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Monday, October 30, 2017

Gold Belt Loop Drive

Yesterday was the last of our nice weather days here so we decided to drive the Gold Belt Loop from Canon City to Cripple Creek and back again.   We took Phantom Canyon Road up to Cripple Creek.  Part of this road is paved, but most isn't.   The unimproved section is basically one lane but there are plenty of places for a vehicle to pull over and let any oncoming traffic pass safely.


It follows the path of the original narrow gauge railroad that connected the gold mining towns of Cripple Creek, Canon City and Florence.   The route is twisty and turny with beautiful rock walls in some places,  sometimes piney flats alongside an always racing creek.   We saw numerous empty camping spots marked by small campfire mounds and we selected one for our lunch stop.

searching for the perfect lunch spot

We found a couple large, sunny rocks to enjoy our lunch beside the creek.  The only sounds were birds and bubbling water.   Ahhhh.   After lunch we scrambled around the rocks for a bit before returning to the Jeep to continue our drive.

looking for fish in the narrow but deep pool

dwarfed by the walls


 We squeezed through two hand hewn tunnels as the road began to climb from its beginning around 5300 feet to the gambling town of Cripple Creek at an elevation of around 9750 feet.

tunnel #1


#2




After about 8000 feet or so my eyes felt like my head was quietly trying squeeze them out of my head.   Always happens to me about that elevation but I was enjoying the ride so much I just ignored it.

The scenery began to change as we reached the high meadows near the gold mining town of Victor, just a few miles south of Cripple Creek.



remnants of old mining operation in Victor


huge modern mine









We didn't spend any time in Cripple Creek.   These old mining towns that have been taken over by casinos creep me out.   Cripple Creek is no different than Black Hawk or Central City, closer to Denver.   The beautiful old buildings have been perfectly renovated.   Almost too perfect.   To me their windows stare out to the street with blind eyes.    They aren't what they seem to be.    The perfect streets are quiet with only a few people moving around, usually moving from one facade to another.    Maybe it's the proximity to Halloween, maybe not, but we don't linger.

We bumble a bit looking for our return road, the infamous Shelf Road.   Finally we stop in the tourist information center (we're the only car in the parking lot) and ask a woman where our turnoff is.    She tells us it's the teeny dirt road near the rv park.    We saw it on the way in and thought it looked like a dirt track into private property.

Back we go and turn onto the dirt track.   Pretty road after awhile - why was I worried about it?


We came to a huge high window in the rock.



Then came the reason this was called Shelf Road.   This section is blasted into the side of a cliff and is a one lane (just) two way gravel road with steep drop offs and absolutely nothing to keep you from just dropping over the edge.   No guard rails, trees, rocks, nothing.  In places the road surface has fallen over the edge, making the one lane even more narrow.     I trust my driver, completely, but what about someone coming toward us!    I had planned to make this drive going from north to south so we'd be on the cliff wall side and I was soooo glad it worked out that way.   I don't know what I would have done if we had been on the drop off side, no where to turn around!     As you may expect, I took no pictures on the way down.   I held on and tried not to look, waiting to get to flat ground.    Well, I did lift my head to snap one picture but it wasn't a good one, it doesn't show the real road.

Today was very cold.   The temps. didn't move above 30 degrees.  The dusting of snow on Beluga's steps didn't melt off.   We stayed inside with our heater working happily.   We napped, we read, we cooked.

zzzzzz





Royal Gorge Train

Saturday we had reservations on the Royal Gorge Scenic Train leaving Canon City around noon. 

Dave is first in line!


look at the size of this old Cottonwood tree!


It was a beautiful day, sunny and just warm enough.  We booked seats in the dome view car so we could get the best look at the Arkansas River and its high canyon walls as we moved along.    I love seeing great heights from below.....


Evidently this is Halloween weekend (who knew that was a thing.....) so our train was decorated for the holiday as were the workers.....

our conductor

a colorful unicorn?



We enjoyed a glass of wine and a very delicious lunch as we slowly moved through the wonderful scenery. 


My only complaint was that, because of the Halloween "schtick" they really didn't bother to tell us about what we were seeing....for instance the wooden water pipe/conduit that ran alongside the river and through many hand dug tunnels.   We finally snagged someone passing by and were told that it was the source of municipal water for Canon City for many years, he thought perhaps until 1974 but he didn't really know for sure.....hmmmm.  It would have been interesting to know more about it.   Ah well, Halloween comes first.

Unfortunately my pictures didn't turn very well because of the reflections in the large windows.   I decided to put the camera down and enjoy the scenery and experience.    You'll have to take my word for how majestic and impressive our views were.



We traveled under the Royal Gorge Bridge, 1000 feet above the river.  It looked like a piece of string over our heads.

We were on the train for a total of 2 hours.   The seats were very comfortable, the food was excellent and the scenery was stupendous.     Bottom line though is I felt more like I was on a moving restaurant than a scenic excursion.   I had many questions about what we were seeing - we wondered about the history of the route, the bridge, the building, use and maintenance of the interesting water pipe and its various buildings and abutments, the geology of the gorge, etc.   And....it was not an inexpensive trip.




Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday Fun at Red Rock Canyon Park

Last night's storm never really materialized.   It was cold, 23 degrees this morning, but we didn't feel any wind down here in our campground and we only had a slight dusting of snow on the picnic table.   A good thing.

The sun didn't really warm us up much today so we decided to do some autohiking with Lewis.     I had heard about a small unimproved park called Red Canyon Park near Canon City so that was our destination.


I didn't have good directions so we bumbled a bit, but often that turns out to be the most fun!     We also didn't know what to expect from this park other than the name sounded good and there was a "sort of" jeep road there.   Enough information for us!

Evidently we drove through the turkey capitol of Colorado.   We had to stop numerous times to let flocks of them cross the road.   One raft just couldn't make up their mind which side they wanted to forage on and turned around mid crossing and raced back the way they came. 



We crossed the fast moving Four Mile Creek near the BLM Garden Park Fossil Area.   


 Water cut through the ancient rock walls unearthing several completely articulated dinosaur skeletons, Allosaurus, Stegosaurus and others I can't pronounce anymore.    This area is considered a National Natural Landmark and a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern.    It's also very beautiful.

More domesticated creatures watched our progress with mild interest as we finally came to the turn off for Red Canyon Park.


We drove on a narrow, rutted red dirt track through a varied and interesting landscape.   After about 3 miles we came to what appeared to be the end of the road.   It was blocked by several large rocks but there looked like a go around through the bushes.   


We took it up, over and down a short but steep hill only to find another dead end.



Oh well, if you can't drive you hike!   We unloaded a very excited poodle and set off down the sandy wash toward a red walled canyon.


Lewis was so happy to be released from the Jeep he ran up and down the red walls, chortling happily.

up he goes

down he comes

Lewis discovers that going off trail results in stickers in the bottom of his feet

We hiked through the canyon until we began to realize how cold we were.   The tall walls shaded us and the cold wind blew through our vests so we turned back.


We all had a very good day, despite the cold weather.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thursday

We're all settled into our beautiful wooded site at Mountaindale RV and Cabins just a bit south and west of Colorado Springs.    The day we arrived was beautiful....sunny and warm and we enjoyed our happy hour outside.    We're here for a week and I think yesterday will be the best day, weather wise.    Dave is outside right now unhooking the water hose and turning off the hydrant in expectation of very low temps. tonight.   Couple that with high winds and possible snow and I'm very glad our propane tank is full (so we can run the furnace as long as we want) and a fragrant pumpkin pie is baking in the oven.   We'll be happy and cozy in Beluga until this storm blows over.


We have lots of "friends" here.   Deer wander the sites and are often found sleeping next to motorhomes or picnic tables.   I guess we're using their homes and they are gracious enough to ignore that fact.



Lots of birds everywhere.   We've been "told" about bear frequenting the campground also, but haven't seen any.   I'd like to keep it that way.


This afternoon we did a bit of exploring around the Canon City area.   We walked along the Arkansas River, enjoying the rushing water, the beautiful fall colors and the still blue skies.


The historic area of town looked very interesting and we'll come back to have a walk around next week.  Perhaps after our train trip through the Royal Gorge on Saturday.





The highlight of the day, however, was our discovery of Skyline Drive.   We passed by it's somewhat hidden but very interesting arched entrance as we searched for the train station. 


After we found the station and got the information we needed for our Saturday's reservation we turned back to pass under the arch and see where Skyline Drive would take us.

drive through this arch to access Skyline Drive

The arch and the one way ridge top road were built by inmates of the Colorado State Penitentiary in the early 1900's.

stones from all 50 states were used in its construction

I loved this drive!   I can't believe I loved this drive because it travels along the very narrow razorback ridge of limestone  (called a hogback) with steep sides dropping off 800 feet on both sides. 

one narrow lane wide

Perhaps it was because the road was one way and I didn't have to worry about where we would have to pull off if we met someone coming the other way...perhaps it was the novelty of seeing the road stretch ahead along the ridge line and the highway below.  I enjoyed the ride immensely.

you can see our bad weather approaching in the distance

At the top we stopped to view an excavated area of dinosaur footprints embedded in the cliff face.   The trackway was discovered by a local resident in 1999.




the march of rounded shapes are the bottom of traveling dinosaur footprints embedded in the sand before this area became an uplifted ridge.

It's time for bed....the slow internet has made the posting of this blog a long process and it's late.   Stay tuned.