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The skyway to heaven… or to hell!

Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report
Sunset on the mountains on the way back to Durango.
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TELLURIDE, Colo. – After a nice day visiting Santa Fe we finally arrived under the stars in a campsite north of Durango along the famous US Route 550.

While taking a generous breakfast we decided on the road trip of the day, a loop called “San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway” from Durango going straight into West to Cortez then go north to Telluride, get around the mountains via roads 145 and 62 up to Ouray, then enjoy the Million Dollar Highway till Silverton to finally arrive in Durango. About 236 miles for a six-hour drive.

Million Dollar Highway, from heaven to hell!  (Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report)

Although, we could use the mythic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad three points dissuaded us do it. First, the price, from $89 per adult for the round trip, it is $190.46 for two, tax included. Secondly, the train stops at Silverton just before the best part that goes till Ouray. Thirdly, a strict time schedule to respect.

The road from Durango to Cortez was fast, we stopped just before the San Juan National Forest at the info center in Dolores welcomed by a nice woman who provided us with enough information for a week of visit!

On her advised we stopped a couple of hours to hike the Bear Creek trail, 18 miles north of Dolores on the right side of the road 145. Even if we couldn’t finish all the trail, it was a real pleasure to find ourselves immersed in this endless forest composed of Aspen Decline and Mountain Pine.

After a lunch well appreciated with our feet enjoying the freshness of the river we continued our trip to the next stop; Telluride. We could already get a glimpse of the mountains we will ride in the next hours on the other side.

Besides, the numerous mines that it is possible to see along the San Juan Skyway loop. A sign indicates that not so long ago here in Colorado, Nikola Tesla built the first modern electric current (Alternatif current)along the Lake Fork of the San Miguel River.

But first, don’t stop with your car to Telluride instead stop at Mountain Village at the carparks of the Gondola lift, 9545 feet high. For free, open from 6.30 am to midnight, one will enjoy a nice view of Telluride with Dallas Peak, Mears Peak and Mount Emma and water falls in the background during the 13 minutes ride.

View from Main Street in Telluride, CO. (Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report)

The Ancient Greeks believed the gods were living on the top of Mount Olympus, if it was the case today, the city of Telluride could have been their home. City of only 2,500 souls, surrounded by the mountains, arts exhibits, regular festivals and plenty of restaurants and bars. Telluride has everything to please the tourist.

But no time to stay longer, a toasted sandwich made of Brie mix with apricot jam from a street vendor and an ice cream flavor raspberry/chocolate chips from the Telluride Truffle and we are ready. Here we are back on the road to Ouray.

Since the beginning of the day, the weather was great. But that was until we arrived at Ouray. The party was over. We did a large portion of the Million Dollar Highway facing rain and hail. Already considered as one of the most dangerous roads in the US. The weather added to it, a slippery road, the risk of falling rocks, ligthnings and low visibility. Nothing could have been worse. I was living a nightmare. My wife was so happy. It reminded her country.

Finally, we arrived at the Red Mountain pass, 11,018 feet high, followed later by the Molas pass, 10,970 feet high and the Coal Bank pass, 10,640 feet high. We contemplate the lookout of the two last pass with joy. It was like a painting. Sunset on one side, a thunderstorm on the other. Mountains adorned of red, green, gray and white. But night is coming, now it is time to go back to the campsite.

The lesson of the day, take your time while enjoying the San Juan Skyway, it is worth the trip.


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About the Author

Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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