Thursday, July 1, 2010

Traveling the San Juan Skyway

Today, David and I left camp at 8:00 AM to drive the San Juan Skyway - a 236 mile loop through some of the most spectacular and rugged scenery in the nation. This scenic byway connects the historic mountain towns of Telluride, Cortez, Durango, Silverton, and Ouray through life zones ranging from desert to alpine.

We headed South to Dolores and over to Durango then up toward Silverton - about 100 miles away. Silverton is an old mining town and a narrow guage railroad travels from Durango to Silverton. We thought about taking the train again, but found that tickets are $100 each. We both have ridden the train before - when our boys were young. That's when I got a cinder in my eye. No problem, right? Well, a cinder looks like a grass burr under the microscope and sticks to the eye. I ended up in the Durango emergency room after trying for a couple of hours to get it out with eye washes. BUT, I was glad it happened to me instead of one of the boys.

We arrived in Silverton by about 10:30. The first store we popped into was a jewelry store - K&C Traders . They sell silver jewelry which I can afford and I found a nice pair of inlay teardrop earrings. They are made of Opal and purple Aventurine from South Africa and pink Astorite from right there in Silverton.

The Astorite is from a mine that was owned by John Jacob Astor IV who went down with the Titanic in 1912. The entrance to the mine was dynamited upon his death, but someone later re-opened the mine and discovered this pink stone. After analyzing it, it was discovered that it was something new. Traces of gold and silver run through it. It is only found in Silverton.

We shopped a bit and bought a couple of t-shirts before watching the train come in. The population of silverton probably doubles with every arrival and halves with every departure. It is a quaint old mining town.

Last time we were here, David and I road out to the cemetary and looked at old grave markers. It was quite a tour of the history of Silverton. Whole families were wiped out in 1917 with the influenza epidemic. Others died in mining accidents or were hung for crimes and there were women who died in childbirth leaving behind entire families. I would have loved to go back to the cemetary, but It was 2:00 PM and we needed to get back on the road.

After leaving Silverton (elev. 9318 ft.), we headed north toward Ouray (elev. 7811 ft.). In only 22 miles, the road goes up over Red Mountain Pass (elev. 11,018 ft.) and then makes a rapid descent into Ouray with 4 or 5 S curves sans guard rails.

Signs of the old mines are all over the area. Slag, a byproduct of processing the mined ore, covers the sides of the mountains, dotted with the dilapidated mineshafts.

After some pretty intense curves, we were finally in Ouray, another old mining town - called the Switzerland of America. As a kid, we had camped North of Ouray in one of the National Forest Campgrounds. I want to say the name of the campground was North Fork or South Fork but at any rate, what I remember most was arriving to the campground late in the evening and having to set up camp very close to the creek. During the night, there was a thunderstorm and by morning, one end of the pop-up was hanging over the creek. What fun times we had!

North of Ouray, we headed West at Ridgeway crossing the Uncompahgre River. To our left we followed the northern edge of the San Juan Mountains, running into a bit of rain until we turned left at Placerville headed toward Telluride.
We made one stop at the Keystone Hill Overlook for me to get out and snap a picture. Before we knew it, we were at the turn that bypasses Telluride. The rest of the landscape was familiar since we had just been there two days ago.

Another 45 minutes and we were back at Priest Gulch. David took a nap and then took the time to tear down camp since we will be leaving in the morning. There will be no campfire tonight. The rest of the evening will be for relaxing before our two days on the road home.

It has been a great vacation! And last night St. Anthony finally found the trailer keys for us! They miraculously appeared in the drawer under the bench for the dining table. We had no need to open the drawer until I told David I never looked there for matches before we bought some and that I bet we would find matches in there. Sure enough, we found matches, and tucked in the bottom of the drawer next to muffin cups were the missing trailer keys. Come to find out from David, he saw another shooting star last night! God is GOOD - all the time!


  1. Been thru there myself as a youngster! Nice to be reminded of how beautiful America the Great is...Her mountains majesty!! Happy Independence Day!

  2. How Beautiful!! And yes God is Good All the time!
    Thank you for sharing!