September 7, 2016

Onward Thru Cinnamon Pass

Welcome to part two of three post installments on our recent trip to Colorado over Labor Day weekend! If you happened upon this one now, don't forget to go back to post one

So we left off somewhere around here, yeah?
Get ready for a lot of pictures. But not like get out and smell the roses pictures. As seen from the car snapshots.

The drive from the falls towards Lake City offers some truly beautiful views of the San Juan Mountains. There was also something very spiritual about spending the anniversary of my brother's death in the mountains.

Just before arriving to Lake City we spied our Alpine Loop turn-off to go towards Cinnamon Pass first (just as you start seeing the brilliant blues of Lake San Cristobal).

Immediately, we pulled over to make a few adjustments before getting onto the heart of the trail and we learned some Westerners had the manners of good ole fashioned Southerners, stopping to make sure we didn't need help. I like to imagine them teasing us in our Cherokee the way that I tease my friend about wanting to off-road in his Cherokee. I will say, in his defense, he made a pretty good point: "anybody can do it in a Wrangler, I like having something different" - it is pretty cool to do the same thing with a less efficient tool, smarty pants. His near stock-geared Cherokee did a pretty fine job, but we'll get to that part.
Lots of bug-windshield glares to look forward to.

This is also the part where I eat my pride and say I started having fun pretty early on. I really didn't think sitting in a vehicle driving down rugged roads would prove to be "fun" (i.e. what kind of Arkansan am I?) but it would be difficult to get those views anywhere else. Having said that, I have to point out that he set the bar pretty high: will I still have fun in the future when we're not in the Rockies? Only another adventure will tell.

We saw lots of wildlife on our trip - antelope, deer, LION SQUIRRELS (think it was a marmot), chipmunks, and even a moose that lost its antlers.

I'm not certain what the name of this waterfall is, but it was beautiful and close to Cinnamon Pass.

Just before we made it to Cinnamon pass my camera died. I guess I haven't yet apologized for snapshot pictures either - we couldn't stop every time we saw something beautiful or we would never have gotten anywhere, so most of my pictures are snapped from my passenger seat. But do not underestimate the beauty of the Alpine Loop for even a second when looking at my photos - if I had actually taken my time and was a skilled photographer, this would be straight up National Geographic quality. With that mini-rant over, my battery died, and my fully-charged spare ended up being a dud. But I had a back up plan! I brought my charger... only to learn that my friend's power converter no longer worked. So I pouted for a while about not being able to take pictures with my camera (I eventually bought a new converter at a Walmart Sunday afternoon). Eventually I started using his occasionally but was thoroughly confused by the gadget. Some pictures you'll be seeing are his as well as from my iPhone.

But once we were past the trees, to the Cinnamon pass area, it was very obvious why it had been named such - the color of the tundra could be put right on some buttered&sugared toast. And if we thought lower Colorado was cold at morning and night I'm not sure what to call the top of Cinnamon Mountain during the hottest part of the day. Talk about wind! We were both getting hangry and couldn't keep a backpacking stove lit outside of the car so he leaned in to try to heat a can of ravioli inside the car. I kept telling him how bad of an idea it was until it freaked him out enough to stop - nothin' like lukewarm Chef Boyardee when you're hangry.

The route was taking longer than planned - and even more so when it started raining during our descent. When we arrived at Animas Forks, a ghost mining town, we rested long enough for the dogs to stretch their legs, grab a bathroom break, and heat my can of lunch - even then we didn't have time to fully heat it, however, because within a few minutes it was pouring and we were herding wet dogs into the back of the Jeep.

Image result for alpine loop

There are two options on the Alpine Loop - we could have gone straight back up to Engineer pass from the ghost town, but because it was raining and we were new to this off-roading thing, we chose Option 2: Drive over to Silverton, up to Ouray, and back over to Engineer Pass if the rain let up.

Both were quaint little mountain towns, with colorful buildings and glorious backdrops. Unfortunately I don't really have any pictures that show this. We actually allowed ourselves a brief break in Civilization - a local beer at Golden Block Brewery.

We started to make our way up towards Engineer Pass and immediately saw that it was going to be more challenging - still he braved on.

Until it was too much (not what's pictured above). He ain't too proud to turn around. I felt sorry for him because I knew how badly he wanted to complete the entire loop, and he regretted his decision to come to Silverton instead of toughing it out up Engineer Pass in the rain, where there might have been an easier connecting path at Animas Forks.

The ending to our evening didn't help either - our plan had been to get far enough along on the path to find a campsite for the evening, and not necessarily finish the whole loop out to Lake City Saturday night. Light was disappearing as we made our way back down the attempted venture and up to Ouray. There didn't appear to be a site at the first campground (Amphitheater) we came to. My friend said even if we can just rent a room, he wasn't opposed to it at that point - but I swear, every hotel flashed "no" on their vacancy signs. We drove to a few more campgrounds; Angel Creek, Thistledown, but they were all "at capacity" for this Labor Day weekend, to no surprise (but feverish disappointment). Despite the disappearing light I could still see some granite tops and it was mighty beautiful out there - would've been a sight to see at dawn.

Ouray is known as the Switzerland of the U.S. and for good reason. Colorado is truly beautiful and I think re-invigorated our desire to move somewhere beautiful post-Fayetteville (though not sure that's ever died down for me - who wants to downgrade?).

We drove back down to Silverton hoping to find a room in the slightly less touristy town... to no avail. Again, no vacancy, no vacancy, no vacancy. We headed north once more and turned off to Kendall Campground where we finally had a small ounce of luck. There wasn't much room and it was cold and dark and rocky and muddy and most people were already hidden in their tents, pop-ups, & RVs.

So we slept in the back of the Jeep.

"We" moved everything from the back to the front seats. I say "we" because I did help, just once again, he did a lot more than I did. He's a soldier. He heated a couple cans of spicy chili in a pan, and once it was hot (real-hot this time, not stop-at-lukewarm-in-a-thunderstorm-hot) we climbed into the back of the Jeep, dogs and all, using a flattened Coke box as an oven mitt between myself and the pan, turned the heater on in the car for a bit to get it nice and toasty, and as we dug in we laughed. Within seconds the endorphins were released and we were howling with amusement at our situation. No words needed to be shared.

We slept horribly and it smelled badly of dog by this point but it was okay because we love each other and all you could do was laugh about it. I was stiff and wriggled out of my mummy bag when I awoke and the boys were trying to be oh-so patient before we finally let them out around breakfast time, which only happened as early as it did because Kafka was pummeling us with kisses and tail wags. We decided our breakfast was the best pancakes/sausage/eggs we'd ever had and wandered around the campgrounds a while before packing up for our final day, moving everything back from the front and badly yearning for a little pop-up trailer that could bear the heat of the trails.

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