A Scenic Tour of Southwestern Colorado
Visitors to Southwestern Colorado fill their lungs with the refreshing mountain air--and their cameras' memory cards with tons of scenic photos.
The area was populated after gold was discovered in 1875. Long before its mining days, however, Ouray--named for a Ute chief--was the summer home of nomadic tribes who came to soak in the mineral hot springs.
After paddling the morning away, Lisa and I have the same idea. We check in at Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs and change into bathing suits. The lodge has four 6-person redwood tubs that are continuously replenished with geothermally heated spring water. As the sun sets, we soak and enjoy the mountain views.
We get seated next to the outdoor fireplace at Buen Tiempo, a cute Mexican restaurant. While digging into a vegetarian quesadilla, I notice that the 15-foot-high ceilings inside are papered in dollar bills. Our waiter explains that they're donated by customers and taken down once a year to be given to charities. After we offer a dollar, our waiter shoves a tack through the bill, which he wraps around a roll of quarters; then he wings the package upward. The tack sticks the dollar into the ceiling, and our waiter catches the quarters and goes back to his job.
- Mild to Wild Rafting50 Animas View Dr., Durango, 800/567-6745, mild2wildrafting.com, half-day rafting $43
- Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs 45 Third Ave., Ouray, 800/327-5080, boxcanyonouray.com, from $75
- Carver Brewing Co.1022 Main Ave., Durango, 970/259-2545, wings $9
- Buen Tiempo515 Main St., Ouray, 970/325-4544, quesadilla $12
- Honeyville33633 Hwy. 550, Durango, 800/676-7690
Day 4: Ouray to Grand Junction
Two blocks from our hotel at Box Cañon Falls & Park, we follow a walkway next to the falls, which fill the canyon with mist. We hike a steep half-mile to the bridge suspended over the cascade. A placard explains that the rock face in front of us is known as the Great Unconformity: For some reason, a stripe of rock representing 30 million years of geologic time is missing. I quickly give up trying to wrap my head around that and instead just admire the contrasting reds, oranges, and whites in the rock.
In between ogling Ouray's adorable Victorian-era buildings and the surrounding mountains, we come upon Ouray Silversmiths. Opened in 1994, the shop sells silver and gold jewelry handmade by owner Melanie Kline and her son, Josh. Lisa buys her mother a ring with a golden horse in a silver paddock for her birthday, even though it's more than six months away. "When you see something this perfect, you just have to get it," she says.
With a flight to catch in the afternoon, we reluctantly climb into the car and speed northward, leaving the mountains behind.
Descending into the plains, we find that the sky opens up wider and wider, and fields dotted with split-rail fences seem to go on forever. We drive nearly an hour in silence, happy simply to watch the landscapes slowly roll by.
- Box Cañon Falls & ParkOuray, 970/325-7080, ouraycolorado.com, $3
- Ouray Silversmiths722 Main St., Ouray, 970/325-0097
Finding Your Way
Southwestern Colorado has some of the prettiest drives in the state, which is saying a lot. The mountain views north of Durango on the Million Dollar Highway (Rte. 550) are particularly gorgeous. Though it's easy to get distracted, be sure to keep your eyes on the road--it's often very windy, with steep drop-offs and not as many safety barriers as you might hope. If you're going to Animas Forks or anywhere else off the main roads, consider a four-wheel drive vehicle--and no matter what, take it slow.