silverton to the north or Durango to the south – and take a fabulous drive in just half a day – or take the train! What a wonderful area this was. Take care –

  10. This was a very funny post. Glad you got to see these beautiful sights, although it would have been even more wonderful if you had your navigator along. We hope to meet up again with the two of you in the winter sometime.

    • Yes, I’m missing her, but I’ve decided to preview everything along our planned route so I’ll be informed when we come back. But it will have to be during the fall! I hope you’re both doing well and it would be great to see you this winter –

  11. Really well done Steve, your pictures are great. David would not have a clue how to post a blog. We were at Black Canyon and stayed in the park for a week and it still wasn’t long enough. It really is a stunning place. SO glad you got to see it and bring me the wonderful memories. I know Mona Lisa will be happy you did this and want to go revisit this trip with you. Hope you get on that Silverton Train. My thoughts are with Mona Lisa. Losing your mother is one life’s most difficult challenges.

    • Hi Sherry, thankfully Mona Liza is with many of her siblings during this difficult time. I just have to go out and keep exploring along our planned route to keep the boredom away and learn what will make it even better when we come back.

  12. I so agree with your last statement. Colorado is also at the top of the list for us! Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is a beauty! We visited it twice on our brief stay in Montrose this past July. I sure hope MonaLisa will see it too one day!

  13. Glad to see a post from you Steve. This was a nice step into the past for me as we haven’t been to this part of CO for many years. Those granite walls are amazing, aren’t they? I look forward to hearing about a train ride. 🙂

  14. We did both rims of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We enjoyed the drive around through Cimarron with its historic railroad exhibit and the road into the Morrow Point Dam. At that point we got to see the bottom of the canyon. As we were driving by the lake below the dam, we saw a beautiful waterfall with lots of stairs leading down to the bottom of it. Next time we’re in the vicinity we’ll hike to see the waterfall. As we traversed high up the north side of the canyon, we were hit by a massive rain/thunder/lightning/wind storm. We drove through it and came out the other side. Here’s our blog from that day:

Comments are closed.