A Slow Creep in Thin Air

American Basin, at Cinnamon Pass

American Basin, at Cinnamon Pass


Someone very wise said it first:  “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” 

Downhill, Cinnamon Pass

If we’re acquainted, you’ve heard me say on more than one occasion that I’m lucky to live where I do.  I am much more likely to run out of years than I am to run out of beautiful adventures within reach.  

Test Drive

Test Drive

It took the most of two full days to travel and photograph a scant sixty miles straight up and straight down on Colorado’s Alpine Loop.  The switchbacks and drop-offs on this route between Lake City and Ouray are notable.  The path to summit is one-lane and two-directional, requiring vigilance and foresight, plus a keen ability to back a vehicle onto the only available ledge that is broad enough to allow travel in both directions.  

The Road Less Traveled

The Road Less Traveled

I would not consider myself a thrill-seeker, but in two days of travel on the Loop, abundant thrills found me.  I saw a moose in the willows of Wager Gulch, a clan of marmots playing at the top of Engineer Pass and a developing wildflower show in American Basin.  I heard wind hissing through the remnants of a mining camp and felt the shallow press of breath in a short hike above tree line.  And I learned to lean into the jolts and bumps of the road, just as if I were on horseback.  

Spotted Meadow

Spotted Meadow

We took a detour up Schaeffer’s Gulch, alternating stops to heave boulders to fill in deep road ruts with other stops to roll away boulders blocking the path.  This side trip was halted at tree line, where snow still covered the road on a north-facing slope.  At elevation, the June sun is near and will soon transform the drift.  But for now, it caused a turnabout.

Summit #2

Summit #2

In the end, the only casualty of this high, slow creep of an adventure was a torn-up arm earned in a spill I took as I explored one of the ghost camps.  Saved the camera, but bashed the arm.  Far worth it, for the experience.

Ghost of a Honky Tonk

Ghost of a Honky Tonk

Also earned, I must say, was the great satisfaction of knowing I hadn’t allowed fear to completely distract from the pleasure of my journey :-). 

Mitch the Marmot

Mitch the Marmot

I hope you enjoyed the ride.  


82 thoughts on “A Slow Creep in Thin Air

  1. OK, crazy lady. I’ve been near some similar smaller, shorter pieces of “road” in them thar mountains. You are brave!!

    • Thank you Bronxboy—-arm is healing nicely and should be good as almost new soon. The Alpine Loop is not terribly far from Pagosa—maybe your sister has ventured there too :-).

  2. This post marks the first time I’ve ever considered moving for the sake of scenery. But suddenly, the idea of being surrounded by natural beauty every day, rather than having t seek it out on the weekends, seems so marvelous. Wide open spaces!

  3. Hey girl! I’ve been to Colorado and it is indeed very spacious and beautiful! I can literally smell the fresh air from your pictures. Beautiful photos and a wonderful experience. Hope your arm gets better!

  4. What an experience! But, I’m happy to experience it vicariously through your wonderful photos and words. Sadly, I would be one to let the fear prevent me from taking such a trip. Sorry you hurt your arm, but I would probably have chanced that to save the camera!
    Thanks for sharing your amazing trip. Heal quickly!

  5. My first husband lied about almost everything except the beauty of Colorado and why we had to live here. Years later, my second husband who feels like my only-ever husband, taught me to drive the Rockies, breathe deeply, and savor the honest beauty of our lives in Colorado.

  6. Having traversed those same mountain roads I appreciate the little subtleties of every turn or crest you describe. Or course, it’s what keeps Patty and me coming back. Nobody is making anymore of their years out there than you, Stacia, and thank you and John for continuing to share it with us.

  7. As a kid, my dad took us up to this area to go jeeping and explore ghost towns. One of my truly favorite memories. Though some of those narrow paths on switchbacks up and down the mountain in restropect were terrifying. Love your photos and adventure!

  8. Loved it all from the comfort of my plains home, but I’ll for sure try some new roads when I make it out there!

    • You pick up the Loop out of Lake City or Ouray……4 or 5 hours from Denver. You can rent jeeps and ATVs in both those towns. We drove my friend’s Toyota FJ cruiser with off road tires. You would not want to attempt the high parts without 4-wheel drive.

  9. What a great adventure, and what a great lady for having it and sharing it. It sounds fantastic, barring the odd bruised arm, but the photographs are excellent. Thank you for sharing and lets hope you get to go on many more of these trips

  10. Wow. Oh, wow. Right in your backyard. Yes, you are one very fortunate person. And it’s so nice that you recognize what you have and want to share. Beautiful photos!

  11. Wow, your photos are a wonderful example of what we can accomplish when we overcome our fears! The views are amazing, although dare I confess I’m rather partial to Mitch? 😉 We saw two of his distant cousins on our evening walk today. Not everyone will agree with me, but they’re such cute creatures to me.

  12. What an awesome adventure. I love this post. It’s all about saying yes to the road and no to your fears. 🙂 A gorgeous journey of photos and words. 🙂

    • I wish I had said in my post what you said here: “it’s all about saying yes to the road and no to your fears.” Perfect. Hope you are okay after run-in. And I want to tell you that your book The Six Train to Wisconsin was fabulous and all the while I read it I kept seeing the movie version in my head. Who do you think should star as Kai and Oliver?

      • You said it perfectly in your post. 🙂 that was just my takeaway. I’m hurting but doctor says that’s normal given what happened. Wow thank you! Oh yay, who did you cast for Kai and Oliver? 🙂

  13. You truly have the “artist’s eye.” As a Montana native whose Dad took the family on such adventures, I can relate. Your writing skill continues to amaze! Just the right words to go with the photos. Thanks for letting me tag along.

    • Glad you came along Jan—–and I hope you didn’t get bumped too much along the way :-). By the way, I am reading the Sandra Dallas book you suggested—-just got started—thanks for the recommendation.

  14. That looks like some trail. We used to run backroads and logging roads, backing all the way down when there was nowhere to turn around. Love the new photo of you.

  15. All i can say is Wow to the beautiful pictures and an equally gripping narration. By the end of the post, I was a lil sad..that my visual treat is over. More power to you for many more adventures.

  16. I love the quote at the beginning of your post, Stacia. I think we have been put just where we both need to be, you with your mountains and me by the sea. I love seeing the mountains through your eyes and hearing your description.

  17. Your photos are fantastic, I would love to be there in person. We are always looking to showcase some for our site- doesn’t have to be old western, just the raw outdoors gets our hearts pumping!

    Thanks for the follow!

    Elizabeth Akin Stelling
    Managing Editor- Cowboy Poetry Press

  18. What a great ride, thanks for taking us along. I see you reached 12800 feet; the air must have been pretty thin at that altitude! It’s looks like a beautiful mountain area in a desolated and almost looming way. Great photos as well as wonderful words that brings the trip alive. Hope you arm is quickly healing.

  19. I’m afraid the thought of taking to those roads during snow and ice season would scare me. But in the spring and summer or fall, there’s no excuse. Thank you for taking us along.
    btw My husband’s aunt and uncle used to leave Waco annually to “host” an RV park from around April to October in Pagosa Springs. They absolutely loved it there until the end of their days.

  20. What a wonderful adventure – not a motorcycle trip, I see!
    We have taken the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier Park a few times. While it is not as rugged as your road, it is a wonderful motorcycle trip with similar vistas. We won’t likely ever be able to do that again by bike, but hopefully we will be able to take Sadie the convertible on that route someday!

  21. What a great and beautiful adventure that was. I’m so pleased that you can enjoy such things. They really do enrich life so much, and it added to mine just looking at the photographs and daydreaming

  22. I love the scenery, and I would love to be there, but I have to say, getting passed another car on those narrow mountain roads, with the cost of getting it wrong being quite high is one of my pet fears. I always worry when I’m a tyre width from a 1000 ft drop!

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