The Colorado Rockies are what mountain dreams are made of. They stretch 611 km the length of the state and are filled with jagged peaks (58 of them over 14,000 feet (4,267 m) – or “fourteen” as locals call them), lakes icy blue alpine and wildflower meadows roamed by elk, coyotes and black bears. There is perhaps nowhere in the country where the wild and rugged nature of the United States, that raw and unaltered spirit of the once wild west, is more vividly felt than the San Juan Mountains. Considered by many to be the most beautiful and varied of the entire range, this southwestern part of the Rockies nevertheless receives only a fraction of the visitors that the better-known and easier-to-reach areas to the north receive.
Best of all, one road will get you to all the key points: the San Juan Skyway. Rising to over 3,000 meters, it is truly a walk in the sky. Although it’s only 380km long and technically possible to do in a day, if you spread it out over a week, the Skyway is one of the best and still rarely traveled road trips in America, crossing history across borders, remote mountain towns, natural hot springs and some of the most dazzling scenery in the state.
Nestled at the bottom of a canyon in the heart of the San Juans, Telluride is arguably the most beautiful mountain town in Colorado, with snow-capped peaks – including several fourteen – framing the village. The outdoor adventure options in its outskirts are vast, as you’d expect.
The real surprise is the cultural side of the city: art galleries line the streets, the restaurants are comparable to those of a city many times the size, and some of the best festivals in the state take place throughout the city. summer: bluegrass, jazz, there’s even a hot air balloon festival where dozens of people fly over the aspen groves in a rainbow of colors.
Most popular, however, is the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, which takes place every September. The three-day event brings together two of Colorado’s most famous exports: craft beer and the most spectacular concert decor you’ll ever see.
Known locally as the “Switzerland of America” for its fairy-tale landscapes, Ouray, a former mining town, also deserves another title: the “Hot Springs Capital of Colorado.” Natural hot springs flow abundantly in the Rocky Mountains (many of them are connected by an excellent 1,150 km road trip called The Historic Hot Springs Loop). But of all the spa towns in Colorado, Ouray (pronounced “your-ay”) is the most unique. It is named after Chief Ouray of the Ute Indian tribe, whose ancestors came to this valley for thousands of years to soak in what they called “miraculous sacred waters”, often traveling several days to get here.
The trip was worth it then and it still is today. Dozens of naturally heated thermal pools sprout from the ground throughout the city, from underground steam caves to a massive outdoor hot springs complex. Perhaps best of all, and rare for the region, it’s all sulfur-free, and therefore odor-free too. Hike to the waterfalls, get lost in one of the most thrilling off-road 4x4s in the state… but it doesn’t matter: adventure in itself is one thing, adventure followed by a bathing in miraculous waters is another. .
In the center of downtown Durango, at the Diamond Belle Saloon, there is a bullet hole in the bar left over from a gunfight that took place here over 100 years ago. It’s that kind of town.
Founded in 1880 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad as a base camp for mining operations that traveled deeper into the silver and gold-rich San Juan, it was about as wild as the West was. The miners were coming down from months of hard work and isolation in the mountains and drinking heavily; more than one outlaw has made a name for himself in these streets.
“At the time, there were 57 places to buy alcohol,” says a local historian, “Victoria Day,” and a church. You do the math.”
Today, apart from bullet holes and gunslingers, not much has changed from this point of view. Bigger and more modern than other Skyway stops, Durango’s wide array of restaurants and bars (it’s also a college town) means it’s always a place to have fun, and it never stops. nor when the sun goes down.
Its location is also second to none. Mesa Verde, one of America’s most treasured national parks, is a short drive away; the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Steam Railway, one of the finest train journeys in the world, also departs from here.