2011 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   HI, HO SILVERTON!  TRIP NOTES & SCENIC VIEWS
FROM THE BIGHORNS TO THE SAN JUANS

TUESDAY, JUNE 21

 
"Then followed that beautiful season . . .  Summer . . . 
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape 
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood."
 
~ William Wadsworth Longfellow
 
 
It's time to celebrate the first day of summer!

I can't think of a better place than Silverton, CO, although it still looks like early spring in the valleys at 9,000+ feet elevation and winter where the snow still covers the peaks higher up. With record-breaking snowfalls throughout the Rockies this past winter it remains to be seen how high we can run and hike while we're here for the next few weeks.

We arrived at the visitor center in Silverton about 4 this afternoon after a two-day, 812-mile drive from the Foothills CG in Dayton, WY. I noted that the ground was covered in dandelions at the visitor center! We're definitely in our zone:


Firmly in our Dandelion Time Warp:  the lawn at the visitor center in Silverton is full of them.

We filled the Cameo tank full of water but didn't fill the truck tank with diesel -- it's a whopping $4.09 to $4.29/gallon in Silverton.

That's less than it was in the tourist trap known as Ouray twenty miles up the road . . . but we figure we can get it cheaper when we drive down to Durango tomorrow. Jim has a consultation there with an orthopedist about his knee.

This entry focuses on our trip from Dayton, WY to Silverton, CO. Much of the information about the route, road and traffic conditions, fuel costs, scenery, observations, etc. is applicable to driving any vehicle, not just an RV.

MONDAY:  DAYTON, WY TO LOVELAND, CO

We left the Foothills CG a little before 9 AM and arrived at our overnight parking spot (Sam's Club) in Loveland about 4:30 PM, all in the Mountain Time Zone. We stopped for fuel once and made two other stops for lunch and potty breaks.

ROUTE + ROAD & TRAFFIC CONDITIONS

  • US 14 east to I-90
  • South on I-90 to I-25
  • South on I-25 to exit 34 at Loveland, CO
  • West four miles to Sam's Club

Total distance = 404 miles

Road conditions were good the whole way. There were several areas of construction with one-lane traffic that moved steadily at 60+ MPH. Otherwise, the speed limit was mostly 75 MPH. When we're hauling the Cameo we keep it at 60-62 MPH most of the time for safety and fuel conservation. We averaged 13 MPG today.


Storm over the Bighorns west of Sheridan, WY

I think we saw more antelope along the freeway from Sheridan to Casper, WY than we saw vehicles on the road! There were only a few visible to us south of there.

Traffic was very light through Wyoming until we got to Cheyenne, which is near the Colorado border. There were lots of RVs heading north and a few passed us going south. Traffic was significantly heavier during the afternoon in northern Colorado but it moved well.

WEATHER CONDITIONS

As you can see from the accompanying photos, it was overcast or cloudy all day. It looked worse than what we actually got on the freeway -- only some light rain south of Casper, WY. Most of the way the freeways were dry.

It was windy and rather chilly all day with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s F. when we left Dayton to the mid-60s in Loveland. The sun was finally visible by mid-afternoon as we approached the Colorado border.

DIESEL PRICES

We chose where to stop for fuel based on prior experience traveling this route. It didn't work out so well for us this time, however.


Along I-25 in Wyoming

We got diesel for $3.91/gallon at the Conoco station at Douglas, WY (I-25 exit 140). Last year this station was 18/gallon cheaper than the Flying Js in Casper or Cheyenne. Later we saw diesel for $3.83 at the Shamrock station at exit 7 (Cheyenne) and $3.95-3.99 at Flying J and Love's.

We used that Shamrock three weeks ago when going north to Rapid City and we probably should have used it again this time. Jim was pretty disgusted last time, however, because he had to go inside three times (!) with the credit card -- before filling up, after reaching $100 (store limit on one swipe with a credit card), and a third time after putting in more fuel be to completely fill the tank.

He was OK with paying more at Conoco yesterday and being able to do the entire transaction at the pump. He did have to swipe the card a second time after we reached $100.

When we got to Sam's Club Jim got some gasoline for the generator; unfortunately, their station doesn't have diesel.

CAMPING OVERNIGHT

This is at least the fourth time we've stayed overnight at the Loveland, CO Sam's Club. To us, it's well worth the eight-mile (total) detour off I-25. It is usually pretty quiet, no one hassles us, and we can shop in the store before it closes at 8:30 PM. There is a Home Depot within eyesight and one time we even walked to a nearby park to unwind.


We could see more blue sky as we approached the Colorado border.

We parked in about the same spot we always do along a grassy median between the store and the gas station but we pulled in under some tree branches that were too low. They damaged the plastic bathroom vent and we'll have to replace it; the roof, solar panels, and AC unit weren't damaged, fortunately.

We are usually very careful about branches but misjudged these. It's my fault as much as Jim's. We're glad the only damage is to the relatively-inexpensive-and-easy-to-replace vent and not something more costly/difficult.

We always get good phone, internet, and TV reception here. By the time we got settled in and Jim turned on the TV, he realized he couldn't raise the antenna because of the low branches. He didn't want to move until morning so he did without TV.

We shopped inside Sam's Club, ate supper, walked with Cody, and relaxed the rest of the evening.

Note that there is a Walmart on the same (south) side of this street a mile closer to the freeway. RVers are welcome to park overnight there; we've always just stayed at Sam's Club. Sometimes we've shopped at this Walmart. We didn't this time. Instead we picked up groceries and supplies today at the Walmart in Montrose, CO, which is closer to Silverton.

TUESDAY:  LOVELAND, CO TO SILVERTON, CO

We left our spot at Sam's Club about 7 AM and arrived in Silverton about 4 PM.

That included two stops for fuel (shoulda gotten diesel in Cheyenne and we'd have had only two fuel stops in 800+ miles, not three), morning rush hour traffic to and around the northwestern part of Denver, two other stops for lunch and bathroom breaks, construction delays, three high passes, and shopping at Walmart in Montrose. 


San Juan Mountain panorama from the north on US 550

We planned to leave later in the morning so we could avoid some of the rush hour traffic but we woke up early and just decided to go.

Mileage today = 408 miles, for a total of 812 miles in two days.

ROUTE + ROAD & TRAFFIC CONDITIONS

  • US 34 east four miles back to I-25
  • South on I-25 to I-76 in Denver
  • West to I-70 west
  • South at CO 141 (exit 37) just east of Grand Junction
  • South on US 50 to Montrose
  • South on US 550 to Silverton

Although there were challenges with heavy traffic until we were well west of Denver, it was a beautiful day for a drive through Colorado. We had sunshine and temperatures in the 60s to 70s F. all day, and the mountain scenery was gorgeous with more snow than normal.


First glimpse of the Continental Divide west of  Denver on I-70
(having fun with PhotoShop)

The roads were dry all day. We drove at elevations ranging from about 5,000 to above 11,000 feet. We could see plenty of snow, some close to the road, but there wasn't any snow or ice on the roads.

Above and below:  before and after the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70

I-25 traffic south from Loveland was OK until about five miles above the junction with I-76. That section around the northwest of Denver, and I-70 westbound away from the metro area, were fairly heavy at 8 AM but moved well.

Traffic flowed at a steady pace on I-70 through the mountains from Denver to Grand Junction.


Approaching the Mt. Evans Wilderness area west of Denver.


Two peaks on the north side of I-70

The only exception was a thirteen-mile segment through scenic Glenwood Canyon, where the eastbound (lower) level of the freeway is under construction. Traffic was two-way on our side of the freeway and the speed limit was only 40 MPH.

Approaching Glenwood Canyon from the east on I-70; the river is on the left.

I don't know if flooding had anything to do with the road closure or not. The Colorado River was running high, fast, and very muddy. Part of the bike path next to/under that side of the freeway was under water.

I also don't have any pictures from that winding section. I was driving and couldn't take my eyes off the road long enough to see everything that was going on. I only take pictures while I'm driving if the road is straight and no one is close to me -- like this one of the scenery approaching Grand Junction:


Mountainous terrain morphs into desert-like buttes near Grand Junction.

Traffic on CO 141 on the east side of Grand Junction is always slow because of stop lights and some one-lane traffic but it's the fastest route from that direction to US 50.


Funny sign (highlighted) on back of septic truck in Grand Junction;
good comic relief, so to speak.  < grin >

US 50 is all four-lane from the south end of Grand Junction to Montrose; traffic moved well there.

US 550 from Montrose to Silverton is two-lane. The road is fairly flat until Ouray and traffic flowed freely.


Peaks in the northern part of the San Juan Range


Passing Ridgeway State Park, which has some nice RV sites next to the large lake.


Fertile farm land along US 550 north of Ouray

Then we hit the "Million Dollar Highway," that incredibly scenic, winding, narrow, mountainous section of US 550 between Ouray and Silverton that gives me the willies every time we haul the camper south!

This is the road I've mentioned before with the huge drop-offs on my side and no guardrails. I took these pictures from inside the truck on the passenger side. See what I mean??

It looks (and feels) like I'm hanging off in space!

The only thing worse than sitting on that side is driving a 36-foot 5th-wheel trailer around those curves, knowing you're responsible for the lives of everyone around you. That's why I encourage Jim to drive this section and I just cringe in the passenger seat.

Sorry to digress like that. Obviously, I lived through it yet again to write about the experience. It just never gets any better. In fact, I think I'm more paranoid each time we drive this section. Going northbound is no problem whatsoever because it's next to the mountainside and not next to the cliffs through the area that frightens me.


You can see the Cameo twice in my large and magnified rear view mirrors.

An additional stress today was getting behind three very slow trucks.

Two were cattle trucks that were leaking a steady stream of stinky urine and/or liquified cow poop onto the road in front of us. Yuck!!! They pulled over after a couple of miles to let traffic pass but a tanker truck refused to pull over for a long line of vehicles behind it until we reached Red Mountain Pass. You can see the tanker in the next picture.

The only good thing about the trucks is that we creepy-crawled through the worst section of the highway that makes me cringe.


Cave-in on the Million Dollar Highway

How skinny is this road?

There are some places where the southbound (cliff) side of the road has eroded to the white line on the pavement. There is no asphalt on the other side of the white line, let alone a shoulder. I can't help but wonder if the road is going to give way right when we're driving over it. The drop off is several hundred feet into the canyon.

After what we saw today, I don't think my fears are total paranoia. One of the tight curves in this area is one-lane now. It sure looks like the canyon side of the road caved in. Construction workers are building a new bridge across it, and it looks like quite a task. (photo above)


South side of Red Mountain Pass -- up at snow level again


Lush green valley along US 550 north of Silverton

As far as rough road surfaces . . . some parts of I-70 west of Denver were very bumpy going onto and off bridges and the surface of US 50 was "wavy" between Grand Junction and Montrose.

We had to be very careful opening cabinets when we got lunch and later at the campground so things didn't fall out. Lots of items got "rearranged" inside the camper today. That's unusual for us, even on dirt Forest Service roads.

You notice the bumps a lot more when you're in or hauling an RV.

DIESEL PRICES

In one respect we made a mistake filling the tank yesterday in Douglas,  WY. If we had waited until Cheyenne we wouldn't have had to fill 'er up two times today, just once.

The Conoco station we've used before at the junction of US 34 (the street we were on at Sam's Club overnight) and I-25 was too crowded to pull in with the camper in tow this morning so we continued south and west to Idaho Springs, CO.


Snowy peaks west of Denver on I-25

There are three exits off I-70 to access this long, narrow town. The main drag parallels the freeway on the north. We took the first exit going westbound and filled up at the Shell station for $3.99/gallon. That was the average price we saw going through the Denver metro area.

A little farther down the street we parked the camper near a little city park where Cody and I could stretch our legs while Jim went into Subway to get a breakfast sandwich. We returned to the freeway a few blocks beyond the park at the middle of the three exits/entrances.

Our second fuel stop was the Western station at the south end of Delta, CO (between Grand Junction and Montrose). We paid $3.93/gallon for diesel, which was less than anywhere else we saw today. Prices were around $4 in Denver and Grand Junction, $3.95 to $4.15 in Montrose, up to $4.39/gallon in Ouray, and $4.09 to $4.29 in Silverton.


Approaching Ouray from the north

We'll wait to fill it again tomorrow when we go down to Durango for a medical appointment; it should cost less there.

Even with all the mountainous driving today we averaged 12.5 MPG by keeping our freeway speed mostly at 60-62 MPH.

OBSERVATIONS

This is a very scenic drive! That's one reason we've gone this way several times. Actually, just about every road in the Colorado mountains is scenic.

The trip was even more spectacular today with all the snow in the mountains. We aren't used to that near the end of June. There was less snow visible in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Front Range in northern Colorado than we saw when we drove north on I-25 from Colorado Springs to Rapid City three weeks ago but still more than normal for this time of year.


View of the snowy peaks in Rocky Mtn. NP from I-25 in northern Colorado

The Mt. Evans Wilderness Area and other mountains visible from I-70 to the west of Denver were also absolutely gorgeous -- again, more snow than we've seen there at this time of year. It was down to at least the 10,500-foot level in the sun and lower in shaded areas.

When I saw how much snow was still in the Copper Mountain Ski Area I knew that much of the Colorado Trail is under snow.

We could see the snowy peaks in the San Juan Range just south of Grand Junction when we were still a hundred miles away. Wow. They have more snow than we usually see, too, but not at elevations as low as in the Rockies farther north.


Southbound on US 550 toward Silverton; the road switchbacks down to the next valley.

We loved it. Snow you can see in the distance that doesn't interfere with driving or need to be shoveled is beautiful.

We went through four or five tunnels today and crossed at least three high passes over 11,000 feet elevation (Loveland, Shrine, Red Mountain) = FUN!


Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 west of Denver = 11,013 feet elevation


Approaching Red Mountain Pass (11,018 feet elevation) on US 550 north of Silverton

The canyons on I-70 are beautiful, too, especially Glenwood Canyon east of Glenwood Springs.

We couldn't believe how high and fast the Colorado River is running between there and Grand Junction. The streams in the San Juan Range are full, too. We saw more waterfalls on our journey today than we've ever seen previously.

There is another pretty canyon area before Grand Junction, also along the Colorado River:

 

The whole section of I-70 from the west side of Denver to Grand Junction is scenic!

We saw several electronic messages on the freeways re: being careful of wildlife but we didn't see any deer, elk, bighorn sheep, or mountain goats today. Phooey. I hope we see some big game on our mountain runs and hikes.

Next entry: camping at South Mineral Creek, and the irony of drought + high snow pack and streams

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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