We checked out of the hotel and headed west on 285. Our goal was Gunnison by nightfall but otherwise we had no plans beyond following the dotted (scenic) line on the map. Route 149 ran right through Creede and so did we—it just felt too early to stop. Passed through some great views (I’ll let the photos speak for themselves):
At the bottom of the mountain was Lake City, clearly a very popular summer vacation spot and the headwaters of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. It looks like a place I’d enjoy staying for a few days . . .
It was getting near lunchtime and so we started to look for a good picnic spot. Shade was essential, seating by the water would be a bonus. Just as we rounded one curve on 149 I saw a little sign that said “Campground,” so we turned in. Drove down a gravel road, past a number of tents next to the Lake Fork. Further on, at a stop sign was another sign, pretty much warning us not to go any further if we had trailers, were nervous about landslides, or basically didn’t know how to drive. To my husband “Not safe to drive here” means “Welcome!” So of course we kept driving.
But it didn’t seem treacherous. There were plenty of pullover places if a car was coming in the other direction. The Lake Fork was on our left and the mountain on our right kept getting steeper and rockier. Some of the rocks seemed to have been cut, which we thought was odd. Finally we found a group of trees on the riverbank, some large rocks perfect for picnicking. Watched the water flow, wondered if people whitewater around there. Even though there were people here and there along the way, I felt we were really in our own little world. That’s one of the nice things about picnicking.
After lunch we continued driving because Husb. The canyon (it was now a canyon) became narrower and we noticed historical markers on the mountainside (I told you Colorado is good about labeling things). Turns out the road we were driving on was formerly the railroad bed for the Lake Fork Spur of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad between Sapinero and Lake City. A number of markers tell the story of the railroad. We walked a small trail that led us past the rocky foundations of housing used by railroad management during the building of the railroad; they didn’t look like all that much but they beat where the workers slept—they often huddled under trees at night, not having structures in which to sleep, even through the winter. The existence of the railroad explains why some of the rocks looked hand-cut; they were!
Eventually the driving stops in a parking lot. We walked beyond that just to see how far the trail goes. The water slowed down and then nearly stopped, full of tree debris. We couldn’t see much farther but the last 20 miles of the 35-mile railroad bed are now underwater. When I came home and looked it up, I found out this is called the “Lake Fork Spur Scenic Drive.” It’s the scenic drive equivalent of a small museum—you may think it’s not much from the outside but once you do it, you will be so glad you did.
If you do this drive, and you come back out to the stop sign, and you see a sign that says “Route 50 15 miles” if you turn right, and you think, “Oh, I want Route 50, I’ll take this,” think about this first. It’s 15 miles on top of the mesa. That may be what you want, but then again . . . it goes on and on. At the end we found ourselves on the west side of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, with Gunnison (still our destination) to the east. A little highway driving, witnessing a dump truck lay a lot of rubber to avoid hitting a line of cars stopped for construction (the car at the end of the line actually moved because the driver thought he might get hit, which was a smart move—the same truck had passed us doing at least 80 mph), and coming into Gunnison.
As we drove down the main street of Gunnison we saw a sign on a roadside stand: HATCH CHILES. Yes indeed it was chile season. People in Colorado (at least the section we were in) set up stands and roast chiles by the side of the road. Husb had brought me a large bag a few years before from a trip west (yes, I know, some wives get nice jewelry when their husbands travel, but I couldn’t have been happier to get the chiles). We were hoping to score again on this trip. In Alamosa we saw a TAKING ORDERS FOR POBLANOS sign but we weren’t going to be in town when they roasted. So we stopped at the sign in Gunnison and told the woman we’d be back the next afternoon for a half-bushel of roasted hatch chiles.
Then we went in search of a hotel room. Trip Advisor #1 was the Inn at Tomichi Village, an independent establishment just outside town. Clean, quiet, reasonably priced. Done. And we had no regrets. Dinner at the High Alpine Brewing Company—very creative pizzas and nice brews. We wandered around town a little, looking at the artsy little shops and restaurants. Gunnison is a nice place to find yourself (not as in “find yourself,” but as in “hey, I’m in Gunnison, Colorado! Nice little town!”).
We slept that night dreaming of chiles and mountains. One more day to go . . .
Next . . . once again off the track . . .