September 25, 2010 0

Road Trip 2010 – Day 24

By tim in Travel

June 7, 2010
Silverton, Colorado to Denver, Colorado, 347 miles
8 hours, 34 minutes

Our Colorado mining town adventures complete, we enjoyed another homemade meal at our bed and breakfast in Silverton and set off for Denver. When driving in the Rockies you learn very quickly that there simply is no direct route across the state. ¬†Getting to most destinations requires endlessly and slowly winding through steep roads, some of which are engineering marvels. Nowhere is this more true than the Million Dollar Highway. Named because of the gold ore supposedly used to fill in the road bed, the highway travels from Silverton to Ouray, snaking through the Uncompahgre Gorge to Red Mountain Pass without guardrails or shoulders. It one of the most amazing drives we’d ever experienced.

Aside from grand vistas, the highway also offers views into Colorado’s mining past. Throughout the route we witnessed old camp buildings, railroad ruins and mine shaft tunnels. I can’t imagine going to work today deep inside one of these mountains. This wooden truss used to be the entrance to the Idarado gold mine where workers would board small rail cars and travel thousands of feet down to go to work.

Just before we arrived in Ouray we found this awesome lookout that claimed it was the “Switzerland of America”. Having never been to the Swiss Alps, it sounded accurate enough to me.

Again, these small mountain towns were just oozing with character and we easily fell in love. Ouray is the perfect introduction to life in the Rockies, with everything from boutique chocolate stores to rough and tumble watering holes.

Knowing that driving through Colorado would be our last chance to visit a national park, we detoured through the middle of the state just to check out Black Canyon of the Gunnison. One of the smaller parks in the country, it offers visitors the experience of viewing, hiking and (if you’re insane) kayaking one of the steepest canyon descents in the country.

An extremely steep canyon carved into the Colorado plateau by the Gunnison River, the views from the South Rim visitor center are quite simply jaw dropping. Lookout points allow you to stand at the edge of the black rock cliffs and see them drop 2,250 feet down, almost perfectly vertically.

Back on the highway, we drove through rolling pastures, huge mountain passes and grand skies. Topping out at 11,307 feet in elevation, the route was an experience of a lifetime. If you ever visit Colorado, get off of the interstate highways and take the back roads. You can thank me later.

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