NorthWest Michigan Wanderings…2016

For anyone who loves water, Michigan is an awesome destination.  As the joke goes, 4 out of 5 Great Lakes prefer Michigan and I must say as a lover of water… I too prefer Michigan!  I have been coming to “Mitten State” since I was born, to visit family and spend Summers at the Family Cottage.  I have nothing but great memories of my time spent in Michigan, from when I was a young boy building tree forts in the woods with my brothers to my days as a college student at Michigan State.  I’m thankful that my mother has kept the Cottage all these years and our family continues to enjoy the awesomeness of vacations at the cottage on the lake!  This past Summer, I spent a few days on the beautifully-picturesque Leelanau Peninsula.  Probably best known for being home to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.  From the Park the views of Lake Michigan are amazing!  Remember to bring your camera and get some sand in your shoes as you climb a dune or two!  Take a few extra days and visit some of the quaint little fishing villages like Glen Haven, Glen Arbor, Leland and North Port.  There are numerous campgrounds and plenty of great restaurants throughout the Peninsula.  Don’t forget your swimsuit… remember the Great Lakes have been shark-free and salt-free for millions of years!

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Above, in Glen Haven don’t be surprised if you are the only one on the beach for miles in either direction!

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Above, the Leelanau Peninsula offers beautiful land as well as lake views!

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Below, the Lake Michigan water really is this blue!  No mods were made to this picture!

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Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, 2016.

I just returned from an awesome 12 day adventure to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming with my niece and nephew.  The last time I was there was 40 years ago, when I was 12, and on vacation with my family in a 1976 VW camper van named “Big Red.”  My niece Sarah recently graduated from Michigan State University and as a kind-of “graduation celebration,” we decided to visit Yellowstone.  My nephew Jack, a junior at MSU, decided to join us on our adventure.  The trip was truly amazing, far exceeding all of our expectations!  The landscape was gorgeous and the weather cooperated nicely.  At higher elevations it was cool, with numerous parks still under a few feet of snow.  Since High Schools across America have not yet started Summer break, the parks and campgrounds were not too busy.  We camped in “Bertha” the Bigfoot Truck Camper, staying at National Park campgrounds or RV parks.

Along the way we…..

Drove 3,500 miles…

Covered 9 States…

Visited 7 National Parks…

Ate 7 Buffalo Burgers…

Went on 5 long hikes…

Saw lots of wildlife…

Consumed lots of coffee…

and Laughed a lot!

Good times with family are truly priceless!

If you don’t know America’s National Parks, I urge you to load-up your backpack and hit the road for a few weeks… you will be amazed at the beauty of America!

 

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A bit of history about the Antler Arches.

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Back on the Farm… again!

It’s been a little over a month since my last blog post, I know… a blogger should keep readers up-to-date, and this update is overdue!

The last week of April, I departed Prescott, Arizona and headed east!  After 3 long days of 600+ miles driving… I was back in Central Kentucky on the little farm!  I’m lucky to have some really great friends and one of them, Ernie, helped me convoy my 2 trucks and motorcycle back to Kentucky.  I figured the bitter cold Winter that the Mid-West experienced was over by now… and I was right!  I got back in time to spend Mother’s Day with my Mom in Cleveland and then the next weekend I made it to Michigan, just like I did last year, to help my older brother open a family lake house for the Summer.  It was a busy 3 days but we were able to get everything done, raked leaves, washed windows, put boats in the water…. and the like!

I’ve mentioned how much I love the United States Southwest!  It definitely has a pull on me!  The vibrant colors of the desert, the breathtaking unobstructed views, the vastness and of course the beautiful rugged mountains all make it an almost magical place for me!  But there is another place I find as equally magical, the Great Lakes Region!  I grew-up not far from the shores of Lake Erie and would spend every Summer on a lake house in Northern Michigan… so for a few months this Summer…

I plan to explore Pure Michigan!

What the Southwest lacks… the Great Lakes Region has in abundance… Water!

There are so many wonderful ways to explore water….

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Gold Is Where You Find It.

I think just about every kid who grew-up in the 60s and 70s watched any number of Western movies and television series, like Gunsmoke or Bonanza, that often depicted life in the Gold-Rush towns of the late 1800s.

The storylines of many episodes went something like this…

A miner works long hours in the hot, sunbaked mountains panning for gold nuggets in a slow flowing creek.  He discovers a lucrative spot and finds a small fortune.  The miner then packs-up his mule, with gold in a small felt-pouch of course and heads to the nearest town to cash-in his nuggets.  He then goes to the local saloon to drink way too much whiskey, loses most of his money playing-poker, and once sufficiently drunk he gets a hot bath from Miss Kitty and who knows what else.  After a few days in town, the miner is completely broke and heads back to the mountains to seek another small fortune!

The excitement of a miner with nothing one day, striking it rich the next, makes for a great story today just like it did 100 + years ago.  Who wouldn’t like to be hiking along a mountain stream, look down and find a gold nugget the size of a grape?

I remember those storylines well and have always wanted to try my hand at panning for gold!

Last week I spent a few days with my friend Stan panning for gold along Lynx Creek in Prescott, Arizona.  I certainly didn’t expect to find nuggets but I thought with a little luck, I may find some specks or flakes of the shiny stuff.  Lucky for me, Stan has been panning for gold for years!  He’s extremely knowledgeable and was kind enough to show me how it’s done.  After a few hours of instruction on proper panning technique, I was able to slowly work my way through a 5 gallon bucket of riverbed dirt and in the process found a dozen flakes of gold.  I didn’t exactly strike it rich but I had a great time and learned something new!  It’s not always about the money!  I spent a few days in the fresh mountain-air, surrounded by tall pines and listened to the sound of fresh water rushing over granite rocks… not a bad way to spend a few days!

Life Lesson:  After day two of panning, I asked Stan… how do you know the best place to find gold?  He said, “… there are numerous signs indicating where you are likely to find gold… but basically… gold is where you find it.”  Kind of like anything in life… you can find gold wherever you are, if you look hard enough!

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Stan panning for gold!

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Extracting the dirt and rocks and looking for gold!

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After proper extraction, a few flakes of gold appear.

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A few to the “tools” necessary to pan for gold sit on the rock, ready for action!

 

 

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On a Slow Horse to Bagdad.

One of the best things about Prescott, Arizona and the surrounding area is that there are literally thousands of miles of trails for ATV and adventure-motorcycle enthusiast!  Anyone who has a dual-sport motorcycle will probably agree, the real fun begins beyond the pavement!  Just a few miles from downtown Prescott, the ponderosa pine-lined trails cut through the mountains in all directions, leading to places like Skull Valley and Bagdad!  Who can possibly pass-up a dusty trail ride to places with names like Skull Valley or Bagdad on a motorcycle?  A few days ago, my buddy Emilio and I hit the trails.  We were anxious to take advantage of the unseasonably awesome weather we have been having in central Arizona.  While much of the USA (hello Boston) is in the deep freeze… fortunately for me, Prescott has been beautiful the last few weeks!  It’s been sunny and in the high 60s during the day and at night the temps drop only into the mid-30s.  Pretty nice weather for this time of year!  Our ride destination was the mining town of Bagdad, Arizona.  Not because there is anything particularly noteworthy to do in Baghdad, but the route there goes through some really nice terrain!

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On the trail to Camp Wood.

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The horses of Camp Wood.

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My horse meets the horses of Camp Wood!

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The mountains surrounding the town of Bagdad, Arizona.

Our trip was a big-loop from Prescott, to Williamson Valley, through Camp Wood and on to Bagdad.  On the way back from Bagdad we passed through Kirkland and then briefly stopped in Skull Valley and over the mountains back to Prescott.  Our total milage was about 140 miles of which about 100 miles were on trails!  Just past the hunting lodge at Camp Wood, we encountered half a dozen, 100 yard stretches of trail with deep tire-ruts and thick muddy patches!  No problem, that’s what dual sport motorcycles were made for!  We only passed 2 trucks and one ATV during the entire 100 miles on trail and after about 4 hours in the saddle we returned safely to Prescott!

It was a great day of exploration indeed!

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Go West “Young-ish” Man

The title says it all, well maybe not all, but it certainly says a lot!  If you are reading my blog, you are probably familiar with the expression, “go West young man…”  It encouraged young men to head West in the 19th century, to seek the many opportunities offered to adventure-lovers and fortune-seekers.  The numerous “gold rushes” and of course “free land” in some states lured many young men West of the Mississippi River to what was referred to as the Wild, Wild West, to seek their fortune.  I changed the word “young” in that iconic-expression to “young-ish,” because at 50 years old, I cannot honestly call myself “young” no matter how young I may feel!  So, in order to follow the expression above… last month this “young-ish” man packed up Bertha, Bessie and of course the B.O.M, (a Ford, Toyota and Honda respectively), and with the help of my great friend Ernest Earl, we convoyed West!  Destination Southern California, for Christmas 2014, via Prescott, Arizona.  During this trip I’m not looking for a “fortune,” but I believe no matter how old I am, I can still seek some adventure out West!  And that’s just what I plan to do, seek new adventures!

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Bertha, Bessie and the B.O.M. ready to convoy west!

The trip from Kentucky to Arizona took 3 full days of driving and was pretty unremarkable.  This is my 5th trip from Kentucky to California since 2008, so I have already explored many of the numerous routes West.  The best part of the trip, other than the incredibly low gas prices, was a visit to the Big Texan Steak House in Amarillo for lunch!

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Just west of Amarillo, Texas south of Hwy 40 is the Cadillac Ranch.

We were anxious to drop-off Bertha and the B.O.M. in Prescott and continue the last 6 hours to SoCal in Bessie, were we would spend Christmas 2014 in beautiful San Diego.

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Santa obviously needs no snow to deliver gifts to sunny San Diego.

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The sun was shining brightly and the surf was up, SoCal Christmas 2014.

The weather in San Diego did not disappoint and was beautiful for the entire visit!  After 2 weeks of visiting friends and eating too much food… my friend Ernest returned to Kentucky on a flight and Bessie and I returned to the mile-high city Prescott, Arizona.  Prescott will serve as my home-base for the next few months while I explore the four-corners region on motorcycle and 4×4… stay tuned… more adventures to follow!

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A 5 mile hike around Lake Watson in Prescott helped shed a few of the pounds acquired over the Christmas Holiday!

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The Granite Dells near Lake Watson.

 

 

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Hills ‘n Hollars and Waterfall-ers…

After a week of rainy, overcast weather all-over Kentucky, the sun triumphantly reappeared today!  It turned out to be a really beautiful Fall day, sunny and 55 degrees, a perfect day for exploring new places!      I headed south from Lawrenceburg about 100 miles to the southwest corner of the Daniel Boone National Forest.  My destinations… Cumberland Falls and the Yahoo Falls, the highest falls in the State of Kentucky.  Due to the recent heavy rains, both falls were flowing rapidly with high volumes of water.  There were probably only 20 other visitors at the Cumberland Falls, but I was surprised to see no other hikers at Yahoo Falls trail.  As I hiked the 3 mile loop-trail from the parking lot to Yahoo Falls, then the Arch and back, I didn’t see another soul.  Only a few red squirrels darted across the trails, working hard to stockpile food for the Winter!  The advantage to hiking the Yahoo trail-loop this time of year, is that the ‘green veil of leaves’ that normally hides much of the waterfall and surrounding rock formations is gone until the Spring!  You can see much greater distances from the numerous trail-vistas / view points, making the Fall a great time to hike.

It was a truly wonderful Sunday-escape from civilization!  I’m convinced that a day anywhere in the ‘wild’ is better for one’s mental well being, than any drug available!

Yahoo Falls 1

Yahoo Falls, in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest.

Yahoo Falls 2

Yahoo Falls.

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Local Flora at Yahoo Falls.

Cumberline River Bridge

The Bridge over the Cumberland River just up-stream of the falls.

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The Cumberland Falls.

 

 

 

 

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Road-Trip 2014 Wrap-Up.

On May 5th of this year, just days before my 50 birthday, I embarked on what I called “Road-Trip 2014.”  In close to 100 days on the road, I traveled over 9600 miles from Kentucky to California and back.  I traveled across Kentucky and into Illinois, then across Missouri, across Oklahoma, across New Mexico, paused in Arizona for Overland Expo 2014 and a visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canon, up into Utah, then back down into Arizona, then over to San Diego, California for 6 weeks.  Then from California back into Arizona, up into Utah again, then over to Colorado, crossing the state from Cortez in the southwest all the way to Ft. Collins in the northeast, and finally homeward through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and ending of course in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky!  This was my 4th such trip since 2008 and every one was better than the one before.  Every time I travel the highways, by-ways and backroads of America, I love her more and more!  I have lived overseas for more than 14 years and visited close to 60 countries.  I sincerely love something about every place I have been.  But to me, there is something really special about America that always ignites my flame of adventure.  Maybe it’s the incredibly diverse landscape we have in America, maybe it’s the friendly people I meet in countless small towns all across the country, or maybe it’s the American Spirit of “anything is possible,” that is still alive in America that excites me the most!  Whatever it is, I’m addicted to traveling this wonderful country!  A special thanks to my Family and Friends who took me in for a few days or a few weeks during my travels.  The Road-Trip would’t have been the same without you being part of it!  Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

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Yankee Boy Basin near Ouray, Colorado.

I’m back in the Bluegrass for a month or two, giving “Bessie” the Tacoma a much deserved break.  “Bertha” has been called back into action, she and I are sleeping together again, what a great lady she is!  In the meantime, I have a number of projects to finish on the Farm before Winter arrives and have started detailed planning for…

Motorcycle Road-Trip 2015…. to places far and wide!

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Exploring Colorado, Part 2.

After a night in the Black Canyon, camping along the Gunnison River, I continued my exploration of Colorado, heading east on highway 50 toward Salida.  Highway 50 passes the Curecanti National Recreation Area and crosses over the beautiful Blue Mesa Reservoir a few times as it climbs toward Monarch Pass.  There are half a dozen view points and just as many RV parks along the banks of the lake.  I stopped long enough to have lunch at the reservoir and made it to Salida by late afternoon.

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Downtown Salida, Colorado 2014.

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Downtown Salida, Colorado, a few blocks from the Arkansas River.

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The Arkansas River, just east of Downtown Salida.

I visited Salida 2 years ago and really had a great time!  It’s a small town with a population of only about 6 thousand, but what makes it so appealing to me is the beautiful historic downtown area and the fact that the Arkansas River flows right through the middle of it.  I believe Salida has the largest concentration of historic 19th century buildings in the State.  You can easily spend the entire day wandering the downtown area shopping and having lunch at one of the many great restaurants.  I had one of the best curry soups I’ve ever had at the “Little Cambodia” restaurant on North F Street!  I camped east of town a few miles on the Arkansas River.  It was a small state campground with perhaps 20 camping spots and access to the river.  Early the next morning I drove back through Salida and headed north on highway 285.  The road follows the Arkansas River all the way to its headwaters near Leadville.  Along the way I took a short detour off  highway 285 in order to stop at the historic ghost town of St. Elmo to explore and and take some pictures.  The area is a favorite with ATV riders, dozens of trailers were parked along the county road leading into town.  St. Elmo is one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado, with about 40 of the original 1880s built structures still standing.  You really feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you visit St Elmo!

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St Elmo Ghost Town near Buena Vista, Colorado.

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St Elmo, Colorado.

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St Elmo, Colorado.

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St Elmo, Colorado.

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Lots of families with ATVs were exploring the town and enjoying ice-cream from the old Miner’s Supply store in town.  I’m sure children in the 1880s had to settle for hard candy instead of push-pops and ice cream sandwiches.  I drove back down the mountain to 285 and continued north to Buena Vista.

The town is very appropriately named!  Once again, there were beautiful, breathtaking views 360 degrees around Buena Vista!

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Downtown Buena Vista, Colorado.

I parked in the downtown area and had a coffee.  Just east of downtown is the old County Courthouse, which is now home to the Country Historical Society.  5 dollars got me admission to the museum and a private tour with an incredibly knowledgeable docent.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and I needed to dry-out some of my wet camping gear from my nights in Ouray, so I headed to the county park just a mile east of downtown and along the Arkansas River.  It was mid-afternoon and the soccer field was empty so I broke out a wet hammock and fly and some other gear to let it sun-dry.  The park was quite busy on the river-side with rafters, kayakers and mountain-bikers.

Just before dinner-time, with my gear dry and re-packed, I continued north on 285 to another historic mining town, Leadville.

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The town sits at about 10,100 feet elevation and is one of the highest incorporated cities in the United States.  In the late 1800s the town was famous for generous silver mines but today, with its location in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and at the headwaters of the Arkansas River, it’s more attractive to outdoor sports enthusiasts like skiers, hikers, runners and mountain-bikers!  I explored the historic downtown area and decided I would spend the night in my hammock at over 10,000 feet elevation!

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Downtown Leadville, Colorado.

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Downtown Leadville, Colorado.

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The old Opera House in Leadville, Colorado.

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Downtown, Leadville, Colorado.

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Exploring Colorado.

From Cortez in the south-west corner of Colorado, I headed east on highway 160 for about an hour to the  town of Durango and the San Juan National Forest.  You can easily spend a few days exploring Durango and the surrounding area.  Take a step-back in time on the narrow gauge steam engine railroad and travel from Durango to the famous 19th century mining town of Silverton and back.  If you enjoy water sports, try kayaking or tubing for a few hours on the gently flowing animas river that runs right through downtown Durango.  In the Summer, the San Juan Mountains are full of hikers and mountain bikers exploring the many miles of rugged trails.  In the winter, skiers and snowboarders compete for the perfect-line in the deep, fresh white powder!  Durango is also home to Ft Lewis College, a small public liberal arts college.  I love college towns.  They always seem to have a great vibe and contribute an eclectic group of people and activities, especially the arts and sporting events, to any town!  I spent 3 nights at a great dispersed campsite about 8 miles outside of town in the mountains, just above the Animas Overlook point.  I hung my hammock between two aspen trees and enjoyed incredible views of the valley below in the evenings and explored the local hiking trails and the Animas River during the day!

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Take a ride on the narrow gauge railroad from Durango to Silverton.

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The famous Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado.

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Hammock Camping in the Mountains above Durango!

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I was lucky to be in Durango on a day the Farmer’s Market was open.

After a few awesome days in Durango, I drove 25 miles north on highway 550, climbing to 12,800 feet elevation to the picturesque old mining town of Silverton!  As I wandered the dirt streets and visited the many shops, I felt like I was back in the 1880s, except for maybe the numerous modern automobiles.  An old stagecoach passed with a cowboy at the reins and a couple of tourists in the back.  The old Hotels and Saloons still maintain their 19 century brick facades and western charm.  I bought a coffee at the Brown Bear Cafe and continued my journey north toward Ouray.

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I stopped along the way from Durango to Silverton to enjoy the views!

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The town of Silverton, Colorado.

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Take an old Stagecoach ride through Silverton!

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Main Street Silverton still maintain’s its’ 19th Century Charm.

The drive from Silverton to Ouray is perhaps one of the most beautiful scenic drives anywhere!  There are 360 degrees of beautiful views, you really can’t find a bad view even if you try!  I stopped at a few view points for pictures.  The recent heavy-rains have given new life to the many colorful wildflowers that blanketed the mountain-sides!

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One of the many scenic view points between Silverton and Ouray.

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The Ouray Look Out Point.

I arrived at the Ouray Look Out Point for the mandatory “I was here” photograph and then descended a few hundred feet to the town below.  Ouray is often referred to as the Switzerland of America and rightly so!  The steep, jagged granite peaked mountains loom imposingly in all directions and seem to almost hold the town captive.  They offer few signs of escape except for the river that dissects the town from south to north!  Ouray is an amazingly beautiful place!  I could easily visit every year!  Each 4th of July weekend the town hosts a Jeep Rally and seems to always be full of 4×4 enthusiast during the non-winter months.  I explored many of the 4×4 trails in the mountains above town and climbed to 12,980 feet elevation to Yankee Boy Basin.  The alpine meadows were full of wildflowers and beautiful icy waterfalls!  I camped at the Thistledown Campground at 8,800 feet for two nights.  As luck would have it, it rained cats and dogs both nights I camped.  Fortunately, my hammock kept me off the ground and dry, while my down sleeping bag kept me warm!  I highly recommend a down sleeping bag to anyone wanting to venture into the mountains.  They are expensive but well worth the money.  They remind me of the saying, pay once cry once!  After my second night of rain I decided to hit the Ouray Hot Springs at the north-end of town.  For only $12.00 you can enjoy the supposed therapeutic-waters all day!  I visited early in the day, long before the hundreds of other tourist descend on the hot springs.   After a few hours of soaking in the 98 degree waters I now know why one of the first things the Romans built when they established a town was a Roman Bath!  You guys got it right!

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The Mountains surrounding Ouray.

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The Mountains surrounding Ouray.

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On the way to Yankee Boy Basin in the mountains to the south east of Ouray.

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Wild Flowers are in bloom at Yankee Boy Basin.

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Wildflowers are in bloom at Yankee Boy Basin.

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I really enjoyed the rocky trails in the mountains above Ouray.

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The views are amazing in the Mountains above Ouray.

After a few days of 4x4ing, hiking, and soaking in the hot springs, I continued on 550 north to Montrose and then headed west on highway 50 to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  The Black Canyon  is a must visit Park!  It is perhaps not as well known as the Grand Canyon, but it is equally beautiful and much less crowded!  I drove the canyon rim road and stopped at half a dozen view points, until I reached the last one, High Point.  Make sure you have your Day-Hike Backpack ready and take the 3.0 mile hike!  There are incredible views every 100 meters or so and all are different!  After my hike, I drove down to the river that formed the canyon over the last 2 million years.  The roar of the river against the granite canyon walls was almost deafening, but seemed to calm you at the same time!  Everytime I visit Mountains I seem to get more and more pulled-into their spell… I don’t know what it is but to me Mountains are like water, they grab hold of you and pull you in!

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The view of the Black Canyon from the rim road.

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Black Canyon National Park.

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The Gunnison River runs through the Black Canyon.

 

 

 

 

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