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Colorful Colorado

Driving into Crested Butte
I'd always been told September is the best time of year to visit Colorado... now I know for certain it is. I spent a full week in the Western Slope  with my family and well, it's just beautiful. Each day I was in awe.

Red Mountain Pass
Fly day. I met the nicest couple on my leg from Charlotte to Phoenix. I now have a new Facebook friend and open invitation to visit them whenever I like! Sometimes is pays to talk to your neighbor. With home base being Montrose, I was limited with large airports. Grand Junction was the cheapest and only about an hour and 15 min away. My cousin Maria, graciously picked me up. We arrived back at the house to some friends hanging on the porch sipping beers. Hello Friday!

Maria had to work for a few hours Saturday and was set to meet us mid afternoon in Telluride. Micah, Matt, Ashley and David loaded up David's truck and started the hour journey to the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival. This festival draws around 25,000 people each year and I was ecstatic to be part of that stat. The drive over was so pretty. Ralph Lauren owns a ranch in Ridgeway, a small town on the way. Micah pointed out the famous 5 hand painted tepees that sit on his property that you can see from the road!
Double RL Ranch Teak Fence
Ashley found us a sweet Airbnd condo for Saturday and Sunday nights. Once settled we walked the town, got wrist bands, snapped a ton of pics and watched the Bulldogs play at Brown Dog. The town was buzzing with locals, visitors, festival goers, vendors, music and good vibes. I even ran into Lauren, the sister of one of my best friends and met up with an old pal from Raleigh! The day was full of music, drinks, natural highs, bouncing around and friends. 

Dumpstaphunk was the late night band on tap for the evening. They have been together since 03' and I've heard them a handfull of times in various other places, but they really put on a show in Telluride. They have that Nola groove for sure! Saturday night we listened to great tunes, had dance parties, took night trail walks and did a little star gazing. 

Maria and I get up early and made it our mission to find a dank brunch complete with mimosas. Ashley was way more productive and went to festival yoga. Our perfect brunch happened at Chop House. We ordered Mimosas and the bar tender thought we were someone else, so brought them out in pint glasses, only to realize we were not his friends. But he left them and treated us to bottomless :) After said activities we all met up at the gondola for a ride up to Mountain Village. Taking a gondola ride is kind of a must do when in Telluride. The views from Mountain Village are breathtaking. If you want to have a sunset view and spirits in the evening, Allred's is where you go. After the gondola ride it was time to hit up the festival. With a blanket in hand, we find a nice green spot to lay our belongings and create our home base. The main stage is in the town park and surrounded by the San Juan Mountains. Each and every way you look and turn, its just pure beauty. 

Telluride from gondola
Exit from Festival

We started the musical day with Shakey Graves. His real name is Alejandro Rose Garcia, which that alone should make you want to give him a listen. He's folk, interesting, talented, fresh and totally enjoyable. He has a homemade kickdrum he built from a suitcase that includes drum heads and drum pedals. This 25 year old has it going on. Check his solo act out here!

Anders Osborne was up next. I'd never heard of Anders before but now I listen to him on the reg. He's from Sweden, but settled in New Orleans and has been there for 25 years. He considers it home. Mr. Osborne has that subtle yet powerful deep Southern flare about him, he wears his shaggy blonde locks, facial hair and tatoos very well. He a little rock, a lot of soul and just a pleasure to listen to! Here's another, and another.

Anders at Telluride Blues and Brews 2014, thanks Google Images

The real treat of the day and what made it feel like a real blues festival was Buddy Guy. Shew, where to even start with him.... I'll start with his sass. Mr. Buddy Guy has some true sass! Have a listen here to see for yourself. I mean the man plays guitar with his teeth! He has inspired others we love like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page. Most recently he gave light to the Chicago scene and worked with the Foo Fighters on their new project, Sonic Highways. The Foo Fighters decided to dive into the history of music in iconic cities in the US. In each city, they would research the musicians, culture, history and love for the music that came from that area and  write a song in and about that city. They will spend one week in each selected city. 

Buddy has won several Grammy's and even the White House loves him enough to have him play. Rolling Stones has named him #30 of the top 100 best guitarist of all time. He puts out attitude but makes you feel welcome and its as if he's singing to you. The coolest part was toward the end of his set, he said something along the lines like "they told me not to get off stage, but fuck it I want too, so I am coming down to see yall" and sang, played guitar & walked through the crowd. It was awesome. 

He preformed Hoochie Choochie Man by Muddy Waters and half way through he stopped and reminded us, he didn't write the lyrics, he's just singing them! If that wasn't enough, he also busted out Strange Brew by Cream. The most powerful song he delivered was Skin Deep. And by powerful, I mean the meaning behind the lyrics. He sang this song with a beautiful soft voice and presented it with a gentle tone yet a strong lesson. He dedicated Skin Deep to his mother, who never got to see him perform. This song came along because of a lesson his mother taught him. Recalling a memory, he shares that one afternoon he was watching his mother get ready and he looked in the mirror and said "I'm good looking" and his mother reminded him, while yes it was true, it was only skin deep. 

"Buddy Guy singlehandedly stole the Blues and Brews Festival. He poured everything into his performance, ripped on the guitar, sang like his life depended on it and closed out his performance by walking through the crowd, giving the audience a chance to brush with greatness. When he passes away, every single person at that show will tell a friend "I saw Buddy Guy and it was amazing." Part of an article from here

Peter Frampton was up next, playing all the songs you want Mr. Frampton to play. Baby I love your way was a sea of people swaying and singing along. Blackhole Sun was a pumped up crowd jamming out and yelling lyrics. 

Overall it was one of the best musical days I've had in a very long while! For a delicious meal and wine list, go to 221 South Oak. From dinner some of the group went home while Maria and I went to the New Sherdian Bar for post dinner cocktails and a couple rounds of Pool and Foosball. 

221 South Oak
We slept in, packed up and headed back to Montrose to start the lazy Monday. Pizza and 3 movies later we were all passed out. 

Maria and Micah had to head back to reality on Tuesday, so I did some solo exploring while they worked all week. Tuesday I wanted to get another look at the Double RL Ranch and def wanted to snap some shots. Once in Ridgeway and close to Double RL Ranch, I saw signs to several National Forest entrances, so I wandered around dirt roads for a couple hours on my way back toward Ridgeway town, I noticed there was a National Forest Signed with an arrow pointing toward the famed Double RL log sign! His teak wood fence travels along the highway for 30 miles, but this was the first sign I'd seen allowing me to enter!

So I drove up to it and there was a small sign that read "private property, please stay on the main road for the next 7 miles." It took me one hour and half to navigate the 7 miles. It was literally so beautiful I had to stop (a lot) and just take it in, starting with the squirrel that greeted me! 

I think it is safe to say Mr. Lauren has some of the best views in the area and has since he bought the property in 1982.

With a smile on my face I passed his fancy fence and continued on with my exploring. I stopped and grabbed lunch in Ouray at Backstreet and continued on to Red Mountain Pass. Ouray is a quaint little town with one main street and a few side streets. I went several miles on the pass and saw a couple cars pulled over looking at something. I figured I should probably stop and see what they were looking at! And what it was, was the a perfect view of the surrounding mountains and a huge waterfall, Bear Creek Falls a 200 foot loud and forceful waterfall.

Right when you come into Ouray!
Red Mountain Pass
200 Foot waterfall
Bear Creek Falls!

Winding Road on Red Mountain Pass
I continued on Red Mountain Pass, not having any idea how far this road would take me. My plan of action was to find a place to pull over and eat my grub and then head back toward Montrose to scoop Maria from work. 

We were going to visit a winery in a near by town after work. Mountain View Winery is family owned and you just kind of pop in when you like. We did this and when we arrived, there was not a person in sight but it looked open. We walked around, picked some pears and apples yelled hello several times and then a man appeared from somewhere and said he'd get the owner. Mike, a real nice man, told us about his wine and let us sample several. We purchased a bottle and then he gave us a tour and showed us the tanks, bottles, labeling process (they label each bottle one at a time).

After wine, Micah joined us and the three of us went to a nice golfing community to hit some balls (that was hilarious) and had dinner. To our delight, their loan officer picked up our dinner, don't you just love an unexpected treat!?

Lunch spot

The Into the Wild soundtrack was blaring as I headed toward Black Canyon. However I missed the turned so next thing I knew I was coming up on the Blue Mesa. Which, by the way, is not a bad place to happen upon. The water is bright blue and the reflections are crisp. On the way back I saw a dirt road that led down for as far as I could see. I turned right. Turns out it was Pine Creek Trail. It's a short trail, 180 feet into the canyon with 232 steps getting you down there. The jaunt down was just lovey. Lots of greenery, rocks, stone, and a waterfall that leads the way. There was a looking point half way down and it was so clear you could see the 400 foot Blue Mesa Dam. It's a two miles round trip trail, and so worth the stop. Yet another great place for a solo lunch! 

* To get there: Off Hwy 50, one mile west of it's junction with Hwy 92, a short step road leads to the trail. There is a sign which reads Pine Creek Trail. Go down the dirt winding road until you get to a gravel lot with latrines and a picnic table. You will see the stone steps/ path!

Blue Mesa
Blue Mesa
Blue Mesa
Pine Creek Trail
Pine Creek Trail

Pine Creek Trail
Hwy 50 before you get to Blue Mesa if coming from Montrose
On the way back I was more aware of my surroundings and on the lookout for the huge Black Canyon sign from hwy 50. This is known as the South Rim Entrance. There are two other ways to enter the National Park. I have no idea how I missed it the first time! I drove up a winding road and past the main entrance. Not really sure on where to go, I just drove until I saw other cars pulled over. I got out and wow. WOW. Black Canyon is overwhelming. It is massive. It is deep. It is peaceful. It goes for as far as the eye can see. "Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness and dread of the Black Canyon" - Vandenbusche

The stats on this place are just jaw dropping. Here are a few:

1. It sits along the Gunnison River. The river drops 34 feet per mile
throughout the river, making it the 5th deepest mountain decent in North America. The Colorado River drops 7.5 feet per mile for a comparison
2.The canyon was formed 15 million years go.
3. Black Canyon's name comes from the fact that parts of the gorge only get 33 minutes of sunlight each day.
4. The National Park (where I visited) contains 12 miles of the 48 miles of the canyon on the Gunnison River
5. Most narrow point is 40 feet
6. 250,000 people check this place out each year!

There is a river down there!
Maria got off early and we scooted to see a friend and mentor in the flower business who lives in Paonia. Diana and Don welcomed us with open arms. They were such a pleasure to spend time with. We got a tour of their property, which is complete with a flower garden, chickens and chicken house, apple trees, grape vines, veggie garden, and tremendous views of the mountains. After Diana stocked us up with garden goods we heading to Black Bridge Winery. This place was tucked away along a river stream,there were orchards, an old truck just waiting for people to take a picture of it, a shop and beautiful flowers everywhere. We talked with the owner several minutes then did some tastings, bought a bottle and went to the water. From there we checked out the old bridge, said hello to a horse and worked our way into town. Most of the places were closed, such as things are in small towns, but luckily The Living Farm was open! It was perfection: outdoor seating, no one else there, a nice waitress, fulfilling menu, twinkle lights, wine from the vineyard we just left.. ahhh and then dinner was served. Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken! 

Maria and I decided we needed a little night getaway... a vacay from vacay if you will, for some quality gal time. The location for this was Crested Butte! On the way we stopped in Gunnison to grab a bite here. Firebrand is a local cash only deli with huge sammies. The town of Crested Butte is like something out of a storybook. I can only imagine the enchanting vibe it must give off in the Winter when covered in white. It is just darling. Colorful houses, bars and shops, flowers lined the side walks all with a very neighborhood feel. The views... the views are what really captures you. Driving to CB meant we got to go deeper into the Blue Mesa (as I only went to the edge) so I was thrilled about that! 

Blue Mesa
Blue Mesa
Entering Crested Butte

Rum samples

We popped in a distillery for free popcorn and tastings of Rum. After our free Montanya tastings we ordered specialty cocktails. I had a painkiller with fresh nutmeg on top. From here we stumbled upon Dogwood Cocktail Cabin. Hidden on a side street we found a true gem. Just take a look at these photos! It was just what we wanted, and we didn't even know it. Cozy yet a feeling of open space, inviting yet private nooks, rustic yet modern, simple yet a great attention to detail. 

Our barkeeps told us about Vinotok  and that we happened to be there during it! Vinotok is a 29 year long tradition in Crested Butte to welcome Harvest Season and serves as a passage from Summer to Fall. It is a week long festival and is full of gatherings, harvest, storytelling, and an epic bonfire (think mini burning man). People dress up and use lots of flowers. There is even a Liar's night. People tell a story, a lie, and others determine who told the best lie. The Green Man is also revealed on this night. We attended Liar's Night at Eldo.

After popping into our Aribnb  to change and freshen up for supper we headed to The Sunflower Cafe.  First, I want to rave on this room we rented. The owner was excellent. The house was tidy, clean, cozy and friendly. If you are ever in need of a room, this place is ideal! $70 a night and walking distance from downtown. Dinner was simply delicious. Best meal of the week for sure. The sous chef was the boyfriend of our bartender at Dogwood. Chris was the owner/ manager slash our waiter. The Sunflower cafe is a community kitchen. A couple people run and head up the coffee & breaky side, then a couple run the lunch side and then a group runs the dinner. If breakfast and lunch crews are anything like the dinner crew, then this place will be around for a while. They are so welcoming, charming, knowledgeable about the food (mostly local) and wine (greattttttt wine). The music was great,  the chit chattter may be a little loud for some, but I loved the vibe of the entire place. After a leisurely dinner we bounced to a couple bars then headed back to Sunflower for a night cap (the wine was that good) which lead into a Whitney Houston dance party (staff included). We then called it a night, as Maria had to work in Montrose in the morning. Giddy and laughing we walked back to our room. 

The ride back in the morning was windows down, music on, no talking kind of drive back... nursing the hangover the best we could.

Maria told me I should go check out Silverton, so that is what I did. I drove from Ouray to Silverton. There is only 23 miles that separates the two, and should take about 45 min if you don't stop, but I stopped. A lot. I kept seeing things I needed to stop the car for! Red Mountain Pass also known as Million Dollar Highway is probably the most beautiful stretch of road I've ever driven on. This area was a big mining area in the 1880s -1900s. Abandoned structures & boarding houses are scattered through out Red Mountain Pass right beside the highway and up in the mountains. It is incredible to think people lived in these areas and old houses that long ago while being so remote, especially in the winter months.  

I saw a pile of popping aspens and pulled over to have lunch. I wandered in the sun for 30 min looking around at all the colors!

Lunch / laydown in the sunshine location
I continued on until I reached a mining overlook, at Idarado Mine . This mine produced gold and silver in the 1870s. It peaked from 1905-1911, however most mines were shut down by 1928. During World War II the demand grew again. This mine operated until 1978. It sits bewtween Telluride and Ouray. A mountain ridge sepeartes the Telluride district from the Red Mountain District of the mine. 

In the distance I could see another abandoned building, Yankee Girl Mine. You can reach it by off roads and using 4 wheel drive (or by taking a hike), but I wasn't brave enough to encounter that on my own, and especially since I was not in my car. I am sure M&M appreciated that decision. In her day, Yankee Girl was the mine of all mines. In 1882 a prospector named John Robinson stumbled, by accident while hunting, on a rock of galena on Red Mountain. These rocks contain a lot of silver. This here little mine became one of the most profitable mines in the history of silver mining in the entire US! "She" is a vertical shaft with a hoist house, a house that housed equipment and lowered miners and raised ore. With her height, Yankee Girl produced 10 tons of ore on a daily basis. 250 lbs of this ore was carted out by 75 mules. every. single. day.

Yankee Girl standing tall.
Red Mountain Pass is named for it's Red Mountains 1,2, and 3. They appear red due to the iron oxide laden rock that has formed their slopes. The pass is a divider between the Uncompahgre & San Juan National Forests. Driving through both sides of the road seemed massive with mountains/ forest but the Uncompahgre is smaller than the San Juans. Uncompahgre covers 955,229 acres while the San Juan covers 1.8 million acres. This pass is a difficult drive any time of the year, but especially in the winter and there are few (very few) guard rails on the fall-off-the-mountain side. 

When I finally reached Silverton I was surprised by how many cars/ people were there. The town is like something out of a western movie but more colorful! Marilyn Monroe shot a movie here when she was just 24, Ticket To Tomahawk. Others movies that filmed here are: Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, How the West Was Won and Around the Word in Eighty Days

There were people on tours, antiquing, eating, drinking and standing in line to load into the train. This old narrow gauge train still makes the trek between Silverton and Durango. Narrow gauge rails are 36 inches apart and standard gauge rails are 56 1/2 inches apart. When this rail system was being built they chose the narrow route for several reasons: 
    1. construction was cheaper
    2. the equipment cost less 
    3. they felt the narrow gauge was better for the sharper curves           of the moutains.

There are open window cars so you get full views of the mountains along the way. Six tons of coal are shoveled each day by a fireman for a round trip and 10 thousand gallons of water are used to produce the steam to power the locomotive on a round trip! Top speed is 18 mph. There is a 1923 and 1925 locomotive  that still run! It took about 9 months to lay the tracks from Durango to Silverton. It takes 3.5 hours to travel the 45 miles between the two towns (with a 2 hour layover in Silverton) and it takes five people to run it. Those five people are: Conductor, head breakman, rear breakman, engineer and fireman. The conductor is in charge and there are several concession attendants to help with passengers.

On my way back to Montrose, I stopped in Ouray to check out Box Canyon Falls. It is where the Canyon Creek narrows and spills thousands of gallons a mintue of water over the falls. There is a 285 foot waterfall that pounds into a narrow quartile canyon with walls overhanging the falls by 100 feet. 

Solo adventures mean selfies

We slept in and had some eats. I walked around downtown checked out the farmers markets and took hazel for a picnic in the park. Once Maria and Micah were off work, we went over to 2 Rascals Brewery. (Horsefly is another brewery in town). Here we found a small local harvest festival going on with local musical talent, brews, haystacks, and people enjoying the afternoon. From here we walked over to Sushitini ... Montrose's finest sushi joint. Wine, candles and rockers on the front porch took up the next couple hours before hitting the hay.

Fly home day. I would def suggest checking out the Western Slope!


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