This Too Shall Pass

Saturday, November 16, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Alamosa, CO to Durango, CO

Since we haven't done too much letterboxing on this trip and we still would like to make it to 3,000 finds by the end of the year, today seemed the right time to get started.  The weather was blue sky beautiful, and Alamosa was conveniently well supplied with boxes.

After a couple of hours finding boxes around town, we decided it was time to leave for Montrose, about 200 miles northwest, and our destination for tonight.  When we entered the Montrose hotel address in the GPS, we were offered an opportunity to see the weather warning along our route.  Yes, please.

A winter weather advisory was in effect for part of the area we would be driving through, we learned.  And with an 11,312-ft. pass over the Continental Divide smack in the middle of the winter weather, we opted for discretion over valor and decided to shift gears and take a southerly route to Durango and save Montrose for another time.  Before starting out, we checked the weather for towns along US-160, which would take us all the way to Durango.  All looked clear, though snow was forecast for late afternoon and evening.

Moseying west on US-160 from Alamosa, we couldn't resist finding one more letterbox at the one-of-a-kind Movie Manor Hotel (pictured above) in the small town of Monte Vista.  While working at his drive-in theatre in the 1950s, it seems that George Kelloff dreamed up the Movie Manor—a hotel from which all of his guests could view the movie on the drive-in screen through a large picture window in their rooms.  Each cozy room is named for a movie star and has an overhead speaker with piped in, adjustable sound for the feature screen.

Continuing toward Durango, we noticed in the next few miles that, even on our southerly route, some of the eastbound vehicles were wearing traces of snow.  By the time we reached South Fork around 11:45, we were beginning to enter the San Juan Mountains.  We had gained 700 feet in elevation, and light snow was falling.  Low hanging clouds ahead promised more to come.  At the edge of town, a flashing warning light cautioned that commercial vehicles would need to chain up for Wolf Creek Pass (10,850 ft.) to cross the Continental Divide.  We had chains in the car, but the precaution didn't seem to apply to us, so we disregarded it.  We continued west, and things began to get interesting.

11:57 - Looks like more snow ahead (8,500 ft)
12:02 p.m. - Hey, this is really pretty!
As we drove further west into the mountains, the elevation rose and temperatures dropped.  The balmy 45 degrees we left behind in Alamosa had fallen to 32° by the time we reached 8,900 feet.  Conditions were changing rapidly, and not for the better.

12:12  p.m.- Road snow-packed, snow pelting, very windy (9,216 ft)
12:15 p.m. - More snow on road, snow falling steadily, 29° (9,300 ft.)
12:19 p.m. - Visibility worsening due to falling and blowing snow, 25° (10,102 ft.)
12:24 p.m. - Visibility near zero at times, 100 ft from top of pass, 22° (10,753 ft.)
12:28 p.m. - Finally at the top of Wolf Creek Pass and headed down, 7% grade next 9 miles, very limited visibility
12:34 p.m. - We caught a break when a snow plow pulled out ahead of us, sleet and snow falling, 26° (9,528 ft.)
12:36 p.m. - So thankful to be following the plow; eastbound car stuck in snow (9,217 ft.)
12:39 p.m. - Road getting clearer but we decide against scenic overlook, 27° (8,727 ft.)
12:44 p.m. - Heavy sleet falling, snow plow has pulled off, 30° (7,741 ft.)
1:04 p.m. - Entering Pagosa Springs, sleet mixed with rain & snow, 33° (7,114 ft.) 
Without further incident, we arrived in Durango, spent and hungry, a little after 3:00, having stopped for one last letterbox at Chimney Rock, just west of Pagosa Springs.  At 6,512 ft. elevation, Durango was a warm spot with a pleasant temperature of 41°.  Guidance from the Homewood Suites desk clerk sent us to a nearby location of Zia Taqueria, a local fresh Mex chain.  Terrific food at a very reasonable price, though really, at that point, we were so glad to be off the road, anything would have been fine.