A Photo Journal of America's Rocky Mountain State
Article Date: January, 2015
Article and Photography by Mark Quasius
Ouray is nestled in the San Juan mountains in the southwest corner of Colorado. Of the many mining towns in this region,
Ouray is unique. When mining in Colorado was booming, many towns popped up overnight and flourished as the mines, and the miners, prospered.
However, mining isn't forever and once the mines played out most of these towns disappeared almost as fast as they were born. But Ouray wasn't
your typical mining town filled with saloons and brothels. Ouray had those too, but a large emphasis was placed on family life here and schools
and churches were built. Once the mines started to dry up the townsfolk stayed put to raise their families here and find other sources of income.
Today, tourism has caused Ouray to flourish more than ever. The old mining trails that the ore wagons were hauled over no longer remain silent.
Theses trails are popular with Jeep enthusiasts and has earned it the reputation of the Jeep Capital of the World. Modern visitors flock to
Ouray for its beauty and recreation. It offers the scenic vistas of the Million Dollar Highway, winter sports such as the Ouray Ice Park and
hot springs. A number of waterfalls are found in the area and one is even accessible a short walk from the downtown area.
The San Juan mountains are beautiful but they can be treacherous. The steep cliffs give this area the title of Avalanche
Capital of the United States. The highway marker to the south on US-212 bears witness to the deaths caused by this swift thundering danger. Yet,
this same topography makes for some prime winter recreation. Telluride is just over the ridge and offers excellent skiing while Ouray's famous
Box Canyon is home of the annual ice climbing championship. Nestled in a small valley with the mountains as a backdrop give Ouray the name
"Switzerland of America". Heading north the drive takes you to Grand Junction, Colorado but the drive to the south is spectacular. US-550 leaves
Ouray by climbing a series of switchbacks and proceeds south to Silverton and then Durango over what is known as the "Million Dollar Highway". If
you're the kind of traveler who doesn't mind mountain roads that get narrow at some spots you'll be rewarded with some of the most spectacular
views you've ever seen. It's definitely a must see trip.
When approaching Ouray from the south the Million Dollar Highway drops down through a series of switchbacks. This view of
Ouray was taken from a pull off spot near the base of the switchbacks. The main road can be seen as it passes through town and out the valley to
the north. This amphitheatre like setting earns the town its nickname, "Switzerland of America".
Just south of Ouray on the Million Dollar Highway Grizzly Creek passes by craggy cliffs after tumbling over Grizzly Falls.
Red Mountain is the largest and the most visible from the Ouray area. Situated alongside the Million Dollar Highway it's easily
seen from the highway down below. This shot was taken from a high country Jeep trail on its flanks.
The area surrounding Ouray is dotted with many abandoned mines. Many of these shafts were built upon piles of tailings as this
shaft south of Ouray shows.
Just south of Ouray, beginning in the old town of Ironton (barely a trace still remains) a number of trails climb their way
through the San Juans, passing by mining sites such as this.
One of the popular Jeep trails is the Corkscrew Gulch trail. Beginning south of Ouray this trail connects with others and
climbs high up into the mountains.
As you climb the Corkscrew Gulch trail you'll traverse many slopes. Each corner offers a different view of the scenic wonders
that are not obtainable from the roads below.
View of the San Juans
When climbing these mining trails a number of views of the San Juans appear. On most summer days the clouds will be clear
and you'll have unencumbered views of these majestic peaks.
Many trails are not open until July. This late June run through Corkscrew Gulch showed plenty of snow left over. The snow melts
fast and the streams are rushing with snowmelt but when you have this much snow, it stays around a while. This snow bank was in the lower areas and a
pathway had been cleared by a bulldozer earlier.
Avalanches are common in the San Juans. This particular area suffers every winter and heavy equipment is used to remove
trees and brush carried by the snow on its deadly path down slope.
From high up on Red Mountain this glacier was seen in the Silverton area. Glaciers aren't as common in the San Juans because
their mountainsides are fairly steep but a few do exist.
At the Top of Red Mountain
A trek to the top is rewarded by unparalleled views. Also some pretty cold temperatures for June.
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