Colorado is best associated with the Rocky Mountains, where the Front Range is east of the mountains and the Western Slope is west. Most of the state's population is in Denver and Colorado Springs, but the mountain towns, like Telluride, Durango, and Cortez make this state a unique Colorado.
I've lived in Denver for a number of years, yet making the trip to the Western Slope takes time and commitment. From the Mile High city, the drives to mountain towns not on Interstate-70 can be a minimum of five hours. I did take a trip to Crested Butte, an outdoor wonderland known for its skiing and mountain biking. Last year, I had a chance to stop in Grand Junction which took me years to check off my list of mid-size cities. If you look at a map of Colorado, Durango, Silverton, Telluride, Cortez, Montrose, and Gunnison are very far removed. Many people that visit these parts, usually fly in. I'm sure when Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise called Telluride their part-time home, they didn't drive.
The mountain towns of Colorado mostly existed because of the silver and gold mining. Many of these towns have railroad depots, so it became accessible for people to settle. If you think of the old West Wild with boxy wooden architecture, making up saloons and blacksmith workshops, this is the region that preserved it best. I understand that these mountain communities bank on tourism and it's great they had the foresight to preserve its authentic Western appeal, while adding the incredible outdoor amenities. Many people think Texas or South Dakota for distinct cowboy culture, but Colorado truly has the rugged frontiersmen that proudly boasts its rancher's dream.
Considering that I've been to many of Colorado's mountain towns, like Steamboat Springs and Aspen, I imagine exaggerated sweeping views, prideful locals and many activities to consider. Although there's plenty of space, the land is highly valued. The cost of living must be outrageous, but worth every penny. I can't see these places as modest because it must be a heavily place to live and visit.
First off, I'm grateful that I can finally upload my own photos of this stunning region of the world. My first impression of SW Colorado was the draw to natural beauty. The main attraction is nature, and the established mountain towns give it personality. I'm a fan of hyper-local culture, where communities are independent of one another and self-reliant. SW Colorado is a prime example of big box brands are not welcome here.
I wasn't surprised by the enormity of the mountains, considering Colorado is home to peaks well over 14,000 feet, but I was surprised how small each of these towns actually are. Durango is home to only 16,000 residences, plus the seasonal college population. It was large enough to be livable though and all the connected towns felt like distant suburbs. I imagine that Durango serves as the epicenter, but by no means is it the reason a million visitors call this their vacation destination. Telluride is also a notable draw for people around the globe. I'll get into Telluride later.
As I was driving from Utah's magnificent town of Moab, home of Arches National Park, I sensed the climate getting drier with more brush in the vastness. The mountains were at a distance, but when I arrived across the Colorado border, ranches were abundant. My first step literally in the region was in downtown Cortez. The town was busy. It looked like it's on the verge of growing, since there more space to expand. Cortez has easy access to Mesa Verde National Park. As I was passing through the artsy town of Mancos, the mountains have arrived and so did the lush greenery. The sage brush almost looked like moss suffocating the ranges of mountains. The roads were windy and I descended into historic downtown Durango.
Durango was fit for tourism. The town had been caught on fire several times throughout its inception, but it felt like you stepped into the 1800s when the town was first built. Every building was immaculate, like a movie set. Half of the main street has shops for tourists. What's the big draw? The steam train that heads to Silverton. Silver and uranium mining originally brought people here, but since those mines were closed, the train keeps running. The horn echoes throughout the town, and it's one of the most beautifully sentimental sounds that exist. You don't have to live a hundred years ago to sense what it must have been like. The rails in the downtown don't have crossing gates, so cars and people have to be cautious. Just a fine element of ruggedness.
I checked into the Gable House B&B. Gosh, what a surprisingly comfortable place. It was the best B&B I've stayed besides one that my family owns. It was a former private hospital, where the surgical room was on the top floor. Go figure. The owner shared essential stories of its past, which is important, otherwise tradition and value is lost for good. I was advised to walk the stairs up the hills to Fort Lewis College for breathtaking views. How lucky are these kids to attend school in Durango?
Also, I was headed for the hot springs. Very similar to what I've experienced in Idaho, but enough with the comparisons. The million dollar highway up to Ouray, Colorado has been said to be the best drive in America. I can be the one to confirm that. I'll say, it's hard to argue. Not a single guardrail on these steep drops. It's so stunning, that the visor that blocks the sun better be up, otherwise you'll miss the scale of the views. Silverton was old. I mean very old! It still has dirt roads. It's worth a stop for lunch and a museum, but I'd keep going.
Ouray is called America's Little Switzerland. Okay, spend some time here. Even stay a night! This place was happening. I was eager to see Telluride. Gosh, this was isolated. I was told a 2.5 hour drive from Durango could be done 20 miles on a bike over the pass. So, just to be clear, Telluride is out of the way. My first impression was how the town is tucked into the base of surrounding mountains was extremely unique. I don't recall a town being in this type of setting, so naturally there is zero room for growth. The town is small, like you can see the town in an hour small. I was impressed by the homes. Not just the large ones, but any of the homes on the side streets are heaven. Everything was expensive. If you want to visit a town that is all luxury, yet artsy and super creative, then visit Telluride. I'd go back to SW Colorado again. This has been one of my favorite regions of America and very underrated for those seeking a vacation destination. I mention the town Durango and many people never heard of it. At least they're familiar with the vehicle Dodge Durango. Please check out the pictures under Cool Pix.
Grand Junction, CO