Was That a Yak?!

I have a new obsession with yaks. I’m obsessed with yaks and it’s all because I saw some yaks on a family trip to Colorado…

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I have a new obsession. I’m obsessed with yaks. I’m obsessed with yaks and it’s all because I saw some yaks on a family trip to Colorado. What a bizarre thing, Miss HeatherLynnP! Bizarre, but true.

Field of thistles outside Durango

Last weekend, the family headed up to Colorado for a family obligation.  Along the way, I persuaded the family to make a few stops to gaze at beautiful, strange and interesting things.  The drive from Albuquerque to our ultimate destination, Delta, Colorado, is chock full of things to pull over and stare at…if you’re willing to hunt for a place to pull off the road.  Our route took us from Albuquerque to Durango, Colorado (not highlighted in this post, but a great little town!) and then up through Montrose and into Delta, Colorado where we camped out for the weekend.

Like many drives through Colorado, this one will take you over some mountain passes and a few precarious curves through mountain highways.  It’s also an incredibly beautiful drive.  From Durango, you begin a steep climb over the Million Dollar Highway into Silverton and then on to Ouray.  The highway was built in the 1880s and is among the most dangerous in the country.  I’ve seen people exhibit incredibly poor choices on this road with steep drop-offs and no guardrails. (Said people are often in cars from one particular state with a reputation for poor drivers – I’ll, ahem, let you guess which state it is).  Lots of mining happened in this part of the state and you’ll see remnants of it right off the highway.  Silverton’s history is a mining history.  It was the last mining camp standing in the country and it’s come a long way.  When I first started visiting Silverton, none of the streets were paved.  If you don’t want to make the drive up from Durango, you can hop on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Rail Road.


Continuing on the Million Dollar Highway, you’ll arrive at one of my favorite little towns anywhere: Ouray. Ouray is known as the Switzerland of America and you’ll see why upon entering town.  It’s a fun little community with lots of historic buildings, fun restaurants, breweries, a hot springs, and lots of opportunity for hiking and exploring the beautiful scenery. (Note to self: plan a long weekend in Ouray).

Perhaps in another blog post, we’ll spend more time in this part of Colorado, but we’ve got to get a bit further north to Delta (and eventually to the yaks!).  A quick plug for a great restaurant in Montrose, Colorado before we get to the rest of the story.  You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you pass through Montrose without stopping to eat at Camp Robber. Opened by a couple from Albuquerque, this place has phenomenal fresh food and the best damn peanut butter pie I’ve ever eaten.

Hooping Encouraged in Delta

Twenty or so minutes from Montrose, you’ll arrive in Delta.  Delta is another small community and it’s the location of our hotel base for the weekend.  There are a few hotels in this part of Colorado and you should book in advance during the summer.  There’s a lot of tourism, biking/hiking, and festivals in this area in the summer months and rooms fill up early. Delta (or Montrose) makes a great base camp and allows you to visit several sights in the area.  Delta has grown and has a couple of great local restaurants (El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant – share a plate, portions are huge! and Daveto’s Italian).

A small town full of murals and shops, Delta has a really large number of antique

old cars delta

cars sitting around for purchase.  There are several in a lot next to Daveto’s Italian on the main drag and we walked over one evening to check them out.  I assume that most of these were for sale through the antique shop next door.  I don’t know much about antique cars, but while these were lined up, seemingly raring to go, they looked like they needed a lot of work.

Delta has a number of museums including the replica of the old Fort Uncompaghre.  The

Fort Uncompaghre

fort has recently passed into new ownership and is being renovated into a site that is more kid and family friendly with more hands-on, learning activities.  Originally built as a trading post on the Old Spanish Trail, the fort has an interesting history that includes a corn based moonshine called “Taos Lightning.”

There are about a dozen or so small communities within easy driving distance from Delta. We made a few stops in Cedaredge, Paonia, Crawford and others, but there was one thing I really wanted to see while I was here.  As you all are keenly aware, I love my National Parks and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a short drive from Delta (for the North Rim entrance or head out from Montrose to get to the South Rim and the large visitor’s center).

Having never been to this park after having visited this part of Colorado for more than 25 years, I convinced the fam to make the drive from Delta to the north entrance of the park.  The scenery in this part of Colorado is lovely…green valleys giving way to mountains and high mesas with deep canyons.  It’s not the kind of place where you expect to be scared to death, but we nearly were.  As we’re cruising along, enjoying the view, chatting away, a golden eagle nearly flew through our front windshield! Now, I don’t know about you all, but I believe in signs and the meaning behind seeing a golden eagle is pretty profound.  After we all collected ourselves, I spent a few moments trying to figure out who exactly that eagle message was for while my parents convinced themselves that the eagle was simply hunting prey and not paying attention.  We’ll see…..

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

As we arrive at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, we stop by the ranger station (no visitor center on this side) and then head up the road into the park.  This side of the park is much less crowded and the views are literally right off the side of the road.  Please, please, please mind the speed on this road.  This park has narrow roads right alongside some of the steepest cliffs in all of the country.  There’s nothing to catch you if you fall, so don’t drive like an idiot.  If you’re not used to altitude, take your time and take plenty of water as you’ll be at about 8,000 feet above sea level.

The views from this park are absolutely stunning. Stunning.  Photographs do not do justice to the craggy

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

peaks or the sheer, steep drops from the side of the canyon.  It’s spectacular. (And may be creeping its way up alongside Glacier as one of my favorite parks). There are several places to pull out on the road with short trails that lead you up to the edge of the canyon for viewing.  Stay on the trails!  One slip off the side at this park could lead to your ultimate demise – I’m not kidding.  And, don’t throw rocks off the side.  Crazy people hiked down into this canyon to hike the unmaintained trails below.

The park is very large.  You could spend an entire day here or you could do as we did, take an hour or so to enjoy a few spectacular views from a short drive.  The next time I’m up this way, I hope to make it over to the visitor center and see the views from the South Rim.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Now on to the most important part of the trip: the yaks. We’re heading back down out of the park with lunch on our minds.  As we’re driving along, I catch a glimpse of what I first called “fuzzy cows” out of the corner of my eye.  I immediately shriek with delight and my Poppy, knowing me as he does, turns the car around so I can scramble out onto the side of the highway to get a closer look at these hairy beasts.  I really had no idea at first what I was looking at…not quite cow, incredibly hairy, something bison-like with longer fur…what were these creatures?!  It turns out, they’re YAKS!  Tibetan yaks in Colorado…who knew?!  I snapped a few photos of these fuzzy things munching away on the grass in this beautiful valley and hopped back into the car.


Pulling over to look at yaks led to wondering why there were yaks in Colorado. Which led to researching what you could do with yaks (make cheese from their milk, knit sweaters from their wool, train them to haul gear for high elevation campers and hikers). And, that eventually led to scouring YouTube for videos of yaks, which led me to watch videos of baby yaks (adorable! they grunt like little pigs)….and thus was born my yak obsession.  A yak obsession where I wonder if I too, might find some land in Colorado to start a little working farm/bed & breakfast complete with adorable baby yaks…Hmmmm.




Author: missheatherlynnp

Heather Pillman is a frequent traveler and a sometimes freelance writer, who wanted a forum to write about her travels and humorous misadventures. After encouragement from friends, she took the leap and started a blog about her travels. An avid hiker, nature lover and photographer, Heather is always looking for her next travel adventure. She believes fantastic travel is happening everywhere and loves to explore the sites in her own backyard and abroad.

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