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.
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!
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!
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.
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!