Friday, October 19, 2007

Million Dollar Highway

After leaving Black Canyon of the Gunnison, we headed south on US-550 toward Durango. The first stop was Ridgway State Park, prettily situated along the Uncompahgre River:

We asked about hiking in the park, and the ranger told us that the hiking was mostly family-oriented and easy, so we probably wouldn’t be interested. I guess we give the impression of being rugged hikers – fooled her! She recommended some hikes around Ouray for us, but also said that we should check out the free gondola in Telluride. Telluride was about 40 miles off our planned route, though, so we were going to skip it.

Before Ouray was the town of Ridgway. We stopped to walk around and found this great old firehouse:

After we took a few photos, a man came to the door and invited us inside – turned out that he was a sculptor named Michael McCullough and had bought this building to use as his studio. He was currently working on a sculpture of a boy skiing. The boy had died at age 17 when he fell off a snowcat and was run over, and the Telluride ski resort had commissioned McCullough to make a sculpture of him. He showed us a video that the boy’s friends had made of him doing tricks on his skis – the sculpture faithfully portrayed the boy’s wild hair and pants halfway down his butt as he spun in the air off a jump.

McCullough then took us outside the firehouse to his sculpture garden and pointed out a depiction of a miner, which he said was a miniature of a sculpture sitting in Telluride. He strongly recommended that we head out to Telluride and said that the gondola ride was the best free transportation around.

He also had been commissioned to create a sculpture of a female skier. When he sculpted a naked woman, though, they rejected it, so that was sitting in his garden as well. Then he showed us the jail behind the firehouse – the building had served not only as firehouse but also as town hall, police station, and jail for many decades.

Since he was the second person who had recommended Telluride to us, we decided to go. The trip involved taking Route 62 through the Dallas Divide, which afforded more beautiful views of the mountains surrounded by fall colors:

Next stop was Telluride, where the gondola was indeed free, and the views were incredible. The gondola goes to the top of some ski runs, where we got out to take some pictures:

After re-boarding the gondola, we headed down into Mountain Village, a ski village midway up the mountain. There, we saw the full-sized version of the miner that we had seen in McCullough’s sculpture garden:

And also a female skier – clothed, and perhaps commissioned after McCullough’s nude skier was rejected:

After that, we headed back down the mountain for a historic walking tour of Telluride, where we saw the site of Butch Cassidy’s first robbery. The New Sheridan Hotel was another neat old building there:

Then we drove back to Ridgway, intending to continue further south on US-550, but Sarah saw what looked like an Old West movie set, so we had to stop. The area was fenced off with prominent signs saying “no photographs,” so we left our cameras in the car and went to look around. We were soon met by a woman who told us that the area had never been used as a movie set, but they used to stage Legends of the West shows for tourists. Now it was just a commune, where a few people lived in the old structures and worked at the restaurant across the street. She herself lived in the Stinky Sink. They split their own wood to heat their homes, and they were in the process of building a blacksmith shop. She showed us into their “hangout” in the emporium, a bar area with big glass windows looking out at the mountains and three large trash cans full of empty beer cans out front. She offered us a beer, but we declined, needing to be on our way.

She strongly urged us to take pictures, though – apparently, someone had rented one of the structures and set up a photography shop and put up the “no photographs” signs to eliminate competition. So we obliged:

Next we drove down to Ouray, which is another well-preserved Old West town nestled in the mountains, with more cool buildings:

After that was the section of highway called the Million Dollar Highway. This is a beautiful, harrowing section of road with hairpin turns, no shoulder, no guardrails, and steep drops to certain death should you accidentally veer off the road a few inches. Sarah took a picture out the passenger window as Brian was driving, but it’s hard to do justice to the sheer terror, and astounding beauty, of this road:

As we got up toward Red Mountain Pass, it started snowing. At the pass, the road started downhill toward Silverton and straightened out a bit, giving us a chance to catch our breath. Silverton has been used in several Old West movies, and its unpaved Blair Street was the most authentic-looking western town we’d seen.


Its main street was paved and held buildings painted in gaudy colors:

The clouds had been rolling in and out all day, and as we started the descent from Silverton around sunset, the clouds looked particularly ominous from Molas Pass:

We had chosen today as our day to take a break from camping, though, and we were soon glad to arrive at the Silverpick Lodge, where we’d reserved a “last-second” deal. The lodge turned out to be right near Durango ski resort, and we turned out to be one of just two couples staying there that night. We microwaved dinner, took long showers to wash off a week of dirt, watched the Red Sox lose badly to the Indians, and turned the heat up high to contrast with the sub-30 degree temperatures of our past nights camping and the snow falling outside.


Cam said...

guys great pics and stories! looks like you are having an incredible time- safe travels.

PunIntented said...

Good to hear from you Cam! Glad you enjoyed the blog!