Day Six - Ouray and Back - 310 miles

Our night's rest in the cabin wasn't terribly uncomfortable.  After eating breakfast at the campground we headed out into what proved to be my favorite day.  We headed north on US550 towards Montrose.  We turned east on US50 for a short period before we turned north on C347 towards The Black Canyon of the Gunnisnon.  The Black Canyon of the Gunnison's unique and spectacular landscape was formed slowly by the action of water and rock scouring down through hard Proterozoic crystalline rock. No other canyon in North America combines the narrow opening, sheer walls, and startling depths offered by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  We chose the south rim drive which is 7 miles from Tomichi Point to High Point, with 10 overlooks in between.  We stopped and absorbed the view (KMZ).  The canyon rises 2200 feet with painted walls rising from the water.  There we spotted a falcon perched on the rock's edge occasionally swooping down perhaps on some prey.  Back at the east portal we traversed down to the water's edge and rode a few miles up to the dam.  This view nearly rivaled the view from the top (KMZ).  We were there early in the morning so we encountered few people.  Back out of the park we backtracked to US550 and continued north.  We had planned to tour the Grand Mesa but once again we were short on time.  As we traveled north we spotted Land's End Road off to the east.  This road must be awesome to ride, we couldn't believe what we were looking at.  We made mental note of this road and pledged to return at a later date.  Shortly after, C141 appeared on our left and we began our trek on the Unaweep/Tabegauche byway (KMZ).  As we began down the road we quickly realized we were in for serious canyon carving.  It starts by following the East Creek and the canyon it carved over the years.  The road skirts the northern end of the Uncompahgre Plateau. The Plateau is 25 to 30 miles wide and stretches nearly 100 miles south to the San Juan Mountains.  Highway 141 into Unaweep Canyon was once known as "Uranium Road" as it was the only access between the mines in the Gateway area and the processing mill in Grand junction.  Quickly we were upon the Unaweep Divide which separates water from the Gunnison and Dolores Rivers.  Next comes the Unaweep Seep, a unique wet meadow area which is best known as one of only a few habitats of the rare Nokomis Fritillary butterfly.  I hope that wasn't a rare one I scrapped off of my fairing.  We stopped at Gateway to gas up but decided to pass on the $2.00/gallon liquid, but we had some lunch instead (KMZ).  Gateway is an old Indian town that was booming in the '40s during the height of the Uranium mining.  As we continued south below Gateway sheer cliffs of the canyon came closer to the road.  The road itself was not all that smooth in this portion of Mesa County.  Once over the county line into Montrose County the road smoothed out.  The curves and open sweepers were fabulous in this area, around every bend was more beautiful scenery.  We passed over Roc, and Mesa Creeks where the canyon walls changed color and became more of a burnt orange color, perhaps it was the late afternoon sun.  On the right side of the road we passed an old domed-shaped coke oven built in the 1880s and used during the construction of the hanging flume (KMZ).  The hanging flume was a short few miles to the south.  Clinging to the massive Wingate Sandstone cliffs some 100-150 feet above the Dolores River Canyon, this wooden flume was built in 1889-1890. The seven-mile flume and associated ditches delivered 80 million gallons of water per day from the San Miguel River to operate mining equipment at the Lone Tree Placer site. Even though the site was only 40 feet above the Dolores River, the technology was not yet available to pump the water directly from the river at the necessary volume and pressure to wash the gold from the gravel.  We pulled off of the road to grab some pictures of the remains.  We headed on towards the town of Uravan in hopes of finding some gas since we were dangerously low.  Uravan, named for the uranium and vanadium processed from carnotite ore, was established in 1936 as a company town and mill site for U.S. Vanadium Corporation, a subsidiary of Union Carbon and Carbide Corporation. From the 1930s to the mid '40s the mill produced vanadium used to harden steel in war armaments. Uranium was recovered from the mill tailings during the early 1940s and was used in the first atomic bombs. Production of uranium and vanadium continued until 1984 when the mill closed. Today only the mill and some of the community buildings remain as evidence of a once thriving community. The remainder of the buildings have been removed and the area's current owner, Umetco Minerals Corporation, is undertaking environmental reclamation.  Unfortunately no gas was to be found.  Nothing was left to do but to hope we could make it to Naturita.  We found gas before we ran out and continued down C141 until we came upon the intersection of C145.  We turned on C145 and progressed towards Norwood.  Driving toward Norwood, majestic mountain panoramas suddenly come into view and we knew we getting close to the San Juans.  Norwood sits atop Wrights Mesa and once through the town the road falls off steeply to the banks of the San Miguel River.  There we stopped for a break.  As we continued we could see we heading back into some weather and stopped shortly after we got going to don our rain suits.  At Placerville we turned onto C62 back across the Dallas Divide and into Ridgeway.  Somehow we missed the rain.  We went to our campsite cleaned up and went for dinner in Ouray.  We ate at our breakfast spot of 1999's dual-sport trip.  A quick trip around town to buy a t-shirt and we were back at the campground.  Into the hot tub we went with our beer in hand and before we knew it, it was time for bed.