September 24, 2010 0

Road Trip 2010 – Day 23

By in Travel

June 6, 2010
Silverton, Colorado

After watching the 2010 Winter Olympics, we could not wait to get back to visit Colorado and its rugged, snow-capped mountains.  Our last cross-country drive offered a small glimpse of the Rockies and, like most things majestic in nature, we wanted more.  That said, towns like Aspen, Vail and Telluride seemed just a bit too fancy pants for Colorado, too artificial and commercial.  Instead, I wanted to find an old mining town, only a few hundred people living in old buildings nestled in some nook and cranny of this huge mountain range.  When news broke of Shaun White’s private half pipe hidden in the slopes outside Silverton, I immediately looked into visiting the area.  It was an old town with one paved road and lots of rugged, technical ski and hiking areas.  It was perfect.

Rather than stay in a hotel (there aren’t any hotels in Silverton, anyway), we booked two nights in the wonderfully charming Inn of the Rockies.  In short, innkeeper Michael Constantine made these accommodations the best of our entire voyage.  Our room was cozy, the bed comfortable and Michael’s homemade organic breakfast in the 112-year-old dining room was fantastic.  In addition to being an excellent host and cook, Michael’s knowledge of the area’s geography was enormously helpful.  Following some of his suggested routes, we ended up spending most of the driving in the San Juan Mountain backcountry.  Our little GTI was about to go off roading.

Spring was in full swing and the snow was quickly melting from all of the 12,000+ foot peaks.  This meant that driving was an interesting experience, with several of the Alpine Loop roads being either completely washed away or close to it.  The main road was much safer but still pretty awe-inspiring.

We trekked up the hills, eventually finding our way towards some pretty spectacular views.  The skies smiling upon us, we were privy to some of the most spontaneous and wonderful waterfalls we’d ever seen.  I think we wound up seeing about nine of them in total.

The scenery here was just too beautiful for words.

We returned to Silverton for lunch at a local bar and grill and walked around the downtown for a while.  The entire town was built during the late 19th century as miners exploited the hills and their massive silver deposits.  Now designated as a National Historic Landmark District, it’s pretty neat to see all of the old architecture restored with love.

Surprisingly, the temperature at 9,305 feet was still blazing hot.  So much for higher elevations meaning cooler days!  After cooling down with a few drinks and a nap in our room, we again drove out to the backcountry on another of Michael’s routes.  This time we headed towards Cunningham Gulch, a thin sliver of a valley between two enormous San Jan peaks.  I would not have thought it possible, but the scene here was even more gorgeous and breathtaking than before.

As we gained elevation we began to encounter more snow and fewer trees.  It turns out that 11,000 feet is the magic number where the tree line ends and exposed rock begins.

A full day indeed, we turned around once we realized a four-wheel drive vehicle was required to go any further.  No matter, we’d found a pretty exciting and satisfying alpine oasis already.  These pictures really do no justice.

The one downside to Silverton is that the food offerings are pretty sparse.  Instead, we drove down the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray to have a nice meal and enjoy the sunset.  On our way we encountered this amazing tunnel that allowed the waterfall above it to continue to flush water towards the river below.  Just another example of human ingenuity finding a way to get around nature’s obstacles.

Colorado, your mountains are magnificent, your wildlife abundant and your rivers a source of life for the entire southwest.  We will most definitely return.

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