From Cortez in the south-west corner of Colorado, I headed east on highway 160 for about an hour to the town of Durango and the San Juan National Forest. You can easily spend a few days exploring Durango and the surrounding area. Take a step-back in time on the narrow gauge steam engine railroad and travel from Durango to the famous 19th century mining town of Silverton and back. If you enjoy water sports, try kayaking or tubing for a few hours on the gently flowing animas river that runs right through downtown Durango. In the Summer, the San Juan Mountains are full of hikers and mountain bikers exploring the many miles of rugged trails. In the winter, skiers and snowboarders compete for the perfect-line in the deep, fresh white powder! Durango is also home to Ft Lewis College, a small public liberal arts college. I love college towns. They always seem to have a great vibe and contribute an eclectic group of people and activities, especially the arts and sporting events, to any town! I spent 3 nights at a great dispersed campsite about 8 miles outside of town in the mountains, just above the Animas Overlook point. I hung my hammock between two aspen trees and enjoyed incredible views of the valley below in the evenings and explored the local hiking trails and the Animas River during the day!
After a few awesome days in Durango, I drove 25 miles north on highway 550, climbing to 12,800 feet elevation to the picturesque old mining town of Silverton! As I wandered the dirt streets and visited the many shops, I felt like I was back in the 1880s, except for maybe the numerous modern automobiles. An old stagecoach passed with a cowboy at the reins and a couple of tourists in the back. The old Hotels and Saloons still maintain their 19 century brick facades and western charm. I bought a coffee at the Brown Bear Cafe and continued my journey north toward Ouray.
The drive from Silverton to Ouray is perhaps one of the most beautiful scenic drives anywhere! There are 360 degrees of beautiful views, you really can’t find a bad view even if you try! I stopped at a few view points for pictures. The recent heavy-rains have given new life to the many colorful wildflowers that blanketed the mountain-sides!
I arrived at the Ouray Look Out Point for the mandatory “I was here” photograph and then descended a few hundred feet to the town below. Ouray is often referred to as the Switzerland of America and rightly so! The steep, jagged granite peaked mountains loom imposingly in all directions and seem to almost hold the town captive. They offer few signs of escape except for the river that dissects the town from south to north! Ouray is an amazingly beautiful place! I could easily visit every year! Each 4th of July weekend the town hosts a Jeep Rally and seems to always be full of 4×4 enthusiast during the non-winter months. I explored many of the 4×4 trails in the mountains above town and climbed to 12,980 feet elevation to Yankee Boy Basin. The alpine meadows were full of wildflowers and beautiful icy waterfalls! I camped at the Thistledown Campground at 8,800 feet for two nights. As luck would have it, it rained cats and dogs both nights I camped. Fortunately, my hammock kept me off the ground and dry, while my down sleeping bag kept me warm! I highly recommend a down sleeping bag to anyone wanting to venture into the mountains. They are expensive but well worth the money. They remind me of the saying, pay once cry once! After my second night of rain I decided to hit the Ouray Hot Springs at the north-end of town. For only $12.00 you can enjoy the supposed therapeutic-waters all day! I visited early in the day, long before the hundreds of other tourist descend on the hot springs. After a few hours of soaking in the 98 degree waters I now know why one of the first things the Romans built when they established a town was a Roman Bath! You guys got it right!
After a few days of 4x4ing, hiking, and soaking in the hot springs, I continued on 550 north to Montrose and then headed west on highway 50 to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The Black Canyon is a must visit Park! It is perhaps not as well known as the Grand Canyon, but it is equally beautiful and much less crowded! I drove the canyon rim road and stopped at half a dozen view points, until I reached the last one, High Point. Make sure you have your Day-Hike Backpack ready and take the 3.0 mile hike! There are incredible views every 100 meters or so and all are different! After my hike, I drove down to the river that formed the canyon over the last 2 million years. The roar of the river against the granite canyon walls was almost deafening, but seemed to calm you at the same time! Everytime I visit Mountains I seem to get more and more pulled-into their spell… I don’t know what it is but to me Mountains are like water, they grab hold of you and pull you in!