Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ouray Colorado and the Million Dollar Highway

Beautiful Ouray, Colorado (pronounced U-ray) is also known as the "Switzerland of America," as the mountains and canyons surrounding Ouray are filled with some of the West's most unforgettable scenery.  (All photos and photo collages in this post will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)

The town is set at the narrow head of a valley, enclosed on three and a half sides by steep mountains.

The town of Ouray was originally established by miners looking for silver and gold in the surrounding mountains. At its height there were over 30 established mines. The town was incorporated in 1876, and named after Chief Ouray of the Utes Native American tribe. Located at the narrow head of a valley, Ouray is surrounded on three sides by towering peaks, some 13,000 feet high.

The entirety of Main Street is registered as a National Historic District, with most of the buildings dating back to the late nineteenth century. Click to enlarge to read this placard that shows the buildings of Ouray's early times.

The Beaumont Hotel, the Ouray County Couthouse, the Wright Opera House and many other ornate buildings and houses bring charm and history to the town. There is also  Ouray Hot Springs pool open year round in town--a million gallon pool of sulfur free mineral water.  We were tempted to visit the hot springs pool, as we did in Steamboat, but decided to take a scenic drive along the Million Dollar Highway instead

No one is sure how the Million Dollar Highway got its name. It is about a 25 mile portion of US 550 between Ouray and Silverton., and part of the San Juan Scenic Skyway. Some guess it took a million dollars to build, or that the road fill dirt contains about a million dollars of gold ore, and some say it would take a million dollars to make them ride over this narrow two lane highway.

Originally built in 1883 by Otto Mears as a toll way from Ouray to the now abandoned town of Ironton. The road was extended to connect Silverton and Ironton over Red Mountain Pass,

The highway offers spectacular views of the San Juan Mountain Range and the Uncompahgre Gorge.  The photo above shows a look back on the road we just traveled., on the right, which shows how the road hugs the mountain peak.

In fact, the road cuts through the mountain at points and through tunnels built at points where there are frequent avalanches.  Even though we took this ride in late November, there was already significant snow and ice in the mountains and along the highway

The views were gorgeous!

High mountain peaks on the right and left--it was easy to see why this area is called the Switzerland of America!

Some of the areas we passed through had large aspen groves, which must be so colorful in early autumn.

Magnificent vistas...

...of high peaks....

...and forests.

Loved this view of Mt. Sneffels, 14154 feet high!

We thought we'd drive on the Million Dollar Highway all the way through to Silverton, but the weather ahead began to look threatening when we were just few miles away.  Since more snow was predicted that day, we used a turn out to turn around and go back to Ouray. 

There was a lot of ice and icicles hanging off Red Mountain.  It is easy to see why Ouray is the ice climbing capital of the US. The world's first ice climbing park consists of dozens of frozen waterfalls from 80 to 200 feet high, along a mile of the Uncompahgre Gorge. The Ouray Ice Park is free, and attracts climbers from around the world!

 Red Mountain gets its name from the red iron ore  in it. 

Back towards the very narrow and curving Red Mountain Pass. The Million Dollar Highway is considered by many to be one of the most dangerous roads to drive,....

...but it handles an average daily traffic count of 2200 cars a day, and is a vital roadway for the area. The log hauler truck, seen in the photo above was just a short distance in front of us on our way back.

Before entering Ouray we stopped at a pull out to take photos by the historical markers at the end of the Million Dollar Highway.  As you can see the wind was blowing and the storm was approaching. We looked forward to going back to the house we rented in Ridgway and sit by the fireplace and heat up some warm food. We loved our visit to Ouray and hope to come back some day to visit it in other seasons.  

My next blog post I'll show some sights from Ridgway, Colorado--the town often used for early Western movie backdrops and where John Wayne starred in  the movie"True Grit." Come back soon!

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Gondola Ride from Telluride to Mountain Village

In my last blog post I showed you some of the beautiful town of Telluride, located in the San Juan Mountain region of SW Colorado. My daughter and family, and my husband and I rented a house in nearby Ridgway during the Thanksgiving week in November, and on a visit we made to Telluride we decided to take the free gondola ride up to Mountain Village. It was hard not including a lot of photos in this blog post, so grab a cup of something warm and a wool blanket and come along with us on a thrilling gondola ride!  (All photos and photo collages in this post will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)

The gondola, the first and only free public transportation of its kind in the United States, officially opened December 20, 1996, and serves as both a lift for skiers and snowboarders and as public transportation for locals and visitors.  It was originally built to help improve air quality while expanding the ski area.

As we ascended on the gondola the historic town of Telluride began to get smaller....

...and smaller.

Running daily, between 7 AM and Midnight, summer and winter, the 13 minute gondola ride eliminates a 20 minutes, eight mile car ride between towns.  The views are spectacular to see as you slowly glide up the mountain.

The town of Telluride is at 8,750 foot elevation. The gondola climbs 1,790 vertical feet before reaching Station St. Sophia, at 10,540 feet.

Telluride looks very far away!

As one gains elevation, the Saint Sophia Ridge comes into view above the town. Mears Peak, Dallas Peak, Gilpin Peak, Mt Emma and Chicago Peaks, all at 13,000 feet and above come into view.

 Higher ....

...and higher, we climb.

Passing through Station St. Sophia...

Station St. Sophia is the mid point of the gondola ride and one can exit here to the slopes, hiking trails or Allred's Restaurant.

We continued on the gondola ride towards Mountain Village.

We enjoyed all the glorious 360 degree views!

Around 50 percent of the gondolas are pet accessible, and there are even some that have wheelchair accessible cabins. The gondolas have ski and snowboard racks in winter, and mountain bike racks during the summer.

Approximately 2.25 million people ride the gondolas annually, and an estimated 35 million have  been safely transported since its opening day!

Descending down towards the first stop in the Mountain Village area.

Mountain Village is nestled in the heart of the majestic San Juan Mountain Range and consists of hotels, resorts, lodges, condos and homes, shops and restaurants.

The ski slopes vary from easy double greens to the treacherous double black diamonds located at the top of Coonskin Ridge, Gold Hill and Palmyra Peak.

Click on the photo above to see all the ski slopes, snowboard runs, trails and mountain restaurants in the area.

Majestic mountains were all around us!

The gondola continued on to more stops within Mountain Village.  Our granddaughter was enthralled by the views below.

Our trip was taken in November and by now these slopes would be well covered with deep snow!

We stopped at another area of Mountain Village called "The Beach," and walked around to see this beautiful location which contains many beautiful plazas and one of the best hotels in Telluride-- the Four Diamond Hotel Madeline. The bronze statue in the photo collage above is titled "Wind Spirit" by sculptress Judy Nordquist.  It embodies the Telluride Mountain Ute tribe. The Utes were native Colorado Indians that lived for centuries in the high Rocky Mountains.

After spending some time in Mountain Village we returned to the gondola ride, but this time going back towards historic Telluride.

Towards the end of the 13 minute ride we saw the town appear below. The gondola is open 275 days a year, and closed for maintenance in spring and fall. 

We all definitely enjoyed our trip on the gondola and all the wonderful views we saw along the way. It is a memorable way to visit Mountain Village and see the ski slopes and attractions in the area.

The moon was rising over our view of the Cimmaron Range when we returned to Ridgway. The next day we were going to visit the town of Ouray and take a drive up the Million Dollar Highway into the area known as the "Switzerland of America." Join me on my next post where you will see those spectacular views!

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