The San Juan Skyway is a highway loop in Colorado from Durango to Telluride to Ridgway to Ouray to Silverton and back to Durango. It includes the famous Million Dollar Highway, a seemingly impossible route through the San Juan Mountains connecting Ouray and Silverton. Otto Mears was a Russian immigrant known as the “Pathfinder of the SanJuans”. He found a route for a toll road through the mountains to connect the rich mines around Silverton to the outside world. He also built narrow gauge railroads to serve the area and connect to the Denver & Rio Grande RR in Durango. Mears also helped broker a peace treaty with the Utes. It is said that he spoke Ute with a Russian accent. His life story is incredible. For more of the story click on the link… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Mears
Our trip around the loop started west of Durango at Target Tree NFS campground. We traveled to Delores CO, home of the Galloping Goose a gasoline engine powered innovation serving the area during tough times.
Galloping Goose #5
at Delores CO
We then headed north through the tiny mining town of Rico before stopping in Telluride for lunch while watching a huge elk herd.
Historic mining headframe in Rico
Elk herd very close to Telluride
The loop then took us across Dallas Divide to Ridgway, where True Grit was filmed, Dennis Weaver built an experimental home and Ralph Lauren now lives. Ridgway is also home to a wonderful small railroad museum and another RGS motorcar.
RGS Motorcar #1 at Ridgway CO
From Ridgway the route travels south to Ouray, the “Switzerland of America”. Ouray is a beautiful town nestled in an incredible valley. The road south out of the valley seems to go straight up hence the Million Dollar Highway. It is winding and narrow with sheer vertical drops and no guardrail – or as Dianne says “yellow line, white line, air.” It is a spectacular drive to Red Mountain Pass and many mines and mining towns.
Ouray “Switzerland of America”
Million Dollar Highway
San Juan Mountains
Mining district at Red Mountain
The route then drops into Silverton at 9318 feet. Silverton is the terminus of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and home to our friend Bob Boeder’s Train Art store. Weather note: it was 93 degrees in Ouray and 61 in Silverton.
From Silverton the loop takes us south towards Durango again passing across Molas Pass (10910′), Coal Bank Pass (10,640′), past Durango Mountain Resort (Summer home of Music in the Mountains), Haviland Lake (a beautiful kayaking destination) and countless hiking trails. The Durango area has more than 29 trails many of which originate within the city limits.
Little Molas Trail
One of countless waterfalls
Our tour glided through Durango, past the steam train returning from its trip to Silverton and back west again to Target Tree, the Ute Indian campsite from way back. Target Tree features a hiking/biking trail on the preserved Rio Grande Southern RR right-of-way. So the story continues. History, photography and trains.
Biking the RGS route
Target Tree Campground