Silverton is an amazing little town, and we couldn’t wait to stop there on our way from Mesa Verde to Ouray. The rain was finally coming down after severe drought, and as it flash flooded Havasu Canyon only a week after our departure, we encountered our own natural disaster here in Silverton. We were having a blast on what was supposed to be our “quick” stop in Silverton, shopping for souvenirs, eating fudge samples, running through the rain, and drewling over funnel cakes. Finally, we headed off down the Million Dollar Highway towards Ouray.
At some point, traffic stopped, but we didn’t think a thing about it because of the road construction signs. Suddenly, all the cars ahead of us started turning around, which we knew was trouble. Even though we were within only a few miles of Ouray, you would have to go hundreds of miles to get there any other way. A woman pulled down her window and told us there was a mudslide up ahead, and that the road was washed out. We waited, debating whether to set up camp along the highway, knowing it would be very difficult to turn our big rig around on the small two lane highway with steep dropoffs on either side. Finally, some emergency workers who had been fighting fires in Durango helped us turn around and we headed back to Silverton to rethink our plans. Since it would be hundreds of miles to get to Ouray the other way, we opted to spend more time in Silverton until we had a better idea of if the road would reopen. It’s strange to have the entire summer planned out, and then find no way to get to one of the places, potentially changing the path of the rest of our trip.
After speaking with some locals, we opted to camp down Mineral Road in the National Forest Service Campgrounds. There are several campgrounds down this road, and better yet, they are free! We are used to reserving sites 6 months in advance, so it was a welcome sight to pull in to Kendall Campground at dusk and find a site. The next morning, the boys went running and found more desirable campgrounds right on the river, so we hitched up and pulled the camper further down the road to Golden Horn Campground. The kids had a blast with the open space, exploring along the water. Sometimes, the best thing is a little change to the plan we have mapped out.
It was supposed to rain again, so we had decided not to try climbing a 14er, but as the morning progressed, there was not a cloud in the sky. After a visit in town talking to more locals in the adventure stores, we knew we had our window of opportunity. We raced back to the camper to grab hiking gear, and headed out of town to climb Handies Peak, our first family 14er. While we did not choose the shortest route (due to the tough four wheel road), we knew this was one of the easier 14ers to summit. That is not to say that it was easy. While this hike was “only 9 miles,” it was probably the hardest 9 mile hike we have taken. In addition, none of us had mentally prepared to do this on that day, so it was challenging (to say the least) to get everybody on board with the mission. This was one of those days that mindset became everything. We had to summit a 13er (which you will swear has to be the top), only to climb down 1500 feet only to climb back up… and beyond. Yikers!
Now, starting a 14er mid afternoon is usually not recommended, but what a treat it was under these circumstances! It was a beautiful afternoon, the trail was covered with wildflowers, and the kids were in peak shape after the Grand Canyon and Havasu. The trails were as steep as these pictures look, yet there was no time for breaks. We knew that in order for us to make it back down before dark, we needed to move quickly. These guys never cease to amaze me!
We have never had the privilege to witness a 14er sunset, but this may qualify as the most spectacular sunset we have seen.
The kids are definitely in better shape than me, and even after running that morning, Ethan carried my heavy pack so that I could keep up 😉 As we raced down, we ended up on a side trail to summit another 13er and had to back track to get down. This was a costly mistake, but this pic says it all! While it was dusk coming down, we made it back to the car just in time. What a day!
That evening, the road reopened, but we stayed down Mineral Road so we could drive the Million Dollar Highway (with million dollar views) the next morning. It’s truly amazing what these road crews can do in just a day to get these highways reopened! Mountains are nothing to mess around with. After making it through several restored mudslide areas, we were on our way to Ouray! (travel dates 7/8-7/10/18)