Silver By theTon

AspenWith all the hiking hubby and I have been doing around the Ridgway, Colorado area lately, Al and I opt to give our feet a much needed break. We plan on hopping in the little red truck in search of some Colorado gold….gold as in leaves…..those beautiful Aspen leaves.

The feel of fall is in the air.  The nights are cooler and we’re waking up to temps inside the RV in the low 50’s.  With cooler temps and frequent rains, we’re thinking the trees in the high country might start showing signs of fall.

Last night rained bucket loads making for a restless night’s sleep. When one lives in a tin can, a well appointed can I might add, there’s always a hint of concern in the rear of one’s mind. Will we wake up with a puddle in the middle of our RV? Will the RV be submerged in water, mud, or rather a nasty combination of the two? Oh, and then there’s that oh so lovely mountain lightning. Will our metal RV attract one of those magnificent bolts?  Yikes, and let’s not begin to talk about wind.

As I compose this post, I am sitting in Grand Junction, Colorado. It’s a beautiful day; temps in the 70’s, blue skies scattered with big, white cumulous clouds. The destructive Colorado flooding that occurred a little over a week ago seems like a bad dream. Although we encountered our fair share of torrential rain in Ridgway, it in no way caused the devastation that the Front Range endured.Million Dollar Highway

FYI….a little Colorado lingo; The state of Colorado is divided in half by the Rocky Mountains. The area east of the continental divide is referred to as the Front Range. So if you reside in a city or town east of the divide like Denver, Colorado Springs, or Fort Collins, then it is said “you live on the Front Range”. Cities or towns located west of the continental divide like Vail, Durango, or Grand Junction are located on the western slope.  So these folks are said to “live on the western slope”.

Ok back to searching for Colorado gold…… With the onslaught of cold and rain on the western slope, Al and I are wondering if the leaves have started turning in the high country. Our time at Ridgway State Park is coming to an end and we have one more area we want to explore before moving on.


Silverton, Colorado – loaded with history

Silver by the ton – Silverton, Colorado. Prospectors first started showing up to the San Juan Mountain range in 1860 in search of wealth. Deposits of gold and silver were soon discovered. In 1874, Silverton’s town site was laid out and it became the center of numerous mining camps.


Silverton, Colorado….only the main road going through town is paved. This popular side road has quaint shops awaiting shopping tourists. Feels a little like the old west!

The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad rolled in to Silverton from Durango in 1882.  A year later, Silverton boasted of having a population of 2,000 people with 400 buildings; 2 banks, 5 laundries, 29 saloons, several hotels and a bawdy red light district known as Notorious Blair Street. Although mining in Silverton closed down in the early 1990’s, it is said there is still gold and silver in those mountains.

Engineer Pass

Alpine Loop – Engineer Pass….one of many 4×4 roads taking you into the high country

It appears tourism has replaced mining. All the old mining roads are perfect for Jeeping, ATVing, and OHVing. High in the mountains via some of the best four-wheel drive roads in the country, are ghost towns, remnants of old mines, and some of the most spectacular scenery just waiting to be explored.

highway 550

Highway 550, approaching Ouray, Colorado on a rainy morning


Ouray, Colorado

Million Dollar HighwayOur 35 mile journey from Ridgway State Park to Silverton requires us to travel the Million Dollar Highway.  Our last time traveling this part of Highway 550 was over seven years ago.  We’d like to refresh our memories and determine if it’s the white knuckle drive we thought it was all those years ago.  The Million Dollar Highway is a challenging and potentially hazardous drive; steep cliffs, narrow lanes, lack of guardrails, and hairpin curves necessary to gain in elevation.  Although trucks and RV’s do travel this route regularly, alternate routes are recommended.

So where did the tag “Million Dollar Highway” come from?  The origin is disputed.  Some say it cost a million dollars a mile to build in the 1920’s and others say it’s the fill dirt that contains a million dollars in gold ore.  I say, “It’s the million dollar views”.  Although on this rainy, overcast day the views aren’t nearly as spectacular as I know they can be.  And yes, the knuckles did turn white with an on coming semi…..and me in the outer lane.  This road is literally carved into the side of the mountains.

million dollar highway

Million Dollar Highway….rain on my windshield

Highway 550

million dollar highway

There’s some great hiking in the area and Al and I make notes of various trail heads that we pass along our way to Silverton.  If Al and I continue working on our hiking endurance, we should be ready next summer to tackle some of these trails and maybe even accomplish a fourteener (mountain 14,000 feet in elevation).

Narrow Gauge Rail

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

We arrived in Silverton just as the trains whistle was blowing, alerting it’s arrival.  The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a historic, coal-fired, steam-powered train that makes daily trips through the remote and very scenic mountains between Durango and Silverton.  This is a popular excursion with tourists from around the world.

SilvertonAl and I grab a bite to eat at one of the small restaurants and find ourselves duly entertained by a waitress frustrated with some European customers.  As the waitress walks past us, the roll of her eyes and shaking of the head is evidence the language barrier is more than this young, mountain gal has patience for.  Another one of her customers is complaining about the ice their Pepsi.   Yes, we Americans sure do like our ice.

After lunch Al and I walk around town. The overcast sky and rain have stuck around all day, which is rather unusual for Colorado standards.  Weather around here has a tendency to move in and out and can change rapidly.  Al and I were hoping the weather front would have moved out by the time we drove back to Ridgway, allowing for some scenic mountain views.  No luck today.


The little town of Silverton has numerous churches.  After an evening on Notorious Blair Street – the red light district – just might call for a little forgiveness.

Although the weather wasn’t the greatest, we made the best of the day and we’re already looking forward to the hiking and four-wheeling next summer.  Oh, and as for that Colorado gold…..     September 12th, it was just starting to show up at the higher elevations.  A little touch of gold here and there.

Aspen leaves

The leaves are just beginning to turn 9/12/13


Silverton, Colorado


45 thoughts on “Silver By theTon

  1. Hi Ingrid, do you have any cell service/campsite recommendations at Ridgway, I hear reception is spotty. We’re headed over there tomorrow.

  2. My husband is from this neck of the woods, though we haven’t roadtripped down from Denver yet. Your photos and storytelling are good motivators, though. What a beautiful, rugged area of the state.

  3. Since you are heading to AZ, don’t know if you ever took in the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, but it is fabulous!! Also, South of Phoenix is the Cabreza Prieta Wild Life Refuge..There are some really neat roads, especially the Charlie Bell Road..This is all down around Ajo, which is a very neat little Southwestern town…

    • Thanks Donna. I’m not sure how much time we’ll spend outside of Phoenix. We’re trying a RV resort for 3 months and then high tailing it to Rockport TX. This is kind of a new experience for us this year. My mom and dad really liked Ajo so I know one of these days we’ll need to put that on the list. We will be returning to Phx in March so maybe we’ll spend some time in Tucson on our return. Come on, we’re on RV time….plans are written in Jello 😉

  4. We went up from Durango to Silverton and Ouray on 9/17 which was between rain storms so the streets were dry – they look pretty muddy when wet. We were really disappointed with the Aspens as last year at the same time they were gorgeous. Several of the locals said they thought it was too much rain. If you’ve not seen the area in full color, you can check out my post from last year - Several folks have had such positive things to say about the Ridgeway area, we must put it on our trip list.

    • Thanks Larry. Fortunately we’ve seen Colorado’s Aspen’s at their finest. So no complaints from us. Ridgway is just to the north of Ouray and the State Park does offer a section with Full hook-ups. We’ve fallen in love with the area. Thanks for the link to last years trip 🙂

  5. You have brought back some great memories for me of our time in Ouray and Silverton. Thanks for the history of the area and, as usual, your fabulous photography. 🙂

  6. Loved your views of Silverton. Our afternoon there was way too short. We hope to revisit next year as well! Can’t wait to hike and Jeep. I would love to capture a fourteener!

    • We too are hoping to spend more time exploring this area next summer. I’m gathering lots of info on hikes and 4×4 roads. We’d like to spend a month and really enjoy.

  7. WOW – I just do not have the words to describe your great post. You did remind me of a time in Europe where my drink came. With one cube o ice and when I asked for more ice she brought me one more cube. I expect she was rolling her eyes at the American.

    • Thank you Sylvia. I really wanted to photograph some of the other church’s, but it would have required me to exit my vehicle….I was cold and it was wet and muddy. Next time!

  8. Beautiful photos, Ingrid. Even with the rain I got a feel for your white knuckle ride. I’ve decided I prefer that sort of thing from my chair! Speaking of millions, the section of I15 in AZ you identified for me cost 10 million dollars a mile to construct! I guess you’ve already been on the Durango to Silverton RR. We really wanted to do that when we were in Colorado but our poor old Chevy Tahoe wasn’t going to make it through the Rockies. I hope you continue in the good weather. It’s even cooling a little in AZ!

    • No, we’ve never taken the train….we stick to driving. Some of these roads we travel are an engineering marvel. Fall is in the air and I think the time has come for the migration south. Looking forward to our AZ time.

  9. Even with clouds the area is still so beautiful. Just a different perspective to the beauty. Yes, you and Al need to keep up with your hiking so you are ready for the fourteeners!! We are trying to keep in hiking shape but I am afraid FL will be a losing battle! Not exactly hilly!

    • No Florida won’t prepare your legs or your lungs for Colorado hiking. Maybe you’ll just need to go back to Utah and work your way up to a fourteener. I know, don’t twist your arm!!! Florida’s perfect for that upper body workout…..paddling.

  10. Silverton really gave me a feeling of the way it was back in the day. It’s such a neat little town! As far as I’m concerned, the Million Dollar Highway is the white knuckle drive you remember. One wrong little swerve and you’re off a deadly cliff. I never ever want to be on the Million Dollar Highway again. EVER! I have never been so frightened in my life. On a positive note though, I hope you enjoy your trip and the MD Highway is a breeze for y’all!

    • LOL…..yes one wrong move and it’s oops! If I were the only one on the road, I wouldn’t mind. Our concern was the on coming traffic….what if someone crossed the center line into my lane and I’m on the outer lane? Two choices; head on collision or tumble down the mountain. Neither option works for me.
      Well at least you can say you’ve driven the Million Dollar Highway…..sure is pretty!

    • New England in the fall I understand is gorgeous. Very little red in Colorado mostly gold, so Al and I don’t find fall around here that spectacular…..well, the mountains are always spectacular, but the fall colors don’t compare to lets say Michigan which is my favorite state for fall colors. Looking forward to your fall photos!

  11. Wow what a beautiful area… the kind of place you would have me out with a pan looking for that silver or gold… This is another post filled with so much info and enjoyment that it requires a second read just to ensure I got all the info from it… sounds like one of those places that must be popular for all the off roaders…

    • Well they call it the “Jeep capital of the world” so it is indeed popular for four-wheeling. All those miners cut roads in the back country…..perfect for adventure. I love the ‘old west’ history in the area. Those folks sure had to be hearty. The land, the altitude, and the weather are unforgiving.

  12. Stunning photos of such a beautiful area! Glad you enjoyed your day and thanks for sharing your images! While reading your post and thinking hubby and I need to visit this area again, I am trying to remember when we were there last. It has been too many years! We have driven the Million Dollar Highway, jeeped Engineer Pass and jeeped the Black Bear ( which was scary). Thanks for bringing back these great memories. Enjoy your remaining time – on the western slope!

    • Yep, next year we’re hoping to jeep some of the 4×4 roads including Black Bear. This summer we started with the easy ones…..Owl Creek Pass and Last Dollar Road. Next summer we’ll work our way up to Black Bear Pass and I think we’ll rent a Razor for that excursion. Glad I was able to bring back memories….sure is pretty country.

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