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At the intersection of mountain and sky, you can cruise through some of the most beautiful landscapes America has to offer. Unsurpassed beauty is never far away in Colorado.
The San Juan Skyway, or "Road to the Sky," is the perfect antidote to another bland slog down a stretch of super-slab highway. Starting in the historic town of Durango, visitors may want to take a day in town and explore the historic downtown area which is a Nationally Registered Historic District packed with restaurants specializing in regional fare, brewpubs, and cozy cafes. Round out the day with shopping and visiting Durango's eclectic galleries. For the history buff, Durango steams you back in time on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which chugs along for 46 miles from Durango to the old mining town of Silverton. Your train ticket also gets you into the Railroad Museum, which explores the history of railroading through the challenging landscape of the Rocky Mountains.
Skyway travelers pick up their trail on Hwy 550, heading north, and begin the climb. The Hwy 550 leg of the skyway features three mountain passes; Coal Bank Pass (10,640’), Molas Pass (10,890’), and the Red Mountain Pass (just over 11,000’). Passing between Silverton and Ouray you will travel over the Million Dollar Highway, so named for the vast amounts of gold and silver that crossed these very same mountain passes in Colorado's mining booms. The Million Dollar Overlook along the highway is worth at least that much in stunning views.
Over the pass lies Ouray, known as the "Switzerland of America" for its alpine charm. Travelers flock to the Ouray Hot Springs and the Box Canyon Falls before continuing on the skyway along Hwy 62. On a southerly heading along the skyway, Telluride beckons as a side trip for skiers, artists, adventurers, and anyone who is thrilled at the sight of a postcard perfect town, nestled in an awe-inspiring glacial valley.
Trek north from Ouray and you will soon reach the movie town of Ridgeway, where such famous films as “How the West Was Won” and “True Grit” were shot. Many of the original props, stage fronts, and buildings from the movies can still be seen as you drive through town. Ridgeway is also famous for its three natural hot springs, where you can soak up the beautiful scenery while being pampered with massages and gourmet food. To interact with the landscape, consider visiting Ridgeway State Park, where there are sandy beaches to swim, challenging trails to hike, trout streams to fish, and meadows beckoning for an outdoor picnic.
Mountains, like the 14,246’ Mt Wilson, and forest, ease you further down the skyway until reaching Cortez, the gateway to the only National Park created by humans, Mesa Verde National Park. This site preserves the 700-year history of the cliff-dwelling Anasazi people, who literally carved a home out of bare rocks hundreds of years before Columbus.
Heading back into Durango, you can reflect on passing from mountain to desert and high cliff waterfalls to ancient cliff dwellings. Not bad for a tidy little 236-mile drive.