The Great American Road Trip II - 23 - Passing Out
My dad had gotten up around 6:00 in the morning and went to get our brakes checked out at the Durango dealership. It's fortunate that he did so, as he reported the engine light blaring at him every mile or so - a repeat of the oil-light false alarm we got outside of Kamloops, British Columbia. After a series of scares he got to the dealership, where they checked the engine (which has been knocking a little bit), the brakes, and the oil. They did an oil change and reported that everything was fine with the engine and brakes - the brakes sound strange and the engine is knocking simply due to the altitude. (Brakes apparently accumulate more dust at higher altitudes.)
And boy, did we have altitude today. He got some intel on the over-10,000 foot Wolf Creek Pass en route to Alamosa from almost everyone he could, and learned that it was easier than the 10% grade of Teton Pass and didn't have nearly as many curves. It was, however, quite long and very high up - but their advice was to stick the car in third gear so we wouldn't have to ride the brakes.
We left the hotel a little after 11:00, and stopped at Serious Texas Barbecue so for lunch. We rolled through Durango's historic downtown and saw a number of old buildings before getting out of the town and on towards the epic Wolf Creek Pass.
Between Bayfield and Chimney Rock we hit the 6,000-mile mark and our trip odometer reset.
We entered more forested areas and passed Colorado's Chimney Rock (the namesake of the town and also apparently a National Monument in its own right) and within short order had arrived in Pagosa Springs, the last town before Wolf Creek Pass.
We entered the San Juan National Forest, but before we went over the mountain,. we stopped at a pullout called Treasure Falls. Run by the National Forest, the trail goes up a number of switchbacks before taking you over a bridge for a fantastic view of a large waterfall. We walked down to the rushing stream below it under a rock overhang and touched the frigid water before getting back on the trail and descending down the switchbacks to the car.
Then we went over the mountain.
The car was doing all it could to get up over the mountain. The grade wasn't really all that steep, but the altitude did a number on the engine's ability to combust fuel. We got to the top safely before pulling off the road to let the engine cool down. Conveniently, this was at the Continental Divide at 10,850 feet above sea level - over two miles high. The air was pretty thin and I got a bit winded just walking around. Trucks that passed the pullout were clearly having troubles going up and down alike.
The engine did not overheat and cooled to a more normal temperature as we got back on the road, which we did earlier than we'd wanted to due to the beginnings of rain. It did nothing more than sprinkle, however.
So we went down, and we just kept on going down. Alamosa is at roughly 7,000 feet above sea level - so we had to come down 3,000 feet from over two miles high.
There were some curves - including curved tunnels through the sides of mountains. It seems like it'd be more trouble to build the tunnel than to just keep on blasting out the roadway. We eventually leveled out but kept winding around the sides of mountains before finally settling down into a valley, where we mostly paralleled a small, but rushing, river.
We went through small towns on the way to Alamosa, but the big driving fun was over for the day. We arrived at our hotel at 3:20 and got checked in.
(Our room features a locked circuit breaker, and I'm not entirely sure why.)
The land around Alamosa is not part of the plains that define the eastern half of Colorado, as we're not out of the Rocky Mountains yet. Its flatness - and fertility - is due to the area being an ancient lake bed. After so many mountains, it's good to have some flat roads for a while.
Equal parts hungry and tired, we ate at a decent local Italian restaurant in town. Their personal pizzas are good but filling, and we had our leftover pieces boxed to take back to our room for lunch tomorrow. (En route to the restaurant, we'd stopped by a local sports-equipment shop and rented two sand sleds.)
After a few nights of not getting much rest, I'm looking forward to good sleep tonight.
Tomorrow: we get up early to sled on the Great Sand Dunes, the largest sand dunes in North America.