Into the Heart of the San Juans

Today I got up and set off from Cortez, bound for the far rockier and rugged San Juan’s. This required backtracking to Durango and then driving straight up what is called the San Juan Skyway, which as far as I can tell is probably one of the most scenic, beautiful, and a bit terrifying stretches of road in the entire country.

I say this because the San Juan’s are unlike any range in all of Colorado. They are extremely pointy and steep, and the roads down in the South twist and turn far more than they do in the North. This makes not only for these famous roads, but almost for some truly jaw-dropping views. The eye just goes on for miles, with the jagged peaks making for an almost surreal landscape. This is what it seemed like on top of Molas Pass, which is in-between Durango and Silverton.

Once down into Silverton, I realized that this is probably one of my favorite towns in all of Colorado, mainly because it’s so remote. I think it’s the Easter Island of the state, a place that’s tiny, pretty hard to get to, and basically survives on tourism. It just has a feel about it, and I swear the air is fresher and purer. And the light, reflecting off the jagged peaks that surround you, make for a place that almost seems to preternaturally glow. It would be fun to spend a couple of days just in this little place.

From here probably the most famous drive in Colorado begins, over Red Mountain. This is a truly twisting and turning road, and is absolutely beautiful, with red mountain sides that spill down from pointy peaks. You honestly feel like you’re in Switzerland. At the end of the pass as you enter Ouray there’s also this great turn off where you can look at Bear Creek Falls, which is where the original toll booth was in the late 1800s. This was pretty smart business savvy too – you have to pay, since there’s literally no other way across the mountain. This stretch is called the Million Dollar Highway.

From here you finally come into Ouray, which, if this part of the state is like Switzerland, Ouray is like Interlaken, or one of those high alpine towns surrounded by peaks. I also think little Gimmelwald is a good comparison. I spent my time in Ouray basically just wandering around admiring the views, and took a quick dip in the hot springs and checked out Cascade Falls just above town. I could stay here for a couple more days I think, mainly because of the awesome ghost towns tucked away in the surrounding hills. But I’ll save that for another trip.

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