Day 53

Sunday, July 17 2005Grand Junction, CO
Miles: 5862Health: Crappy due to elevation
We had decided the previous night that we would get up early and head out into the wilderness. The plan was to take the scenic drive through the park and then camp on the other side. We first went to look at a rock formation called Twin Owls. They looked moderately like two owls, but not overly so. We then started our drive through the park. There’s a lot to see and do on this drive. Our first stop was the Alluvial Fan pulloff and short hike. This was a waterfall that had once been the site of a huge flood that killed a few campers in 1982. Signs claimed that debris had washed into the area in the shape of a fan, but we were too close to really tell, but once we got up one hill, we could look down and really see the shape.

Our drive took us up, up, up, past some remarkable overlooks. We took many, many photos, though none of them really captured the grandeur. At about 9000 or so feet, Ceridwen began to feel not so good. Despite the strenuous hike the day before, she had not slept well, and was no beginning to feel kind of gross, similar to the way she had felt when we first arrived in Denver. But we pressed on, making it to the pinnacle of the drive, Rock Cut, in the mid-morning. Rock Cut is very nearly the highest point on the road, a little over 12,000 feet. Here, no trees grow and pretty little tundra flowers grow amid rocks. The views also rock, with sweeping vistas of snow covered mountains giving way to dizzying expanses of valley below. We were both rather dizzy due to the thin nature of the air, and while walking along the path, we were clutching each other and laughing hysterically at nothing. Heh, look, a marmot. Heeeheeeheeehheeeeee!!!!!

For Ceridwen, the fun effects of the elevation soon wore off and she began to feel truly awful. For a time it felt as if her body had been injected with novocaine and she had a general feeling of malaise. We continued along the road, since at this point it was the fastest way down. We stopped briefly at some more overlooks, and took some photos with the continental divide. We had spent a lot of time with the rivers that drain into the Atlantic ocean during the first part of our trip, and this did seem like a huge turning point in the trip. We headed down the mountains along with the Pacific-bound waters of the Colorado river system.

By the time we got to the campground, Ceridwen felt truly horrible and was starting to get disoriented and seemed to be losing the ability to speak coherently. We were still at about 9000 feet, and luckily, she was able to remember the advice of all the websites about altitude sickness she had read while in Denver. They basically said the same thing; if you become disoriented, you need to GO DOWN. We stopped at the ranger station to ask about the nearest low place and were told to head for Granby, which was about 30 miles from the park and about 7500 feet in elevation. We did, and Ceridwen began to feel better, though not for long. Shortly after lunch, we had to move along.

We had hoped to stay in Granby and then return to the park the following day for some more hiking, but it was not to be. The hike the day before at an elevation that we had not acclimated to at all had apparently been a bad idea. But, at least we had seen a whole bunch of prettiness. Unfortunately, unless you go back to Denver, the only way down is back up, and then down, and then back up, as you take I-70 through a series of passes. Our ultimate goal was Grand Junction with its lovely 4500 foot elevation.

Along the way, and after we had passed through some of the more stomach rolling high passes, we found ourselves in Glenwood Gorge. This was a beautiful area with steep red rock walls rising up around us on either side. Had we been able to stay in the Rockies, we never would have seen them, since our planned route would have taken us along a different road. Ceridwen studied the maps and guidebooks while Keath drove so that we could take advantage of our new route.

We stopped briefly in Parachute, CO. This is the only town named Parachute in the world. Some French guy was given the task of naming alls sorts of towns in the region and had been reading a book on parachutes. When he saw the snow covered mountain, he decided to name the town after it. Some of his others included Rifle, which he named after an old rifle leaning against a tree, and No Name, which he forgot to name.

We finally made it to Grand Junction around 8pm and checked into a Motel 6 in the hopes of getting a good night’s sleep.