Pleasant Valley-Western Colorado
June 27, 1999
Since leaving Salt Lake a few days ago, we had been traveling, sightseeing, and covering lots of ground. It was time to slow down the pace. Therefore we were looking for an exceptional campsite. We wanted to be out in the country in quiet, relaxed setting.

We ended up at a small campground east of Cimarron, CO alongside U.S. 50. It is not listed in the Woodall's or Trailer Life Directories. We drove past it on the way to a neighboring campground, but on closer inspection decided to drive back a few miles to Pleasant Valley. There were only nine back-in sites along the banks of Cimarron Creek. Each had 30 amp. electrical service, along with water and sewer hookups. The altitude here was about 7,500 feet. There was no cable television or cell phone service here in the mountains; a pay phone was available at the campground store.

We were parked under the trees with the back of our rig about fifteen feet from the bank of the fast-moving stream. We easily sited our satellite dish through the trees so that we could catch the weather channel and CNN. So we brought out the lounge chairs, fired up the grill, and cooked our meal. Ben played us tunes on the guitar and we zoned out. There were hardly any bugs. Once the sun went down it was cool at this elevation; there was no need for air conditioning. During the day, it warmed up but the fans cooled the interior of our coach. With our campsite's proximity to the mountain stream and its distance away from the highway, we were not bothered by the noise of the truck and other vehicle traffic. At night, the highway did not seem all that busy. This was great!

June 28th
After packing the cooler, we headed out in the Toad. Our first stop was the nearby Curecanti National Recreation Area, located just a few miles from our campground. We hiked the Pine Creek Trail that follows the Gunnison River Canyon below Blue Mesa Lake to the Morrow Point boat dock. This easy trail follows a section of a narrow-gauge railroad bed. In 1882 the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad completed building its 'Scenic Line of the World' through the upper part of the canyon and on to Cimarron and Montrose. In 1899, English author Rudyard Kipling described a trip on the railroad:
"We seemed to be running into the bowels of the earth at the invitation of an irresponsible stream. The solid rock would open up and disclose a curve of awful twistfulness. Then the driver put on all steam, and we would go round that curve on one wheel chiefly, the Gunnison River gnashing its teeth below."
The railroad operated here until 1949. There were very few people on the trail, and we enjoyed having the place all to ourselves. We caught site of several swifts and swallows, a hawk or two, and kept our eye out for a golden eagle. The rushing river and twisting channel gave us ever-changing views as we meandered down and back the canyon. Our round-trip hike that day was about two miles total and the only climbs were down-to and up-out of the river canyon at the parking lot.

After our walk, we drove on through the town of Gunnison and north to the mountain ski resort of Crested Butte. Summertime found Crested Butte busy with hikers, bikers, and tourists like us (City Hall at Left). We ate lunch at one of the many open-air restaurants, toured the shops, made a few purchases, and then headed back to our campground. There we relaxed around the campground, hiked around the grounds and nearby lake, and again had an evening cookout and campfire.

June 29th

Unfortunately, it was time to leave this idyllic spot and head out. First stop was to drive into and take another look at the Gunnison River Canyon and Gorge, this time from the vantage point of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument., soon to become a national park. We were impressed by the narrow, deep, sheer, dark gray walls of schist and gneiss rock. After hiking down a short path to the overlook, we stopped in at the visitor center, then headed out of the parking lot. Because Larry took a wrong turn here, we ended up making a loop out around the south canyon rim until we reached the high point turnaround where we could double-back toward the entrance. However, this 'unexpected' side trip gave us great views of the chasm. We decided that this park definitely warrants a return visit for lots more hiking; the best way to see what is now one of our newest national parks.
Next we turned south at Montrose and followed Highway 550 down the river valley. About thirty miles down the road, we again began climbing into the San Juan Mountains. This led us through the growing Ouray mountain town and on up to the Red Mountain Pass (Elevation 11,018 feet). We stopped up at this summit to stretch our legs and explore around the ghost town of this former mining area (Photos Below). We saw a lot of evidence of recent work to reclaim some of this land from the destructive mining operations, especially efforts to contain and eliminate contaminated water. Leaving the summit, we cruised on down to Silverton. Another former mining community, Silverton with its historic train from Durango is now a bustling summer tourist town. We spent a little time checking out the town, sticking our nose into a few stores, and eating lunch. With a much-needed fill-up of diesel fuel, we headed on south toward Durango. This was a day for crossing some high mountain peaks. On our way we cruised over Molas Divide (10,910 ft.) and Coalbank Pass (10,640 ft.). The mountain elevations made for great scenery.
From Durango, we branched off westward on Highway 160. Our destination was another rural campground, the Echo Basin Ranch northeast of Mancos, CO. We found the campground, parked the rig under some tall Ponderosa Pines on the bank of a small lake - - on second thought, maybe that was a small pond. From our campsite, we looked out on a mountain meadow where a herd of horses were kept. The ranch had its own rodeo grounds, restaurant, and pool. But we chose this camp because of its proximity to Mesa Verde National Park, not for its amenities. In fact, I don't think we are going to spend too much extra time around the campground in the next couple of days.
Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 1/99
Updated, 2/00
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