Durango to Denver via Gunnison or Alamosa??
Replies: 11 - Last Post: Nov 8, 2012 12:20 PM Last Post By: JacquiR
Oct 15, 2012 9:24 AM
Durango to Denver via Gunnison or Alamosa??Hi
Firstly thanks to all those who helped with my 1st plan -round trip to/from Phoenix. Could not get the miles combination we wanted so are now are now booked into Vegas mid May and out of Denver in June.
I have a good idea of the 1st part of our trip
Springdale - Bryce - Torrey - Moab and Durango where we will stop over for Memorial Weekend and plan to do a day trip to Mesa Verde.
When researching I came across an interesting fly drive - 'Colorado Historic Trains Fly-Drive Tour' (just right for my husband!!) which was a circle from Denver to - Colorado Springs (Pikes Peak Cog Railway)- Alamosa (Cumbres and Toltec Railway ) -Durango - Mesa Verde -Gunnison -Leadville (Colorado Southern)-Vail- Denver
We won't be able to do a circle and we will have about 11 days to get to Denver airport from Durango.We also have to balance scenery and gentle walking with good railroad trips.
My gut feeling is to leave Durango and go to- Alamosa (2nts)- Colorado Springs(2nts)- then across to Gunnison (1-2nts)- before going to Leadville - Estes Park(2nts) -Boulder/Denver (remaining nights)
Is this a stupid route -according to Google we would have to back track from Gunnison along the 50 to the 285/24.
Are we attempting too much in the available time.
What are the road conditions like - we will probably hire a smallish car.
If we have to cut something which would be the railroad trips to cut?
Is there anything we should be putting in (In our early 60's- like walking gentle hikes 4/5 miles, like technology and history)
Thanks for all your suggestions
Oct 15, 2012 10:32 AM
Oct 15, 2012 11:30 AM
2I don't see a problem with a backtrack. How often do you plan on doing this trip? As long as you're here you might want to get in as much of what you enjoy as possible. Besides, drives in the Colorado mountains are hardly ever boring. As for the railroads, it looks like you left out the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge, possibly one of the best. The one in Leadville would be a good one to miss. Road conditions in May and June will be excellent with the slight possibility of late spring snowstorms. I doubt you'll have problems.
And as for hiking, there's thousands of trails in Colorado. When you're in a location, Google up the local trails and look for descriptions. Examiner.com has lots of good information.
Oct 15, 2012 1:10 PM
3Normally I don't have an issue with zig-zagging all over an area as scenic as southern Colorado, but I think in this case maybe you're not making the best use of time and energy - i.e., for all the traveling you're doing, you're missing one of the best train rides (the Durango and SIlverton) and one of the classic drives (Durango to Ouray via 550 AKA "the Million Dollar Highway").
Here is an idea or two, in rough form:
Do the Durango/Silverton train, and Mesa Verde, while based in Durango. Then drive to Ouray via 550, Both Ouray and Silverton have tours of former underground mine workings - given your interests, at least one stop like this should be a must-do. With the hot springs and a number of pleasant walks in the area, this couple be worth a couple days. Then...
From Ouray, proceed to Colorado Springs via Montrose, Gunnison (stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison), over Monarch Pass to Salida, from there a choice of routes to Pikes Peak area...via Canon City (detour to see the Royal Gorge) or via Buena Vista to Monitou Springs on Hwy 24. This general route has abundant opportunities for hikes, diverse scenery, and a couple options for another railroad trip or two.
From Ouray, proceed via Montrose, stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, south to Lake City and Creede and then east to Alamosa. In Alamosa (which itself is nothing special...at all), you can do the Cumbres and Toltec, and visit Great Sand Dunes NP, which is unique and wonderful in its own way. Then resume the journey north and east by any number of possible routes, the most interesting being to rejoin the route described above at Salida. This general route also has abundant opportunities for hikes, diverse scenery, and a couple options for another railroad trip or two. It's also longer w/ more zig-zagging if not outright backtracking, so consider that as well.
Oct 15, 2012 1:36 PM
Again thanks for all the help
Denver-mugwamp I had not left out the Durango Silvertown line. We plan to stop 3 days in Durango so would be doing that and also Mesa Verde. Thanks for telling me about Leadville, will probably not bother with that.
In one of my original plans I had planned to drive the Million Dollar Highway but was worried about driving conditions in May. I guess we will have to flexible and prepared to change things on the trip as I really like the idea of going to Ouray - Colorado Springs via Gunnison. At least with all the help you all have given it gives me ideas for what should work. It is all to easy to rely on Google to give a route which might not be sensible
Oct 15, 2012 6:46 PM
5If there is snowfall and the Million Dollar Highway is too icy, then drive west to Cortez from Durango, then north past Telluride along the Dolores River Valley to Montrose. When you arrive at Highway #550 after Telluride, you have the option of turning south a short ways to explore Ouray and its hot springs. Montrose is north on Highway #550. Gunnison is 60 miles east of Montrose along Highway #50. The visitors center for Black Canyon of the Gunnison River is just east of Montrose along Highway #50. There are nice motels along Highway #50 in Gunnison. I recommend that you drive 30 miles north of Gunnison to Crested Butte, past beautiful cattle ranches through "Paradise Valley" or Gunnison Valley. Spectacular in the spring. Crested Butte is known as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado and there is a festival for one week in July, the same week as the Gunnison Rodeo. Gunnison is 8,000-ft elevation and Crested Butte is 9,000-ft elevation. The Maroon Bells and several 14ers form the panoramic view above Crested Butte.
I recently learned that for the Cumbres & Toltec steam locomotive train ride along the gorge junction of the Chama River and Rio Grande, between Alamosa and Chama, New Mexico, there are three levels of rides with 3 price ranges, starting at a little over $100/person for a full day's tour. If you travel from Alamosa to Chama by train, you will disembark in Chama and then take a bus ride back to Alamosa to pick up your car. I don't remember seeing any good accommodations for overnighting in Alamosa. It is on Highway #285, just before a mountain peak and the border with New Mexico. It is in the San Luis Valley, with mountains on both sides, at 8,000-ft elevation. If you choose to drive south back over the mountain to New Mexico, you will see that the road east to Taos is nearby, and I do recommend accommodations in that quaint village. You may drive directly east from Taos to Interstate-25 to take you north toward Colorado Springs and Denver the next day. Or, you may drive another 63 miles south from Taos alongside the Rio Grande to Santa Fe, which is renowned for its art and architecture and cultures. Santa Fe is alongside the Interstate-25.
Edited by: trekker502
Oct 21, 2012 7:02 PM
6Correction I have just reviewed my detailed maps of Colorado and New Mexico and found a few errors in my directions for the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad route.
The Colorado depot is in Antonito, not in Alamosa, which is quite a few miles north. Antonito is near the junction of Interstate-285 and Highway #17, at the base of San Antonito Peak, elevation 10,908 ft, about 3,000 ft climb above the San Luis Valley floor of 8,000 ft. The original route of the railroad was over the peak, alongside Interstate-285; the route now travels west of the peak. Highway #17, between Antonito and Chama, follows along the rim of the large, deep gorge that I saw west of Antonito and mistook for the Rio Grande. It is actually the Rio Conejos, which flows out of the Rio Grande National Forest on the New Mexico border through Cañon Mogote (possibly name of village) through the San Luis Valley, along the east side of Interstate-285, through Sego Springs State Wildlife Area and near Saddleback Mountain, eastward, where its branches merge with the Rio Grande in the San Luis Hills. I am assuming that Rio Conejos flows northward out of the high mountains near Chama, then southward after it merges with the Rio Grande, unless it actually branches off of the Rio Grande and flows southward towards Chama. It does not reach Chama, but again there are branches in the high mountains.
Highway #17 climbs over Cumbres Pass, at 10,022 ft elevation, just before Chama. Rio Brazos flows southward out of the mountains near Chama and merges with creeks south of Chama to become the Chama River, which eventually merges with the Rio Grande near Espanola. The Rio Grande flows along the far east side of the San Luis Valley, through the Wild Rivers National Recreation River Area, then Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, then alongside Highway #68 past Espanola and southward along the west side of the San Luis Valley to Albuquerque, where it crosses under Interstates-40 and -25, then generally flows along the east side of Interstate-25 to the lakes south of Socorro, then again under the Interstate north of Hatch to continue southward to the Mexican border.
Neither of the maps by DeLorme, Rand McNally, or Five Star, show the actual route of the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad in New Mexico. The Five Star Map labels an area as Toltec Gorge between Chama and Antonito, but does not delineate it on the map.
Oct 22, 2012 2:11 AM
7Thanks for the information about the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad - I discovered a very simple map of the route buried away on their website. There is a link to 2 pdfs at the very bottom of the Schedule and Fare page and also a sweet video http://www.cumbrestoltec.com/ride-us/schedule-fares
We now have worked out a route and made some cancelable hotel bookings so that we are in Durango for the memorial day weekend. After that we have until June 8th to get to Denver airport so will probably plan this half of the trip when we are in the USA and can see what the local conditions are and how we are feeling. Are there any places that we should get a cancelable booking now as they are likely to get very busy in the 1st week of June?
So far we have booked on a cancellable basis Las Vegas - Springdale - Bryce Canyon City - Moab - Durango (just Torrey or Teasdale to sort out)
After Durango we will probably try to see Ouray, Gunnison Estes Park (and incorporate some of the ideas you all have given me) unless the weather is rubbish, in which case we my go towards Taos and Sante Fe. Is there anything that we need to be aware of that would cause hotels to be busy and we should take a cancellable booking now?
Thanks again for all the help
Oct 22, 2012 5:08 AM
8Taos and Santa Fe are very popular vacation spots during the summer months. Taos is a small village, so it would be wise to make cancellable reservations there. There are many Tewa/Pueblo Indian villages alongside the Rio Grande between Taos and Albuquerque, and some invite visitors to their ceremonial dances and art festivals. Taos Pueblo is open to visitors; Okay Owingeh Pueblo, alongside the Chama River near Espanola, advertises festivals; San Ildefonso Pueblo, near White Rock/Los Alamos, has renowned ceramicists and an art gallery open to visitors. Abiquiu, alongside the Chama River, has the renowned Ghost Ranch, home to Georgia O'Keeffe and the landscapes that she painted.
Thank you for the web address site of Cumbres & Toltec Railroad and maps of route. No wonder the regular "Atlas & Gazetteer" maps by DeLorme or road maps don't include the delineation of the railroad route!
Edited by: trekker502
Nov 5, 2012 8:25 AM
If you go to Ouray-I recommend staying at Box Canyon Lodge-they have hot sping soaking barrels at the hotel with stunning views. If instead you go from Durango to Alamosa-stay a night in Pagosa Springs for walking, the brewery, and the hot springs. You plan on visiting beautiful spots. I'd skip Gunnison unless you really want to see Black Canyon.
Nov 5, 2012 5:27 PM
10Actually, I lived in Gunnison for one year and never did drive through the Black Canyon because it is very parched and hot in the summer and too icy in the winter -- I did stop at their Visitors' Center shop. Gunnison Valley/Paradise Valley is real cowboy country and you may see ranchers rounding up their new calves for branding.
Edited by: trekker502
Nov 8, 2012 12:20 PM
11Thanks for the information on Pagosa Springs - it sounds interesting. I think we will probably give Gunnison a miss and depending on the weather will decide whether we swing south to Taos or north on our way to Denver.
Thanks for the warning about accomadation in Taos we will probably make a cancellable booking there and decide on a route once we start our trip
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