D&SNGR courtesy national scenic byways online
Mile 118 Durango The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNGR) chugs out of Durango daily. Following a different route than the San Juan Skyway, the steam-powered train (once coalfired) takes visitors to Silverton for a few hours and returns to Durango. Make reservations in advance, especially in fall, as this is one popular ride. Durango bustles in summer, and the historic Strater Hotel is the gem of the downtown area. A river winds through town and you can raft, kayak, ducky, tube or paddleboard down to the Animas River Park. From Durango, the Skyway travels over Coal Bank Pass (elevation 10,640 feet) and scenic Molas Pass (10,910 feet) before dropping into Silverton. Insider’s tip: Many local restaurants, such as the Palace, Diamond Belle, Lost Dog, Olde Tymers, Cosmo and Gazpacho’s, offer a $5 burger special. The trick is to find out which establishment is offering the deal on any given day. Local brewpubs are also ubiquitous.
Mile 166 Silverton This is the end of the rail line for the D&SNGR. If you arrive on time, you may get caught up in the daily shootout put on by the Silverton Gunfighters Association. The genteel facades of the stores lining the main street add to the illusion of having stepped back in time. You can also get a feel for a miner’s life at the Old Hundred Gold Mine, complete with an underground ore cart ride, or book a jeep tour into the high country. North of Silverton, the Skyway climbs over Red Mountain Pass (11,099 feet) and switchbacks relentlessly over the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray. The road on the north side of the pass is steep and precipitous, the 8 percent grade affording heart-stopping views from its shoulder. The original toll road, built by businessman Otto Mears in the 1880s, was a feat of engineering. Some say the name “Million Dollar Highway” refers to the cost of rebuilding the road in the early 1920s, yet others believe the name comes from the value of the gold mine tailings used to create its roadbed. Claim to fame: In 2009, a superpipe was secretly built in the backcountry of Silverton Mountain so Olympic Gold Medalist snowboarder Shaun White could train and perfect new tricks.
san juan skyway photo by Jeremy Baron
Mile 189 Ouray Ouray has been dubbed “The Switzerland of the Rockies,” with its quaint Victorian architecture and mining town history part of the town’s charm. Go underground at the Bachelor-Syracuse Mine for a unique perspective of mining or take a scenic hike that circles the town, ducks through a cave and crosses a bridge with views of the Box Canyon Waterfalls, where stairs descend to the refreshing mist at the bottom. In winter, Box Canyon Park’s deep gorge is coated in ice and has more than a hundred manmade ice climbing routes. “Hot” spot: Ouray’s abundant geothermal resources feed the Ouray Hot Springs Pool, a large, swim-friendly outdoor pool and spa. Mile 201 Ridgway Befitting its Western heritage, Ridgway was the filming location of John Wayne’s classic movie, True Grit. The town also hosts several rodeos each summer and is the site of the Ridgway Railroad Open Air Museum, where you can see a few versions of the crazy Galloping Goose auto/train hybrids. From here, the Skyway heads west along Highway 62, climbing back into the mountains as it passes Ralph Lauren’s Double RL Ranch and the scenic peaks of the Sneffels Range. At Placerville, turn southeast on Highway 145 to drive back into the mountains and top out at the long view of Telluride’s valley floor with Ajax Peak in the background. Mile 240 Telluride Home again. Once a mining camp and now a National Historic Landmark District, the Festival Capital of the Rockies and a world-famous ski resort, Telluride is the perfect place to stage your Skyway tour. summer/fall 2011