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Diary Last Updated: Jun 16th, 2015 - 16:51:13

Stage 2 - Day 18
By Dick & Pip Smith
Sep 2, 2006, 10:21

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We enjoyed listening to the sounds of the Arkansas River during the night – you wouldn’t get that in a hotel!  It was a cool 56° morning with overcast skies.  Dick was up early as usual and quickly made breakfast.  There was no need to connect to outside power because our inverter ran 115 volts to the toaster and the kettle. 

We got going at 9.30am.after watching three men in a red boat drifting down the Arkansas River, fishing.  This was a hunter's and fisherman's paradise.  Americans love to go fishing, just like Australians.  

We headed along Highway 50 West, past the Monarch Mountain ski area and over the pass at 11,312 feet.  Down the other side there were farms with lots of freshly cut hay bales and it seemed to be a reasonably good grazing area in summer.  Of course, at these altitudes in winter the paddocks would be covered with a lot of snow. 

We stopped at 10.50am at the Gunnison Pine Museum in the centre of Gunnison.  It was run by volunteers and was fantastic.  It had many artifacts from years gone by in the area.  There were also many exhibits about the cattle industry.  Dick especially liked the demonstration of the old uni-selector dialled telephone system - one of the best he's ever seen.  We drove along the edge of the huge Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River until we pulled into the Day Creek picnic area at 12 noon.  We watched the locals parasailing and water-skiing as we ate our lunch. 

We crossed the bridge over the Blue Mesa Reservoir and took some photographs of the Dillon Pinnacles.  Motorbike riders were around us everywhere.  It was almost as if it was an outing for the Harley Davidson Club.  We were to find, within the next two to three days, that there was a film festival at Telluride and many of the bikers were going to the festival or coming back.  The interesting thing is that there is no requirement to wear a helmet - in fact some bikers were just in shorts and a tee shirt on their huge Harleys.  Wow - if they came off they would be really hurt. 

We then dropped down the Gunnison River Valley and as we came to Cimarron there was a notice to the Black Canyon.  It was obvious to us that we were driving along a road that was following an old railway line.  It dropped through a very narrow gorge to the Morrow Point Dam.  This was the actual route of the railroad line through The Rockies.  Most of the route was now under water - in fact the railroad would have headed straight under the new dam site.  The dam builders had left an old bridge with one of the original steam locomotives and a few carriages on it.  It was really interesting to look at. 

The Morrow Point Dam was completed in 1968 and it was the first "thin arch double curvature" concrete dam built in the United States.  By "double curvature" it means that the curve not only goes from left to right but also from top to bottom - obviously quite a complex formwork was required. Remember that this was in 1968 so modern computers weren't available to do all the calculations.

The power station is tunnelled into the canyon wall and it is 400 feet below the tower surface.  The dam has a capacity of 173 Megawatts - about double that of the proposed old Gordon below Franklin dam.  It is on the Gunnison River, which runs into the Colorado River about 60 miles to the north west. All of this water then runs into Lake Mead for the Hoover Dam and eventually ends up in Mexico - or a little bit of it does. 

We went for a walk along the edge of the Canyon, called the Mesa Creek Trail.  At 80°F it was pretty hot but the water was beautifully cool.  Believe it or not we were still at 7,000 feet.  Imagine the potential energy in the huge dam! 

We left the area and drove up through the pass towards Montrose.  Dick insisted that we drop into a bookshop so he could buy a train book so he could try to find out the routes of all the railway lines in the area - they were numerous.  Railways at the end of the 19th Century basically crisscrossed all of this area of The Rockies because of the immensely rich mines in the area.

We stopped at 4.30pm just beside the road in a beautiful area of the greenest farms you could ever see.  The area ahead of us, the San Juan Mountains, reminded us of Switzerland.  It was great to be able to put on the kettle and make ourselves a cup of Bushells tea made in our old teapot, brought from home and to enjoy some toast with vegemite on – just like at home. 

We drove into the town of Ouray and at the edge were the most extraordinary hot spring baths - too many people for Dick!  We should mention here that even though we were right at the end of the American school holidays, this was the Labour Day long weekend and probably one of the most popular weekends for Americans to go out driving, just as a long weekend would be in Australia.  The hot springs were jammed with people.  Pip jumped out of the car and took a photograph but that was about as close as we wanted to get.  

We drove up the steep road to the Red Mountains.  Wow, what an extraordinary achievement for the road builders.  We found out later that this was one pass the railway couldn't make its way up.  You could actually get from Ouray to Silverton but the trip would take days as it went right around the San Juan Mountains rather than over this pass. 

To our left was the Red Mountain Mine and we could see four- wheel drive tracks jutting off left and right.  There were bike riders everywhere and shortly later we were passed by a couple of emergency vehicles with lights flashing and sirens screaming.  A bike had gone off the edge and we could see it lying down about 50 feet below the road, however we have a feeling that the rider probably would have jumped off and may have been OK.  We hope so. 

We went over the Pass and dropped down into Silverton.  We'd been to Silverton before on the old Durango to Silverton railroad a few years ago.  We stopped at 6.15pm in the AB RV Park - a small one with a really friendly owner.  We were able to do some laundry and cooked dinner after a most magnificent day.


317kms today, 7243 kms total

Fishermen floating past our window on the Arkansas River
Farm with many fresh bales of hay, ready for winter
Farm beside the highway
We noticed many motorbike riders do not wear helmets
Day Creek picnic spot on the shore of the Blue Mesa Reservoir
People parasailing and water skiing on the Reservoir on the Labour Day weekend
Crossing the bridge over the Blue Mesa Reservoir
Looking across to the Dillon Pinnacles
Pip at the Morrow Point Dam
Walking along the Mesa Creek Trail
Dick sitting on a rock at the end of the walking trail
Old Steam train from the past
Sheep farm
We stopped to make a cup of tea, looking towards the San Juan Mountains
Ouray Hot Springs
Ouray Main Street
Looking down onto Ouray
Steep winding road, called the Million Dollar Road
Red Mountains with overcast skies
Red Mountain Pass
Our GPS says the same altitude of 11,018ft
Main Street of Silverton
Looking down on Silverton
County Court House in Silverton
At the AB RV Park in Silverton

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