Groceries by Gondola

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New State:  Colorado

We were heading to Mesa Verde but the web site said there was a crack in a wall and it was closed. Fortunately, A.H. John of Navtech (see Canyonlands) said there was more there, so we kept it on the itinerary.

Telluride

Telluride

Rebecca saw Telluride is within range of Mesa Verde, so we decided to check it out. Telluride is home to one of the premiere bluegrass festivals.  We will probably go there some day, especially after seeing the town.

The road to Telluride was breathtaking. It climbs through the San Juan Mountains, culminating at Lizardhead Gap, at over 10,000 feet. The mountaintops were draped with a fresh coat of snow.

We were glad to get a taste of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, especially at this time of year, with the aspens turning yellow. These Rockies are a lot taller than most of the Rockies we saw further north.

Telluride is a ski resort situated high in a valley between two high mountain ridges. We stayed in the city park campgroundEB1A0272, which is a nice, wooded space on a babbling stream an easy walk from town. Our timing was excellent, as we were between the crowded summer and ski seasons.

We went into a bank to get a roll of quarters, where we were asked, “Have you ridden the gondola?” Er, no. We generally don’t like to pay for lift rides; we prefer to hike up and snag a free ride down. Walking around town we saw the gondola base station, so we moseyed over to discover the gondola ride is free.

Turns out the gondola doesn’t just run to the top, where it connects to the ski slopes, it continues down the other side to the Village of Mountain Valley, with a change of gondolas to a grocery store and a big parking lot.

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That evening, after sampling a good pale ale at Smugglers and (at the recommendation of an Atlantan at the bar) a Detroit-style pizza, we boarded the free gondola (for the second time) and went grocery shopping.

EB1A0246The road back through Lizard Head Pass was equally beautiful as we headed for Mesa Verde.EB1A0406

The entrance into Mesa Verde National Park is a winding road up the exceptionally steep face of the mesa. Although it’s technically a cuesta rather than a mesa, since it slopes to the south instead of dropping off on all sides.

We spent the afternoon in the park.  We saw the remains of several cliff dwellings, and the best part of the visit was climbing down stairs and up ladders into Balcony House. Our guide, Thespian John, was informative as well as animated, and welcomed questions.

The Pueblo Indians who occupied Mesa Verde lived there for 750 years. They abandoned the mesa in the thirteenth century. They had moved down to the cliffs less than a hundred years before moving away.

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Arches

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October 2

Arches National Park was not on my radar.

EB1A0544I’ve been pointing to Canyonlands. Fortunately, Moab  is the base camp for both parks.

The entrance to the park is a good indicator of what awaits. You’re confronted by a cliff face with a road zigzagging up it. Around the first bend are towering red rock walls and formations.

As national parks go, Arches is fairly compact. Out and back takes not much more than an hour.

Of course, if you want to see the park, you have to get out of the car.

We went on a couple of short- to mid-range hikes, but we were really challenged by Devil’s Garden. There are several arches along the way, culminating in Double O arches, but the hike itself is the star of the show.EB1A0587

There are two stretches where we hiked up rock ridges five-feet wide with sheer drops to either side. Most of the trail went along solid rock.

The logo for the park is based on Delicate Arch. We had used up our hiking energy so we went to the lower view of the arch. Delicate Arch stands alone, unlike most of the other arches in the park. Alone, that is, if you don’t count the tourists, The procession climbing to Delicate Arch looked like a parade of ants crossing the kitchen counter.

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Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

SLC

Logan Canyon

Logan Canyon

Miles: 300

September 30

New states: Utah

The trip from Jackson to Salt Lake City first goes through Kalispell, where we walked out of a McDonalds, then consulted with a Pleasure Way dealer. It was decided not to unfurl the damaged awning since they didn’t have the parts and it would take days, if not weeks, to order them.

Down the road, we passed a very large lake, where we turned uphill and quickly climbed 2000 to a pass. The other side of the pass led to Logan River Canyon, a great route through steep rock walls that never wanted to quit.

City/County Hall

City/County Hall

Capitol

Capitol

City Creek

City Creek

We finally bottomed out in the Wasatch Valley, where we drove to the burgeoning metropolis of Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City turns out to be a very attractive city. The streets downtown are very wide, with bike lanes. I’m told the streets had to be wide enough for a wagon train to turn around. I may not have that right. There are trolley lines running N/S and E/W.

There’s a nice mix of older buildings in the 10-15 story range and modern reaching to 30 or more stories. The state capitol sits atop a hill on the north end of downtown. It strikes a commanding presence, and it has a great view.

The downtown strikes a sharp contrast to Raleigh, a state capital with a comparable metro population base.

There downtown shopping mall, City Creek, has a creek running through it, reminiscent of the stream running through ATC in Durham, except not as fast-flowing.  We discovered upon exploring a canyon below the capitol that it is an actual creek.

EB1A0505The temple for the Church of Jesus Christ’s Latter Day Saints does not dominate the skyline like European cathedrals, but their compound of a dozen or more buildings does have an obvious presence. All the buildings except the temple are open to the public.

We stayed in downtown motel rooms (we switched motels after an unsatisfactory night in the cheap place) so Rebecca could get some work done.

The brewpub we visited was somewhat disappointing, not offering an IPA on tap, so I had a Polygamy Porter (why have just one?).

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Driving south out of town, we saw the downside of SLC: sprawl. Despite being hemmed in on the east by a mountain range, the city sprawls endlessly to the south, and it’s not a pretty sprawl.

Just south of Provo, we turned east through another canyon, and headed for Moab.

Iconic

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September 28

Miles: 150

Wildlife: Elk; roadrunners; antelope; fox

We have reached the penultimate degree of grandeur.

At the outset of our trip, we passed near the Grand Ole Opry. A few weeks later we visited Grand Coulee Dam.

We have now reached Grand Teton National Park. The Grand Canyon awaits down the road.

There are few images in American park lore as iconic as the Tetons. They jut way up EB1A0145into the sky from a generally flat landscape. There are plenty of mountains in the general vicinity, but the Tetons dominate, most prominently Grand Teton, at 13,770 feet.

Note the singular. The range is the Tetons, but the craggy precipice that pierces the blue sky the highest is THE Grand one.

Which is kind of funny. Within a 25-mile ride through the park the perspective changes so radically three distinct peaks can merge into a single apparent mountaintop. From our campground, Mount Moran rises above Lake Lewis and seems to be the main mountain.

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Our entry into the park did not bode well. We headed for the Coulter Village non-electric campground (I told you we’d figured that part out) only to find it closed despite wording to the contrary on its website. The alternative electric campground was open, but it cost more than a nice hotel in Sheridan, and didn’t have showers.

EB1A0335Rebecca called ahead to the next campground in the park, Signal Mountain, to be told the last site had just been taken. When we got to Signal Mountain, we decided to cruise through to see what the campground was like, and we discovered a vacant site, so we set up camp for three nights. (It turned out we moved to different sites within the campground for each night, a record for the trip.)

There is a nice little leg-stretcher of a hike that runs from the campground for a mile or two along a bluff next to Lewis Lake.

There’s also a nice bike path that runs next to the road for the length of the range, and it turns out to be a much better way to see the mountains than by driving. We pedaled the path from near Moose Junction almost to Jenny Lake and back.EB1A0306

Back in the campground, we got a good look at the lunar eclipse, as well as a bull elk that was grazing in the woods within 20 feet of us. And a very civilized red fox walked right through our site looking for table scraps.

We dined the last evening in the local inn’s restaurant, where we struck up a protracted conversation with a couple from, get this, Wilkes County, North Carolina (home of Bunky’s Hill). They travel to Montana for their vacation every Fall.

EB1A0191The highlight of the stay was a series of lake hikes. The clouds finally blew away, so we headed for Taggart and Bradley Lakes, then finished off the day with a hike around String Lake. Combined length nine miles, elevation gain 1000 feet, maybe.

Both hikes give superb views of the mountains from two different perspectives. The String Lake hike actually hugs the side of the range so you’re looking out away from the Tetons instead of at them.

That’s an ironic aspect of the park. If you hike the rigorous trails within the range, you don’t have views of it.

Gardiner, MT. Typical Montana view.

Gardiner, MT. Typical Montana view.

Our choice of hikes was facilitated by the closing of the boat ride across Jenny Lake for the season the day before our hike. Apparently, the weather usually turns much harsher by late September than it did this year.

On our way out of the park, we took the “scenic” route along Jenny Lake, which, but for one overlook where the Grand Teton is reflected in the lake, is much less scenic than the main route.

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