We spent the evening in the quaint little mountain town of Ouray, Colorado last night. It is tucked into a really narrow valley between sheer red cliffs and tall pine covered mountains and is one of the most charming little towns in the west. The valley is so narrow that it is no more than 6 blocks wide and 8 blocks long through the center of town. A few of the motels, all mom and pop Victorian buildings or cozy little cabins, back right up to the mountains or the creek. The views are so perfect that it looks like it could be on the front page of a tourism brochure. There are no chains of any kind in this 1880’s type mountain town, other than those used to pull a car out of a snow drift in the winter.
We were lucky enough to find a little place right next to the river with lots of lush green grass to walk our dogs through. Imagine our surprise last night when we saw some animal scat in the yard near the motel building that was way too big to be from a dog no matter how big they grow them in southwestern Colorado. A couple of deer had walked right down the street past the motel lobby as we were checking in last night, so we assumed it was left there by an elk or possibly some other wildlife.
It gets dark really early in the narrow valley once the sun starts moving south, with daylight ending around 3:30 pm during the winter months. The mountains completely surround the valley, so the afternoons are short for many long months. Few tourists visit the town in the winter as there are no ski areas nearby. It is strictly a summer destination and we appeared to be among the very few tourists still visiting this late in the year. The streets were pretty dark last night, and most were just gravel roads with a few paved roads along Main Street and a couple of other more traveled streets. It was drizzly and cold at dinner time, so we headed for The Outlaw, a quaint saloon and steak house that was full of locals and hunters with a few of us tourists thrown in for fun. The atmosphere was busy yet cozy and the place looked like it really might have entertained a gang or two of outlaws way back in those days of The Wild, Wild West.
After a few drinks, with our dinner complete, we wandered back to the motel, took the dogs out for a quick walk and crawled under the warm blankets. It was in the 40’s and raining so it was a perfect night for writing yesterday’s story. Even our dogs seemed to really enjoy the location, and before long everyone was sound asleep. Around 5 am, we heard an awful commotion, a loud bang and a thump, like someone had fallen down those awful metal grate steps, designed to add some grip for boots on snowy days or nights. Our dogs refused to walk on them as there were little points sticking up around the wide open spaces in the treads, but it didn’t keep the wildlife off of them! The sound was like loud groaning and moaning and it woke our dogs, who let out a few quick startled barks. My husband decided to go out and see what was happening, but about that time, a car backed away and the loud groaning noise quickly faded away.
We walked out this morning and saw that the trashcans in the yard and also on the raised outer hallway that went right past our door had been dumped over, trash spilled everywhere. Our neighbor had peered out at the perfect moment in the wee hours just in time to see 2 adult bears and 2 cubs scrounging for an early morning breakfast. I was so glad that car had started when it did, or my husband might have come face to face with some hungry momma bears and their cubs. And at last we knew where that mysterious pile had come from in the grass!
We drove over to Telluride to make our very slow way back to Phoenix. The overnight rain had frosted all of the mountains with a snowy blanket of white on the treeless areas at the tops above 10,000 feet. The Aspens in this area were still bright golden and the contrast of the warm fall colors against that icy snow was a reminder that winter was just around the corner. Telluride is a famous ski resort that once was a deserted little town left over from the mining days until about twenty years ago. It’s beauty is unmatched by any other ski resort that we have visited in Colorado and its recent popularity with the rich and famous is no surprise. Only folks with the big bucks can fly into the nearby airport to reach this hidden snowy getaway in the winter. The roads are steep and it takes forever to reach this treasure, worth far more today than during its first life as a mining town.
The rest of the trip was uneventful through New Mexico and then back to Phoenix. There aren’t too many seasonal changes in the bare landscape of the Navajo nation from Cortez to Gallop and then to Flagstaff. It seems to look the same no matter what time of the year it is, so it’s not one of my Top 10 Fall trips. One minute, you are taking pictures at 11,000 feet, surrounded by golden leaves and snowy mountain tops, and within hours you are back in the desert at 1,100 feet, no sign of fall anywhere. That’s the really amazing thing about living in the west, that we are so lucky to be within a short day’s drive to the Rocky Mountains or the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean, which ever season you are looking for.
All we have to do is hop in the car, drive a few hours and get ready to see what Mother Nature is pulling out of her hat.