After our jaunt up Modeno Pass and first real experience getting off road and wild in the Rockies, our appetite for the Great Colorado wilderness was at fever pitch. With our vehicles finally fully functional, we decided to get as wild and remote as we could, and stay out there until we had reason to return.
A few shots from Modeno Pass, Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Today we drove from Blanca, back through Alamosa and Hooper. Up to Center, and took a left in Saguache. We followed the 114 and left the tarmac in the Rio Grande and drove through mountain plains and cattle herds. We saw rivers of orange rock protrude from pine covered valleys and felt the inspiration of the old west.
We drove on, following a white mountain stream, watching mountain goats hop down the rock face. Onwards we drove, to Gunnison and through the valley of Blue Mesa. We snaked along the lakeside road, stopping for supplies at the general store in Sapinero.
We followed on and stopped near Black Canyon, where we walked a dizzying descent to the valley floor. We walked along the rail track of old, that once connected Denver to the Rio Grande and followed it through the towering canyon until the water lost its anger. We returned, leaving the tarmac once more to reach the banks of the reservoir.
We left the lake, and wound our way back down to Gunnison and stopped for some lunch. We then followed the road out of town, toward Almont and once again, left the tarmac, heading for the old mining town of Tincup and ever upwards to Mirror Lake, nestled well above the June snowline at 3250m. We wound round and through the lake, and found a camp spot perched above its western shore. The cold mountain wind whips through the valley, and the distant claps of thunder make us work for our nights comfort, but the reward is well worth it.
Through all of the thick and thin, the breakdowns (vehicular) and the breakdowns (personal), the scene in front of me makes it all worth while. The drift snow on the mountains above are gently melting forming a cascading stream. This runs down the mountainside, into the crystal lake below, forming an angry confluence as it counteracts the wind that forces the lake against its feed.
This place, as much as any, captures the Colorado and moreover the America, that has always held my imagination. The route we have taken over the last few days has felt truly fantastical. The myth of the American frontier, its romanticism and brutality, captures the imagination of many. We have flirted with this imaginary boundary, winding through seldom trod mountain passes, half forgotten towns and iconic mountain valleys. While in part some places have seemed to try to hold on to this old west imagery, other seem to do so by complete default. In places a fully wooden semi-dilapidated general store can seen to be there, because it has been that way and served its community for generations, in others, it is there simply to lure in tourists like us. This area of Colorado, with the constant backdrop of snow capped mountains, or desert plains falls into the latter character, it need not pull tricks or build things specifically to satisfy, the land itself is all it needs to draw us here.
The constant reminders of the ‘wild west’, intended or not, when coupled with the vast and ever changing natural world make me feel like I never had on any trip of travel before. It makes me feel and constantly get swept up in that most iconic American fantasy. That I am the first, that I have arrived, and am trying to discover land not yet seen by western eyes. Gathering necessary provisions in a General store, pushing our vehicles up steep and difficult to pass mountain roads, then gathering and chopping wood, cooking over an open fire and sleeping beneath a blanket of stars. Then waking up in the morning to push on again, only a tatty, out of scale map and compass to guide us. We are on day two of wild camping now, and have driven a great deal of our time on roads and through civilization. The latter half of the day was spent off the road and tomorrow we shall carry on down this same route. We predict it will take a day to reach our next destination: The abandoned town of St Elmo. We shall spend a night amongst its collapsing wooden structures, and round off this section our voyage through the American frontier with imagery that perhaps captures it best: The bones of a genuine, old west gold rush town.
We awoke and performed our wild morning ritual, involving amongst other things, carrying mountain stream water and heating it over an open fire to facilitate the morning wash.
After pack down, we continued as planned pushing, grinding and thumping hard over a particularly challenging and rocky mountain pass. We reached the summit of Tincup Pass, 12,154ft above sea level, and the first time we have crossed the continental divide.
Our brief respite and chance to enjoy the views was soon to be abruptly overshadowed, as we realised that the rest of the pass and the way on to our planned destination was still snowed off.
Despite working hard to try to find an alternative route, the mountain had defeated us, and we grudgingly headed back down all of the way to the nearest town. We conversed at length with a local, referencing our map and trying to find an alternate route to our destination. He suggested another route, and another mountain pass, that, or he offered us some shovels to try and clear the snow. Not wishing to push our vehicles and ourselves much harder, and with the day getting late, we chose the former option. This time up and over Cottonwood pass:
We unfortunately had to re-enter the tarmac, and getting tired, camped up just outside the town of Buena Vista, where we decided to stay the night in civilisation to watch the EU Referendum results come in. This brief interlude far from marks the end of our wild colorado adventure, at 3 days wild we far from hit our limits. The call to know the future of our country was a little bolder than the call of the wild this time, but we leave the beaten track again tomorrow, to continue our route to the derelict mining town we had set out for. Until then Colorado.