Part 9: La Junta, CO to Grand Junction, CO


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The Trip

We completed our maintenance actions and did manage to see my niece, if only for a short visit.  When we finished in Colorado Springs, we headed over the Front Range and Monarch Pass to Durango, CO.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We completed our stay in Colorado Springs so we headed south toward Canyon City and then west along the banks of the Arkansas River and then over Monarch Pass on US-50.  Monarch Pass is on the continental divide and is 11,312 feet above mean sea level.  It is a steep climb and the combination of the steep grades and high altitude did not make Thor happy.  The truck did not overheat, but high altitude is a stressor on any diesel motor.  At the top of the pass is a ski area; the lifts are visible in the photo above.

The western slope of Monarch Pass on US-50 goes through Gunnison, CO and then past Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River in the Curecanti National Recreation Area.  The north side of the lake has awesome palisade formations.

At the upper end of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a dam.  This dam is a significant power producer and part of the Colorado River Project.

To the west on US-50, the road was under construction and quite rough.  Our objective for the night was to make it to Montrose, CO.  We were fortunate to find a camping spot available at the Montrose KOA.  We were even more fortunate to meet another couple with the same model of Lance camper that is mounted on Thor.  This was a fortuitous meeting because we were experiencing a failure of our slideout mechanism.  Our new friends advised us of a repair that would help address the issue.  But, as we discussed the issue, it was clear that their repair would not resolve the problem.  When we were in Colorado Springs, we visited the Harbor Freight store and purchased 2-4 ton hydraulic bottle jacks to address the problem.  The core issue, it seems, is that Lance's design resulted in a large cantilevered weight that when subjected to an impulse load (like a huge, heaving bump on the highway) was torquing the slideout actuator frame from the wall of the camper.  We had a separation of well over an inch between the mounting flange and the skin of the wall.  The solution is actually quite simple - don't allow the cantilevered weight to exist.  Simply put, add a brace (a hydraulic jack in this case) that prevents the movement of the weight.  Our new friends had done the simple, cosmetic repair, but did not address the root cause which is the cantilevered weight.

The conversation with the other Lance owners crystallized my thinking about a robust solution for our impending failure and gave me something to think about during our day's drive.  My though process was soon derailed by the sight of massive, snow-covered peaks looking in the distance.  We had no indication that there were snow closures of the highway over the San Juan range, but I was a bit concerned.

We headed south from Montrose, CO on US-550 toward Durango.  Our path would take us over the San Juan Mountains via the frightening Red Mountain Pass.  Ahead, we spotted a wall of snow-covered rock awaiting us.

As we approached Ouray, CO from the north, the terrain got steeper and more scenic.

The San Juan Mountains are both rugged and beautiful.

We transited the small town of Ouray, CO via the main street and started up the steep north face of Red Mountain Pass.  The road gave us a great view of Ouray, but I was not able to enjoy the view because the road was very narrow and lacked guard rails or shoulders.  The photo above is a "point and pray" shot from the window of Thor as I drove up the grade.

One switchback gave us a commanding view of the face of the cliffs to the east of the road.

Narrow.  No lane stripes.  No pull-out.  No guard rails.  The really tense stuff is behind us and this was the first location that I was confident enough to be able to take a photo without going into the canyon.

There was a "snow shed" covering the road.  The shed was constructed to make closures of the highway less frequent during the winter.  That said, note the depth of the soil on the shed.  This is caused by slumping of the mountainside.  And, a stream was now flowing over the snow shed.

Nearly every side canyon had a small stream flowing through it.

Higher up the road we got closer to the snow fields.

The path of the highway provided awesome views, albeit with the cost of a tight sphincter.

When we got to Brad and Laura's place in Durango, they were happy to assist us with the repair actions for Thor's slideout.  Above, we remove some plugs to allow removal of the kick panel under the slideout.  Our inspection showed that there was no interference with the utility chase underneath (good news).  And it showed us that a simple attachment of some plywood under the slideout would allow continued use of the hydraulic jacks without risk of damage.  We did the woodwork in Brad's shop and installed the support plates.  We'll consider this "fixed" until we get back to home where we can do a careful analysis of the problem and have a full shop of tools to use.

One of the neat things about Brad and Laura's place in Hermosa is that they are very close the Durango and Silverton steam train route.  There is a highway crossing 100 yards from the house and the train must signal before making the crossing, so we have plenty of notice of its impending arrival.  We caught this photo on one of the daily passages.

We stayed with Brad and Laura for several days and then headed north toward Grand Junction.  Not wanting to suffer Red Mountain Pass again, our path took us west through Cortez, CO and then north through Naturita.  The road followed the Dolores River through some scenic country.

We did a side-of-the-road lunch stop and got a chance to see the terrain.

The Dolores River created a very nice canyon with colorful redrock cliffs.

Past Gateway, CO we headed to northeast and went through the Uncompahgre Mountains.  The northeast end of this canyon descends into the Grand Junction, CO area, our destination for the night.

This segment of our trip was very scenic and we passed through some great territory.  Succinctly put, "The West Slope rocks!".  We spent the night in the Grand Junction KOA which allowed us to drain and fill our tanks and do a full supermarket and fuel stop.

Next up: north along the Western Slope over the Book Cliffs.

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