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Exploring Central & Southern Colorado – Off The Beaten Path, Part 2

Continuing the journey: Unveiling hidden treasures and local delights beyond the ordinary routes in Central & Southern Colorado

After checking out the grandeur of the dunes, we pushed off for the town of Durango, Colorado. Dad enlightened me that residents of a nearby town lovingly refer to their neighbours in Durango as “Durangatangs,” which I found highly amusing and referenced throughout the trip. Durango is a historic wild west frontier town at the foot of the San Juan Mountains that sprung up around mining operations and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. In modern times, it’s come to be known as a launching point for local ski resorts and over 2 million acres of wilderness in nearby San Juan National Forest. The town also has an impressive film history, with Hollywood productions filmed here like City Slickers and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

We bid farewell to the Durangatangs and hit the road early the next day to head for our next destination, Mesa Verde National Park. The park is situated in the southwest corner of Colorado and is widely known for its well-preserved ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. The park is also a designated World Heritage Site and is an official Dark Sky Park. Mesa Verde held special significance for us on this trip, being my Dad’s favourite national park, and it truly exudes a tangible spiritual vibe. The park sits well above 7,000 ft, and the winding drive up to the mesa offers spectacular, panoramic vistas of the surrounding high plains.

The Ancestral Pueblo people built thriving communities on the mesas and in the cliffs of Mesa Verde and inhabited the area for more than 700 years from 550 A.D. to 1300 A.D.

From Mesa Verde, we had a 2-hour drive to Pagosa Springs, where we checked into an Airbnb to enjoy some comfort for the last days of our trip. Sitting at over 7,000 ft in the San Juan Mountains, a big draw for the town is The Springs Resort, an expansive spa built on the banks of the San Juan River. The word “Pagos” originates from the Southern Ute Tribe word for “healing waters”, and The Springs Resort features 25 pools ranging from 45 –114 °F in temperature. We spent the late morning and early afternoon soaking in the healing waters and had an early night at the condo to prepare for a big day of hiking.

Another highlight attracting us to the region was a trail outside the mountain town of Silverton called the “Ice Lake Basin Trail”. Located roughly 2 hours from Pagosa Springs, this is a challenging trail with nearly 3,000 ft. in elevation gain, but we had a fantastic day doing this 8.3 mile out and back hike. The icing on the cake for hikers completing the ascent is the gorgeous cirque at the top of the mountain. For those unaware, a cirque is an open, steep-sided hollow at the head of a valley or mountainside formed by glacial erosion.

Exploring off the Beaten Path – Central & Southern Colorado, Part 1

Entering the cirque, we took in a panoramic, other-worldly view of glacial waterfalls, blooming summer wildflowers, and glacial streams carving through the bowl.

by Alex Sheldon

Dad had been apprehensive about having enough juice to finish the hike, but he did great. That is, aside from losing his shoes! While we were having lunch near a glacial stream, he decided to swim in the ice-cold water and left his pair of shoes close to the edge of the stream. When climbing out, he inadvertently knocked them into the water, screaming out a mournful “Noooooooooooo” as they went sailing down the quickly moving stream. In an amazingly fortunate and serendipitous stroke of luck, I happened upon an old pair of flip-flops someone had left in the brush, and he was able to slowly make it down the mountain, singing my praises on the drive back.

For the final day of the trip, we took a scenic drive through the mountain towns of Ouray and Telluride, cruising amongst some of the highest peaks in the San Juan Mountains. Located at 7,792 feet, Ouray is officially named after Chief Ouray of the Ute Tribe and is nicknamed the “Switzerland of America”. The town sits in a geographic bowl rimmed by impressive peaks rising 12,000 -13,000 ft on all sides. Ouray was originally established in 1876 as a mining outpost, with over 30 active silver and gold mines at the height of productivity. Today, the local economy is focused on tourism and attracts ice climbers, mountain bikers, hikers, trail runners, and off-roading enthusiasts.

…Continuing our mountain cruise, we arrived in the secluded and famed village of Telluride.

Telluride is another historic mining town founded in the mid-19th century and famed for prolific silver and gold production. Getting to Telluride is one way in, one way out. The town sits within a box canyon, with forested mountains and cliffs surrounding it and beautiful Bridal Veil Falls at the head of the canyon. In the modern era, Telluride has become famous for its world-class ski resort and “Mountain Village” area and an extensive summer festival season, which includes the Telluride Jazz Festival, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Telluride Blues and Brews Festival.

We grabbed lunch downtown at a historic hotel called the New Sheridan Hotel.

by Alex Sheldon

The hotel boasts the oldest bar in Telluride and has a casual cafe and restaurant where we took in a drink and a leisurely meal. The New Sheridan was originally built in 1891 and then destroyed by a catastrophic fire just a few years later in 1894. The hotel was then rebuilt in brick in 1895 and has been a beloved downtown staple ever since. After lunch, we drove down E. Colorado Ave and found a great spot to jump in the San Miguel River to cool off from the summer heat. After enjoying a refreshing swim, we headed home to Pagosa Springs for a mellow dinner at the condo.

After covering some impressive ground in our journey across Colorado, we reached the end of our 10-day tour. After checking out of the condo and enjoying a final coffee, we said some emotional goodbyes and headed in our respective directions. Dad was heading east and back home to Lawrence, KS, and I was heading west for California and the City by the Bay.

Central and Southern Colorado created a truly memorable impression, opening my mind to what defines this state and the multitude of rich experiences to be found by adventurous travelers. There was so much more variety than I had initially imagined, and I count it amongst a small handful of states that give my home state a real run for its money. Consider this Californian hooked on Colorado. The question isn’t whether I will return, just simply when.

Exploring off the Beaten Path – Central & Southern Colorado, Part 1

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