Shimmering September Splendor – Southwestern Colorado

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I know, I know, the title is a bit cheesy but what can I say, it was a wonderful experience being in southwestern Colorado during the last week of September.  With Betsy parked at Ridgway State Park (yes, Ridgway is spelled without the “e”) for a week, we covered a lot of ground during our stay, visiting the mountain towns of Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton, and driving the San Juan Skyway.  We also hiked to three alpine lakes and ate some great food, and all this while in the midst of jaw-dropping vistas, one after another.  My camera was busy the whole time, so be prepared for a rather long post!

Ridgway State Park from an overlook on Enchanted Mesa Trail

Ridgway

Ridgway is nestled in picturesque Uncompahgre Valley, and is surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Cimarron and San Juan mountain ranges.  It’s when we arrived here that we realized the real size and beauty of the San Juans, for Ridgway is located at the northern entrance of the San Juan Scenic and Historic Byway, one of America’s most spectacular highways.

OK, now we know what we’ll name our ranch someday!

Once again we patronized the local produce stands, an activity we’ve really enjoyed during the past several weeks.  We also checked out the Dennis Weaver Memorial and scarfed down some excellent tacos at Tacos del Gnar.  When we saw a sign advertising ceviche (one of Steve’s favorites) at Land and Ocean Costa Rican Restaurant, we had to stop there as well, and I got to try their yummy Salmon and Red Snapper tacos.  These places were a bit pricey, but we could tell the ingredients were fresh and the long lines indicated that a lot of other folks agreed.

Blue Lakes Hike

Our friends Hans and Lisa, and Kevin and Laura had hiked the Blue Lakes Trail, and we had a chance to follow in their “hikesteps”.  This trail began at 9,400′ and climbed into oxygen-thin terrain to a chain of three alpine lakes nestled in high basins near the flanks of Mt. Sneffels, Dallas Peak and Gilpin Peak.  Arriving at the lower lake at 10,890′, we were a bit winded and weren’t sure about continuing on to the upper lakes.  But we decided to press on at least part way, and ended up pushing each other to the beautiful upper lake at over 11,700′.  The path continued even higher, but we called it a day and were happy with our almost 10-mile hike.

At 3.5 miles we arrived at crystal-clear Lower Blue Lake, then hiked all the way around it

Taking a break to admire a view of Lower Blue Lake from above

The trail continued to the middle and upper lakes

Huffing and puffing at Middle Lake.  We have to make it to the top!

Finally, at 11,750′ we stood on the shores of Upper Blue Lake and peered at the high ridge that wraps 270º around it

Added bonuses to this hike were a waterfall, several gray jays, deer, marmots and panoramic views of the tall San Juan Mountain Range peaks.  Summer had ended so the lakes were low, but I can only imagine how pretty it would be here in springtime.

Our hiking stats

This was a fairly strenuous hike with a gorgeous reward at the end, definitely worth the effort.  It was the longest we had spent on a trail (7 hours) and our biggest elevation gain (2,700′).  Definitely one of our best hikes this year!

On our way home the afternoon sun brightened the Aspen trees in the Mt. Sneffels wilderness

Telluride

Yes, those are beers – it was a LATE breakfast 🙂

Steve booked us at a hotel in Telluride to celebrate our anniversary, and made our stay a memorable one.  The mountain town of Telluride had been on my bucket list for some time, so I was excited.  The resort town has a style of its own and is known for its mining history, Victorian architecture and most of all its spectacular scenery as high jagged peaks stand sentinel above.  There are so many outdoor activities here, and of course we had to check out the FREE gondola.

We strolled around town on our first day and had a tough time choosing from the many scrumptious dining options on Main Street.  We finally settled on  The Butcher and the Baker for a yummy Omelet and Kale salad.

Main Street, Telluride

Telluride is named after telluride minerals that were never actually mined there.  It was originally founded as “Columbia” but was renamed so as not to be confused with another town in California with the same name.

This trail led to Bridal Veils Falls, but we weren’t prepared for a 6-mile hike just yet 😦

Plaques along the Idarado Trail recount the mining legacy of Telluride’s east end

The San Miguel River flowed through the city’s park

Telluride’s backyard is exceptional, and there was beauty everywhere we looked.  Stands of Aspen trees along the ski slopes exploded into a patchwork of gold and yellow, with evergreens interspersed throughout.  And the mountains peaks were just gorgeous.

Towering San Juan Mountains over Telluride

The only way to really see the surrounding landscape here is to hop on the multi-station gondola, and that’s what we did the next morning.  But instead of hiking up the strenuous 2.5-mile trail to the San Sophia station to ride back down, we did the opposite and I enjoyed taking photos of the area on the scenic walk back to town.

FREE, as in free ride!

We rode the gondola all the way to the last station at Market Plaza station, then back to Mountain Village Center for a walk and a look around.  Finally, we rode back up to San Sophia Station at 10,540′ where we got off for our hike back to town via the Telluride Trail.  We thought it was the perfect way to celebrate an anniversary!

Fall mountain views from the gondola

A view of Telluride from San Sophia station as we began our hike down

I was glad my knees held up to the steep descent

A well-deserved thirst quencher after the hike

A couple of days was not nearly enough to explore this beautiful mountain town, but we enjoyed every moment of our short stay.

San Juan Skyway Scenic Drive

Just about every drive we took while in Colorado seemed like a scenic route, but one of the crowning jewels was definitely San Juan Skyway Scenic Drive.  This was the one that Steve really wanted me to enjoy as he did in 2015.  It’s a 236-mile loop that offers some of the best mountain views in the state.  We followed only part of it during this stop, since we knew our future destinations would include more of its beauty.

The highlighted portion of San Juan Scenic Skyway is the first segment we drove

We began this segment from Ridgway, the gateway to the San Juans in the north on US 550.  Then we cruised through historic Ouray before turning around at picturesque Silverton.

The town of Ouray claims the title “The Switzerland of America”

Without snow on the mountains, it’s hard to make the Swiss connection

Between Ouray and Silverton, the byway follows the historic “Million Dollar Highway”.  It’s utterly sheer and totally unprotected drop-offs can make southbound drivers a bit nervous and unable to completely enjoy the stunning scenery along the way.

Of the 57 Colorado “14’ers” (mountains with peaks over 14,000′), 14 of them reside in the San Juan Mountain Range.  Driving here can make one feel very small, with so many towering mountains all around.

Patches of orange, green and yellow

We wound through the iron-colored Red Mountain area, home to more than 100 historic mines that produced gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper in the 1870’s.  As a result, these mines generated tremendous waste rock and tailings that are a potential source of contamination.  The area is currently undergoing a major environmental remediation effort.

Red Mountain #3

Zooming in on the hillside of Red Mountain, and yep, it’s quite red!

Several abandoned mines and deserted homesteads can be seen along the highway near Red Mountain Pass:

Old homesteads

Yankee Girl Mine structure

Remediated mine tailings

Silverton, our turnaround point on this drive

Heading back up to Red Mountain Pass

Shimmering hillsides

Steve was happy that the Colorado fall foliage in the San Juans delivered on his promise with a big bang.  “WOW” was a word I used often during the entire time we were here!  The hillsides were a kaleidoscope of colors and truly sensational.  And timing was everything, for a week after our drive the snow began falling.

A still and clear Crystal Lake embellished the reflections of the stunning fall foliage

A friendly tourist took this shot of the happy leaf peepers

 

Next up:  Following the trail of the Ancients



 

 

23 thoughts on “Shimmering September Splendor – Southwestern Colorado

  1. What a fabulous place to celebrate an anniversary! You two certainly made the most of your time in Colorado and couldn’t have timed it more perfectly for fall color. Thanks for all the tips, which I have placed into my Pinterest account. Your photography is stunning!

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  2. Oh, how gorgeous! And what a wonderful anniversary celebration! You guys really timed your visit to southwestern Colorado perfectly and did SO much in your week there. Thanks so much for the excellent travel guide—we’ll follow in your footsteps, and I hope it will be through golden aspen groves.

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    • I’d say it was Steve idea to hang out in CO until the Aspens turned. WE both love it here at this time, so gorgeous and breathtaking.

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  3. OMG I love all your photos. I really want to go to Telluride and San Juan Skyway. Happy Anniversary! Love to both of you! ❤ ❤

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  4. Truly one of my favorite parts of the country! I can see having a summer home (RV pad) nearby one day for the summer and maybe another in AZ for the winter. Great hiking!

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    • I agree, this is really the best time of the year to be in Colorado, especially here in the southwest area. Love all the blazing Aspens. But I also long to be here in summer for the wildflowers 🙂

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  5. I can’t wait til next year to try this visit again. This time we will leave at the beginning of Sept. Your photos are so beautiful with all the gold aspens. I really am looking forward to visiting Telluride and taking the gondola. Sounds like a smart move to ride up and hike down. Looking forward to the Blue Lakes hike!

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    • I think you can spend about a month or so just tackling all the trails. Summer is also great here for the wildflowers.

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  6. Oh my goodness! Every single thing you did looks incredible! We haven’t made it down to this part of the state yet but we desperately want to. Beautiful photos, and thanks for giving me a great list to come back to for when we eventually make it to Telluride!

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    • We also heard about mice issues, fortunately we have not experienced it. Perhaps the invasion is a summer event for the mice.

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