We are still in Colorado at Ridgway State Park only 15 miles from the town of Ouray (pronounced you-ray). Getting here was a beautiful drive through the mountains along Colorado Highways 145 and 62. We reserved five nights, Sunday through Thursday. There is no availability for the weekend. Our campsite is located on a ridge above a pristine lake surrounded by mountains on all sides. At an elevation of nearly 7000 feet above sea level, the mild midday temperatures and the cool nights are perfect camping weather.
This area in the Colorado mountains is a very popular vacation destination with thousands of visitors annually. Activities include site seeing, hiking, rock climbing, camping, fishing, off road four-wheeling; and in the winter there is skiing and snowmobiling. The touristy towns of Ouray, Telluride and Silverton offer a plethora of shops and restaurants. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is only 34 miles to our north. With plenty to see and do we have no time to waste.
Sometimes called the Switzerland of America, Ouray is a small town nestled in a river valley surrounded by the snow-capped San Juan Mountains. Established during the gold and silver mining boom years of the 1870‘s, it stands today as a mecca for outdoor adventure seekers.
One of the unique attractions in Ouray is Box Canyon Falls and is where we began our first days adventure. There’s a small fee of $5.00 to enter this city operated park. Once inside, we walked the Falls Trail to a metal walkway weaving through a narrow slot canyon taking us to the base of the waterfall. The temperature dropped noticeably and a thunderous sound echoed through the canyon. A torrent of water pushing through a crevice plummets 85 feet before cascading further down the mountain. You can only catch a glimpse of the falls as it’s behind the rock walls of the crevice, but you can hear and feel it’s power.
Equally impressive was the High Bridge Trail, a steep rugged climb over the rocks where a swinging bridge crossed over the top of the falls. From there we had great views looking down the box canyon toward Ouray below. Across the bridge, the trail continues through a tunnel. A word of warning, watch out for low hanging rocks on the ceiling. Don’t ask me how I know this. Ouch! The High Bridge Trail connects with the Ouray Perimeter Trail, leaving the park for a 5.6 mile loop trail around the town. We didn’t go much past the tunnel before we turned back. We hiked the Native Plant Loop Trail before exiting the park. We spent a leisure 1½ hours to see everything. We enjoyed our visit and it was well worth the $5.00 fee.
We continued the days adventure by turning south on U.S. Route 550. The 25 mile section of this highway from Ouray to Silverton is known as The Million Dollar Highway because it reportedly cost a million dollars per mile to build. Cut into the mountain side, the highway includes sheer drop-offs without guardrails, narrow lanes, steep grades and sharp hairpin curves. Landslides and avalanches occur with some frequency, but the real danger comes from trying to keep one eye on the road while the other is mesmerized by the breath-taking scenery.
We stopped at Ouray Overlook, AKA Switzerland of America Lookout Point, for a quick photo op, then drove up the incredible scenic highway to Red Mountain Pass at an elevation of 11,018 feet above sea level before heading back down the other side to the town of Silverton. There was a lot a traffic as it is a popular drive and slow moving vehicles cause long backups. It took us an hour and fifteen minute to make the 25 mile trip.
Silverton was an interesting place displaying an old rugged western charm with dirt streets and nineteenth century Victorian architecture. We stopped at the visitor center and saw some old historic photos displayed and read about some of the history. We walked around town browsing the shops and we had lunch at the Bent Elbow located in an old historic hotel. One thing that stood out was the many people riding four-wheel drive vehicles and dirt bikes all over town. The miles and miles of old mining roads are quite popular with these folks. The town is also the terminus for a small gauge train. The historic steam driven train built to transport gold and silver has been running continuous between Durango and Silverton since 1881, although now it mainly transport tourist.
On the return trip back across The Million Dollar Highway we stopped at a pull-off overlooking the remains of the Idarodo Mine where we read the sign boards and took some pictures. The mine mostly produced lead, silver and zinc.
We also came to a stoppage of traffic where a highway patrol cruiser parked across both lanes. After about twenty minutes or so the patrolman moved aside and waved us through. What was the reason for the backup you might ask? Well I was certainly curious. Was there a rockslide? Did someone drive over the cliff? No, it was nothing like that. A film production company was using this beautiful highway to shoot a movie or maybe a TV commercial. RV trailers and trucks were parked along the edge of the road with a lot of people around. Large cameras were positioned at different points near curves in the road. We passed a fancy black sports car. I didn’t get a good look to see what kind it was. I’m not even sure if it was part of the shoot, but it was pulled off the road next to a couple of pickup trucks with cameras hanging from the end of booms. Who knows, maybe someday I will recognize this scene on television.
We spent another day in the mountains at Telluride. It’s an old historic mining town turn ski resort. The place was very busy when we were there as it attracts many visitors. We had to drive around in circles for a while before finding a place to park.
We rode a gondola up to the modern community of Mountain Village. It’s a free 13 minute ride over a 10,500 feet mountain that helps to reduce the traffic between the two communities. In Mountain Village’s town square was a weekly market with arts and craft booths. Good timing on our part. A live band was playing some familiar songs creating a festive vibe. There was an array of food venders and an abundance of tables for dining. We found an open table and ate lunch while singing along to Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Can it get any better? Well maybe…keep reading.
The next day, once again, we went to Ouray where we hiked to the Lower Cascade Falls. There we found a spot to sit and listen to the sound of the water splashing off the rocks. We made conversation with people as they came to see the falls, “Good morning, beautiful day isn’t it?”, “This sure is a beautiful waterfalls, don’t you agree?”, “Hi, where are y’all from?” It amazes me how friendly and open people can be in a relaxed, natural outdoor environment. We learn so much about different places and things to do during our conversations.
We walked back to the truck, drove down and parked on Main Street where we found a little Thai restaurant for lunch. Then we walked the shops. We found a sporting goods shop with Tilley Hats. We’ve been wanting one for a long time. They are not cheap but they are high quality outdoor hats with a lifetime guaranty. We would wear them mostly when hiking. We each bought one.
Now…here is where it gets better. Ouray is known for their geothermic hot mineral springs. Yep, you guessed it…we spent the rest of the afternoon at Ouray Hot Springs lounging and soaking in the 104 degree pool. Honestly, this is grammi’s favorite thing to do. She absolutely loves it. And to be fair, I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than being immersed in a warm steamy pool while surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Now for sure, it can’t get any better than that! Right?
We went to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It was very fascinating but I’m going to leave the details of that adventure for a separate post. I hope you check back soon to read all about it.
We have to leave the state park campground in the morning. We really don’t want to go. We like it here. We’re not sure where we are going yet, but that’s all part of the adventure.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.