We had all served together in Vicenza, Italy as part of the 559th Artillery Group, in the 28th USAFAD or United States Army Field Artillery Detachment. It had been quite a while since we'd all been together in one spot.
Friday, the 26th, started at 3:00 AM, or o'dark thirty as we used to say in the Army. I was on the road by 4:10AM, taking the US285 slab down to US160 and the San Luis Valley. I must say, driving in the dark, still not one of my favorite modes of riding!
It was early morning by the time I approached the junction of US285 and US24, near Buena Vista. The sun was still low enough to cause the below shadow frame for the picture:
I believe this is Mount Princeton, part of the Collegiate Peaks.
The fall colors, or the turning of the Aspen leaves, was forecast to be at its peak this past weekend and the colors we would all end up seeing would not disappoint.
Along US160, just to west of the town of South Fork
The view from the overlook near Wolf Creek Pass
Pagosa Springs in beyond the valley you see.
I got to Durango about 12 hours later, having had to stop for pictures and a couple of work-related matters that couldn't wait. I found the first of my Army buddies, Mike P., sitting outside a local Mexican restaurant, on Durango's main street. I had dumped my luggage at the condo Mike had rented and went to pick him up.
We chatted for a bit, and then he piled into Scarlett's tub and I took him and his gear to the condo we were sharing. He'd flown into town the previous evening you see, and had overnighted at a local hotel in Durango until Friday.
That evening, we walked over to the Double Tree hotel and met up with Laurie and Pete T at their room, they drove into town from Boise, Idaho which they call home. A great evening of talking, drinking and eating ensued and we ended up closing up the restaurant at the Stater Hotel!
The next morning, none of us the worse for wear, piled into Pete and Laurie's VW Passat and proceeded on to see the sights along US550, aka the Million Dollar Highway. To say the colors on the hillsides were beautiful, gorgeous and vivid beyond measure would not be enough. I'd not seen such fall colors as the ones on display today!
Near the start of the leaf-peeping portion of the car ride
Mike, Pete and yours truly
Pictures at Molas Pass Summit Parking Lot
Pete and his lovely wife Laurie
Near Silverton, CO
Mike, Laurie and Pete
We arrived eventually to the town of Ouray and had lunch there. Immediately after lunch, Pete "Death March" T. embarked on a hike to a nearby portion of a hillside trail called the "Ouray Perimeter Trail. Mike P. had stated he wanted to get a little hiking in while in Colorado and Pete was "accommodating" him he claims.
The ascent to "The Cascade Falls Park", where would pick up the Ouray Perimeter Trail was steep and highlighted the need for me to work out more. The other two guys seemed to take it all in stride, me, not so much.
As you can see, not much of a waterfall.
I remember saying:
"That's it? I'm about to die, and that's it?" I was, at the time
gasping for breath and feeling like my heart was coming out of my chest.
The guys then proceeded to ascend the "easy" portion of the perimeter trail, the "harder" portion looked too steep, even for them. Or perhaps, they wanted to ensure I would continue to come along, gasping and wheezing.
Shortly after the initial climbing, one can get right next to where the cascade
spills out onto the valley floor below.
Overlooking the town of Ouray
You can see, how narrow the rock and gravel-strewn trail is, barely
cut out from the side of the rock wall.
The trail rings Ouray and while we were walking it, there was a running event featuring the trail. We were passed by folks in proper running gear, jogging and walking their way around the whole perimeter trail I asked one of the competitors and he said the race involved 13 miles of running along the trail!
We left the trail near the north end of Ouray and we met back up with Pete's wife Laurie back in town. Today I discovered that I can no longer be a comfortable passenger in a car, I must be the one driving or on my motorcycle. I had sat in the back seat on the way from Durango to Ouray and came near to throwing up due to car sickness!
I was put in the front passenger seat for the way home and while better, it still wasn't the best in terms of avoiding car sickness. We didn't stop, I think, on the way back to Durango so the following shots were through the front windshield. Not a lot of pictures to show of the glory that was fall colors on US550, either because we were moving or because I was trying not to get car sick!
That evening, after my stomach and head had settled down, we went out once again for dinner and again a great time was had by all. We even arrived at the next reunion's proposed destination: Key West! I am looking forward to it already, even though its tentatively scheduled for two years from now.
After the restaurant, we adjourned to our quarters and had a few sips of whiskey and wine to close out what had been a great gathering of friends!
We are not alcoholics, really....
Day Three, Sunday the 28th:
It had rained and the streets were still wet and the skies were overcast as I motored north out of Durango on Scarlett. The air was cool and crisp and I didn't foresee any really wet weather as I appeared to be following the major storm system according to the radar report. I would, be proven, wrong.
Near the Colorado Mountain Resort to the north of Durango,
a small ski report with a small lake across from its front entrance.
I took the above shot, thinking the motorcycling gods would be
kind to me today and still show good scenery in spite of the fog and clouds.
Near the southern end of US550, between Rockwood and Silverton
It started to rain.....I couldn't find my rain pants....
The rain was light but quite steady with thick gray clouds overhead blocking the illuminating rays of the sun. I got to Molas Pass Summit just before the rain really started coming down. I waited for the rain to stop while standing at a nearby shelter/bathroom building. Not only did it not stop raining, it started to lightly hail and soon it started lightly snowing at times, it was time to go and get to a lower altitude!
It was a bit cold up at the summit of Molas Pass.
Scarlett and I slowly made our way down the twisty road towards Silverton which we bypassed due to the falling rain.
Taken as the rain fell and I aproached Ouray, you can see how
the rain conditions muted the colors but provided rather nice
Many times have I ridden this portion of the Million Dollar
Highway, it is however the first time I saw water cascades washing down
piles of small rocks and gravel!
We continued on to Ouray and the rain stopped shortly after I arrived! So as we were both soaked anyways, we back-tracked all the way back to Ironton Park in seek of more Fall scenery.
As you can see, a bit of snow at the top of the nearby
mountain peaks due to the weather system!
Memorial to the fallen snow plow drivers who've worked
to clear this rather dangerous and narrow stretch of US550
A view of the Million Dollar Highway's shelf road
The rain returned and with it went my hopes for more pictures of Fall Colors. Soaking wet, I motored out of Ouray with Valencia and we headed for lower ground and warmer temperatures. Got to the town of Montrose shortly after Noon and spent almost an hour inside a fast food joint trying to dry out and get some food. I had a bit of the shakes from being wet and cold, I thought I'd forgotten my rain pants at home, I would later find them the next day, in the sidecar's trunk! Oh well.
Temperatures gradually got warmer the further I got from the mountains and the storm system. Soon Scarlett and I were riding along US50 eastbound towards Salida. There was some Fall color in evidence west of Gunnison:
After Salida came and went, the next town was Cañon City. It was nice and warm in Cañon City, with temperatures in the low 70s and a warming sun helping to dry me out. Monarch Pass, along US50, would be the last big pass of the day, and while colors were kind of "not there" at the top of the pass, there was plenty of colorful spots before and after the summit:
Near the "now for sale" Monarch Lodge Hotel on US50
just before one arrives at Salida.
The rest of the ride was steady riding towards home. No more pictures, just a steady desire to get home and get rid of the remaining "still a bit moist" riding gear and clothes and some warm food and drink.
1183 kilometers or 709 miles covered in 24 hours by Scarlett and I. 12 hours on Friday and 12 hours on Sunday, man I was tired. Scarlett, by the way, did it all with no complaints or issues! It was great visiting with my friends, just have to make sure it's not so long an interval between gatherings from now on!