September is the time for viewing leaves at their peak color for aspens, sumac and red twig in the Colorado high country. The leaves absolutely glow with brilliant yellows, golds and touches of red, interspersed with the deep greens of pines, firs, pinion and juniper. Leaf-peepers are parked on every mountain pass, taking pictures and filling every restaurant in the mountain towns all over the state. We joined them, starting our trek toward Tucson for the winter earlier this year than last by almost two months. With so much time, we plan to spend a week here and a week there, really exploring southern Colorado, New Mexico and eastern Arizona on the way.
Our first stop was a return trip to Ridgway, Colorado, for several reasons. (Ridgway is where they filmed the movie,True Grit, with John Wayne. There are many references to it all over town. You HAVE to try the True Grit Cafe if you are in town. Everyone does.) It is a great little artsy Main Street community (I am still committed to the Main Street model, even though I am retired), and a designated Colorado Creative District. One of my very best friends, Pam Foyster, has just built a fabulous small house there (not a “tiny house”), and we wanted to see it. And finally, it was the third annual Sneffels Fiber Festival and I wanted to go again this year. Our friends, Susan and John DeWardt (Susan is another fiber crafter) joined us, staying in a cute little VRBO in a house in downtown.
Last year, knowing I am a rughooker, knitter, and fiber crafter, Pam alerted me to the Sneffels Fiber Festival, hoping we would visit her in Ridgway, her new hometown, and see the land she had bought a couple of years before to build her eventual retirement home. As fate would have it, she was able to change jobs which allows her to commute from Ridgway to Montrose, and she was able to move up her building schedule to NOW. Last year, when we visited, the driveway and foundation were just being dug. Construction took place all winter and she was able to move into the new house in June. I couldn’t wait to see it (and where she had placed the hooked rug I had sent her as a house-warming present).
Cooper and I settled in for a week at Ridgway State Park, the same place we camped last year when we were visiting Pam. I was so excited to be here the same week as last year, because I discovered the park is loaded with pinion trees and we picked up LOTS of fresh nuts – LAST YEAR. This year, not a (fresh) nut in sight. We have since been told, by people who live in the area, that the trees do not produce nuts every year, but I can’t find any information on the internet about that. One guy said every seven years, and another source said two. I was so disappointed. The campground, however, is wonderful. Large sites, great fire pits, clean showers and ELECTRICITY. We don’t need to be hooked to water and sewer all the time, but electricity makes life so much easier.
Having John and Susan with us for a couple of days was terrific. We had three full days to spend together before Cooper and I are gone for eight months. We will miss them. On Friday we went to Telluride in the midst of the first real snow storm of the year. With umbrellas, we toured the main street and back streets, the great little museum and out to the mine at the end of the canyon.
When Cooper and I first went through Telluride 41 years ago, on our honeymoon, it was a sleepy little town. Being May, we only saw one guy playing frisbee with his dog, in the middle of the street, and not another soul or car to be seen. Today it is packed with people, parking is scarce, and every square inch has been built on. We had a wonderful lunch at Butcher and Baker Cafe, with a fresh eclectic menu, served deli style. The FREE BOX on the main corner is still going strong and is a focal point in downtown. They clean it out every Friday and new stuff magically appears every day for the taking. Despite the snow, we had a fun day exploring and taking photos.
Saturday was devoted to the Fiber Festival, perusing hand-dyed wool and various demonstrations of things to do with all kinds of fibers, weaving, felting, knitting and crocheting. Susan and I took a fun felting applique class, which she took to immediately and I struggled with. She makes awesome dolls and being able to felt-shape heads, or add 3D petals to roses on her mini-purses, gives her a whole new dimension to her art. It just doesn’t grab me.
Ouray, Colorado, just before Red Mountain Pass, out of Ridgeway, is another (now) booming mining town that has been rediscovered. Although winters are very quiet in Ouray, summer is very busy. The Ouray hot springs pool draws people from all over. Even on a cool Sunday in September, there were people everywhere. Not packed, but not quiet, either.
We visited on Sunday, having lunch at the Ouray Brewery (yur-ay or oo-ray, depending on who you talk to) and swinging in their swinging bar seats. The sun was out, but the breeze was very chilly, especially at an elevation of almost 8000 feet. Lots of great shops to browse. Susan scored a whole bag full of ponderosa pineneedles for her pineneedle baskets. The needles were scattered all over the ground right outside a great kitchenware store. (She is the one who taught me my newest passion – making pineneedle baskets. I already have all the needles I am able to stash in the limited space in our RV. )
John and Susan left us in Ouray and we spent the next several days on our own in Ridgway, and hanging out at our campsite. We really like the Ridgway area and love spending time here. For such a small town, the caliber of the restaurants is terrific and creative, which we love. Hiking, boating, fishing and hunting are big here. Wildlife abounds. Winter sports are available nearby – although we don’t expect to take advantage of them anytime soon. We’re pretty much over snow.
The larger town of Montrose is less than a half-hour away with all of the services, shopping and restaurants one would expect. We had to have our diesel truck’s turbo worked on and Montrose Ford finally got it running right, after several attempts at the same thing in Steamboat. And, since Cooper’s thing is to visit local breweries, we had lunch one day at Colorado Boy Brewery (really good brick-oven pizza and Cooper liked the beer) and another day, while the truck was being fixed, at Horsefly Brewery.
If you are looking for a quirky kind of restaurant experience, you HAVE to try the Red Barn Restaurant (by Two Sisters). TIP: if you look up Red Barn on Yelp, don’t read any of the reviews from before January 2016. The owners of the successful Two Sisters Restaurant bought the struggling, bigger Red Barn space and put their own spin and style on the place. The place is now rocking.
Serving homestyle comfort foods, sandwiches, breakfast, and entrees, they spice it up with slightly racy menu descriptions, reminiscent of a spicy romance novel. I had a really tasty grilled cheese sandwich with green chilies and Cooper had a piled high Reuben.
When the chatty waitress (we egged her on) brought the check, it was stuck between the pages of a book, Pretty Little Liars. The waitress was wonderful about sharing information about the restaurant, its history, the cheekiness of the place and quirky women who own it. We really enjoyed ourselves. Our kind of place.
We also found this great “junque”store that the pickers from American Pickers TV show would love! Tracy’s Antiques (sorry, no website, but listed on all the review sites, like TripAdvisor and Yelp) has lots of collectibles, from signs, to rusty vehicles and parts, to funky yard art, to creations you can’t find anywhere. Around every corner is something else to exclaim over. These guys have a definite sense of humor, but also really know their stuff and the value of it. Very fun stop.
We had a great week in Ridgway/Montrose. This will probably be an annual stop, since we love the area so much. Great independent people, lots of creative juices and spectacular scenery. The perfect fall get-away.