Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jul 3 – West Elk Loop Scenic Byway

Well I guess I jinxed myself yesterday by saying how well the tires have held up. We got all ready to leave this morning and I started to pull away but the CRV just didn’t want to move. The front right tire was flat.

Who knows which road it happened on. It was a slow leak but enough air came out that in the process of driving home the tire was ruined. There was a real strong headwind yesterday which contributed to me not noticing the low tire. I blamed the steering on the wind.

So we got the spare on and headed into town. They confirmed that the tire was shot. Since our current tires are getting worn they said it was a bad idea to just replace one, especially with the full time all wheel drive because it wouldn’t like the different diameter tires.

The tires probably had another year in them but as we know they have taken a beating this year so I just replaced all 4.

The West Elk Loop Scenic Byway is a 160 mile trip that Google said would take 6 hours to complete. I had hoped for an early start but that was not happening as we weren’t done with the tires until 11 am.

I was also going to do it in the counter clockwise direction but now that we were in Gunnison that would mean duplicating the section between Gunnison and the RV. In the end I wish had been able to go that way because Highway 92 was the only really interesting part of the trip. After the tire and getting there after a long drive we were both too tired to really appreciate the views along that last section of the loop.

In our local travels we had talked to people that had said we should take the Owl Pass Road and make side trips to Irwin Lake and Lost Lake. They were OK but after the places we had been in the last few days we could have easily skipped them.

The roads were also too easy. The middle third of the loop is dirt road but for most of it you could blast along at around 30 mph. No fun at all.

After our morning we should have just done an out an back up Highway 92 and called it a day.

Anyway, we headed north from Gunnison on Owl Pass Road. At first it was wide open rolling cattle country with huge homes sprinkled on the hills.


Heading towards the mountains.


The pavement ended as we got closer but the dirt was just a smooth.


As we started up, the roadside was covered in wildflowers.


There were no long distance views as we climbed as we were always in the trees. First the aspens.


Then a mix of aspen and fir.


And then snow and fir trees.


We climbed to around 10,000 feet. At the top the road joins Highway 12. The side road to Lake Irwin is just a short way back towards Crested Butte.


It was a popular spot. The parking lot was quite full.


We had lunch and watched the action on the lake,


Lots of people were fly fishing and we saw some fish reeled in.


We went back to the highway and headed west and downhill. I commented to Jennie that this was too easy. Just around the next corner the pavement ended and the road got narrower but very smooth. But really dusty.


We took a 2 mile side road that climbed to Lost Lake. It was worth a look but we didn’t stay long. I think lakes are more special to people from around here because there are much fewer than in Ontario where they are literally everywhere.


Down we go. At Lake Irwin we were over 10,000 feet. When we finally turned south onto Highway 92 we had dropped to about 5700.



The path west is through coal country. We saw at least 4 large mines.


Then out into the wide open spaces.


Heading south.



We eventually zigzagged our way up that ridge in the distance, below, back to 9500 feet.


Now we are on the north side of the Gunnison River canyon. We stopped at a viewpoint called Hermit’s Rest.


There is a trail that runs 3 miles and 1800 vertical feet down to the water. But why? The sign said it took about an hour to go down and 3 hours to come back up. You can see some of the trail in the picture below.


Onwards. The trail hugs the edge of the canyon just a bit down from the top. We dipped into this long valley.


The next viewpoint was called Pioneer Point. It had two lookouts. One was over a creek as it entered the canyon. A long way straight down.




Looking out towards the main canyon.


I moved over to the other lookout that was over the junction. You can see it on the point in the upper left in the picture below.





Looking farther upstream.


Looking back at the sheer cliff below the first  lookout.


Down the road we stopped at a final viewpoint just below the dam that created the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which our campground is next to.


On Saturday we are taking a boat trip down the canyon. Across from the viewpoint we could see the parking lot and the 230 stairs you have to take down to the river.


You then have to walk along the canyon to the boat dock.


Heading home. The campground is that white smudge just left of center.


1 comment:

  1. All in all those CRV tires held up pretty well didn't they? Love the 10,000 level pictures...beautiful! Happy 4th!!! Enjoy!!!