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CO -- San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway


The San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway is one of the most beautiful parts of Colorado.  A 233 mile loop in SW Colorado, we arrived on 9/30 -- typically a little late for the turning of the Aspen, but just right for 2011.  We went again the last week of September in 2012, and again caught them turning.  Aspen trees turn bright gold and then orange as they lose their leaves, and the beauty must be seen to be appreciated.  By their brilliance, once would swear they were plugged in somewhere.


We started our trip in Durango and went clockwise through the circle, ending back up in Durango, where we took the Durango/Silverton train on our last day of our 6-day adventure.  On our 2012 trip, we explored some familiar territory, plus added some "True Grit" experiences.


Ouray and Telluride were our favorite cities.  Ouray (apparently pronounced "ur-RAY") was centrally located to what we wanted to see, had our favorite motel on the trip, and was a very friendly city.  Parking is not a problem, and there are no parking meters.  There was only one paved street in 2011, and that's the freeway going through town.  Two other streets had been paved when we visited in 2012.  The locals call the other streets "paved," but they're really rock and can be a little muddy during rain.  You won't get stuck -- you'll just get dirty.  They had plenty of restaurants, with more about 15 minutes north in Ridgway (where gas was about 10 cents per gallon cheaper).  We're told that Ouray pretty much closes during the winter months, except for an ice climbing festival.  The city appears to be very innovative on attracting tourists, and we were treated kindly by everyone.


Telluride is a must-see.  The free gondola (it costs the cities about $2 per person for your to ride) gives a spectacular view of Telluride and a good view of Telluride Ski Resort at Mountain Village.


Ridgway had cheaper gas and several more restaurants.  The Conoco has a car wash, and there's now a Dollar Store there.  The newly renovated Mountain Market was an amazing find in a small place like that, and the people there were as nice as they could be.  Silverton was mainly the north turn-around for the train, although gas was only slightly higher there than in Durango.  It was also the access point for our trip to Animas Forks, plus it's the only source in the world for Astorite.


Durango had the most variety, including the cheapest gas (Valero, closed for remodeling in 2012) and some chain restaurants (Denny's, McDonald's), but traffic reminded me of driving in Dallas -- it was horrible.


Remember not to let your gas get low, as there aren't many gas stations.  Prices are a little higher than normal in most restaurants because these are seasonal tourist areas;  the worst seemed to be Telluride.  Don't leave home without your VISA or MasterCard, because few places accept American Express -- a phenomenon we observed in New Mexico, as well.


We found Colorado drivers to be extremely aggressive.  Even though we were usually going the speed limit, or even 5 over, we were constantly being "pushed" by cars behind us, most so close we couldn't see their headlights.  We got over at every chance we could, but most of the roads don't have a lot of "wiggle" room.  We had people pass in no-passing zones;  one barely missed a caravan of 3 cars coming the other way.  Some states, including Colorado, have a law that you have to pull over if there are 5 or more cars behind you.  However, most of the roads we traveled didn't have shoulders, and I don't think they meant you have to pull off into the dirt.  (In New Mexico, pulling onto a shoulder to let someone pass can get you a ticket.  Don't you love crossing state lines?)  On our 2012 trip, we were passed in no-passing zones, including going across the very dangerous Red Mountain Pass.  Driving in Dallas is a breeze compared to the Scenic Byway.


We found this map on the www.colorado-directory.com website.  It belongs to them, and if they complain, we will promptly remove it.  We don't normally "borrow" maps, but this is the best map of the area that we've seen anywhere, and we trust they'll see it as promoting them, which it does.



Note the turn in Mancos, which takes you just south of Dolores.  We missed it the first time and drove to Cortez, and that is NOT a scenic drive.  We took pictures in multiple places;  many are on the "scenery" page.  Roads used for picture-taking are as follows:


Last Dollar - Sawpit/58P -- You can see Sawpit between Telluride and Placerville at the Northwestern portion of the byway.  Sawpit runs into Last Dollar, which runs into 62, west of the Dallas Divide.  If you're coming from 62, Last Dollar turns left (east) toward Telluride, quickly turning into 4-wheel-drive only terrain.  The remains of the homestead for the original True Grit movie with John Wayne are located on Last Dollar.


County Road 1 -- CR 1 starts in Ridgway, off CR 24.  It goes west, across the north end of Ridgway, and then turns north up on the ridge.  Scenic, but nothing like the other roads mentioned here.


County Road 5 -- CR 5 starts in Ridgway.  On the west end of town, take Amelia St. south and turn right onto CR 5.  When Alpine Lane cuts off to the left, don't go any farther unless it's dry.  If dry, you may go to the top and across to the ranch on the left;  turning around there is recommended unless you have 4-wheel drive.  This is a dead-end;  you will have to return to Ridgway.


County Road 7 -- CR 7 cuts off 62 to the south, west of Ridgway.  (CR 9 and Last Dollar are farther west.)  7A splits to the left;  stay to the right on 7.  This is a dead-end, but may get a little rough before you get to the end.  You will have to return to 62.


County Road 9 -- CR 9 cuts off 62 to the south, west of Ridgway.  (Last Dollar are farther west.)  7A splits to the left;  stay to the right on 7.  This is a dead-end, but may get a little rough before you get to the end.  You will have to return to 62.


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