I’ve always been curious about Telluride. Over the years I’ve read about the great skiing and the many celebrities that have homes in the area. Now I understand why.
Telluride is a year-round paradise for outdoor activities. It has a National Historic Landmark District with gourmet restaurants, boutiques and fine-art galleries. Telluride, like many small cities on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, has its history in mining. There is a wealth of colorful, Victorian houses and a charming main street lined with buildings with clapboard and brick facades. Telluride’s history is equal parts refinement (translate to expensive) and Wild West. Butch Cassidy robbed his first back in Telluride.
A little known fact about Telluride is that in 1891 the world’s successful, long-distance transmission of alternating current electricity (AC) occurred at Ames, Colorado and Telluride became the world’s first city to be electrically lit.
Telluride is surrounded by towering mountains with the highest concentration of 13,000 to 14,000 foot peaks in North America. The Telluride area is the best the San Juan Mountains have to offer.
I camped at Matterhorn, a forest service campground. It was a beautiful, wooded campground located 10 miles south of Telluride. I had a dry camping spot next to a creek for three days and then I was able to move to a full hook up site for the next four days. This park has a seven-day limit. I would have stayed longer, but for the limit.
I was only able to take one hike while in Telluride. The altitude was kicking my butt! I hiked the trail to Cornet Falls and a portion of the Jud Wiebe trail that follows a ridge overlooking Telluride.
I took advantage of several of the wonderful restaurants and visited the Historical Museum that is located in the old military hospital.
There are several mining towns in the area: some occupied and some abandoned. I drove to Ophir, a tiny mining town still occupied. The current residents (about 200) are often isolated in the winter due to avalanches for weeks at a time. A rough dirt road passes over the Ophir Pass to Silverton. Most of Ophir’s residents work in Telluride.
I visited Trout Lake and took the dirt road up to Alta Lakes, which passed through another tiny mining town, this time abandoned except for a small tribe of marmots. There is camping at Alta Lakes, but just for vans and tents. The road up was rough and I had to put my CRV in first gear at times, but I made it with only scraping the bottom once! I can see why many RVers like to travel with a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle. I’ve heard there are more dirt roads in Colorado than paved roads. And, I have to believe there are more Jeeps in Colorado than all the other vehicles put together.
While driving into Telluride I noticed something on the west side of the highway, down in a canyon. I finally decided to stop and check it out. I was surprised to see a semi and trailer upside down in the canyon. Then I noticed the guardrail was missing. Some poor trucker went over the side! Someone placed a cross, so I knew the driver perished. I inquired in town and was told this happens frequently in the area. The trailer was full of sawdust and the first attempt to pull it up failed. The day I was leaving the area, they were going to close the highway and try vehicle recovery once again with larger equipment. I would love to have seen that! To say I was overly cautious when driving the RV through the mountains to my new destination in Montrose is an understatement.
My last stop before leaving Telluride was the Elks Lodge. The original lodge building is located on Main Street. However, the building was sold and the rent raised so high that the lodge had to move to a new location. It’s in a small building on a side street and is the cutest lodge I’ve seen to date. I went in to have a drink and talked with the female bartender. Shortly after I arrived, three of her girlfriends came in and I had a great time talking with the local women. The most fun time I’ve had at an Elk’s Lodge yet!
I hated to leave Telluride…it is my kinda place! Nonetheless, it was time to move on down the road to Montrose.
My next stop was about 80 miles down a beautiful mountain road to Montrose and access to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. My friend Debbie Hayward told me about the park that she had visited on her six-month trip around the country several years back. I was not aware of this national park before that. I stayed at the Montrose Elk’s Lodge for ten days.
“No other North American canyon combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness and somber countenance of the Black Canyon”, Geologist Wallace R. Hansen. The Gunnison River drops an average of 95 feet per mile and carves the steep canyon. The walls are an average of 2,000 feet deep. The rock walls are only 40 feet apart at “the narrows”.
I took the South Rim Road and stopped at each of the seven overlooks. The road ends at Warner Point and then I took the two mile round trip hike out to the point for a spectacular view of the canyon.
Another day I returned to the park to take the drive to East Portal and access to the Gunnison River. It’s a five mile drive with a 16% grade down to the river. The river moves so swiftly through the canyon that it is unsafe to swim at East Portal. The Crystal Dam controls the flow of the river.
The Gunnison Tunnel is a Civil Engineering Landmark along with the Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge and the Durango and Silverton Railroad. It is an irrigation tunnel constructed between 1905 and 1909. The tunnel is 5.8 miles long and diverts water from the Gunnison River to the arid Uncompahgre Valley and Montrose. Pretty amazing! river.
Due to the fire north of Durango, I was not able to take the Million Doller Highway from Silverton to Ouray and Ridgway. I was able to drive to Ouray from the north. Ouray is another picturesque, small mining town nestled in the rugged and towering peaks of the San Juan Mountains. It’s located in the valley at 7,800 feet surrounded on three sides with 13,000 foot snowcapped peaks. Colorado is full of these cute mountain towns! Ouray is also known for it’s sulfur-free hot springs.
Ouray has a colorful history of mining, ranching, railroad and Native American history. It is a well-preserved historic town. Two-thirds of Ouray’s original Victorian structures are still occupied. The Ouray Historical Museum documents the history in 29 rooms in the old hospital. The movie True Grit was filmed in nearby Ridgway and at the Courthouse in Ouray.
I visited the Box Canyon Falls, which was formed when the rushing waters of the Canyon Creek eroded a deep and narrow box canyon through fault-weakened limestone. There is an easy 500-feet hike via a walkway and suspension bridge that leads straight into the belly of the falls. The sound of the force of thousands of gallons of water a minute rushing eighty feet to the canyon’s bottom is deafening.
The box canyon is an important bird watching area. It supports one of the state’s largest populations of Black Swifts (a protected bird), which nest in the canyon walls and overhanging rocks near the waterfalls. These small birds fly from Brazil to nest in the box canyon in the summer.
I enjoyed my day in Ouray very much!
Then it was time to move on down the road to Gunnison.
Until next time…
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