When we found ourselves with a 4-day weekend, we made a spur of the moment choice to throw some stuff in the car and head for two of the places we have really wanted to visit since moving to Colorado–Crested Butte and Telluride. We have skied Crested Butte before, before moving to Colorado, but never managed to get to the notoriously beautiful Telluride. Both places are farther from our Highlands Ranch (just south of Denver) home than a comfortable drive when done all at once, so we spread it over 4 days. We intentionally like to go to resorts or popular areas off-season, as you can usually get excellent lodging for a fraction of the seasonal prices. This turned out to be the case for us.
We began our drive to Crested Butte on Friday, when it was raining at home. As we climbed up towards the totally awesome Monarch Summit Pass, it began to turn to snow. Our 80 degree home temperatures fell to about 35 degrees at the summit, where we found ourselves surrounded by outstanding views and at least two feet of snow! We chose to take the more interesting Route 285, rather than going out I-70, then south.
We couldn’t help stopping at the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area, where you had the shelter of gazebos and convenience facilities. Best of all, were the spectacular views of the Collegiate Peaks. There were signs telling the story of the Arkansas River Valley, where humans arrived after the glaciers, about 11,000 years ago. Some of the original Ute Native American inhabitants were crowded out during the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. Elk were hunted almost to extinction earlier, but are now abundant, as well as bighorn sheep and soaring Eagles.
The mountains are called the Sawatch Range and the Collegiate Peaks. They became known as “the roof of the Rockies”, because they contain 15 peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation. It is the highest portion of the Rocky Mountains! 6 “fourteeners” are visible from this beautiful park, including Mt. Princeton, Mt. Yale, and Mt. Columbia (the Collegiate Peaks) and Mt. Shavano, Mt. Tabeguache and Mt. Antero of the Indian Group. These were created 25 million years ago when faults dropped the valley floor. And, even though erosion has claimed thousands of feet from the height of the range, much of it still towers as much as 6,000 feet above the valley. Granite from here is 1.7 billion years old! A sign informs you: “In front of you rises the Sawatch Range, a 100-mile long expanse of the Rocky Mountains that contains 15 peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation.” It further explains that the Arkansas River below, once a tributary of the Rio Grande River, follows the valley south through the high peaks, and eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico!
Tearing ourselves away from this picturesque view, we continued on, and at Gunnison we headed for Crested Butte, which turned out to be only about 4 hours from home.
We expected the town to be dead, but it was as delightful as I remembered it. We arrived in time for dinner, and trolled the quaint old town for a restaurant before going to the hotel. Some places were closed, but the town was hopping from the visitors and residents enjoying a gorgeous Friday night.
After eating a great dinner, we followed to road up the mountain to the area near the ski lift, and found our hotel. It was wonderful! Although the weather was light-jacket, there was snow all around and an abundance of sunshine. We had the hotel almost to ourselves, and free rein of the hot tub and fitness center. The following morning after checking out, we toured the rest of the high, snowy mountain area. I never remembered it was that lovely there, when coming for a ski week years ago. Maybe too many people? We then went down to town again, had a great lunch, then began the 3+ hour drive to Telluride.
Since living in Colorado, we have tried to visit as many places as possible, and are familiar with all the different terrains and appearance of the mountains and plains. However, nothing prepared us for the unbelievably awesome road leading to Telluride! It is an experience we will never forget, and different from any other in Colorado. Somehow, the plains leading to the huge 180 degrees of surrounding snow-capped towering mountains were all clearly well nourished and had plenty of water. They were a startling lush emerald green as far as you could see–like a carpet. The contrast between the vibrant green land beneath the magnificent purple and white huge mountains was a sensory overload. The only thing I could think of was trying to refrain from breaking into song from the Sound of Music! My husband, equally awestruck, likened it to Switzerland and Bavaria, both fabulously carpeted in green under spectacular snow-capped massive mountains.
And it only got better the closer we got to the astonishing Telluride! As you get closer, the more you become totally surrounded by the incomparable massive mountains. The adorable little Victorian mining town is ideally placed in a valley or canyon. Everywhere you look, there are the most beautiful mountains anywhere we have been–including Switzerland and Bavaria!
As it turned out, we were staying in a part of Telluride high above the town, called Mountain Village. This area is beyond spectacular, and overlooks the town and all the mountains. They have gondolas that normally run to take visitors from that area down into the town. There are ski runs everywhere you look, and we really look forward to skiing here some time. But for our purposes, this was nearly the ideal time to visit–the ski season had ended and the summer visitors wouldn’t come for another month or so. Driving around the Mountain Village area provided one breathtaking view after another.
The next day we took the requisite Telluride photos in town, looking up towards the “U” curve in the canyon, overshadowed by the massive three peaks. We had a delightful lunch in town, then decided that we just had to try to climb the huge Ajax mountain which is in all the iconic Telluride photos. At the top, we hoped to see Bridal Veil Falls the electric plant high atop the mountain, and the three falls that fell beneath it. Telluride is made for walking–all over, around town, and up to and onto the mountain.
We drove up a short way until piles of snow made it unwise to drive further. But it was a beautiful warm day, where my light jacket ended up around my waist, and I got a sunburn! So, up we climbed, fully intending to turn back quickly, expecting it to be too rigorous. But it wasn’t! Although the total incline was well over 1000 feet, and the trail was a couple of miles, it didn’t feel uncomfortable–we were positively elated! We rather easily got close to the top where we were treated to beautiful views of the Bridal Veil Falls (which really does look like the aforementioned veil) and the power plant, which resembled a mountaintop castle more than something functional. Beneath it were frozen and running falls. We walked across the stream made by one of the falls. It became clear why this entire area was so lush, green and well-hydrated–they had endless mountain water run-off.
The only reason we headed down at that point, was that we had already pushed back our dinner reservations 3 times, and knew we needed to start going back if we were to eat at all that night. As it was, constant stops for even more photos ended up making us a bit late. We had a delicious dinner in a small French restaurant near the base of the mountain.
The next day, we found it difficult to tear ourselves away from spectacular Telluride, and lingered past lunch, even though we knew we had a 7-hour drive home. Everyone was so darned nice! And, everything, everywhere was stunning. Our drive out of the area was just as awesome as the one leading into it, and we lengthened the trip by hours, constantly stopping for even more pictures. The terrain changed dramatically again, back to mesa-type mountains and hills, until we again went up and over the Monarch Mountain Pass, finding the views going this way different, but just as lovely. We topped the trip off by stopping for dinner at the eclectic Coyote Cafe, which was wild, and a bit weird (used to have John Denver’s motorcycle in its bar), but turned out to be quite good.
We can’t wait to return to Telluride, maybe in the early fall. Aspen groves are all over the mountains–it must be just as spectacular, but even more colorful when the foliage is in bloom.