From the heights. (Colorado trip part 3)

(see Part 1: Colorado morning.)
(see Part 2: A mountain ride.)

So much of our lives is spent looking straight ahead, perhaps at a computer screen or other people's faces. That is, until we finally get the urge to look at the sky or a tall building, and we let our necks tilt backward, and it cracks and creaks because we are so not used to the movement.

In Colorado, I decided I was going to look in every direction...Up to see the top of a row of Ponderosa Pine or a snowy 14er's peak. Down to see about fifty types of river stones just past my toes as I stood inches from the Animas River bank or a dandelion that wouldn't be as beautiful in any other place. And side-to-side – a hummingbird feeder, knotted aspen bark, rolling green hills covered with elk and graceful white polka-dotted horses with black manes.

This next part of the trip was filled with the high country...over 10,000 feet above where I normally live life. It was exhilarating. I heard about altitude sickness and how some people struggle to breathe at such high elevations {and we did have to drink about a million gallons of water a day}. But I loved it. To me, each deep breath felt like a gust of cold peppermint through my lungs.

After our magical train ride to Silverton, we strolled around the downtown area which was little more than a dirt road flanked with old wooden storefronts straight out of a Western film.

The weather was absolutely glorious. We ate lunch at Natalia's 1912 Restaurant: a local grass-fed bison burger and fries while we basked in the 72-degree perfect sun on the patio. Then we gathered our things to hop on the 2:30pm bus back to Durango, so we could get in our car and drive back to Silverton to continue on the San Juan Skyway Loop. It may seem backwards, but driving the road between Durango and Silverton, we would see everything from an entirely different perspective, thousands of feet above where we had been on the train.

The drive was only 50 miles, but it took an hour-and-a-half through S-shaped roads at 10,000 feet elevation with no guard rails! It's called the Million Dollar Highway - in the middle of silver and gold mining country, and one of the most scenic stretches of road in America.

As we drove, we continued climbing up and up, ears popping, grasping for another swig of water, passing meadows with pines sticking up sporadically like giant thorns. And always that blue, blue sky, the kind you can only find in the great West...

From this vantage point, the train we had ridden just hours earlier was like a small black and yellow snake thousands of feet below.

At every lookout point, I pulled over and jumped out to see the view. First, Coal Bank Pass, elevation 10,640 ft...

And then Molas Pass, elevation 10,970 ft....

Somewhere on the way to Telluride, I fell in love with aspen trees. Even though it had started to drizzle, I wanted to stop anytime I saw a grove of them, to somehow capture their uniqueness. Finally, in a valley between Ridgway and Telluride, I was able to capture this photo of an aspen grove. It makes me so happy to look at it, to see the layers and shades of green that fade upwards into the mountains.

I also fell in love with the many glacial waterfalls...

When we arrived in Telluride, we were informed that their famous Bluegrass Festival was in full swing and that there were 10,000 extra visitors in the already-small town. We had to pass through a booth before entering the town where they would only give us a parking pass for two hours! So we went to Mountain Village, a new community nestled in the mountains just outside Telluride, and took the free air gondola into Telluride with the naked ski slopes sprawling beneath us...

And those aspens again...from the gondola, I could practically reach out and touch the tree tops.

I wish I could paint a picture of the two of us savoring each minute of our two hours we were allowed in downtown Telluride, perhaps walking through the neighborhoods or enjoying a bit of homemade ice cream. But instead, we shopped. Yes, for two straight hours, these two women were let loose in the store "Down To Earth" where we crammed into one dressing room and kept the clothes coming. At one point, I think the sales girl had about 10 shirts draped over her arm for my mom, and multiple dresses for me. My mom would come out modeling a shirt and then order more as if she were in a restaurant..."I'll take two more of that style, in red and yellow, please!" I walked out with two adorable dresses and my mom with three shirts, both of us with big grins on our faces.

We made it back to our car in just the nick of time, and on the way out of town, we saw that nature had not abandoned us. We drove past these elk feeding at dusk. And a quintessential Colorado meadow, begging for frolicking, if only it had been sunny outside.

We then set off for the tiny one-horse town of Rico, and the last day of our trip.

(see Part 4: Final day.)