Friday, August 22, 2008


Panorama of the Sangre de Cristo mountains west of Westcliffe, Colorado.

Our stay at Mueller State Park was too short. We had a great visit with a friend of Laurie's from her decade in Boulder, Colorado, a couple of hikes, a trip to the grocery store... and it was time to leave. Ah, well, at least we moved to another gorgeous spot.

Even before we arrived in Colorado, we had heard mention of Westcliffe, Colorado, a very small town in a rather out-of-the-way valley in the southern part of the state. After the Boomerang in July (which is how we ended up in Buena Vista), several of our Boomer friends moved to a boondocking site near Westcliffe - and Westcliffe went on my list of places to visit.

Westcliffe is south of Mueller State Park, in a high valley between two mountain ranges, the Wet Mountains to the east and the super-high Sangre de Cristos to the west, virtually impassable (top photo - some of those peaks are over 14,000 feet). The area between Mueller State Park and the Arkansas River (north of Westcliffe) was one of the most prosperous mining areas of Colorado and the three roads that travel that area are collectively know as the Gold Belt Scenic Tour.

The description of Phantom Canyon Road begins "Vehicles over 25 feet are not permitted on Phantom Canyon Road. The road is unpaved through most of its length and winds through the canyon with steep drop-offs." Cross Phantom Canyon Road off the list.

How about Shelf Road? "Blasted out of the wall of a canyon in 1892... the road narrows to one lane with turnouts for 8 miles where it crosses The Shelf. Four wheel drive is recommended...". Yikes, absolutely the stuff of Scoopy's nightmares!

If we wanted to avoid a longer route, doubling back on roads already traveled, that left High Park Road: "Originally a trail linking the ranches and farms of the mountain parklands to the towns of the Arkansas Valley... the road is paved throughout its entire length." The ranger at the Mueller S.P. Visitor Center confirmed that it was paved and said it was a good road for RV's. Excellent - off we went.

Well, yes and no. Paved: yes. Good for RV's: small ones, yes. For us, winding down 2 miles of steep grade in first gear, negotiating 15 mph curves that we couldn't see around... it was beautiful, but it wasn't relaxing!

The drive used all of Odel's driving skills, which by now are considerable. The ambient air temperature, an important part of driving a bus-sized motorhome, was close to 90 degrees, so engine overheating was to be avoided as we slowly climbed up curvy passes; overheating of the brakes was to be avoided creeping back down. We saved 45 miles, around $25 worth of diesel... and saw truly beautiful and historic scenery. The jury is still out on whether we would drive High Park Road again.

Once we were settled in our site at Grape Creek RV Park (read our review and see photos here), we headed out in the Jeep to explore town (check out the hollyhocks in the middle photo). Our first stop (as usual) was the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, and we are loaded down with information about scenic drives, hikes, restaurants, the events of the coming week. It's a small town, but has several restaurants, a few galleries, and a lot of history - definitely a week's worth of sightseeing to be done around here.

I took this final shot around 6:30 this morning as the sun rose over the Wet Mountains to illuminate the Sangre de Cristos. The temperature was 45 degrees, the sky completely clear, with a forecast of 80 degrees today. Time for breakfast, then off to our first hike in the area.


  1. So glad you are back to internet access, and now have added this town to my someday list! Really good to hear from you again, Laure!

  2. what beatiful pictures
    we are in nd until the end of sept then?