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Ouray, Colorado and the San Juan Mountains, September 10-23, 2003

San Juan Mountains as seen from north of Ouray

This was our third trip to Ouray in six years. We have fallen in love with the rugged beauty, friendly people, fascinating history and range of outdoor activities in the area. This year the weather made our trip unique in two ways. First, a week of rain and snow prior to our arrival covered the mountains with snow. This enhanced the scenery while at the same time altering some of our plans involving higher altitudes. The second way the weather influenced our trip was that we had nothing but sunshine the entire time we were out there. Great hiking weather, with daytime temperatures in the upper 60's to 70 and nighttime temperatures ranging from freezing to the low 50's.

Ouray is a small community of approximately 800 snuggled in a valley in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. They call it "Switzerland of America" for good reason. The town sets at an elevation of 7,770 feet surrounded by peaks of 13,000-14,000 feet. The Uncompahgre River roars through the valley. Hot springs bubble up through the valley floor, giving the town a large hot spring pool in which to play year-round and hot tubs for local hotels. Visible from throughout the town, Cascade Falls pours out of the face of the Amphitheater (the rock wall that surrounds the town to the East) at an elevation of 10,000 feet. South of Ouray, the Million Dollar Highway curves through some of the most scenic mountains we've seen, heading to Silverton.

After much debate, we chose to drive there again this trip. It is a long haul, consuming four full days for the round trip. Long stretches of road construction slowed our progress a bit, but good weather helped. We narrowly escaped thunderstorms and a tornado in western Nebraska, but the rest was a nice as it gets.

Our initial plans included summitting Mt. Sneffels at 14,150', a guided 4-WD trip over Black Bear Pass into Telluride and a backpacking trip over Bridge of Heaven, behind the Amphitheater ringing Ouray and down Bear Creek Trail. All these were postponed to a later visit due to snow in the higher elevations. Instead we chose a number of day trips, some to sites we had visited previously, others to new places. Our base was to be the Ouray Victorian Inn, a place we discovered on our first trip, primarily because they would accept pets. They have always been very accommodating to us.

Day one: Oak Creek Trail

Day two: Guston and the turntable

Day three: Silvershield Trail

Day four: Telluride

Day five: Baldy Trail

Day six: Old 100 Mine and Animas Forks

Day seven: South Mineral Creek

Day eight: Bear Creek Trail

Day nine: Hammocking on Oak Creek Trail

Day ten: Upper Cascade Falls