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