We slept in a little bit after a long day of driving the day before, but we still had a long way to go on this day. But we were in all new territory for me, since I had never traveled into this part of Colorado before. We were entering into the heart of the Western Rocky Mountains. We left our hotel in Montrose, CO, at around 9:45, made a quick stop at an area Target for a few supplies, then headed into the mountains.
We began gaining elevation almost immediately, and entering into the scenic town of Ouray along US 550 felt like we were coming into a true Western mining town. I wished at the time we had more time to explore, but we were anxious to push on deeper into the mountains.
We quickly gained elevation again, heading up and up. It was slow going only because of the twisty roads and many RVs who had to keep their speed in check. I hate to keep talking about the beautiful scenery, but it truly was gorgeous.
The weather changed dramatically as we went along. At the lower elevations, it was somewhat humid and warm, but it was much cooler the higher we went. It also was very cloudy, and we kept losing our sun. And whenever the clouds took over, we had moisture on the windshield. It became almost a joke how much rain we were getting on the trip. Since we left over a week prior, it had rained every day at least a little bit.
We crested another ridge and we hit a major construction zone, where the 2-lane road went to one lane, with traffic alternating every 15 minutes or so. So we came to a stop and we had an unscheduled break. Pulling up our onboard navigation system, we saw we were at 11,001 feet:
We continued on down into another valley to the town of Silverton. We drove through town, taking notes on possible lunch stops, on our way much deeper into the mountains beyond on our way to the Old Hundred Gold Mine.
We were surprised, though, just beyond the town, the pavement ended and it became gravel and hard dirt. With on-again off-again rain, it became a muddy mess. We continued deep into the mountains until we reached the mine.
We arrived at the mine and realized we were going to have to change clothes. It was downright chilly, and we were told that it was even colder inside the mine. We explored the area around the mine, and we had the opportunity to do a little panning for gold and silver.
Soon, our "ride" arrived... an old motorized "train." We were told to get hardhats and raincoats, since it was wet inside. An old gentleman who reminded me of actor William Brimley, and who had once worked in the mine when it was still active, was our tour guide. He was a character. He had plenty of stories, and shared what life was like "back in the day." It was very interesting. We were in the mine for about 45 minutes.
We were really hungry by this time, so we headed back to Silverton. It was like being in the Old West, with horse-led wagons and turn of the century buildings. We had lunch at the Brown Bear Cafe, and discovered that the owner was a member of Steeler Nation. The food and service were great, and we soon were back on the road.
The drive thru the mountains continued to be impressive, and we quickly reached the town of Durango. We found a pit stop for rest rooms and snacks, then continued to our next stop.
We arrived at Mesa Verde National Park fairly late in the afternoon. We still had a long way to go, so we didn't spend a whole lot of time here, as much as we wanted to. We drove fairly deep into the park, checking out a few of the overlooks, but there just wasn't enough time to stop at the cliff-dwellings, which were quite a long distance into the park. Returning to the entrance, we continued west.
We stopped to gas up in Cortez, CO, and watched the topography change from mountainous to desert. There were the occasional very unusual formations, which was a reminder of how close we were to Monument Valley.
Our next stop was at Four Corners, the only point in the US where four states come together at a shared boundary (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah). We arrived literally minutes before the site closed for the night. I didn't know what to expect, thinking it was just a monument in the middle of nowhere. But it was much different. First of all, it's on Navajo Nation land, and it's run by that tribe. It also means there is an entrance fee, which was a surprise. It was somewhat crowded, too, and we had to wait our turn to get pictures. While the site itself is quite nice, the services, consisting of a food truck with Native American food, and port-a-johns, left a bit to be desired. With the sun going down, and the closing bell about to ring, we quickly jumped back on the road.
The sun began to drop below the horizon and we had a spectacular sunset. We hadn't made very good time today, and we would miss some incredible scenery across Monument Valley. We had a very expensive hotel room waiting for us in Tuba City, AZ, and we were still a few hours away. We also needed to eat. It became apparent that we weren't going to see any services for a while. So, approaching a Sinclair gas station, I decided to stop. We grabbed a few snacks and cobbled together a makeshift dinner. Back on the road, we watched the remainder of our daylight disappear.
It was scary driving for a while. We were on a 2-lane road with high speeds, and on-coming traffic was intimidating. We made one more stop, at a McDonald's in Kayenta, AZ. We finally arrived at our Quality Inn in Tuba City. It was nice, but not necessarily worth the $200 rate for the night. But because of its proximity to the Grand Canyon, the owners could justify our most expensive night of the trip.
We were exhausted! It was a great day, and we covered 370 miles of driving, which put us over 3000 miles for the trip. Much more to come!
Have a great evening, everyone!