• Oct8

    San Juan Skyway — Ridgway to Silverton

    October 8, 2020 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 61 °F

    Part I of today’s story ...

    It was 39F when we left the Cruiser at 7:40a for today’s scenic drive. Chilly? Yes, but the sun was shining bright and it actually felt a great deal warmer than what the gauge showed. So much so that we sat out on the deck at the Ridgway Library when we stopped to use the free wi-if there. Strong signal ... perhaps because the library was still closed. In short order, we’d downloaded our emails, checked in with family and friends, and were back on the road.

    When we left the Cruiser this morning, it was our intent to drive the entire 233-mile loop of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway ... a portion of which is on the Million Dollar Highway. I don’t know what we were thinking! We’re slow travelers at best ... even slower when there is magnificent scenery to enjoy. It didn’t take us long to change our plans to do an in-out drive just to Durango and back. It took even less time to determine that was too ambitious for us as well. In the end, we shortened the trip further and turned back from Silverton ... just 35 miles or so from Ridgway!

    The golden fall colors between Ridgway and Ouray, brilliantly lit by the sun, was what slowed us initially. Frequent photo stops meant it took us an hour to drive the 10+ miles to Ouray. Postponing exploring Ouray to another time, we continued through the town and up into the mountains. The “Ouray ... Switzerland of America” overlook proved to be the perfect spot for a stand-up “breakfast with a marvelous view.”

    The closer we traveled to the mountains, the clearer the scenery became, the smoke haze filtering down from the wildfires disappearing, or at least becoming less of an eyesore ... much to our pleasure. That meant more dalliance along the way to take photos or to just enjoy what our eyes beheld.

    The road switch-backed higher and higher. The scenery grew more and more fascinating ... often decorated with fall colors. The hairpin turns slowed us down as much as the scenery did. The lack of guardrails on our side of the narrow, curvy road meant that Mui’s full attention had to be on the road when we were driving. So, we stopped more and more frequently so that he too could enjoy the beauty all around us.

    It was at one such spot that we had an encounter that falls into the “small world” category. In April 2019, we sold our Phaeton to Jared and Rebekah, a young couple from Denver. What used to be our “condo on wheels” is now their fulltiming home on the road. Turns out that they were out sightseeing, too. Jared apparently recognized the CR-V when they passed it at one of our stops. They turned around and came back to where we were for a quick reunion. It was a delight to hear that they’ve been enjoying the Phaeton ... and making good use of it to travel around North America.

    Except for a stop we made at the Idarado Mine overlook — which I will write about in part II of today’s story — all of our stops on the road were scenery oriented. Some were shorter than others. Some had me seeking trails to capture just the right light ... or the perfect angle.

    After climbing up to Red Mountain Pass at 11,018 feet, we eventually descended into Silverton, which grew out of a collection of shacks from the area’s gold-rush era. It was almost 1:00p. Wow! Five hours to drive just under 35 miles. What can I say? A testament to the scenic and historic worthiness of the road.

    The businesses in town looked like they were doing brisk business ... restaurant patios were teeming with patrons ... the sidewalks were filled with strolling visitors. We stay away from crowds these days, so we drove through the busy section of town and found a picnic table at Memorial Park. A perfect spot to eat our self-catered lunch. A strong T-Mobile signal encouraged us to share already-made memories with family and friends.

    We had been thinking about driving the Alpine Loop as an alternate route back to Ridgway. When we read that the 12 mile road was a gravel one, however, we changed our minds. Not that 4-wheel drive is needed for the road. Not that we haven’t driven long distance on gravel roads before. Rather, Mui said he’d prefer not to drive on gravel until he replaces the tires. Safety first!

    So, we retraced our southbound route on the way back to Ridgway SP. We made just as many stops on the way back ... this time focusing on the scenery that was better lit by the sun moving to the other side of the road. We debated dining in Ouray on the way back, but the outdoor seating at the restaurants were already filled ... people already queued up and waiting their turn.

    Thus we returned to the Cruiser ... after another quick stop at the Ridgway Library to share our afternoon memories with family and friends. It was 6:00p when we pulled into our site. We had just enough time to dine al fresco — grilled corn and köfte (Turkish meat patties) — before the sun disappeared behind the mesa across the river from us ... taking its warming rays with it. The temperature started to drop like a rock. Time to move indoors!

    We had a terrific day even though we did not make much headway on the San Juan Skyway. As delightful as the fall colors were today, I imagine they are overwhelmingly beautiful when the aspens are at full peak. We missed that this year. The drought and recent cold snaps changed the normal foliage timeline.

    No worries, this was just our first time on the Skyway. It won’t be our last.
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