Friday, September 30, 2011

Band of Brothers - Ouray (pronounced "yer-AY")

Unknown Wild Flowers
Photo by Lee H.

Earlier this past summer I traveled with 14 friends to Ouray, Colorado for 10 days of San Juan mountain adventure. The quaint town of Ouray, dubbed “Switzerland of America” is located in Southwestern Colorado, approximately 45 minutes from Telluride.

As with last year’s trip to Big Bend, TX the tom foolery (which could only be contrived by 15 grown men) began before our convoy even departed the parking lot. Video rolled and insults flew as we packed our gear into the five-vehicle convoy headed to the Rockies. Breaking our travel into two days, we stopped in Las Vegas, NM, staying at the best Super-8 any of us had ever stayed in, which I guess is saying something in the world of budget motels. It really did feel like we were staying in a hotel that should have cost twice what we paid; very impressive for a small town.

8th Best Super-8 in New Mexico

Day two was filled with lots more driving, a good deal of rock ‘n roll, some flagrant flatulation, and the best cream soda I’ve ever tasted. Well actually Durango, CO’s Zuberfizz Cream Soda (made with pure cane sugar) ties for first with Glendale, WI’s Sprecher’s Fire Brewed Cream Soda, brewed less than an hour from where my cousin lives.
Earthship House

We drove through Taos NM and saw the ever famous, off-the-grid, passive solar, Earthship homes I’ve read so much about in recent years. I’ve been growing more and more curious about semi-self-sustaining homes, especially as I look at my astronomical monthly utility bill. I know there are more eco-friendly (and wallet-friendly) methods out there so it’s cool to see entire communities who are committed to living in these types of dwellings.
Earthship House

We also stopped at the Rio Grande River Gorge for a few photos of the river 650 feet below. The bridge that crosses the gorge is the fifth highest bridge in the United States and I have to say it was pretty impressive. If only I’d had a longer rope…

Matt Courtney
Lee Hoy

Chris Wilson, Ken Kofer, Sam Wilson, Mike Oberholzer, Bryan Sayler, Roger Kidwell, and Bob Elliott

Our journey continued toward the Million Dollar Highway which passes through the San Juan Mountains, from Silverton to Ouray. Before leaving NM we were fortunate enough to spot a black bear run up to the side of the road! Unfortunately, trying to quickly turn around a convoy of five vehicles was time enough for the bear to run off before we could snap even one photo but it was very cool to at least get to see one anyway.
Day one in Ouray was spent taking it easy around the highly accommodating Elkhorn Townhomes, acclimatizing to the elevation increase of nearly 7,000 feet from the rather flat, 900 feet ASL of Georgetown. We pulled out the grill and had a great time hanging out in the comfortable, mid-70s mountain air. Later in the afternoon a couple of the guys and I went over to Pool Wall to check out some of the numerous rock climbing routes. The wall, so named because it’s directly across the street from the town’s hot springs pool, made it very convenient to stop by for a couple hours of climbing.
Greg Mike Chris Yankee Boy Basin
Photo by Lee H.

Day two was our first four-wheeling adventure up one of the bumpy, narrow mountain passes to see stunning Yankee Boy Basin. We left before sunrise to try to beat the crowds and to capture some nice photos of the wild flowers just as they were waking for the day. I rode with my friends Lee, Chris G., and Mike R. in Lee’s very sweet, jacked-up, uber-customized Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and our friends Chris W., Bryan S., and John G. followed in a rented Ford Explorer. Unfortunately the pass proved a bit too rough for the Explorer so they had to head back down the pass after suffering a blowout. The surprising thing was that further up the pass we discovered several other “soft” vehicles that had miraculously made it through some pretty rough stuff. There was even an old Lincoln Continental half-way up the pass!
We climbed Pool Wall again on this day, attempting some more difficult routes.

Photos by Chris G. & Mike R.





On day three I led a group on a leisurely four-mile hike around the perimeter trail which encircles the town of Ouray. We took it at a slow pace, stopping along the way at the town’s Cascade Falls as well as taking photos of various wildlife and scenery from the frequent overlooks discovered along the trail. That afternoon Mike R. and I went mountain biking up the Portland Mine Trail which was advertised as being one of the easier trails in town. As it turned out, with the combination of unaccustomed to altitude and the fact that the entire trail was uphill, we mostly walked our bikes to the top. Once on top we chose to forego checking out the mine, since it would have involved a long descent and re-ascent back to the trailhead. After recharging on food and water at the overlook we bombed down the entire two miles in about ¼ of the time it took us to get to the top. Very fun despite almost killing ourselves on some rogue saplings.

Ouray Perimeter Trail
Photo by Bryan S.
Bryan Sayler & Chris Graves

Aspen Grove

Mule Deer

John Garay (foreground)

Ouray Mountain Biking - Greg v1
Photo by Mike R.

Mike Rainey

Day four was another four-wheeling trip, this time with enough vehicles to fit almost everyone who wanted to go, most importantly those who had been left behind on the first attempt. We collectively rented two Polaris Rangers and two ATVs, with Lee’s Jeep in the lead up Imogene Pass, the highest mountain pass in the San Juan Mountains. Both Yankee Boy Basin and Imogene Pass take you above tree-line, with intermittent snow, even in the middle of July. In the early 1900s Imogene Pass provided access to several productive mines, including Camp Bird mine which, during its lifetime yielded several hundred tons of gold and silver. Continuing over the 13,114 foot ridgeline will carry you into the beautiful town of Telluride, CO. And because the pass is actually a combination of two recognized county roads (CO Rd. 361 & CO Rd. 26) the county does its best to maintain the roads on a regular basis. Apparently there’s an annual foot race up the pass and we actually saw one of the runners training for the race; absolutely insane at that altitude, and that’s saying something coming from me.
Lee's Jeep - Imogene
Photo by Lee H.

Messin' with Sasquatch
Photo by Bryan S.

Sam Wilson

Imogene Pass - Ouray, CO

Abandoned Mine

Old Mailbox

On day five we all drove about an hour to Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Montrose, CO. The canyon is one of the largest in the US and it also boasts one of the steepest mountain descents in North America (the river drops 43 feet per mile compared to the Grand Canyon at 7.5 feet per mile). The Canyon also contains the highest sheer cliff in Colorado (2,250 feet).
Mike Whitson

Lee Hoy w/Gopher Snake

Bryan Sayler w/Gopher Snake

We first went to the bottom and had a very relaxing time barbequing, sling-shoting, fishing, etc. In the afternoon several of us drove back to the top to check out the overlooks, spotting Peregrine falcons and rare lizards along the way. On our way back through Montrose later that evening we stopped at Guru’s restaurant for some of the best Himalayan food I’ve ever eaten.
Eastern Collared Lizard

Black Canyon - Greg v1
Photo by Mike R.

Day six was our last day to squeeze in some more rock climbing at Pool Wall. We chose “The Groove Tube”, a long, challenging 5.9-rated climb up what appeared to be a dried up waterfall. The rock halfway up the route is grooved out from many years of water flow so a bit of stemming was required in places. After two attempts I made it all the way to the top! My friends Matt C. and Mike W. also came along and each made it close to the top as well. We chatted with some fellow climbers who were friends with some of the guys who’ve bolted many of the Pool Wall routes and they were happy to see us using the wall since Ouray is better known for its ice climbing scene than rock climbing.
Mike Whitson

Greg Climbing

Greg Climbing

Our entire week in Ouray was punctuated with a lot of great meals shared together, thanks largely to Mike O. (grill master), Mike W. (everything from breakfast burritos with chorizo to pasta del formaggio Quattro), and Art G. (best salsa in Colorado!). The town of Ouray also features a bevy of descent restaurants, bars, and ice cream shops. All of us spent a good bit of time just walking along Main Street taking in the sights and sounds of fellow adventure seekers.
Ouray Brewery
Photo by Bryan S.

On our way home a few of us stopped at Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO to climb the tallest sand dunes in North America (700 feet!). Quite a strange site to see the amber waves of sand butted up next to the craggy base of the Sangre de Christo Mountain Range but it’s good to say we did it. Probably won’t do it again though due to the frustratingly unstable walking conditions on the loose sand.

Great Sand Dunes National Park - Colorado

Greg & Mike Rainey
The town of Ouray has definitely made it to my Top-10 list of best vacation spots ever. I absolutely love being in the mountains. The ability to experience such incredible beauty with an extraordinary group of guys was really a tremendous experience and I look forward to our next trip together.

Black Canyon - Greg v2
Photo by Mike R.


a.susie said...

Wow! You guys are amazing! That looks like an awesome time! And, holy cow, some fantastic photos! I LOVE the "birches" and the "clouds".

Jilldarling1973 said...

What an incredible trip! Great commentary, Greg! So interesting and funny--flagrant flatulation! I would have loved to see and climb the sand dunes too. Congratulations on making it to the top of Pool Wall--yay for you! Now I wouldn't be gung-ho to do that--I'd be your belayer though! Love the spread eagle picture of you on the wall. Now that looks like it could be a poster.