June 10: I thought I’d left the desert behind

Alpenglow at Lower Mineral  Campground.
Alpenglow at Lower Mineral Campground.

I woke up this morning to frost on my windshield! Yes, it was in the 50sdF when I went to sleep last night, and yes, I was camped at 9600 feet, but still. It’s June! I had to find my ice scraper, and thank goodness I’d remembered to pull it out of Kestrel’s glove department when I traded him in, and thank goodness I’d thrown it into Merlin’s glove department, too.

So that was kind of an adventure. I went over an 11,000 foot pass this morning, too, and saw two waterfalls, then I came down into the town of Ouray and all of a sudden the land flattened back out again. By the time I reached the city of Montrose (yeah, it’s a city – I passed a big box store conglomeration on my way into town), it was almost 80dF, and by this afternoon it was in the mid-80s. A 50-degree temperature rise in less than four hours.

Twilight Peak from Red Mountain Pass (11,000 feet).  No sparkles, sorry.
Twilight Peak from Red Mountain Pass (11,000 feet). No sparkles, sorry.
Waterfall just south of Ouray.
Waterfall just south of Ouray.

Then I headed east on U.S. 50 (the same highway I’d crossed Nevada on), and, in spite of being at over 7000 feet, I was back in the desert.

Still, I did have an interesting place to stop along the way. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (for those who are counting, this is my twelfth national park/monument of the trip <g>) is another of those places we went when I was a kid. I think I was nine or ten, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Anyway, I did sort of remember it.

The canyon is over 2000 feet deep, narrow enough to make it feel like you could throw a rock from rim to rim, and made from a very dark rock called gneiss (“nice”) that has a lot of stripes and color in it. It was something to behold. But, as usual for me, the flowers kind of took over the show.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
A patch of lupines at the Black Canyon.
A patch of lupines at the Black Canyon.
I never did find the dragon, sorry, Loralee!
I never did find the dragon, sorry, Loralee!

I drove the six mile with lots of viewpoints rim road, ate lunch at the picnic area at the end, and took another gazillion photos. It was well worth the stop, especially since it was right on my way.

Gunnison, Colorado, is about an hour east of the Black Canyon (or it would have been if I hadn’t run into my second bout of road construction of the day – the first was at the 10,000 foot level just south of Ouray), and it’s where I am tonight. It’s also the home of Western Colorado University, where my nephew Mike went to college. I’m not sure how he ended up there, but it’s a nice little campus.

I had it in my brain that Gunnison was going to be a mountain town, but it’s in a valley, and sort of a cross between desert and ranchland. It’s pretty, but it doesn’t look at all like I thought it would.

And as the crowning touch of nostalgia, I’m staying in a KOA campground (for the showers and the wifi, since motels here are expensive) for the first time since my ex and I stayed in one just outside Eugene, Oregon in the early 80s. My folks and I used to stay in one about every third day when we traveled for the same reason I’m here tonight (well, not for the wifi…). Anyway. It’s funny.

As of today, I’ve been on the road for two weeks. Amazing.