Road Trip West

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Shack outside of Amarillo, Texas

We escaped the Arkansas heat and humidity by driving west. We enjoyed a break from the humidity, but only during the evenings did the heat subside.

Rest stops were our friends on the long drive. We enjoyed seeing the historic Sierra Grande rest stop on Highway 87 southeast of the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico.  It was perfectly placed because we stopped here going and coming.

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We stopped to see the Arkansas River not far from her headwaters. It was strange to touch water there and know it would eventually run close to our home in Arkansas.

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Arkansas RIver in Colorado

On our drive through Westcliffe, CO, we visited a great little store, All The Range Mountaineering and Outdoor Gear, and picked up a few maps. The owner advised us to avoid lower elevations that evening due to the heat. So, we adjusted our plans a little and continued west past Gunnison, where we came upon a nice campground alongside Mesa Reservoir close to sundown.

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The evening temperatures were cool, and it was nice to be camping in the arid environment. The campsites were generously spaced with lots of empty sites, so we felt like we had the landscape to ourselves.

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The next day, we continued west and passed a neighboring campground full of large RVs, so we felt fortunate to have stopped where we did the evening before.

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We’ve had the Four Wheel Camper for just over a year and love it! The Raven model fits the short bed F-150 truck, and you quickly forget it’s there. Our shell model weighs about 650 pounds. If you get one loaded with accessories, the weight (and price) goes up, but the shell has what we need and gives more space to move around in there. It takes about 2-minutes to raise or lower the top and is perfect for planned or unplanned camping itineraries.

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Becca suggested we visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison River National Park.  We left wishing for more time. A camping trip to this location would be worth the trip by itself.

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The established trails are on the rim with backcountry permits available for the adventurous who want to scramble down to the Gunnison River.

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Black Canyon

A highlight of our trip was a three-day stay at Secret Garden B&B in Ouray, CO. Billy and Charolette were great hosts and made us feel right at home. Our biggest challenge was selecting from the long menu of places to explore in Ouray. It is a tourist town, but we found it welcoming and friendly. Best of all, Ouray Bookshop was walking distance from Secret Garden. It’s always a treat to explore independent bookstores!

Jim and Becca Group

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The Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour was a good outing. Their answering machine was out of date, saying tours were canceled which wasn’t reflected on their website. When I called a few minutes later, someone answered and said they were open. Confusion aside, the tour was excellent, and I recommend it for kids and adults.

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The huge electric motor below powered a two-piston air compressor and sent pressure to operate air hammers deep within the mine. When the mine was in operation, lights dimmed throughout Ouray when this motor started.

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Our Alpines Scenic Tours truck

We wanted to visit some of the area backcountry, but didn’t want to get in over our heads and end up with auto damage. The Trails of Colorado is a great resource. Without it, I might have naively ended up on some rough roads without the skills or equipment needed. I have a 4-wheel drive truck, but as we got into the Yankee Boy Basin, I realized we’d made the right decision in booking a tour with Alpine Scenic Tours.

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One of many scenic views in the Yankee Boy Basin

Our driver, Sam, was excellent. He had spent years driving through the area, hunting and exploring and, as a bonus, he was a nice guy. If we’d been driving, we would have passed through without recognizing much of what we were seeing. The bucket seats and open-air seating are perfect for seeing the views securely. Well worth the cost!

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IMG_8710rrrBack in Ouray, it’s an easy walk to Box Canyon on the south edge of town. The City of Ouray operates Box Canyon, and it’s well worth the $5 admission. Julia McIntyre sold the land to the Ouray for $75 because she wanted it to be protected and enjoyed by others.

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Walkway in Box Canyon

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View down into Box Canyon

From Box Canyon, you can walk through a tunnel and easily hop onto the Perimeter Trail for a longer walk and views down into town from the surrounding mountainsides.

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Tunnel on the Perimeter Trail

A short loop trail next to Box Canyon includes many native plants. I enjoyed the tall canopy of this Ponderosa Pine.

IMG_8706rr We left Ouray feeling like we’d only scraped the surface. The truth is that every Colorado town we passed through deserved more exploration but that would have to wait for future trips.

Once on the road again, we drove Hwy 550 from Ouray to Silverton then Durango making several stops along the way.

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Remnants of old gold and silver mines dot the landscape along Hwy 550

The view into the Weminuche Wilderness north of Durango brought back memories of a great backpacking trip with friends several years ago.

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Our plan had been to camp in the Durango area, but the heat changed our minds. We found a hotel and enjoyed catching up on messages and finding lunch at a 5-star taco trailer close to a trail system. While waiting on our order and watching cyclist and walkers, I resolved to be there before dawn the next morning to beat the heat and the crowds.

Our dinner that evening in downtown Durango included live music, which was quite a treat. Everyone wore masks and the restaurant took care to separate guests in outdoor dining.

The next morning was a great hike up into Big Canyon with headlamp. Because of my early start, I had the trail to myself out and back. It was fun to walk the sun up and watch colors come alive in this rocky canyon. 

The drive back toward home was a long one. Becca posed for a photo at the state line to share with relatives in Texas. I sat on a railroad nearby for a photo before continuing to Amarillo.

The next morning, we drove out to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, so Becca could see it for the first time, and I could see it for a second time in over twenty-five years. The ranger was very nice and allowed us to drive into the overlook at the Visitors Center for a quick look even though there were restrictions due to COVID-19 and even day visitors were required to have advanced reservations as a way to control numbers.

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B.H. Warnock and Benny Simpson at Capote Falls

B.H. Warnock and Benny Simpson at Capote Falls

After returning to the entrance gate the ranger and I talked for a few minutes and I gave him a copy of my trail guidebook, encouraging him to visit the Ozarks anytime other than summer. He saw my name and asked if I was kin to a Barton Warnock. Dr. Barton Warnock, was a well-respected botanist, specializing in the Big Bend region. Dr. Warnock died in 1998 at age 86. An environmental center at Big Bend carries his name along with twelve plants named for him.

His father’s first name was Arch which was also my grandfather’s first name. We don’t know of any concrete connections, but I’m claiming him as family anyway. I like the description from Kirby Warnock’s article about Dr. Warnock. “His cowboy dress and independent attitude projected an image that didn’t quite fit the ‘tree hugger’ or ‘nerd’ stereotype usually associated with botanists or lovers of wildflowers.”

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We enjoyed our drive home with heads full of images and memories. This little prairie dog spotted during my final morning’s walk seemed to be saying, “Come see us again.” We’ll definitely be back out west to scratch some more at the surface and see what we can learn.

4 thoughts on “Road Trip West

  1. Hi Jim, I greatly enjoyed the trip through your eyes and experiences. I too, love Colorado, and long to go back and see and camp there all the more! Thanks bud.
    Eric and Trish

  2. Jim I am so glad you guys went out to one of my favorites areas of Colorado. Lewis and I made a boys trip out to the Silverton area many years ago. We did the jeep 4×4 trails where I was scared half to death due to the storms we faced. I have been back many times..
    Enjoy your retirement and thanks for sharing your adventures.

  3. Your trip sounded wonderful & so glad you are enjoying retirement. I have been to a lot of the same beautiful places & especially enjoyed the Black Canyon & riding the river boat down in the Gunnison River.

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