We had a bit of a lie in today by recent standards, getting up just on time for the 06.00 start to breakfast in our hotel. As breakfast was included in the room rate we were hoping to get as much value out of it as possible, but that turned out to be a challenge as there wasn't a lot of choice. It was described as a continental breakfast and mainly consisted of pre-packaged pastries and toast.
We were on the road by around 7am, driving north through Colorado. As soon as we left Cortez behind and approached the next town along of Dolores, the scenery became noticeably greener.
Soon we had some fantastic views of the mountains. It was a completely different landscape to yesterday!
After an hour or so we passed through the small town of Rico. It felt like we'd arrived in the Wild West.
We weren't making terribly fast progress with our route because we kept stopping to take photos of the views.
Although it was only around 8am it was already incredibly sunny.
It felt like it was going to be another warm day, even though we were away from the desert.
We couldn't stop and admire the views for too long, because we had a drive of three hours to reach our first destination of the day.
We were planning to get some more value out of our 'America the Beautiful' pass and visit another national park; Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This is apparently the least visited national park in Colorado, so I was really hoping that it was going to turn out to be worth the three hours we spent driving to get to it
I needn't have worried; we entered the park and stopped at the first official viewpoint, Tomichi Point. This is what we saw.
I didn't know how exciting visiting another canyon would be in a week when we'd already seen the Grand Canyon, but this one was so different.
From Tomichi Point we drove a little further down the road to the national park's visitor centre. Behind here there is a viewpoint called Gunnison Point, which I'd read was one of the most impressive in the park.
We walked down to it and it really was impressive.
From here we could see all the way down to the Gunnison river at the bottom of the canyon.
It was a long way down!
There was a short walk towards the next viewpoint: Pulpit Rock Overlook.
From here the view down to the river was even clearer...
...and the river looked a beautiful shade of blue.
The next viewpoint that we stopped at had some fantastic views of the rocky canyon sides.
In some places the rocks were stripy.
I could have stood and looked at the views all day
I was glad that there were good rails at all the viewpoints though!
The drops were so steep that it was hard not to have vertigo at times!
The paths from the car parks to the viewpoints were generally fairly short, but with the heat and the altitude they still felt like hard work at times. The rim of the canyon is about 8000 ft above sea level.
The viewpoint was called Painted Wall and it was definitely worth walking to.
The info board beside the viewpoint explained that the canyon wall here is higher than the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building
We were driving on a road along the southern rim of the canyon and it comes to an end at a place called High Point.
From here there's a short walk you can do called the Warner Point Nature Trail. It's not a circular walk but the whole thing - there and back - is only 1.5 miles in total so we decided to give it a go.
As we started out we had some great views down towards the rather barren landscape outside the canyon...
...and of course a few views back towards the canyon itself.
The walk turned out to be a bit more strenuous than we expected, with lots of up and down. There were some great views though.
Eventually we made it to Warner Point, which was the end point of the walk.
The views of the canyon were great from here too.
Then it was time to turn around and head back towards the car.
From Black Canyon of the Gunnison we drove for another hour or so towards a town called Grand Junction. We were starving by this point, so we visited a branch of International House of Pancakes for a late lunch. I had some amazing crispy chicken with macaroni cheese, while Tim chose an all day breakfast. With pancakes, of course
Suitably refreshed, we set out towards our second destination of the day: the Colorado National Monument.
I'm a bit hazy about what the difference is between a national park and a national monument, but our America the Beautiful pass got us into this one for free too
We enjoyed a scenic drive through a very rocky landscape.
The road was steep and winding in places and there were some very unusual rock formations...
...as well as the odd tunnel to drive through.
We stopped at various viewpoints for views of yet another canyon
This one didn't currently have any water running through it.
It was still really interesting to see though.
The way the rocks have eroded here is really unusual.
These pillars are known as the Coke Ovens, because apparently they resemble the shape of ovens which were used in the 19th century to convert coal into coke for use in iron smelting.
The middle pillar in this group is known as the Kissing Couple...
...while this large one standing all on its own is called the Independence Monument.
It was a fascinating place to visit and there really weren't many other people there Once we'd completed our driving tour we then had a drive of around 90 miles to a town called Glenwood Springs where we're staying this evening. The hotel room is nice and spacious again, with two beds and a sofa.
It was around 7pm by the time we arrived so it's been a long day of driving and exploring. But definitely worth it for the views