Day 3 – Moab to Montrose

Since we had run out of time to see Canyonlands yesterday, I opted to get up at the crack of dawn and run back up the road a bit to take a gander. It’s about 10 miles outside of Moab to the access road, then another 20 to 30 miles to get to the main lookout in the park. All told it was a solid two hours before I was back at the hotel, but thankfully Paul was patient and humored me. He took the opportunity to wash his bike…right before we drove through the Moab dustbowl and on down the road for another epic day. Go figure.

Regardless, the road to Canyonlands was lovely, and it took a switchback or two as it lifted me up from the base elevation up to the top of a mesa to the “Island in the Sky” which makes up this part of the Canyonlands park. Once through the (currently unmanned) gate, I cruised through a high-mesa landscape that kept teasing me with glimpses of views down onto the the plains and canyons below. Eventually I made it to the most distant viewpoint, looking out over the bulk of the park. “Island in the Sky” is an apt description, as I felt like I was floating over the world below. The vista was spectacular, and looked down on deep canyons, wide valleys, and fantastical erosion-carved pillars. All of these parks need to be seen individually, but they also need to be seen together. The vistas from Bryce and Canyonlands, coupled with the up close views of Zion and Arches, not to mention the grandiosity of Capitol Reef…it just makes for an experience that can’t be described.

I like that this sign makes it look as remote as it really is. Nice work, Mr. Sign Guy.
This vista from the Island in the Sky doesn’t seem real. It just goes on forever.
This is a closeup of the central canyons seen above. What’s hard to see here are the pillars and formations inside these canyons. It’s like everywhere you look, there’s more to see.

I got back to the hotel and Paul was ready to roll. I grabbed a quick breakfast from the hotel and we were off. We rolled out of Moab and headed a bit south. While our destination is east and north, I’m trying to plan a route that’s interesting and not just a collection of Interstate Interchanges that gets us somewhere. So south it was, headed to Durango, CO. The benefit of this route is that it takes us past Mesa Verde NP, and then feeds us up the historic Million Dollar Highway through a couple of old mining boomtowns from the silver rush. On the whole, the routing paid off.

That said, it got off to a shaky start. Paul saw a sign that urged us to see the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. “Just a few miles that away,” the sign promised (paraphrasing). The sign was right about the distance, but wrong about the attraction. As it turns out, the CotA NM visitor’s center is really more of a placeholder, showing a map of a large collection of state and federal lands several miles away. A sign directed us to the one attraction at the site…”Look, it’s the Picnic Tables of the Ancients,” Paul said. I forgave him for the side trip for that joke alone. Worth it!

So we continued on to Mesa Verde National Park. We stopped outside the gates for pictures, and that’s the last time I saw Paul for an hour or two. Somehow we got separated as we went through the gate, which is pretty weird since it’s literally one road through the park. I made it to the end of the park and turned around. At that point I was worried that Paul might have fallen off the edge, since this park is all about being higher than all you bitches in the valleys below! Thankfully I found him about halfway back towards the entrance. I’m still not sure how we lost each other in a one-path park, but I blame Paul. Once I had him back in tow we headed for the exit, jointly less than impressed with MVNP. But it’s not fair, since it’s trying to compete with 3 or 4 of the most visually unique and impressive parks in the county just a few miles away. It’s kinda like the Tito Jackson of the group. Sure, people know who you are, but they’re really here to see Michael and Janet and, you know, pretty much any of the other Jacksons.

Hail to the Conquerors! Wait…too soon?

Once we got the band back together, we bugged out and passed through Durango and on towards Ouray. The road to Ouray is the 550, and is also known as the Million Dollar Highway. From Durango to the Purgatory ski resort the road is a wide, smooth road that’s pretty but clearly designed to move people efficiently to and from the ski resorts. Once past Purgatory, though, shit gets real. The curves start getting serious, then get SERIOUS BITCH! On my GPS it looked like a pile of spaghetti, as the road just kept looping back on itself again and again. While it never actually looped under itself, I kept waiting for it. We hit curve after curve marked “15mph,” and many of them were legit 15mph turns. The views were exhilarating, with deep valleys and steep prominences. But it was the road that really won me over. We stopped and chatted with some travelers at a turnout where a waterfall flowed under the road into the canyon below. One guy had just taken his older GS over the 12,000′ Engineer Pass as he worked on completing the Trans-America Trail, while others were coming down from Denver. It was an interesting group of folks, but we pushed on to Ouray with the promise of water, beer and a decent burger. All of the above were obtained at the Ouray Brewery, then it was onward towards Montrose.

Oh hey look! It’s an arty camera angle!

After lunch we pushed on towards Montrose. The road started out great, but quickly settled into the typical quasi-urban highway. I didn’t get it at first, but then we noticed some local ski areas. As best I can tell, the local roads are largely driven by the ski economy. If skiers need to get there, it gets built. Or expanded. Or whatever.

So, in my defense I gave Paul every opportunity to bail out to the AirBnB for the night, but he was a trooper and opted to make the side trip to Black Canyon NP before we headed into Montrose for the night. He didn’t regret the trip, and neither did I. Well, maybe I had some regrets (see below). But it was still an amazing place.

This is National Park #7 in two days for me. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
OK. It’s a good thing. I may not be squeezing everything possible out of these parks, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t see some amazing shit.
This is the western end of the park, with the Painted Cliffs on the right. Paul needs to see this…
Dude. Seriously. Zip up and let’s go.

After we peeled off our gear and got situated, I checked out Montrose on Yelp. It didn’t look promising, as everything was set to close by 9pm or so. We showered and changed and headed out to the local brewpub, just half a mile away. When we found that it was closed for no apparent reason we diverted to the main drag and latched onto the local Japanese joint. Because nothing say “seafood” like small-town Colorado. Paul had some sushi, because he’s apparently retarded. I had some hibachi beef which seemed safer, although no less dubious. We agreed on the beer, though. And apparently the alcohol killed any lingering Coloradan parasites, so that’s yet another win. Hooray! We got chased out by the proprietor and walked down to the local Quik-E-Mart to grab some muffins for breakfast and detergent for the laundry machine. After that we were off to the AirBnB to close up shop for the night.

The Montrose Courthouse. I guess I can call today a workday, too! Lawyering is easy!