Fall Foliage Trip with the Hubby

This is the first trip that Alan and I have taken together in the van—and the first for me since I built the bed platform.

First of all, the bed is comfy and plenty big enough for us both, but the lack of headroom takes some getting used to. The first night I hardly slept. Alan’s snoring was pretty bad. But the second night I took a sleeping pill and had a weed gummy, and it was better. But the night after that, not a good night. Sleeping in the van with Alan gets mixed reviews. 🙂

One night I head my ear plugs in, as always when I sleep in the same room with Alan, and I heard a sound that I thought was either a helicopter overhead or a motorcycle. So I took an ear plug out, and I realized it was just Alan’s snoring, which was vibrating through the bed and sounded like an engine of some sort. Yikes!

So, anyway, about the trip itself…

We left Berthoud and headed toward Gunnison. We took a lot of pictures along the way. The aspens, even though not at peak that week, were fabulous. I found us a great campsite right next to a little creek. We were the only people there. 

This campsite was in a pretty little canyon. There’s no campground there, just places you can pull off the road. When we first got there, some fishermen were there, but they were already packing up, so we had the place to ourselves. Even though it’s right on the road, the site was pretty quiet. Most of the time all we heard was the creek.
Such a pretty spot.
Just some fall colors along our drive.

The next day we headed for Creede. Alan wanted to see that region because of the La Garita Caldera. That region experienced one of the largest volcanic eruptions in earth’s history.

I have a history with Creede. When I was a kid, some family friends of ours who had moved to Texas like to come up to Colorado in the summer and rent a cabin. A couple of summers we joined them. They loved Creede, so that’s where we met them.

Creede is a tiny little town. At one time it was a huge mining area. We decided to drive a loop road that would take us into an area of old mines. We didn’t realize that an active silver mine was up there—the Last Chance Mine. We stopped there, but it was toward the end of the day and there weren’t any more tours. So we decided to come back the next day. On the way back down the mountain on the long leg of the loop, we ran into a huge thunderstorm that included huge clumps of sleet that weren’t quite hard enough to form into hail. The picture below is from that loop road. All the mine buildings are part of the Last Chance Mine.

It turns out that the mine owner owns all the property above the tunnels, which basically means an entire mountain. The loop road is on his private property, but he graciously lets people drive on it and, in some cases, camp.

We camped that night right on the Rio Grand River. It got pretty cold that night, but then we were at 9,000 feet. The next morning everything was covered with frost. I still managed to wash my hair outside, though.

We had a gorgeous sunset that night.

That morning we headed straight for the mine so we could take the tour. What a great decision that was! It was a clear, beautiful day. The mine is incredible, and the owner Jack gives the tours himself. The story of the mine’s history, its fabled amethyst vein, and how Jack acquired it is too long to go into here, but I highly recommend you read the story here:

http://lastchancemine.com/index.php?n=Main.AboutUs

I was blown away by the experience of going down into the tunnels and seeing where the early miners excavated. There’s still as much silver in the mine as has been extracted in its history, but until the price of silver comes up, it’s not worth it economically for Jack to start mining again. Jack is not just a miner. He makes jewelry from the minerals that come out of the mine. It’s an amazing place. If you ever get to that part of Colorado, go visit it!

Driving up the hill to the mine.
Jack sells minerals and is creating a museum.
Jack at the entrance to the main tunnel. We went quite a bit deeper into the mine and were able to see some of the original tunnels that miners dug in the late 1800s.

The next day we drove to Durango and camped a few miles outside of town. We decided to spend the next day driving the loop from Durango up to Telluride and back down the Million Dollar Highway through Ouray. I’ve ridden over Red Mountain Pass on my motorcycle and been a passenger in a car driving over it, but I hadn’t driven the pass in a car myself until this trip. All I can say is that it’s far easier inside a vehicle!

Our campsite about 25 miles from Durango.

That night we decided to get a motel room in Durango because we had to be at the train station at 8:00 the next morning. I was also exhausted from lack of sleep. So I got a good night’s sleep that night, and we were able to take showers and take our time getting ready for the train.

This was my first time on the Durango-Silverton narrow-gauge railroad. I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life, but I’d never taken the trip. It was a lot of fun. We did the round trip, staying in Silverton for a couple of hours until the train trip back to Durango.

I have some great video of the train flushing its water tank just as we came around a bend, but I can’t find a way to load the video.
Stopping for lunch in Silverton.

On the first leg of the trip, a couple who sat next to us pointed out a campground as we passed and said that was their tent. I asked for the name of the campground (which was actually an RV park). We had planned to go to a dispersed site that night—the closest one I could find which was a 45-minute drive from Durango. But it was already 6:00 when the train got in, and I didn’t want to be driving around looking for a camping spot in the dark. So I called the RV park, and we got a tent site for the night. 

The next day we headed to New Mexico, on our way to Arizona to see the Petrified Forest National Park and then Meteor Crater. Alan has wanted to see Meteor Crater since he was a child. He’s been an astronomy buff his whole life and started building a telescope when he was a teen. So this had been on his bucket list for a long time.

On the way to the Petrified Forest, we passed through Aztec, NM, which I had never heard of. We saw a sign for Aztec Ruins National Monument. It seemed strange because it was right there in the middle of town, but we thought we might as well check it out. I’m glad we did.

A few of the many ruins.
This kiva was reconstructed based on the ruins of the ancient kiva on the site.

We decided to drive to the first part of the Petrified Forest National (the Painted Desert) and save the petrified forest and Meteor Crater for the next day. The Painted Desert is beautiful and reminds me of other similar parks I’ve been to (like the badlands in South Dakota).

We decided to get a room in Gallup because I was pretty exhausted. I did all the driving until part of the last day so Alan could take pictures as we drove. It was a good choice to get a room. Gallup is inexpensive, and we had some great Mexican food there for dinner. We decided to drive to Meteor Crater first, then stop at the petrified forest on the way back to Gallup. There isn’t much at Meteor Crater, but the crater itself is impressive. 

Meteor Crater, Arizona. It’s not the world’s largest impact site, by any means, but it’s the best preserved. It’s also important because it was here that Eugene Shoemaker (of Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet fame) and others helped prove conclusively that this crater–and others like it–was created by a meteor impact, not volcanic action, as had previously been thought. It’s also a cool place because the Apollo astronauts went there in the 60s and 70s to train for moon landings.

We headed toward the petrified forest stopping in Winslow, AZ, just long enough to get the iconic picture on the corner. I tried to take a selfie, but I couldn’t see the screen so it didn’t come out. 🙂 Alan took a picture of me standing next to the statue, but he hasn’t downloaded his pictures yet.

The Petrified Forest isn’t exactly a forest any longer, but the amount of petrified wood is mind-boggling. These trees lived during the Late Triassic period.

Again, we decided to spend the night at a motel in Gallup because we planned to drive all the way home the next day, and I needed sleep! We had another delicious meal (NM food is SO good) and went to bed early.

We didn’t take the usual route home (up I-25) because we didn’t want to hit Denver at rush hour. And who wants to drive up the interstate through a bunch of cities after being surrounded by nature for a week? So we decided to drive to Santa Fe (where we stopped for lunch) and then take 285 the rest of the way home. This route took us near Salida, where we saw the Decker fire burning and watched helicopters drop water and fire retardant on the fire. After we got home I read that the fire was only 5% contained. It’s been so dry and windy in that part of Colorado that it’s almost impossible to fight it. I hope they can contain it soon.

As I write this, the fire is only 14% contained, and 900 firefighters are on the scene. It’s only a couple of miles from Salida. There have been quite a few excavations.
We parked by the side of the highway and watched helicopters pick up water from a nearby pond and dump it on the fire. The smoke was heavy for many miles after we left the scene of the fire.

We hit Central City at dusk, which meant that we had to drive over Highway 72, a twisty road, in the dark. It was spooky. I was worried about deer, and we did see a huge elk at the side of the road at one point. I need to spend more time polishing the headlight covers on the van (or replace them). They’re not that bright, so we were definitely at a disadvantage. Thank goodness for brights! We took it slow and got home about 8:30, more than 12 hours after we left Gallop.

All in all, it was a great trip. We saw a ton of amazing scenery, and the mine and train were the highlights (for me, at least). But I’ve learned that we need to make some changes before I can travel for any length of time with Alan. I’m working on him to lose weight because I think that will help his snoring. I’m not sure what else I can do. Having to get motels so I can get some sleep defeats the whole purpose of having the van!

My next trip will be solo—to Arizona to visit four groups of girlfriends, then on to Tecopa, CA, to meet my old friends John and Joe at a hot springs there. I have to time this trip carefully because I have to drive over at least one pass. I have to pick the least potentially dangerous pass–probably La Veta. It definitely won’t be Raton or Wolf Creek!

I’ve also decided that for solo trips, I’ll take out half of the platform–the narrower part toward the end of the van. I measured off the size of the larger platform on my regular bed and realized I can easily sleep in the amount of space. And it will give me half the van’s interior to use the porta potty, get dressed, etc. I can put the other platform back in when it’s time for a couples trip. I’ll just need to get a twin mattress (probably not as high as the mattress that’s in there now) and trim about 12″ off the end. Easy peasy.

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