Gunnison With Gusto

by Phil Rowe

High on the western slopes of the Rockies, along U.S. 50, is the delightful town of Gunnison, Colorado. We have visited that fair city dozens of times since our first trip there in the 1960's, though we have yet to see it in the winter. Winters are reputed to be wonderful, especially for skiers, snowmobilers and dog-sledders. But we prefer it in warmer times.

Just a week ago we happened to visit Gunnison as an unplanned detour on our drive home to Albuquerque from Seattle. We have old friends living there and thought it would be great to drop by and say "hello". It was late on a rainy afternoon that we arrived, driving in from the west. The road into town from Montrose winds along the shores of Blue Mesa Lake, just west of Gunnison. We were surprised to see the lake water level so low. It must have been down 20 feet or more from normal summertime conditions. That must have been in anticipation of heavy snow melt in the hills and a run-off likely to fill the lake up again. But seeing all that brown extended shoreline and even some small isles and normally submerged spits of land made quite an impression.

In years past I have paddled both my canoe and sea kayak on that marvelous lake. It's a boater's and fisherman's delight. The high blue waters are ringed with mountains, some snow-capped well into June. It's a beautiful sight. And there's a well-equipped marina, as well as several ramps to help mariners get onto the water. Campgrounds and other accommodations are handy as well, both along the lake shores and in nearby Gunnison.

At 7700 feet above sea level, the weather and altitude are things visitors must consider. Nights can be chilly, even in summer. And winds can and do whip up suddenly, especially from the west. Strenuous physical activity that far above sea level can pose problems for people not acclimated to the thin air. Folk with respiratory problems should be especially cautious.

On our recent visit we stayed at the Water Wheel Motel, just a mile west of downtown. It's a pretty place with a beautiful golf course right at the property's edge. The Gunnison River runs along the fairways too. It's a truly attractive setting. And yes, the rooms are nice, clean and very comfortable. A restaurant is within walking distance, though more options exist downtown. And prices are very reasonable.

On the way into town you pass the modern, well-equipped airport. It even has scheduled commuter line services, a most busy facility in ski season. Lots of private planes are seen on the ramp as well. Some are even executive jets, but my favorites are the old tail draggers and antiques that still fly.

On this trip we ate two fine meals in town. For supper we at the Cattleman's steak house. Our roast beef special plate was delicious and very reasonable. Even more reasonable, probably a real bargain was breakfast the next morning at a center-of-town pancake place. It's right at the intersection of the main road ( US-50 ) and the turn-off to Crested Butte. Four of us had a full meal, one we couldn't even finish, and the tab was under $10.00, including coffee. My single pancake, an apple-cinnamon delight, completely covered the dinner plate. It was an inch thick. I kid you not. It was more than I could handle, though I enjoyed every bite. Others at the table had a ham-scramble creation that included hash browns, toast and coffee. They said theirs was good too. Gunnison is a great place to eat.

Oh, did I mention that this part of Colorado is a hunter's paradise too. It's renowned for elk and deer hunting. And fishermen flock to the lakes and streams for fabulous trout. And when you add the attractions of skiing, Gunnison has it all. The million dollar views are worth the trip alone, of course. No wonder we kept going back year after year.

And no .. I don't work for the Chamber of Commerce or the tourist bureau.

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