Byway #8 – Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Tour by Sport Bike, Auto and 4 x 4 – San Juan Skyway


Oh. My. God!

I absolutely love the mountains!

A quote to get this blog party started…

“If you should, in your imagination, put together in one small group, perhaps 12 miles square, all the heights and depths, the rugged precipices and polished faces of rock, and all the sharp pinnacles and deeply indented crests, and twenty times the inaccessible summits that both of us have ever seen, you would not have a picture equal to this.”
– W.H. Holmes, describing the San Juan Mountains in 1876.

By now, Colorado has more than likely been in the national news enough to freak you out and make you wonder if there’s anything left of the state based on all the fires we’ve had this June.

Well, let me tell you that there is indeed enough of the beauty of Colorado to go around for quite a long time, despite the recent fires. Here’s something to put it all into perspective for you…Colorado has 66,387,200 acres. Of that, approximately 150,000 acres has burned this year. We’ve still got 66 million acres of pristine, gorgeous, amazingly picturesque land to enjoy…and enjoy it I did.

Because there’s so much to see along the 236-mile San Juan Skyway, I will mention the highlights in this blog post and of course, you can click the link on my interactive map to see what else is along this byway.

The beginning – Ridgway

My riding buddy, Gary and I began our tour early in the morning (Saturday, June 23) from Morrison, Colorado, which is about 290 miles northeast of Ridgway, Colorado and the northern end of the byway. We made good time, only stopping for gas along the way and reached Ridgway by lunch time. You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t turn at this point and head west along the byway, but Ridgway is my kind of cowboy mountain town. It’s a very small town, but boasts a rodeo and quaint old west buildings dot the main part of town along a mostly dirt road, unless you stay on the highway through town.

After Ridgway, I took my time to find a few of the dirt roads that take you deeper into the back-country of the Mt. Sneffles Wilderness and the Dallas Divide. One road Gary and I explored for about 3 miles was county Rd7. At first, you kind of question yourself as to why you took this road in the first place, because all of the mountains you see from the Skyway all of a sudden disappear as you drive through thick pine and aspen forests. But, if you hold out for at least three miles, you get rewarded with an amazing view of Mt. Sneffels as the trees give way around a small privately owned pond and the mountain range towers behind.

Guess I should have mentioned this, but I really gotta go back to this byway again and again over the next two years…just breathtaking.

Ok, so back to the Skyway…after Gary and I got our fill of county Rd7, we continued on until we came to the Last Dollar Road turn-off. This road is also a dirt road, but is much more heavily traveled and so the dirt is hard-packed. Again, the views are breathtaking. We didn’t stay too long on this road when we came up on the Last Dollar Ranch on the east side of the road. Oh and by the way, it’s for sale. Check out the photos to see the view you get if you decide you want to own a piece of Colorado’s beauty. Stunning, is what comes to mind…not to mention the quiet up there….so very quiet. Well, except for the occasional chirping bird.

Um…I think this is gonna be a long blog again. I will do my best, though.

Telluride

After taking some time at Last Dollar Ranch to soak in the beauty and peace, we continued on hwy62 down to the hwy145 junction. At this point we headed south on hwy145 down to Telluride. Now, let me preface this that I had found out only a day before that my weekend in southwest Colorado was to coincide with the famous Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I honestly had no idea.

Of course we weren’t prepared to stay for any of the music, because my plans were to see the falls in the box canyon just east of town and then to stop at Telluride Truffle. Yep, chocolate!

As we got closer to town though, we noticed that there was a sort of haze hanging over town and no…it wasn’t that kind of haze. It was definitely from a fire, but where that fire was, I had no idea. When Gary and I stopped at the falls, I tried to get some good shots, but honestly, I’m not happy with the results. The area though, is still as gorgeous up close and personal as other amazing, non-smoke photos might have you think. Thick, lush bushes and aspen cover the area with a smattering of wildflowers thrown in for good measure. And let’s not forget the view of the falls; still breathtaking, even with the haze.

Before we left the falls area, I stopped a deputy sheriff who had driven by on his round (more than likely because of the festival) to ask about where the smoke was coming from. He told me that the smoke was from a fire by Mancos, Colorado. I cringed, because I knew where that was in relation to our scheduled overnight stop…only a few miles away. The deputy suggested we call the lodge we had reservations at to make sure it was still open. Luckily for us, it was.

On the way back into town, I looked high and low as we rode slowly for the chocolate shop I had found based on my Internet search. At the last moment, I turned up a side street to park and give in, because I just could not find it. I settled for the idea of getting ice cream at the shop across from where I parked my bike. When I walked into the shop, I realized that I had walked right in to the very same chocolate shop I had found online…Telluride Truffle. I was ecstatic. I decided to not only buy a truffle, but to also get a single scoop of vanilla ice cream. Both were decadently delicious. The truffle was a dark semi sweet chocolate with Gran Marnier truffle inside. The ice cream was thick, creamy and so very tasty.

As we sat there enjoying people watching, I realized that the smoke in town had gotten thicker and my breathing had changed a bit. I knew that the wind must have picked up further south closer to where the fire was and that it was time for us to skedaddle.

Dolores

Before I get into any of the detail of Dolores, let me mention the things I saw riding from Telluride to Dolores. First, there’s Lizard Head Peak, which we could not see…gotta go back. Then there’s the small town of Rico…gotta go back. Then, there’s the town of Ophir and the ghost town…gotta go back. Oh and then there’s the Alta Lakes area…really need to go back.

Ok, so now Dolores…when we arrived in town, we had left the smoke and haze about a mile behind us; finally! We stopped for fuel and across from the gas station was the Galloping Goose railcar and museum. And yes, I just had to shoot a few photos. Some sort of festival must’ve had taken place earlier in the day there as well. As I walked around the museum (it was closed, so I walked the grounds), I heard live music coming from one of the downtown establishments. It sounded pretty good, too.

Did I mention how much I enjoy small towns in Colorado? I enjoy them because of their uniqueness. You can always find something extremely unique in a small town that you might not find anywhere else. My unique find was the gate to the garden of the town’s Bed and Breakfast. This gate was a sculpted garden of Colorado Columbine. So beautiful!

Mesa Verde

After passing through Cortez, we worked our way down to the Mesa Verde National Park entrance. At this point, we could see the hill that the fire was ravaging east of us. As we approached the entrance to the park, we stopped at the top of the hill to look at how much of the hillside that was several miles east had been scorched by the flames. It was unsettling to see, but when I talked with the ranger at the entrance station, he assured me that the park was not in any danger. In Colorado, the winds typically blow north, or south, but not really to the west…that would be a freak occurrence. And since the park was west of the fire, we would be fine.

After Gary and I had taken a look at our rooms, we made our way to dinner. As we waited on the second floor of the lounge, we watched this rolling fog come up the hill to the south and then completely engulf the lodge. Turns out, there was another fire along the state line between Colorado and New Mexico.

The next morning, when I watched the sun rise, it revealed a landscape that was shrouded in a low-lying haze. Since the park has many mesas and cliffs that fall down into canyons, the haze had found its way into those canyons and made for a strange scene. After a filling breakfast, Gary and I were off again.

Durango

Along the road to Durango, we came within less than half a mile of the fire that was very close to Mancos. It was such a strange feeling…to be enjoying myself, while not too far from me, people were being displaced and volunteers were fighting for the land and for people’s homes.

Anyway, back in Durango…you don’t need to go too far to find Durango’s history/heritage. Just off of hwy160 and the junction of hwy550, you can find the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and depot…still running. We made it just in time to see a train loading up with passengers getting ready to take them up through the San Juan Mountains and into the high mountain town of Silverton.

As we continued on our journey north to Silverton and the Million Dollar Highway, I made sure to stop at least once to catch a shot of the first train which had left Durango earlier as it chugged along the road.

Silverton

Not too long after leaving Durango, we found ourselves climbing higher and higher into the San Juan Mountains. These mountains sometimes remind me of the rugged Sierras, or the Alps. Some of them seem to rise up immediately in front of you and once you’re at the top, the views are spectacular from mountain peak to mountain peak. At certain points along this road, you might find yourself looking at the edge of these steep mountains as you wind along the road that hugs the mountainside. I found one spot to capture the severity of the drop-off along with a glimpse of Silverton down below. Funny thing…while I love taking the curves on my bike, I found myself gazing a whole bunch and wanting to stop for photos. Gary, on the other hand, took advantage of a clear spot to get in front of the tourist traffic and enjoy the curves on his new Ducati Multistrada.

Ouray

The road between Silverton and Ouray is also known as the Million Dollar Highway. It’s been given that name because of one particular stretch that is even more treacherous than the ride from Durango to Silverton as far as steep drop-offs, narrow road and lack of guardrails in many parts of the drive from Red Mountain Pass down to Ouray. Along this stretch is also a marker that marks the loss of several Department of Transportation workers lives.

Just above the town of Ouray is a sign proclaiming the area as the “Switzerland of America” and rightfully so…if you’ve ever been to Switzerland in order to compare. Also close to Ouray and along the road, you can find a pull-out and a little more of Colorado’s history and a view of Uncompahgre Gorge along with waterfalls that fall into the gorge and join the creek that begins at the top of Red Mountain.

The End

Just kidding! Sorta.

From Ouray, you’re only ten miles away from Ridgway and the end of the San Juan Skyway. Along this part of the road, you’ll be glad to know that I no longer found myself gazing at steep drop-offs, but rather I found myself looking in my rear view mirror at the sharply rising red and green mountains above Ouray with blue sky and puffy white clouds above. At this point I found myself feeling a very strong urge to pull a u-turn and head back up into the mountains. Although my u-turn might make the world record for longest u-turn ever…I will go back before my 50th birthday to revel in the feeling I get every time I’m in the Rockies.

More photos

For the full photo spread, check out my album on photobucket…San Juan Skway

Interactive Map

San Juan Skyway…with photos added

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