San Juan Mountains – Million Dollar Highway, Last Dollar Road and One Hell of a Trip
Today was the first day which I had nothing planned. I woke up this morning thinking I would take a short two hour drive over the Mesa Verde National Monument to check out the thousand year old cliff dwellings. But then I thought, I would only be there for a couple hours and I did not want to just sit around doing nothing for most of the day, waiting for sunset to see if I could find something to photograph. That was not something I wanted to do, I figured I would take a friends advice and take a drive up through the San Juan mountains…to Ouray, then through to Telluride. I have been told it is some of the most amazing scenery in the state of Colorado, but nothing could prepare me for the first hand experience. Heading up north from Durango, you take the Million Dollar Highway…one of the most dangerous and yet most beautiful roads in America. Going through mountain pass after mountain pass, it is an experience you can never expect…entire mountainsides painted gold with the endless blazing yellow Aspens.
The road down from the mountains to Ouray is a ever-winding two lane road cut out of the moutnainside, with nothing more than a few inches of steel between you and thousand foot cliffs. Once you drop into Ouray, you get a sense of a town stuck in time. It reminded me of Swizterland. After Ouray I headed for Telluride, a town I have only heard of and had yet to experience. Driving down the road from Ouray, I felt I was leaving something behind because the direction I was heading seemed flat and boring. I could not be more wrong, as the road soon headed upwards and doubled back around to the other side of the mountains that surrounded Ouray.
Just as I was driving down the road I noticed a small sign so I slowed down to see what it said…”National Forest Access : Last Dollar Road.” Now anyone else probably would’ve just kept driving, but I have heard this name before. I decided I would head down the 4WD road just to see what it was like. I was not to be disappointed. The road winds through the mountainsides, past giant ranches, rolling meadows, and infinite Aspen groves. The views were absolutely mind-blowing. I felt as if I had been transported to Switzerland. After I finally made it to Telluride, about two hours later due to stopping the car every few feet to photograph, I headed through town, which is also amazing. Kept driving through to find a hotel, and didn’t see anything until I headed clear through town. At the end of the road theres a little sign that says Private Property: Public Access to Bridal Veil Falls. It sounded like something interesting so I headed up, and since I just had an amazing time on the Last Dollar Road, I was in the mood for some more 4WD action. Switchback after switchback and I start to see the falls up the mountainside. This small house perched atop a cliffside, with two falls flowing just underneath it, it looks like something out Lord of the Rings. I have definitely seen this house before in a movie.
I’d say it was a pretty successful day, not so much photographically, other than a few snapshots, but just the experience was worth the trip. I would suggest hitting up Telluride to anyone who is ever in the area.
Tomorrow I am heading to New Mexico for White Sands NM, Santa Fe, and the surrounding areas.