Fall Colors, Hanging Flumes, Highway 141

We spent the night at Ridgeway State Park with the intent of driving Colorado highway 141 (the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway) up to the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction. I’d heard that highway was a worthwhile scenic drive and wanted to check it out.

Worth it.

From the campground near Ridgeway we crossed over on Colorado highway 62 and found a pass with fine fall colors.

Heading north from Pacerville, we hit highway 141 at Naturita and headed up through an old gold mining area that more recently also had operating uranium mines. Remnants of both the gold and uranium periods remain.

The area around the uranium-vadanium mines in Uravan is a cleaned up Superfund site. Seems like mining companies are not very good at picking up after themselves. Whatever profits the mine made apparently were not spent on cleaning up the toxic crap they left behind.

The highway follows the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers through dozens of miles of spectacular canyons.

From south to north, the canyon started out narrow and slowly broadened as it went downriver. Every turn brought new views. We stopped every few miles to absorb the scenes and snap pictures.

A remnant of the gold mining era is the ‘hanging flume‘, a flume hanging from the side of the cliff, built in the 1880’s to carry water to a gold mining site. Six miles of flume hanging from a cliff. Impressive engineering and construction. But the gold play failed, so the impressive engineering was wasted.

Look carefully at the right side of the canyon, halfway up the cliff. Parts of the wooden flume are visible.

From the town of Gateway, highway 141 follows the Unaweep canyon north to Grand Junction. This canyon is quite different from the Dolores River Canyon – broader, with ranches, houses, and a bit of agriculture on the canyon floor.

We ended up in the Colorado National Monument campground, not knowing that after a long day driving the bottom of thousand foot deep canyons we’d have twenty miles of driving on the rim of another deep canyon, this time on a narrow road at the edge of thousand foot cliffs. No guardrails either. The cliffs were on the passenger side, so I hugged the yellow line and didn’t look to the right.

I’m glad we don’t have one of those eight-and-a-half foot wide supersize RV’s.

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