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Rocky Mountains II – North America’s Backbone – From Durango to Boulder, Colorado

September 25th, 2010 Posted in Allgemein


Driving from Durango to Silverton means driving winding highway US 550 between tree covered mountainsides crossing the San Juan Mountains.


This turn is a dream for Miata drivers and bikers… Augustin started to drool!

The highway is the so called Million Dollar Highway, which was dubbed for the extensive cost of its completion. I reckon, a million is not enough to keep it maintained nowadays, not even close. But this is the right time to mention that the roads in most places we saw on our trip were in better condition than the ones in posh Connecticut. I often heard "the hard winters with all the ice and snow ruin the streets" in West Hartford. Well, listen all you heads of highway departments of Connecticut and you, whoever you are, who is responsible for Farmington Avenue, we were in the middle of the Rockies at elevations around 9000 feet and found GREAT road conditions!!! Don’t dare to tell me about harsh winter weather ever again!

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Talking about harsh conditions… There is a historic train connecting the two cities, the “Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad”, and one can’t even begin to imagine, how excruciating the placing of the tracks must have been for the workers. Well at least they had a great view…

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Silverton is a former silver mining camp, most or all of which is now included in a federally designated National Historic Landmark District. The town population was 531 in 2000, and without really counting, I guess the day we were there saw about the same number of tourists. A local is quoted to have said:" Silverton: A gritty little mining town with Victorian pretensions!" After Silverton was opened legally to miners in 1874 the silver and the railroad brought about 2000 men into the region. Many of them didn’t work as miners. Miners needed laundry to be done, booze, food, tools, etc. So approx. 100 "sturdy souls" inhabited the city taking care of the post office, working as black smiths, doctor, bankers, newspaper editors and so on.

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As early as 1874, men were bringing their wives and families to live in Silverton. This influx of families provided an incentive for citizens to keep at least part of Silverton respectable. From the very beginning an imaginary line ran down Greene Street dividing the town between the law-abiding, church-going residents and the gamblers, prostitutes, variety theatres, dance halls and saloons.

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A lot prettier than Durango (I don’t care, if this is fair!), lively, mostly original and just friendly and inviting. Silverton welcomed us with the charms one expects from an old gold digger (in this case silver digger) town. It certainly makes its living mostly by tourism, but it doesn’t seem to be spoiled by that. People were extremely nice without all the ass kissing of other tourist cities (excuse my French!).

Passing the Red Mountain on our way to Ouray, the Idarado Mine, an old gold mine caught our eye. The tunnels of the Idarado extend some 5 miles west under 13,000 foot mountains to the Pandora Mill near Telluride, a trip of more than 60 miles by highway.

The site is currently a hazardous waste clean up site. Well, every time faces its own challenges… Once it was gold, now it is garbage.

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Again "Perle", our brave horse, carried us up between huge rocks…

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… and we arrived in Ouray, also called "Switzerland of America". Pretty obvious why.

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From Ouray it isn’t far to The Black Canyon of the Gunnison which mostly consists of dark gray stone rising more than 2700 feet above the swift and turbulent Gunnison River. In some places it is deeper than wide. Standing on the rim of this gneiss and schist formation one looks on two million years of patient work of the river.

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Neither Native Americans nor white explorers risked to conquer the canyon for whatever reason. Only in 1900 five men went down to the river to find a way to make the water of the Gunnison available for the draughty surrounding Uncompahgre Valley. As mentioned earlier greed can be a driving force for dangerous ventures. But in this case, hunger was the motivation. The five men came back with little more than their bare lives. The very next year two men went back down to fulfill the enterprise. This time they didn’t use wooden boats to combat the wild waters of the Gunnison. They entrusted their lives to rubber air mattresses. And they were successful. A 6-mile-long tunnel through rock, clay and sand was drilled and finished in 1913.

Nowadays the Gunnison River is further tamed by three dams upstream and kayaking is possible. We were more than happy to work on our vertigo by staring down and listen to the sound of the rapids…

We wanted to reach Boulder that night and took one of the scenic routes to the East, which was a lot longer than the "normal" route, but also much prettier.

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In the middle of a valley along the Gunnison River near Cimarron an original hot dog stand from Coney Island surprised us with actually good hot dogs and Polish sausages.

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Boulder, at last!

Boulder has a reputation of being liberal and even rebellious. Inhabitants might state that they live in "The People’s Republic of Boulder". The high percentage of students in Boulder may contribute to this fact.

Some of you, old enough to remember, might know Boulder from the TV series "Mork and Mindy" ("Mork vom Ork" in Germany. Nanonano!).

One of the places to be is the Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian area a few blocks long, loaded with shops, bars and coffee shops. And I can actually imagine that it can be full of live, if it does NOT rain cats and dogs… We picked one of the 65 days per year without sunshine.

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Yeah, right, American bread… a real Wonder as we know 😉

We dried up, had wonderful steaks and were rewarded for not complaining with a great sunset when we looked west towards the Flatiron Rocks.

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We were very tired that day, and so I am today. Next part of the Rockies-series tomorrow, dears!

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