We had a long day ahead of us, as this would be one of our longest days at over 330 miles, as well as a day with the most dramatic landscape changes, and variety. Our plan was to get up early, have breakfast and get going. The city of Ouray looks like a little town you would find in the Swiss Alps. I was bummed we were only there for a short time. We departed, surrounded by the Colorado Rockies, and it was cool and, are you ready…it started to rain. We donned our rain gear and hit the steep turns leading out of town. The San Juan Scenic Byway (US Route 550), more frequently referred to as the Million Dollar Highway, offered lots of steep and tight, twists and turns through red mountains and craggy peaks as it took us down through the town of Silverton, where we saw the old remnants of a mining company.
In Durango, we actually got to see a steam locomotive. At first when I saw the blackish smoke I thought a diesel truck was spewing up ahead. Then there was more and more, and it looked like something was on fire in the middle of the road. We finally got closer and saw that it was a train going down the track. I bet that was quite a sight to see back in the day, as that monster spewed black smoke coming down the line.
We grabbed some sandwiches and continued our ride to Four Corners. We made a quick stop at Mesa Verde National Park to look at the Visitor’s Center. The kids were tired and did not want to go drive up to the Indian cliff dwellings, plus we had a lot of miles to go, so we moved on. That will be a great place to visit when we come back! The weather got warmer, as did the colors of the landscape. By the time we arrived at the intersection of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico the desert heat was sweltering. We took the obligatory photo of us in 4 states, and looked around at all the vendors selling indian jewelry, pottery and art.
The temperature really started to heat up, and we needed to find some water to get our cooling vests wet. There are only port a potties at the four corners site, so we took off in search of the nearest gas station or anything. Luckily it was not too far we were able to gas up, get water and Gatorade, and dunk the cooling vests for the next leg of the journey. In the parking lot we chatted with an Indian man who was admiring the sidecar. He warned us about driving on the 160, to be on the lookout for horses and cattle. We went less than a 1/4 mile when we see 2 horses sauntering across the highway without a care in the world.
Once again we had great luck with the weather. A storm moved in and we found ourselves driving in the rain. Frank was nervously looking at the weather doppler app on his phone, and kept urging me to go as fast as I could, so we did not get caught in the monsoon looking system that loomed to our left. The brief rain helped cool us off, AND we missed getting hammered by the stronger of the two cells.
This day was quite stunning to me- to go from the cool, wet peaks of the Rockies, with pines and aspens, to the warm reds and yellows of desert mesas and buttes all in one day. I was not expecting how “severe” the changes would be. What a beautiful country we live in. We will spend the night in Page AZ, then tomorrow head to Bryce and Zion National Parks.