At Jim’s recommendation, we plan to rent a jeep in Ouray for a foray into the Uncompahgre mountains via what they call in Colorado “scenic highways” (aka 4 wheel drive dirt roads). The jeep rental policies here are a little strange in that they require us to pick up the jeep at 6pm one day and return it by 5pm on the next day.
We spend the afternoon before we pick up the Jeep exploring the parks and towns along the Uncompahgre River. We hunt Munzee’s in Montrose, then lunch at the Montrose Watersports Park where I captured this story (be sure to bump up the video quality to 720 HD for best viewing):
With our Jeep rented and no where to go, Jim suggests we use the remaining daylight to ride the Yankee Boy Basin and Governor Basin trails. The flowers in these areas are supposed to be blooming gorgeous and Jim knows how much I love floral excursions. Here are the pictures from our evening Jeep safari. As it got darker and darker, the flowers became difficult to photograph but the wildlife became much more active – sure wish I had taken my night vision googles!
Jim takes his role as professional guide seriously
While we have been visiting old friends and making new ones across the midwest, Jim (remember Jim the star of my Moab videos?) has been extremely busy exploring new territory around Montrose, Colorado. If you have been following his blog, you have seen the awesome pictures he has taken while off road in that area. I accuse him of photo editing (heaven forbid!), but he swears the pictures come from his camera already like that – the mountains of Southwestern Colorado are naturally photogenic, vibrant, dry and cool. I gotta get me some of that!
First stop on our whirlwind tour is the south side of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. I am thrilled to visit this national park because Dean (remember Dean – husband of Terrie the outlaw biker babe/extreme OHV adventurist?), has reminded me several times when we were traveling nearby that this is a park not to be missed. Well here I am and what a park! It is not often that the Prius gets to work out on an extremely twisty 16% grade road like the one that descends to the East Portal in this park (thank GOD we weren’t in the RV!). An extra incentive to visit this park is that unlike so many other National Parks, it is NOT crowded. Lots of room to park, hike and explore without tripping over other visitors.
As the day melts into late afternoon and storm clouds roll over the canyon, we decide to cut our visit short and save the North side of the park (which is about 100 mile drive away) for another visit. On our way home we spot the unusual structure pictured on the right. We may have to make a late night return visit to check out the telescope – if we are brave enough!
Storm and Sunny at an Iowa Rest Stop where there was plenty of RV parking
Storm and I heavily debate the route we will take to return to Colorado. I vote for driving hundreds of miles north to avoid crossing any stratospheric mountain passes. Storm reasons that we made it over Vail Pass once (barely and at night when it was very cool outside) and we can do it again. Though I know the daytime outside air temps will be higher and working against us on this trip through, I finally relent and we head across Nebraska toward my nemesis – the Rocky Mountain Passes west of Denver. I promise not to even glance at the RV temperature gauge until we begin our downhill descent after Vail Pass.
We leave Iowa at dawn to sneak ahead of the building daytime heat while timing our Denver arrival to avoid the morning rush. We race a train into Nebraska and are soon on a nearly deserted interstate headed west. Nebraska rates pretty low on my list of states to travel through on interstate highways chiefly because each one of their rest stops has parking for no more than 5 trucks. We never found a single Nebraska rest stop with an empty parking space for us along I-80 and with town exits few and far between, a short stop for lunch became a challenge. There are no dump stations in Nebraska rest areas unlike their wonderful neighbor Iowa. What is their problem?? Nebraska’s only redeeming travel feature are the conveniently located Cabelas Stores across the state. We overnighted in a Cabela’s parking lot just outside of Omaha and also at the flagship corporate store in Sidney where they have a Cabela’s campground with CABLE! For almost a month we have been deprived of any TV signal (except 3 Public TV stations in Decorah) due to poor signals and no cable in the campgrounds. In Sidney we are able to catch some of the Olympics – hurray!
Our mid-morning arrival in Denver allows us to breeze through that smog shrouded city. We can barely see the Rockies – very disappointing. With outside air temps in the mid seventies, we start up the first long climb toward Loveland Pass. I keep my eyes straight ahead and my prayers wafting heavenward. When we reach the summit, Storm pulls into an abandoned chain up area for a system cool down. I never asked how hot the engine got on that first snail like climb, but it must have been steamy because Storm suggests a new strategy for the climb to Vail Pass. He opens the locks on the engine compartment hood hoping that will create better airflow around the hot engine. We also open our windows and turn on the cab heat to help pull hot air off the engine. We wait for the engine and transmission to cool back down to normal temps and crawl back out into the light traffic for a downhill brake test before our ascent to Vail.
Our precautions must have worked because we cross Vail Pass with plenty of temperature degrees to spare – yes, I finally peeked. Breathing easy, I spent the long downhill run toward Grand Junction enjoying the spectacular ride through Glen Canyon. These rugged, steep mountains and rushing blue canyon waters are the part of this road that I love!
Our coach nestled in its spot at Pulpit Rock Campground
Thanks so much to Russell and Anna for insisting that Storm bring me and the coach to camp in the Decorah City Campground at Pulpit Rock. In addition to the warm hospitality of our hosts, we also savor the wholesome friendliness of this recreation filled small town. Located in the “Driftless Area” of Iowa, the landscape is hilly and verdant with deep river canyons that you might not expect when you imagine a visit to Iowa.
Norwegian Building Tour at the Vesterheim
Our first tourist activity here is a visit to the Vesterheim Museum which celebrates the Norwegians who settled this area. On this warm, humid day we are most impressed by the hardiness and knowledge of our 90+ year old outdoor exhibit tour guide. Since being out west, Storm and I have become humidity wimps and start to wilt when exposed to 10% or more humidity, but not our guide – we could hardly keep up with her!
We spend an afternoon in the vibrant Decorah downtown enjoying the old buildings and stores. We come back the next day for the farmer’s market – fresh vegetables and sweet wine all in one place – outstanding! As a grocery store aficionado I am extremely impressed with the Fareway Grocery where the customer to employee ratio is about 1:1 so there is never a checkout line and they insist that they be allowed to carry your bags to your car. The employee standard uniform is black pants, white button down shirt and black tie and if you so much as glance at their bountiful meat counter, one of the well dressed meat counterpersons will promptly offer to assist you with your selection. To give you an idea how vast that selection is, they offer both Blueberry and Blue Moon Brats!
Sunny gets her daily walk on a town trail
Well maintained walking and biking trails traverse this town and a meandering river for floating, kayaking or canoeing runs along the town edge providing plenty of refreshing summer fun just a few steps from our RV. On Sunday we rent a canoe in the town of Bluffton a little northwest of Decorah for a trip through amazing bluffs. I recommend Decorah for a summer respite, but beware of the winters here which Russell assures us are too brutally cold for a delicate southerner like myself to endure.
Even before leaving the Wisconsin Dells for Decorah, Storm and I began hunting for unusual nautical adventures. On Lake Merrimac we found a fully automated cable ferry for a unique ride across the lake. After our tranquil float on the Upper Iowa, Storm and I needed some bigger boat action so we headed east for about an hour to Lansing, Iowa and the banks of the Mississippi River.
Lansing Bridge across the Mississippi
I especially wanted to go back across the Blackhawk bridge which crosses the Mississippi there. When we crossed it on the RV, I had my eyes closed. It is an “antique” bridge (in my opinion) built before lumbering RV’s needed to cross the river and from my vantage point in the RV cab, it looked way too fragile to support us all the way across. Apparently it was substantial enough as when I opened my eyes we were in Iowa and across the river.
We spent this day riding down and up the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi river sightseeing at Lock and Dam #8 and #9, watching the barge and train traffic along the river, then driving parts of the Driftless Area Scenic Byway back to Lansing. There we dined at a bar and grill on the waterfront (the only one in town) and watched the barges we had seen in the locks earlier glide under the Blackhawk Bridge to continue their river journey.
We are having so much fun in Northeast Iowa that I hardly have time to write. I will post more details about this stop of our trip later this week, but for now enjoy an avian filled canoe ride with us: