Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Adios San Juan

The San Juan Mountains are beautiful for all the visual reasons, high, jagged, bits of snow, visible for miles around. Don spent 4 summers here, workamping where we are now, driving the tour Jeeps all over the terrifying mining roads, and acting as Alpine Host up in a basin called Yankee Boy. So the first thing we wanted to do was rent a Jeep and go up into Yankee Boy. The road up goes by the campsites I ran, and then gets gnarly. We have driven Darth up there, but chose not to, he really is just too long for this mountain goat driving.

The road has been much improved, they even did some blasting on the narrow shelf road that scares me the most, and then we were up in the glorious basin, stuffed with wildflowers of all colors and sizes. There are still pockets of snow, melting and sending moisture down the steep slopes, and the peaks all around protect the basin from the worst of the winds.

This is the third time I have seen this glorious display and it never fails to amaze and delight. Tall cow parsnips waving like giant Queen Anne’s lace, blue larkspur, peach and pink Indian Paint Brushes, blue bells, wall flowers, purple asters, fleabane, showy alpine daisies, sunflowers, tiny sedums and bistort which is a white tuft of flowers on the end of a long stem.

If you sit down, you are in a forest of flowers, and you can see the tinier ones that are a little out-shouted by the showier ones. Cameras run amok, people stand stupefied by the sheer number of flowers, or perhaps the altitude, we are up above 10,000 feet.

I keep puddling up, especially on the way down, for it is here that Don wants part of his ashes spread, a little on the flowers, a little on the stream that rushes through. It is all too beautiful, and I realize with a pang that I will never see it again with him, at least in his real self. To comfort both of us, I say his spirit will be just at my shoulder, and we can see it all again or new and wonderful places.

The campground he worked at is under new management and repairs, we are allowed in as old friends of the lady that runs the office, a lot of his old buddies are down the road in a newer RV place, so we go for happy hour, and have a jolly visit.

Next day, we rent another Jeep, this time a Rubicon which has lockers and been lifted 2 ½” and sway bar release, and 33” Kevlar tires. We almost need a mounting block to get in, and it is RED. Up the precipitous and rather scary Million Dollar highway above Ouray we go and into the mountains. This time we go up Corkscrew Gulch.

This is between the two Red Mountains that have sweeps of iron laden gravel running down their sides, an impossible collection of wild colors, bright orange, rust, maroon, kakhi, ochres, very pale yellow and blinding white when the sun shines on it. The road begins with a stretch of rolling bumpy dirt in the pines, and then we arrive at the foot of the corkscrew, a series of steep, tight switchbacks carved out of a massive, white and peach colored rock slide. As we climb and inch our way around the corners, the view of the Red Mountains gets bigger and wilder, until it is a vivid panorama. Off to both sides, the more sedate gray rocks of the San Juans rear up higher and more rugged, but the sweep of those colors down the slope is magnificent.

Up at the top of Hurricane Pass, we stop for photos, overlooking the tropical blue of Lake Como, then climb up to California Pass where we can see for miles in every direction, mountains and green lush valleys and lakes down below.

On the sides of most slopes, sometimes way high up, are the mines, holes dug mostly by hand, gray tailings spilling down the slope. How did they get up there ? How did they get ore down? A lot of times, if there was ore to make it worth the trouble, by cable cars. On some places we see ruined structures, sluices, loading docks, but mostly just holes. A few folks got rich, but most just got tired.

We stop for lunch by a small lake, there has been good rain and old snow cover, so the lakes are all full, and eat our sandwiches while the dog forages for rodents under the pines.

Then we grind our way back down the corkscrew, meeting folks on the way up in various stages of glee or terror.

Don was put on oxygen after the biopsy probe collapsed his lung, but even up there at 12,000 feet, he didn’t really need it that much. Once back down to 6,000 feet, he has decided to monitor his heart rate and etc, and not be bothered with it. Besides being a serious nuisance, it keeps him from moving around and makes him feel old and useless. Medically, maybe a good safety thing, but psychologically, a weight he doesn’t need. We’ll keep the equipment until VA.

Next day we head south, meaning to be on our way, but while eating ice cream in a park, I pointed out that we were close to the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railway, a big star in the rail fan world because they run steam !! We jumped on this, went to Antonito CO found a campground and next morning, with a rainbow in the sky, went to see if we could get tickets.


Post a Comment

<< Home