Our Telluride Trek explores a vast mountain range in Southwestern Colorado know as the San Juans. The San Juans are proud to offer the greatest concentration of 14,000 ft. peaks in the contiguous United States. They are also the most rugged, making for a very dramatic skyline and backdrop.
The towns on the Telluride Trek are the most charismatic and colorful in the west. Charisma is due to the unique personalities and histories of each. The color is literal as the towns all matured during the Victorian era and are fancifully painted every color of the rainbow.
We visit Ouray, Silverton, Rico, Dunton and Telluride in the course of our circumnavigation of the range. Each of these was founded during the mining booms of the mid-to-late 1800’s, but have since found new life as artists and outdoor enthusiasts have discovered them and made them their homes.
The region has been inhabited, albeit seasonally, for thousands of years as the summer hunting grounds for the Native Americans that lived on the surrounding plateaus and canyon country. The Ute Indians who summered here for centuries, hunting for elk, deer and bighorn sheep, referred to this region as the “Valley of the Hanging Waterfalls”. They considered this area sacred, with the land and its natural wonders the real treasure.
Ouray, named for Chief Ouray of the Utes, now calls itself the ‘Switzerland of America” and has always had more than mining and beauty to attract attention. Its well-developed system of hot springs has been an attraction since before the mining boom and remains one today.
Silverton rests at the confluence of two branches of the headwaters of the Animas River. Named by Spanish explorers, El Rio de las Animas Perdidas, the “River of Lost Souls “, it was the source of early gold panning in the 1860’s. Now at the northern terminus of the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, it is a destination much loved by thousands each summer.
Rico is a small town in the Dolores River Valley just beneath the Lizard Head Wilderness Area. The first non-Native American visitors were trappers who came to the area as early as 1832. The Brunot Agreement in 1878, in which the Utes gave away their high alpine lands, opened the door to prospecting and mining in this area. Rico was incorporated in 1879 and quickly grew due to the abundance of silver and its position on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad line. Rico’s peak population was 5,000 and now is inhabited by only 200 year round.
Dunton, unlike the other locations on this tour, was founded due to its relatively convenient proximity to some of the higher, lonelier mining outposts of the day. It is now a collection of eleven impeccably restored and lavishly furnished cabins surrounding a bar, dining room and common building, as well as the hot springs for which it is famous.
Telluride perhaps needs no introduction as many consider it the most beautiful mountain town in the United States. Situated at the head of a box canyon and beneath soaring sandstone and conglomerate walls and high peaks, it is unique. It is right at the base of Bridal Veil Falls, the longest free-falling waterfall in the country. Like the other towns, Telluride was a mining town, and one of the richest in the country when in its prime. Thanks to visitors and residents like Tesla, Nunn and Westinghouse it was the first town on earth to have electric street lights. Now it is home to one of the more interesting ski areas in Colorado and has become a retreat for the rich and famous.