After a great time in Moab, we were ready to head back to higher altitudes and lower temperatures for a while. Naturally, that plan had us heading for Colorado, a place with both mountain peaks and great friends that we haven’t seen in decades! Funny how a statement like that can make you feel both old and young at the same time. We drove up to Gunnison to show the boys where we lived when we got married a lifetime ago and stopped in Delta to see Stacie, a lifelong friend (maid-of-honor at our wedding!). Ah, good times! We spent a couple of days with Stacie and Chus and their kids and had a wonderful time. Long evenings of friends and wine are a vacation from our vacation. They made us feel right at home and we nearly convinced them to hit the road with us, especially when we told them we were headed for Durango, one of their favorite towns.
Durango, Colorado was one of the places that we considered, sight unseen, as a place to settle down. On paper, it’s everything we want – college town (Fort Lewis College), running water (Animas River), outdoor activities (hello, Rocky Mountains!), and a dynamic downtown area. Plus there’s skiing in Purgatory just up the valley. Perfect! Oh, and it’s not so smokin’ hot there, which is nice.
We hit the San Juan National Forest ready for hiking, exploring, and relaxing. Having put our Jeep driving skills to the test down in the desert, we were excited about testing it out in the high country, too. Kendall Peak towers over the tiny mining town of Silverton, about 50 miles north of Durango, with spectacular views of the Uncompaghre Range. We Jeep-ed our way through rocky switchbacks from 9318 feet elevation in town to over 12,000 feet at the trailhead, then hiked the rest of the way to the summit at 13,066 feet, our first thirteener! It’s amazing how thin the air is up there; even Sam was winded. Up and down, it was a gorgeous trip. How do you top that? With a soak in the Ouray hot springs pool, of course. Three pools of natural mineral water at varying degrees of warmth, a “Wipeout”-style inflatable obstacle course, water slides, sunshine and rocky cliffs all around – what’s not to love?
There was no shortage of things to do. One afternoon found us zipping down the alpine slide at Purgatory, I took a morning flyfishing workshop on the Florida River with the Durango Nature Center, and another day we joined the locals for an inner tube float down the Animas River. The water was refreshingly cold, the rapids were just fast and rough enough to be a blast, and the sun kept us toasty warm for most of the ride. So far on our trip, that brings our watercraft list to: kayak, canoe, speedboat, parasail, seaplane, paddle board, airboat, inflatable raft, and inner tube. It was awesome.
Our last hurrah was a long hike up the Ice Lakes Trail, to what must be one of the most beautiful basins in Colorado. The trail has two destinations, the lower and the upper Ice Lake Basins. The lower basin is filled with wildflowers and surrounded by cascading waterfalls. It’s separated from the Upper Basin by a massive granite wall. Hike up and over the wall and you’re greeted with miles of alpine tundra, a crystal clear lake that’s so blue it doesn’t seem real, and breathtaking views of the jagged peaks all around. We started at 9850 feet and topped out just above 12,600 feet. The entire 7.2 mile round trip took nearly 8 hours! Was it worth it? Totally! Next time we’ll pack in and camp in the lower basin. We’ve already got a site picked out!
On the way back down, we could see the thick column of smoke rising steadily from the West Fork Fire, which has burned roughly 100,000 acres to date and was burning completely unchecked at the time. Come on, summer rains! Speaking of parched, Durango boasts four excellent craft breweries and has a city tour called The City of Brewery Love. 🙂 We didn’t take the official tour but we did make the rounds and have to agree that they set the “bar” pretty high. I don’t know if it’s something in the water or something in the air, but they sure do make good beer! From Durango all the way to Ouray, there is a wealth of great stuff to see, do, eat, and drink. We barely scratched the surface but it was enough to let us know we love it there!