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Curecanti National Recreation Area

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 Curecanti National Recreation Area is made up of three reservoirs. This is a great place for water recreation.

Colorado

October 6, 2008

Rocky Mountain National Park. We followed a stream through a narrow canyon as the sun set. By the time we arrived at the park it was full dark. Only the next morning did I see the first of the towering mountains we would weave among for the following 9 days. A fitting introduction to the terrain was a 10-mile drive on a dirt road snaking up the mountain to 12,209 feet. This is higher than I have
    even flown a plane! In fact, above 12,500 feet pilots are required to use oxygen!

A new landscape indeed. Tundra ≠ no trees. There is snow up here in protected patches.

Returning to our campsite at about 6,000 feet, we encounter a hailstorm that covers the road in
over an inch of slush. Last treat for the day: a meadow filled with elk. Two bucks bugling, cows and calves grazing. Why do they call it bugling when it sounds more like piping or a flute?

These western mountains appear to be very poorly constructed: wherever you look they are falling apart.

Two female elk are visiting the campground when we awake, and we hear bulls bugling nearby. Later we see a moose cow with her family: a young bull and two female calves.

Now the days become a succession of ascents: Berthoud Pass 11,250 feet; Eisenhower
 
    Tunnel 11,120 feet. Harvey walks 1/2 mile to get ''just the right picture'' and returns gasping for air. We and the van are all feeling the effects of altitude. Fremont Pass 11,318 feet.

Then we enter an area with strip mines everywhere. We visit Leadville and The Matchless:
in its time, one of the richest mines of Colorado (silver, not gold). It made a multi-millionare of Tabor, and he used the money to build Leadville into a beautiful, thriving community. When the mine failed, no one held out a hand to him or his impoverished widow. Greed? Envy?

Independence Pass 12,095 feet. The road-builders of Colorado seem to have only 2 letters in their alphabet: S and U. Theyíre working on W.
Autumn in the Rockies is about Gold. Not the metal this time, but the aspen leaves. A more restricted pallet than in the Northeast, here it is gold,
 
yellow, orange, and shades of green, but just as breathtaking (and not because of the altitude). This is what we came to experience, and Harveyís calculation about the season turns out to be perfect! Everywhere we turn there are magnificent views.

An unsettling day. First Aspen, so reserved for the wealthy that we transients are not even allowed to park on the public streets. Then Carbondale, the ultimate suburban sprawl; Long Island at 9,000 feet.

As we descend from McClure Pass, we are flagged down by a hiker. He is lost. Left his party somewhere on the mountain in order to get to his vehicle and cellphone. He says his father is ill at home, and he must call to find out what is happening. He tells a garbled story, says he just flew in from Utica NY, doesnít know which way to go to find the vehicle, doesnít know the name of the trailhead parking area. Doesnít have a compass, a map, a GPS, or a clue. We donít understand how he found his way to the highway! We give him a map and a guess about which way to go.

Later, reviewing the dayís photos, we realize that just before encountering the hiker, we had passed the Lost Man Trail! Now we wonder ≠ was he real, and of this time and dimension?

The big surprise the next day was the abrupt end of the mountains. They were only an introduction called the Front Range. Now we cross a rolling plain ≠ where is the famouns Black Canyon of the Gunnison? There doesnít seem to be any height to support a deep canyon. But the access road climbs almost imperceptably, and then suddenly the earth is split and sheer black-granite walls plunge almost 2,000 feet to a narrow, white-water river. The canyon is just over 1,000 feet across, adding to the drama. Dozens of swallows wheel and soar between the walls.

This is a favorite site for rock climbers. Our campground by the north rim seems to be full of them. But the ranger sounds a sobering note, saying he just spent 2 days on a mission to recover the person who ''fell from the rim''; he wonít say if it was a climber or just a tourist.
The next day our GPS betrays us! ''Hilda'' routes us down a dirt road, then says to turn onto what looks like a jeep track. Looking at the map, we see this route should be several miles shorter than the paved one. However the road is so rough Fran asks Harvey to drive ≠ he thinks itís fun, while Fran worries about the vanís suspension and undercarriage. After a couple of miles of increasingly rougher road, the GPS says to turn onto a track ≠ Fran refuses to call these ''roads'' ≠ that is marked NO OUTLET. We donít make the turn, but continue straight. Hilda repeatedly ''recalculates'', but eventually loses track entirely and doesnít show any road at all.

The track twists and turns, seems to be heading toward a road on the other side of the river ≠ didnít Hilda know there was a canyon in the way? And then: a barred gate, PRIVATE PROPERTY. Nothing to do but turn around and hope we can get back over the rocks and gulleys. We encounter a surprised couple on an ATV ≠ no sane person would be here in anything less than a jeep or ATV. They confirm our suspicion that there is no shortcut ≠ we must go back and take the paved roads. This adventure has cost us 3 hours, and rewarded us with a beautiful vari-colored landscape that we would not have experienced any other way.

You can imagine we said some less-than-complimentary things to Hilda. She apparently took offense, because later that day as we pulled into a scenic lookout, she ordered TURN RIGHT ≠ at the brink of a 1,000 foot cliff! Clearly this relationship will have to be renegotiated.

The pace of change in the terrain is dizzying. From sleeping at the base of 1,800-foot clifs, to a flat plain, to a plain hemmed by mountains, etc. Over Red Mountain Pass 11,018. Moles Pass 10,910. Coal Bank summit 10,640. The trees grow almost parallel to the steep hillside they cling to. Weíre beginning to acclimate to the elevation, no headache, able to walk or climb more easily.

This is fortunate, because there are plenty of steps and ladders involved in the tour of a cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde. These people must have had serious reasons to build under outcroppings on the face of cliffs, where everything including water had to be carried up or down sheer walls. And also serious reasons to leave: the dwellings were all abandoned within the space of one or two generations, around 1250 CE. This is about the same time frame as the Mound Builders ceased operation. What was going on?

Franís big thrill: driving over Wolf Creek Pass elev. 10,850.
Wolf Creek Pass,
way up on the Great Divide,
Truckiní on down
The other side.
If you havenít heard the song, ask Fran about it.

Stand still at the base of the Great Sand Dunes and watch the sand at your feet. It is on the move. These great dunes of pure sand, hundeds of miles from a seacoast, are the product of wind and water in a unique conjunction trapped between hills, endlessly blowing toward the creeks that carry it back to where the cycle repeats.

Harveyís big thrill: driving the Phantom Canyon Highway, the quintessential canyon experience. Tunnels hacked through rock, passages so narrow they lack only a roof to be tunnels, climbing over 4,000 feet to the old mining town of Victor. Along the way there are signs indicating the location of communities where now not even a decaying cabin remains. Harvey drove this road years ago, and was delighted to find it unpaved and still a challenge. Fran kept wondering about the people who hacked out this track. Then the answer ≠ it was exactly that: a track. This is the roadbed of the old railroad from Canon City to Cripple Creek.

All those 10,000- and 11,000-foot passes werenít enough. Now we drive up Pikes Peak ≠ at 14,110 feet the highest place you can drive to in North America. Weíre pleased to find that we can walk and talk easily at the summit; all these days and nights living at altitude have made a difference.

We also want to drive up Mt. Evans on the highest paved road in North America. Unfortunately we didnít know the highway department closes the road above 12,860 feet, after Labor Day. Still the shortened drive was well rewarded ≠ a herd of mountain goats in beautifulfull winter coat.

We have been incredibly fortunate in weather ≠ aside from an occasional shower, and the surprise hailstorm, we have had blue skies and fluffy white clouds for this entire trip. Because of this Harvey has been able to capture some of these spectacular views for us.

Now we take one more dirt track ≠ the Oh My God Highway. Reason for title obvious. And then a final look at Longs Peak before leaving Colorado. The ''diamond'' at the right side of this pic is the image the mountain is known for. Says


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OUTDOORS
These outdoors activities are available near Curecanti National Recreation Area.
 Campgrounds Near Curecanti National Recreation Area:
Monarch Valley Ranch, Gunnison, 6 miles away
Needle Creek Reservoir, Gunnison, 6 miles away
Comanche Campground, Gunnison County, 8 miles away
Gold Creek Campground, Gunnison County, 11 miles away
Pitkin Campground, Gunnison County, 12 miles away
Cabin Creek State Wildlife Area, Parlin, 13 miles away
Cochetopa, Parlin, 13 miles away
 Hotels Near Curecanti National Recreation Area:
The Inn At Tomichi Village, Gunnison , 20 miles away
Holiday Inn Express & Suites GUNNISON, Gunnison , 22 miles away
Econo Lodge Gunnison, Gunnison , 22 miles away
Quality Inn Gunnison, Gunnison , 22 miles away
Western Motel, Gunnison , 22 miles away
Alpine Inn Of Gunnison, Gunnison , 22 miles away
Comfort Inn Gunnison, Gunnison , 23 miles away
 Trails Near Curecanti National Recreation Area:
Gunsight Trail, Gunnison County , 9 miles away
Coyote Park Trail, Gunnison County , 9 miles away
Onemile Trail, Gunnison County , 10 miles away
Quakey Mountain Trail, Gunnison County , 10 miles away
Fossil Ridge Trail, Gunnison County , 11 miles away
 Ski Areas Near Curecanti National Recreation Area:
Monarch, Colorado , 19 miles away, 1162 foot drop, 7 lifts, 63 runs
Irwin Lodge, Colorado , 33 miles away, 2100 foot drop, 3 lifts, 15 runs
Crested Butte, Colorado , 35 miles away, 2775 foot drop, 16 lifts, 121 runs
Snowmass, Colorado , 40 miles away, 4406 foot drop, 21 lifts, 84 runs
Aspen Mountain, Colorado , 42 miles away, 3267 foot drop, 8 lifts, 76 runs
Aspen Highlands, Colorado , 43 miles away, 3635 foot drop, 4 lifts, 131 runs
Buttermilk, Colorado , 44 miles away, 2030 foot drop, 7 lifts, 41 runs
Ski Cooper, Colorado , 54 miles away, 1200 foot drop, 5 lifts, 26 runs
Wolf Creek, Colorado , 54 miles away, 1604 foot drop, 7 lifts, 77 runs
Beaver Creek, Colorado , 63 miles away, 3340 foot drop, 25 lifts, 149 runs
 Whitewater Near Curecanti National Recreation Area:
Taylor River, Gunnison County , 20 miles away, Class II-IV - 18 miles long (Taylor Park Reservoir to Almont)
Gunnison River, Gunnison County , 20 miles away, Class II - 18 miles long (Almont to Blue Mesa Reservoir)
Whitewater Outfitter - Scenic River Tours, Gunnison County , 23 miles away, Whitewater outfitter
 Public Lands Near Curecanti National Recreation Area:
Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park, Gunnison - CO , 0 miles away
San Isabel National Forest, Colorado , 23 miles away
 Lakes Near Curecanti National Recreation Area
Needle Creek Reservoir, Saguache County , 6 miles away
Lamphier Lake, Gunnison County , 12 miles away

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