25 Oct 2014

US Road-trip - Drive to Telluride

After my early morning trip to the Black Canyon we headed off south and then west towards Telluride. I'd read about a few good autumn leaf-spotting spots along the way - the Dallas Divide and Last Dollar Road the main ones on our route. The beautiful weather I'd had on my return from the canyon had been replaced by a combination of washed-out and dark fast-moving clouds as we approached the mountains. We hadn't had much luck with the weather since we left Rocky Mountain National Park days earlier. The clouds hung over the peaks and the sun only occasionally made an appearance with a tantalising glimpse of blue sky behind.

We stopped at what I assume was the Dallas Divide, where photographers stood with their tripods dotted along a fence to try and get a good shot of the autumnal trees in the foreground and the now-snowy peaks in the distance. The sun illuminated patches of aspens and peaks to the east sporadically. I wandered up the road a little and found a picturesque area of turning leaves.

We continued onwards and eventually found a left-hand turn into the Last Dollar Road; everyone on the main road seemed to be going this way too.  It is a seasonal road that is closed between January and May, and winds its way across the mountains before eventually coming down in Telluride (I didn't know this at the time). We stopped when I spotted some pretty aspens - there were patches of red and peach leaves, not just the usual yellow. Still the sun was mainly hidden.

The road continued for a long way, winding around hillsides, copses of turning aspens just visible on private land from time to time, and the odd barn. Grand gateways to ranches appeared every once in a while.

We drove on until we reached a junction, at which we took the right hand fork; we had time on our hands, so decided to explore. We could see the road winding across the ranch-land in the distance, patches of yellow trees inviting us to continue. We passed some grand developments, and eventually found ourselves at the top of a red-sided canyon, which I suddenly realised we had to go down into. I felt quite nervous as my husband wove his way down the switchbacks, asking him to slow down all the time. We could see the main road down on the valley floor - it seemed a long way down. We eventually neared the bottom, where a small community of houses was built. As we'd cut off the corner of the main road we decided to head back up north to see if we'd missed anything along the way. We ended up turning east again, back to the beginning of the Last Dollar Road (having done a complete circle!). The weather hadn't improved since our first loop, so we didn't stop along the way. When we reached the fork again we took the left turn, continuing on the Last Dollar Road.

We drove across a few cattle grids and passed docile bulls standing at the side of the road. The road surface began to worsen, with large potholes and some standing pools of muddy water. We got to a point where it clearly wasn't suitable for our car (a low saloon car) so turned around and headed back, passing a sign we'd missed on the way in explaining that the road was only suitable for 4WD cars from that point on. It was a shame, as it would have been a fun road to explore and would have taken us right down into the outskirts of Telluride, apparently with stunning views of Mt Sneffels in the distance (although it was probably hidden by cloud anyway). As it was it gave us a chance to go down the steep windy road through the red canyon again - this time I felt a bit more relaxed, but still nagged the hubby to drive no faster than 20 mph. I checked online to see if the road had a name - it appears to be called the 58P.

The final approach to Telluride is stunning, heading up into the box canyon past meadows that thankfully haven't been built upon (yet), the sides of the hills lined with firs and yellowing aspens. A week or two later and the trees would have looked spectacular.

I'd first heard of Telluride 9 years earlier in northern Chile, where I met a photographer from there - she had raved about how beautiful it was and she wasn't wrong. In spite of the dull skies it still looked spectacular, with a delicate waterfall and huge walls at the end of the canyon; I can only imagine how wonderful it would be with blue skies! The recent dusting of snow made it look very pretty but didn't help with the washed-out brightness for photographs! We checked into out hotel, the New Sheridan, in the centre of town, and quickly headed out for a hike up to Bear Creek Falls, a popular hike starting from the edge of town.

The hike took us gradually uphill through aspens and douglas firs, the paths littered with fallen golden leaves, The sun had come out behind the mountain, throwing stunning light across the hills behind Telluride in the distance, but the dark sides of the canyon coupled with still white cloudy skies made capturing it tricky. We passed a spot where hikers had made dozens of small cairns - I added a stone to the top of one as my small contribution.

We eventually we reached Bear Creek Falls, a veil-like waterfall flowing delicately down a red wall. Murray sat and read while I played around with filters and exposure times. A helpful patch of blue skies helped me capture the mountains behind without that nasty white sky, but we'd missed a patch of direct sunlight on the peaks by about 15 minutes.

We'd set off late and knew that it would start to get dark soon, so we headed back down the trail towards town, the reward of a nice cold IPA beckoning. A light mist was beginning to come down over the peaks behind us. We chatted to a friendly woman from Oregon who came here each year - I could see why it was her favourite spot.


We'd passed the Smuggler's Brewpub on our way to the trailhead, so stopped there for a drink and supper on our return. A sad-looking dog was tied up outside, next to a sign saying "Puppy Park" (they don't seem to get "dog-friendly" in the US - allowing you to tie your dog up outside is not exactly my idea of dog-friendly - why not just let them in?!). We ate delicious ribs with mac'n'cheese and a huge pile of reindeer spag bol. We were still suffering from the effects of the altitude (Telluride is at 8,725 ft or 2,659 m) so only managed a couple of beers before returning to our lovely hotel room for some laptop time.

Next stop: Mesa Verde

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