It had been almost a decade since my last visit to Ouray, Colorado. The proclaimed Switzerland of America, and not much has changed as is the case with small mountain towns that aren’t known for epic ski runs and expansive land grabs for profit.
You can ask most people in Colorado if they have ever heard of Ouray and about half haven’t. Not a bad thing really as the last thing anyone that visits this town wants is for it to be really discovered. Although if you are a Jeeper or an ice climber you probably know all about this town nestled in a small valley surrounded by rocky mountain-cathedrals on three sides. Ouray is the self-proclaimed Jeep Capital of the World and same for ice climbing. Named after the Ute Indian chief of the area Ouray has stayed true to its roots for over 100 years with many of the original Victorian structures still inhabited today.
We rolled in town from the South down the Million Dollar Highway thru Silverton from Durango. Mountain rain made the drive even more nerve wracking than normal as we crept along Highway 550 as it twists and turns thru some of the most scenic parts of Southwest Colorado. Our final destination in town was the 4J Campground which actually occupies a city street and conveniently located a short walk or bike ride from the historic Ouray Hot Springs. This campground is awesome and one of the cleanest we have found along with Rancheros in Santa Fe and after a long day of driving from Taos the hot showers and cool mountain air were very welcome.
Two-days were spent Jeeping the San Juan's with the first day over Imogene Pass (13,114 ft.) into Telluride from Ouray. This trail is not for the feint at heart nor for anything but an ATV or high-clearance 4x4. Although you would be surprised by what vehicles folks will try and drive on these trails. We actually passed an authentic Texan in a ranch truck with mirrors fit for a Custom Coach trying to go up Imogene. Annette and I still wonder what happened to him. I bet his mirrors will be on the trail next year when we return! Day two put us on the Alpine Loop climbing Engineer Pass for a scenic look and back down the way we came making our way over to Animas Forks, an old mining town, that used to inhabit as many as 425 people in the summer until the Silver bust. Can’t help but think that Aspen and other silver mining towns in the area that prosper today could have met the same fate as Animas Forks if it weren’t for tourism and the ski industry.
Each day after Jeepin we landed at the Ouray Brewery for cold-beers and a healthy dose of sunshine on the sundeck by opting for a couple bar stools on the roof offering guests a view of Ouray like no other. Try the I.P.A. it’s awesome! Annette and I decided that next year’s Colorado adventure will require more time in this area. Ouray is amazingly sleepy and beautiful town without the hustle and bustle you find in the summer of typical Colorado ski towns. We loved it and can’t wait to get back.