USA Road Trip Part 4 – Telluride & Rocky Mountain High
TRADE THE DESERT FOR THE MOUNTAINS
We left Monument Valley and started our journey East, past the Four Corners Region, the only place in the USA where four states meet (Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico). After being relieved of a few bucks, you can stand on a marker on the ground and tell your loved ones back home that you were in four states at the same time. You will also get a chance to stroll through the market stalls where the local natives sell jewellery, paintings and carvings. Nearby you may notice a jagged rock formation on the horizon, which is known as Ship Rock and is located in the northwesterly corner of New Mexico. Ship Rock has a special religious and historical meaning to the Najavo Nation. Legend has it that it used to be a bird that brought the first Navajos to the area.
We stopped at a rest area in Towaoc, near Cortez, Colorado, to take a short break. The main attraction of Towaoc seemed to be the Ute Mountain Casino, Hotel & Resort – the very first tribal casino in Colorado owned by the Ute Tribe. This stop turned into an unexpected memory that we will treasure forever when Martha decided this was just the place to have her first tasting of real beef jerky. For some reason she thought that beef jerky would go well with a banana and peanut butter Reese’s Pieces which I’m pretty confident in saying is a combination of food never before tried! Nigel preferred to starve but managed to capture this memorable culinary moment on film. After this we continued our journey through the mountains to Telluride. Within a few miles, the scenery had changed from barren, deserts into lush forests, rivers and mountains and the blazing sun was now replaced with dark low lying clouds and rain. We had reached the Rocky Mountains! The sight of a passing snow plough made it seem very surreal that we had begun our journey in desert sunshine only a few hours earlier.
IN THE LAP OF LUXURY
At around 6pm, we finally pulled up in front of our hotel. We were staying at the Mountain Village, a purpose-made Ski resort high above the town of Telluride, surrounded by pine trees and 4000m high snow covered peaks.
Being off-season offered the opportunity to stay in these exclusive surroundings at a reduced price, and so we were able to afford three nights in a pretty fancy pad of a hotel, where of course we were welcomed by a whole army of helpers in suits, wanting to relieve us of our car as well as our luggage. In true road trip charm we arrived in ripped jeans, sweaty t-shirts and with a gazillion plastic bags, which led to an intense feeling of awkward ‘out-of-placeness’.
Pretty much all resort hotels in the States have one thing in common: Valet Parking. Sounds posh, but it basically just means leaving your car keys with the staff at the hotel doors who will then take your vehicle to a secret, mysterious place. Nigel finds it to be a pain in the butt as he is quite capable of parking and walking 100 metres to the hotel entrance unaided! This treat not only costs you around $25 per night, but it also means that you shouldn’t expect to get to your car during your stay without finding a few bucks of change each time to tip the staff. This is awkward on a road trip because we often try not to bring every single item in the car into our hotel every night we stop, so sometimes have to go back out for something. It can be awkward to sort through your luggage, though, with a smiling gentleman looking over your shoulder whilst standing at your car boot outside the main hotel entrance with your dirty laundry bag in tow.
This problem, however, was quickly forgotten because we thought our pad with its spacious rooms, country charm and spectacular mountain views was perhaps the nicest hotel we had ever stayed at. Perhaps our favourite attraction in the area was the FREE gondola between Mountain Village and Telluride (spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains included). It really was incredible and you could ride it as often as you wanted. In other resorts, travelling around by gondolas would have ended up costing us a small fortune.
That night we glided down into Telluride and felt rather Christmassy after our stroll through the town covered in fairy lights. The town itself is relatively small and consists of very pretty, colourful Victorian wooden homes. The town played a significant role in the history of the American West and the town centre was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1964, the highest level which can be awarded in the US. In the romantic glow of a Christmas fairytale, we embarked on the loooooong process of trying to find somewhere to eat with Nigel. You better make friends with your rumbling tummy, because this could take a while.
Finding the appropriate restaurant is a challenge that Nigel does not take lightly and he is diligent in his duty of providing his company with the best possible meal for the best possible price. His intuition usually won’t let him down and neither did it this time, when we settled on a restaurant/saloon called Floradora, which offered an unforgettable mountain vibe. Thinking of our dinner there still makes our mouths water today: Duck tacos which came with prickly pear bbq sauce, mango salsa, sweet potato hash and guacamole … they were heavenly. Even more heavenly than beef jerky with banana and Reese’s Pieces! Before our meal arrived, a man who we later found out was the owner, came over to us and started chatting, asking where we were from etc. When he heard we had travelled from Ireland, he was very interested and asked if we had ever heard of the surname Kane, as his ancestors came from Ireland and he was Charlie Kane. After Nigel had reassured him various times that his last name was also Kane, not O’Kane or Caine (this had to be proven by display of his driver’s license), he treated us like long lost family and sat with us for some time that evening and again the following night when we returned for a meal.
THE MOUNTAINS ARE CALLING
The following morning began with crisp mountain sunshine and a breakfast like no other, with spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains and the worryingly short looking runway of the distant Telluride airport. With our tummies filled, we took the gondola back into town and walked into the box canyon towards Bridal Veil waterfall. It was a really nice walk in warm sunshine with some chipmunk buddies to entertain us along the way. Should you ever doubt your stamina on a walk here, you should remember that Telluride is located at high altitude and any activities will be a lot more taxing here, so don’t overestimate yourself! The road criss-crossed up the canyon side, and as we were climbing, storm clouds began to gather and sure enough just as we reached the waterfall, the heavens opened. We took shelter under an overhanging rock with another couple for a while and they kindly waved down a Jeep whose driver was kind enough to save our day by providing us with a taxi service back into town.
The next morning saw us catching the gondola like picture book tourists, equipped with backpacks and cameras. This time we would go to the top of the mountain and take one of the trails down into the valley. Obviously we had got into a habit of taking wrong turns somewhere though and we ended up on a mountain biking track complete with metre-high jumps off various rocks. Nigel was slightly concerned but luckily it was off-season so colliding with a crazy mountain biker was not too much of a concern and we could focus on tackling the roughness of the terrain.
Our short time in Telluride ended way too fast unfortunately. When we were planning our trip we had not been sure whether it was a wise decision to do the large detour in order to include a brief Colorado visit. We have absolutely no regrets though, because our stay here was unforgettable and Telluride is now one of our favourite places on earth. If you get a chance you should definitely come here.
Following a little last minute shopping in Telluride, we were back on the road for what was to be the longest drive of our trip. We headed back west and a night in Page, Arizona as well as two nights in St. George, Utah would follow. They were to be three eventful days, as we were planning to visit Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell and Zion National Park.
Please follow us around there in the next part of our blog series.