Given our impending move, a Colorado-based Sky Friday seemed apropos. Last year, Wayne and I spent almost a week there, and of course, I came away with hundreds of photos. These photos are as much about the sky as the land...what can I say?
On August 2, we took a day-long drive encompassing highways 550, 62, 145 and 160. The loop offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the state. It passes through several scenic mountain towns, then drops down into a valley, passing through the towns of Dolores and Mancos, and then back east through Hesperus before returning to Durango.
Monsoon season was in full swing during our trip last year. As we started our drive late that morning, dark rainclouds were forming over the San Juans (a sub-range of the Rockies), chilling the high mountain air and adding drama to the land. As is typical of such storms, they seldom last, and rain is often confined to a small geographical area. We expected to drive through a downpour, but it only sprinkled along the pass south of Silverton.
After heading north as far as Ridgeway on 550, our route took us southwest, along Hwy 62, which eventually terminated on Hwy 145. Telluride is a mere 2 miles to the east off the highway, so it's a must-see. A stop for gas just outside of town was situated near a glorious field, filled with summer grasses, yarrow, and other wildflowers. A row of cottonwoods, flanked by the receding mountains offered a splendid view.
Virga over Yellow Mountain
Continuing south along Hwy 145, we climbed up towards Lizard Head Pass. Beautiful clouds were forming to the east over Yellow Mountain in the distance and a beautiful, sweeping alpine meadow right off the road. Following the small river valley formed by the Dolores River, the highway continues through the small mining town of Rico. Stands of aspen, with their brilliant green foliage and smooth white bark, are interspersed amongst the conifers and hardwood on the mountainsides.
Cumulus over Mesa Verde
Eventually, the view opens up and the mountains give way to mesas which eventually taper down to a plateau and the town of Dolores. Heading east from Dolores, the land opens up and scattered ranches and farms are seen. Due south of this area, is Mesa Verde, home to the famous cliff dwelling ruins of the Anasazi.
Back towards Dolores
The next day, we decided to drive back up Hwy 550 towards Silverton, to do a hike starting from Crater Lake. At 11,000', it's a decidedly alpine climate and biotic zone. Wildflowers were in full bloom, and we were treated to yet more beautiful monsoon clouds. Amazingly, we managed to avoid getting caught in a downpour, although it seemed dicey at times.
Monsoon clouds over Coal Bank Hill
Forming clouds from Crater Lake trail
This trip was a reminder about priorities, lifestyle and location, and how the southwestern part of Colorado is idyllic in all of these criteria, and more.