I can’t believe we haven’t shared the story of last year’s summer vacation gone so, so wrong. We had planned an amazing week-long road trip through the southwest, taking us up and down our second fourteener, through Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon, in and out of the Grand Canyon (my first time!), and culminating in a Fourth of July celebration in Las Cruces, New Mexico with our good college friends.

Only one of those came to fruition. (Or as I always accidentally call it, fruitition. Sounds so much more like a word!).

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Cole and I left Kansas City last June in our lovely Ford Fiesta that had just gotten its AC fixed. Nothing could go wrong. We drove into late Friday night before stopping in the corner of Kansas at the Cimmaron National Grasslands to camp. It was creepy setting up camp at 1 a.m. next to a seemingly abandoned playground, but in the morning, we woke up to a calm and pretty prairie view.

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Next on our stop was Mt. Blanca in Colorado. We had the perfect plan to hike about five miles to Lake Como, camp, then summit the following morning. What we hadn’t planned was the drastic altitude change. I was so sick and weird feeling during the first mile of the hike (which is realllly steep) that we had to turn around. Already one destination on the list that didn’t work out. But at least it wasn’t the Grand Canyon! There was always the Grand Canyon.

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So we got back in the car and decided to try out the next fourteener that we had in mind: Mt. Sneffels. It was still along our route, and we figured that an extra day would help ease the altitude sickness. We drove (we noticed a few clunk-clunks but didn’t think much of it, and set up camp, again in the dark, somewhere along the way. Setting up camp in pitch blackness isn’t a lot of fun, unless you wake up to a view like this:

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The next morning, we started driving, praying we wouldn’t hear the clunking noises again. We did, but only for a bit before we heard what seemed like a “fitting back into place” clunk. Or maybe it was just a rock caught under the hood that finally got out. Either way, now everything seemed fine

Until it wasn’t. Not too much further down the road, the car shut down, all of its dashboard lights flashed, and it just sort of died. Yikes. We weren’t totally in the middle of nowhere, in between Montrose and Ouray, and we did have cell phone reception. After we made a call to our insurance, it was tow city for us. The driver towed us to Ouray, a small mountain town a little ways down the road. There was one mechanic in town, but it was Sunday. We accepted our fate that we’d be in town for at least the day, we left our car parked by the auto shop, and we hiked to the town’s Visitor Center to find something to do.

Thankfully, Ouray is a hopping town with plenty to keep us busy. We just didn’t realize we’d have to keep busy for four days. I’ll spare you the details and the drama and the tears, but the story pretty much involves promises that our car would be fixed the next day, then the next day, then the next day, unshipped parts, coffee shop charging stations, and sad realizations that we would not be making it to the Grand Canyon after all. Which makes us even more excited that the park is in our first leg.

We made the most of a tough situation by diving into all Ouray had to offer. It’s a great little town, with trails, waterfalls, historic courthouses, a natural spring pool, and extremely kind and understanding people. We won’t soon forget our Ouray stay, and you better believe we’ll be back to visit on purpose next year along our National Parks route (Black Canyon of the Gunnison is only an hour away!).

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Included in our impromptu Ouray vacation were:

  • A hike that combined the Lower Cascade Falls, Upper Cascade Falls, and Chief Ouray Mine
  • A look at Box Canyon Falls
  • A Jeep tour of Yankee Boy Basin that was incredible but we only had done it to attempt to summit Mt. Sneffels, which fell through because it was too late in the day and the tour didn’t bring us as far up the mountain as we had hoped.
  • A soak in the Hot Springs Pool
  • Camping at both 4J+1+1 RV Park and Amphitheater Campground
  • A historic walking tour that took us to the restored and in-use courthouse and several other historic buildings in town
  • Daily visits to the Artisan Bakery & Coffee Shop for cell phone charges (and to call the Grand Canyon to let them know we wouldn’t be using our acquired permit.)
  • Two trips to Maggie’s Burgers for delicious fuel
  • And many other places that distracted us from our many woes at the time.

If you were wondering, the one thing on our list we did accomplish was visiting our friends in Las Cruces. We hiked, drank wine, visited a farmer’s market, and watched fireworks. It still ended up being the culmination of our trip… it was simply a different trip than we had expected.

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Written by Elizabeth

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