Found out a couple pieces of information from readers of our online journal. Thanks to Leslie, I know that the flowering cactus isn’t a small prickly pear after all, but a strawberry cactus, and thanks to Frank, my unidentified lizard from the Lowry House now has a moniker, the western fence lizard. Thanks, Leslie and Frank!! I am glad to know that some people are really enjoying the journals, and I love to learn new information.
We did a full day of riding 275 miles today, leaving the RV Park in Towaoc and riding the San Juan Skyway “loop” counterclockwise, so that we could climb the mountains through the three highest passes during the morning and return later in the afternoon via the Lizard Head Pass and the West Fork Valley along the Dolores River. The skyway passes through some spectacular, rugged scenery, as well as several old ranching or mining towns that now are mostly based on a tourist economy. The scenic byway connects the historic towns of Cortez, Mancos, Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, and Dolores and goes through vegetation zones from desert to alpine. According to several sources, the San Juan Skyway is the “most beautiful drive in America” and it certainly was gorgeous today! We didn’t get to take many photos since we were too busy riding around switchbacks and tight curves as we climbed the mountains, but we did pull off a few times when it was safe. We passed sheer cliffs, craggy terrain, dramatic scenery, lots of waterfalls formed as the mountain snows melt, a bunch of snow in the higher altitudes, and noted there were very few guard rails!! Last week when we took the train to Silverton from Durango, the aspens were still bare, but this week we noticed that they were “leafing out” well up to over 9000 feet. We rode through three passes of over 10,000 feet and a fourth pass that was over 11,000 feet. Three of the four passes were on the east side of the skyway. We stopped once again in Silverton to take some ABC photos and then climbed the “Million Dollar Highway” to Ouray. There are a variety of explanations for this name: one version is that the name is based on the value of the ore-bearing fill used to construct this section of the highway, another that it is due to the high cost of building the road over the Red Mountain Pass (11,008 feet) and the Uncompahgre Gorge, or perhaps it is due to the million dollar views you can see as you travel on the skyway. Whatever the reason, it is an imposing and impressive ride!
We usually pack a lunch when we go riding, but when we do eat out, we have found that asking a local person where to eat is the best way to find a great restaurant anywhere. The two painters we saw working on a store in Ouray directed us to Artisan Bakery with no hesitation; the sandwiches there were freshly made with whatever ingredients we wanted and were super tasty. Some fresh pumpkin bars came out of the oven while we were eating lunch, so we bought two: one to share later in the afternoon and one to share for breakfast tomorrow morning. I also had a nice talk with the priest of the Episcopal Church in Ouray, who happened to notice my Daughters of the King cross and began a conversation. After leaving Ouray, we rode through the small towns of Ridgway and Placerville, and then on to Telluride.
We had hoped to ride the free gondola when we arrived in Telluride, on the west side of the skyway, but discovered that the gondola ride is not open from the end of ski season until Memorial Day, so instead we rode out of town to an old mine at the end of a paved road, and enjoyed the mountain views. I though Telluride itself was rather a mish mash of architectural styles. There were some pretty Victorian “painted ladies,” but also a lot of basic 20th century two story homes, a great many condos, and some really high level rural “McMansions.” I actually liked the quaintness of Silverton and Ouray more than the larger ski town of Telluride although the scenery outside of the town was striking. Ouray has an Ice Park for ice climbing and some great hot springs and I’d like to go back there and stay a few days sometime.
After leaving Telluride, the skyway cut through one more high pass and then began its descent through the West Fork Valley. We traveled along the Dolores River almost all the way until we reached the dam where the Dolores became McPhee Reservoir. This part of the skyway went through the San Juan National Forest, and although it was not as rugged as the eastern part of the route, it was beautiful to see all the aspens and pines in so many shades of green. There were few inhabitants in this part of the ride, except for a few ranches and the small former mining town of Rico. When we finally reached Dolores late in the afternoon, Fred was rewarded with a microbrew at the small local brewery in Dolores. Like many of the days we have already had, this was another breathtaking and spectacular day. The only way it might have been better is if some of our riding friends had been riding the San Juan Skyway with us!