While we were in Telluride I overheard a man on his phone saying something like “well it’s not supposed to start coming down until around 6″, put two and two together to check the weather, and sure enough it was going to snow. 3-9” in the mountains above 10,000 ft (where we’d been the night before). In June. Now, the van is not so great in the snow with it’s dinky engine, 2 wheel drive, and being so heavy with all my junk in it, so this revelation put the brakes on our previously held idea to find some camping outside town that night and maybe have to navigate winding, narrow, steep forest service roads. On to plan b, which was to spring for a hotel in the smaller town of Ouray up the road. Shower, actual bed, and not having to pack up a snowy or rainy tent was well worth it.
Monday night in Ouray was not particularly hopping but we had a fun evening out getting some food and drinks while watching the snow come down. The most eventful part of the evening was spotting a cinnamon (brownish red colored) black bear rambling through town and escaping into an alley as some teenagers chased after trying to snap a picture.
The next day there was snow on the car and grass, and a lot in the mountains, but the roads had melted off in the early morning sunshine by the time we got moving. Kevin and I explored the town surrounded by glistening snowy mountains and walked up to Cascade Falls, wandered through Box Canyon park, and got to see some of the infrastructure on the steep canyon walls which are sprayed down daily in winter to create a world class ice climbing area. Apparently they have competitions and festivals there at the Ice Park which sounded super cool to watch but terrifying to do.
From Box Canyon we drove the fabled Million Dollar Highway to Silverton, which is packed with hairpin turns on the side of the mountains connecting these once booming mining towns. Whether it got it’s name from the high cost to build this crazy road, from the profits the mines brought, or whatever other reason, the scenic views were totally million dollar worthy. I didn’t even get carsick or worry about how close the road was to the edge of the abyss since I was too busy oohing and awing the whole way. Ouray was right to call itself ‘Little Switzerland’!
Silverton is a cute town full of mining history and is the destination of the Durango train that I lamented being closed a few days before. We could see the old-timey exhibits and storefronts in the area of town where the train rolls in- right down a main street. With most things closed partially we just got some pizza, wandered around, took in the views, and headed back along the Million Dollar Highway back to Ouray in the afternoon. There is no way I’d want to drive that road in the dark, that’s for sure. We drove to the town of Ridgeway for some tacos, and stopped off at this awesome hippie hot springs (clothing optional- we kept some clothing and I yet again saw a bunch of mostly old people butts).
We decided on a whim to stay one more night and do a jeep tour up a mountain pass, and went with Alpine Scenic Jeep Tours in a small group (with plastic between the three rows of seats to keep distanced and sanitizer galore) up some forest roads, through streams and over rocks up to Yankee Boy Basin. We stopped at beautiful waterfalls (one is said to have been used in a Coors commercial years ago), overlooks, and up into the mountains. I wasn’t originally super sold on the appeal of going up into the same mountains we’d been driving through in previous days, but I am so glad we did it. The expanse up past where most cars can access was exquisite and peaceful aside from a few hikers, off road vehicles, and others coming for this view. We finished the day with a burger from a fun, family-run spot in town and a drink at the hilariously named Mr. Grumpypants brewery which share a patio.
From Ouray we went up the road just a few miles to Ridgeway State Park where we camped for the night. We could hear the river rushing by and had a nice soft (by camping standards) elevated pad to pitch the tent which was a nice change. I attempted dipping my toes in the stream and it was… very cold. People were fishing in the stream, and in another area of the park we walked along the lake where people were boating, kayaking and paddle boarding. Such a change from Ouray so close by! It was flat, the air was dry, but still I couldn’t escape the beautiful mountains in the distance. What a fun few days.