Morning Hikes in Colorado National Monument
We decided to tackle another sunrise hike, which meant we set alarms to wake us up at 5AM in our campsite at the Colorado National Monument. After getting up, we drove about 10 minutes to the Coke Ovens trail head. Because of the thick cloud cover or lack of sleep, we got a bit disorientated about which direction the sunrise would occur and decided to hike the CC trail across the street. We made it up to a vista before the sunrise. Unfortunately, we weren’t really able to see much of the sunrise, but it was still a nice view.
After the sunrise, we decided to hike the original trail – Coke Ovens. It was a short, easy trail with amazing views of Monument Canyon. We could really appreciate the immense size of canyon. It was absolutely breathtaking.
After heading back to campsite to eat breakfast and pack up, we completed the rest of the scenic drive around the Colorado Monument stopping to take lots of photos at overlooks.
During our last pull off in the National Monument, we stopped at a Ute interpretative garden. Essentially this just meant that there were some signs about the various plants, animals, and how the Ute tribes interacted with them. We learned about yucca, juniper trees, and pinyon pines. Leo also got a bit too close to the edge for my comfort level!
Stop-over in Grand Junction
We went to the nearby town of Grand Junction with the intention of getting gas and some ice cream; however, when we arrived, we discovered that there was a big bike race going on. The main drag in town had been shut down for the race and there were lots of vendors and live music stages set up. We ended up spending several hours hanging out here and enjoying the festivities. We walked around, got some free samples, ate lunch, and got ice cream.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Our next stop was Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s called black canyon because parts of the canyon receive less than half an hour of sunlight a day. We arrived right before the visitor center closed for the night so we were able to get a hike recommendation. We set out on the Oak Flat Loop with the sun shining. The trailing goes a bit into the canyon and we were about to set some great views.
After we had passed the last scenic view, the snow started coming down. Clouds covered any view of the canyon but we got to walk the last quarter of the trail in a winter wonderland. We also learned that my iphone’s slo-mo video works will really well with snow shots!
Camping at Hartman Rocks
We were a bit nervous about camping with the cold weather, but we decided to head to a bit lower elevation and try our luck. We found a campsite on BLM land outside of Gunnison called Hartman Rocks. I was a little nervous with our Camry driving on steep dirt roads, but Leo was confident we could do it. After a bumpy but uneventful drive, we made it to our campsite. It was beautifully isolated. There were small bushes with small patches of snow. We got out all of warmest clothes and blankets and set up camp. It was cold, but (with my two pairs of pants and three jackets) manageable. The next morning when we awoke the tent was covered in ice. We warmed our hands in the car and then set to work packing up camp.
Our next destination was the mountain town of Crested Butte. This is a very popular tourist destination in the winter and summer, but we came when it was still in the off-season. This meant we didn’t have to deal with crowds, but also that a lot of the local businesses were closed.
We went to McGill’s at Crested Butte for a hearty and delicious breakfast. Then, we walked around town for a bit. The main street called Elk Avenue was lined with local shops and restaurants.
We stopped by the visitors’ center to get some tips. The very nice woman working there let us of know that most of the trails were very muddy and they didn’t want people hiking them because it would damage the trails. She was able to tell us some of the history of the town. It started out as a mining town and when that industry went away, it eventually became a tourist spot.
After getting the scope on town, we headed to the hotel for some relaxation and naps. It was a super nice skiing hotel, where we could get a great off-season rate! 🙂 After some longer than intended naps and a Blues victory over the Sharks we headed back down to town to celebrate our anniversary with dinner. We went to the local rum distillery, Montanya. I don’t know anything about rum but it tasted good to me! We also got some tasty food. Leo had ramen and I had steamed pork buns. After dinner we headed to the brewery across the street. While there, we chatted with some of the local transplants. Leo, of course not me, started up a hockey conversation. Turns out there was an Oklahoman (and OU grad) and a Chicagoan among the bunch. It seemed like the trend was that people came to visit and just decided to never leave. After visiting the town, I don’t blame them!
After leaving the brewery, we went back to the hotel and decided to check out their outdoor hot tub. It was super cool to be warm while looking at snowy mountains. Plus, we were the only people there. Thanks off-season! We got bored and headed up back up to the room to get some sleep (after I watched the finale of Game of Thrones)!
The next morning we set out to Ouray, Colorado. We were under a winter storm advisory so we got to drive through some snow. It was very picturesque but didn’t align well with our plans of outdoor adventure. We stopped by the Ouray visitor center to get some weather appropriate recommendations starting with accommodations because we definitely weren’t camping out in the freezing cold.
We booked a room at the Historic Western Hotel. It was definitely historic – it’s actually on the Register of National Historic Places. We were the only guests, but they were nice enough to turn the heat on for us!
Our next stop was the Bachelor-Syracuse Mine Tour. Even though it was a cold, snowy day, one other couple from San Antonio joined us on the tour. Our guide, Stan, was great! He took us 1,500 feet into the old silver mine and told us how the mining operation worked. The craziest part to me was when he was talking about how miners would have to exit in the darkness if there candles went out (this was a sign of the air flow being blocked and therefore, limited oxygen. He talked a bit about how the trapped miners would start to hallucinate in the complete darkness, often seeing visions of the light at the end of the tunnel. To demonstrate this, he turned off the all the lights in the mine for a few minutes. I was definitely freaked out and couldn’t imagine spending days trapped in that kind of darkness. Luckily, we could turn back on the lights and calmly walk out the way we came!
Our next stop was the check out the waterfalls near town. Unfortunately, the first one we went to, Box Canyon was under construction so we couldn’t go all the way to the falls. Plus, the birds Leo was interested in (they migrate from Brazil every year to nest here) were there yet. I don’t remember all the details about the birds, but Leo certainly does if you are interested! Undeterred, we headed to Cascade Falls. We walked about the half mile to the base of the waterfall and got some nice pictures of it in the snow.
We decided to continue our distillery touring and stopped by the local joint, K.J. Wood to check out what they had. We had samples of their gin, vodka, rye, and bourbon, which were all good! We chatted a bit with the owner and a local and got some dinner recommendations.
We ended up at the Ouray Brewing Company, which had good brew and food. We also got a new hat for our collection and a Colorado brewery themed puzzle. After dinner, I was zonked so Leo escorted me back to the hotel and then headed back out for a bit to see the other local breweries.