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Road Trip From Badlands to Mining Country

I took a road trip to Colorado during Memorial Day weekend. I was itching to hike, camp and simply be in the outdoors.

 

Angel Peak, New Mexico

We hit the road rather late that Friday afternoon; around 6 p.m., which gave us 2.5 hours to gain as much ground as we could before sundown. The best bet for us coming from Albuquerque, was making it to Angel Peak, which is just south of Farmington, New Mexico. Angel Peak is public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and owned by us all; its the people’s land and boy do I love them.

BLM’s, in general, are less populated than traditional state-run or privately owned campgrounds. The benefit of staying a night or two out on a BLM is that you’re typically void of light, sound and trash pollution. Some of the best night’s sleep we’ve ever had out in the wilderness have been on BLM’s. And best of all is that BLM’s are FREE! 

Telluride, Colorado

Saturday morning we rose with the sun (around 6 a.m.), ate a nutritious meal of our favorite on-the-go breakfast product: Dr. McDougall’s, Organic Maple Oatmeal, and hit the road for Telluride, Colorado. I had been wanting to visit Telluride since a coworker showed me photos of her fantastic weekend adventure back in 2016. Everything about this little ski town sounded mesmerizing; from its free gondola to its majestic glacial hikes; I could see myself loving life in this little place of barely 2,400 people and immediately. Not to mention, Telluride from Albuquerque is about 5.5 hours straight north on US-550, “The Million Dollar Highway”. That’s a hop, skip and a jump away in the eyes of us New Mexicans.

Crossing the border from New Mexico into Colorado is also an eye-opener, on account its a rich and impeccably maintained state (Colorado, that is). The roads alone are a HUGE contrast of the economies exemplary of each state.

When we got to Telluride, our plan was to hike Blue Lake, one of the more popular and challenging hikes of Telluride. The trail to Blue Lake provides the hiker a variety of nature’s most beautiful features: waterfalls, mountains, canyons and unbelievably blue lakes made from glacial runoff and minerals.

Unfortunately and despite my extensive research, we hit snow the second we hit the trailhead. We learned that about two weeks prior, Telluride and much of Colorado’s mountain country were hit by a huge snowstorm that left about 20 to 40 inches of snow in the mid-level areas of the mountains. So, what was going to be a pristine 4-hour roundtrip hike of about 5.25 miles with a gain of about 2,000 feet, turned into a 3-hour roundtrip hike of about 4 miles in deep, cold snow.

 

Of course, I wasn’t the most prepared for this type of weather (we hit about 90 plus degrees in Albuquerque around this time of the year), but we made it as far as the footprint before us did and it was well worth the suffrage! The canyon below us was snowy and gorgeous. I think the only thing that kept me from hitting it hard on this hike were my trusty dusty La Sportiva hiking shoes, made with GORE-TEX and their indestructible FriXion sole system. The FriXion sole is made of ultra ‘max-sticky’ compound rubber that makes it the perfect sole for technical and rocky terrain EVEN with ice. I couldn’t have been more happy with this investment. No, this is not a sponsored opinion.

We finally made it down and back to town that was enjoying a breezy but 55 degree sunny day. We also happened to be there during the popular Telluride Film Festival, which had the streets buzzing with people. Itching for grub, we dined at the hipster Steamies Burger Bar on Colorado Ave. The food options were mindful and the Telluride Brewing Co. beer wasn’t too shabby. We walked around for a bit afterward and stopped for pastries and scalding hot tea at Baked in Telluride – a quaint but open little spot just off of the main avenue. I highly recommend their almond horseshoe cookies.

Ouray, Colorado

Continuing our road trip, we made our way for Ouray, which is a 2-hour drive NE from Telluride. In Ouray, we found the town’s last vacancy for an okay price at The Antlers Motel. Despite the fact that management gave us the wrong wifi password (twice), and our room’s window-blinds were just strips of fabric that didn’t block the outside street light at all, and our complimentary breakfast at the Timberline Deli of Ouray was exactly the essence of its 2.6 star Google rating, we actually had an alright time. The town is coined ‘America’s Switzerland’, but I didn’t really see that, to be honest. Probably because I’ve actually been to Switzerland and climbed its Alps; but what do I know?

Probably the most fascinating thing about Ouray is its history. Below is a little something written on the back of a sun-beat historical road-marker:

The San Juan Mountains have long posed a barrier to travel and, by extension, to economic development. Early miners had to transport ore via pack animals over rocky trails; a process so inefficient that it rendered many claims unworkable. Matters improved after 1877, when master road-builder Otto Mears opened the first of three wagon roads through the San Juans’; but the region’s remoteness, difficult terrain, and unpredictable weather continued to drive up freight costs, making mine development unattractive. In 1889 Mears completed the Silverton Railway’s route to the mining district, the area’s first truly economical shipping option, and Mears’ wagon roads were paved into highways in the 1920’s (including present-day U.S. 550). But despite all of these improvements, transportation remained a barrier to prosperity. Today, ironically, the old rocky mining trails are important regional economic assets, drawing tourists who seek to explore the San Juan ghost towns.

 

Ouray was just eleven years old when Beaumont Hotel celebrated its grand opening on July 25, 1887. The building immediately gained fame as western Colorado’s most elegant hotel, marking Ouray as a place of wealth, importance and permanence. For fifty years, it lodged well-heeled mine owners, railroad men and corporate executives who had business in the San Juans. But as the region’s mines declined, the Beaumont’s vacancy rate decreased; by the mid-twentieth century it has lost its luxurious sheen and in 1964 it closed altogether. Covered in a coat of hideous pink paint, it stood empty for 38 years, an eyesore on Ouray’s quaint Main Street. But two investors rescued the Beaumont in the late 1990’s and spent several million dollars restoring the building to its former glory. Today the Beaumont serves as a textbook example of historic preservation and Ouray stands among Colorado’s best-preserved Victorian towns.

 

One of Ouray’s untold stories is that of the Soiled Doves. The few women who lived on Colorado’s early mining frontier included a significant number of prostitutes. Coming west from various backgrounds and for various reasons, they often wandered like the gold-seekers they served, stopping wherever fortunes appeared promising, moving on when better prospects abounded in the mining camps, which possessed free-flowing cash, decidedly loose morals, and a constant demand for companionship. Whatever decorum did exist usually came from the prostitutes themselves,  who enforced codes of conduct within their establishment and prettified their communities with ladylike touches. Their lives were very hard and often degrading, but these “fallen women” nonetheless claimed a measure of independence and self-sufficiency, far more so than their “respectable” Victorian counterparts. Indeed, they helped pave the way for the arrival of more genteel women, who, ironically, condemned the prostitutes as morally corrupt and socially undesirable.

 

Silverton, Colorado

From Ouray, we road tripped further on to Silverton, Colorado where we originally were going to hike to Old Hundred and do the underground mine tour, but decided against it when we stepped outside to 40 degree weather. The bite of the cold actually brought us to a little shop called Fetch’s Mining and Mercantile, where we bought two super rad tourist shirts (because sometimes you just have to) and learned that the best time to visit mining country in Colorado (which is also mountain country), is in September. That’s when school has started, folks are back to their regular wind and grind and the high tourism season has tapered to an end.

Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

So, we detoured our road trip south and back to New Mexico where we made it to Bisti Badlands; probably my favorite adventure spot to-date. This area is incredible; the colors are unreal, the rock formations out of this world and the weather, especially at this point in time, absolutely superb! We couldn’t have asked for a better day with low seventies and a cool, mild breeze. We avoided sunburns and profuse sweating in our shnazy Kuhl adventure pants and explored the area for nearly four hours.

Bisti is largely unknown but its an amazingly scenic location. Covered in bizarre and unusual rocks that span for 4,000 acres, Bisti is a geologist’s and archeologist’s heaven. Much of the surface is unstable and speckled with petrified wood, hoodoos, sandstone, shale, silt, mudstone and more, and black coal layers can be found in the rain-eroded ravines and dried arroyo beds. After climbing the tops of soft mounds for so long, we took a plunge into the narrow fissures of the hoodoos. There we came upon a resting owl, that I unfortunately scared from its slumber, but in mid-flight it lost two huge feathers that Andriy and I quickly picked up. One now has a home in the nylon binding of Andriy’s Tilley Hat.

Home Sweet Home

After Bisti, we headed for home, Albuquerque, which was a scenic 3-hour drive along a junction road through Navajo country. We ended our road trip driving through some of the most beautiful red rock formations I’ve ever seen. This little trip was a perfect mix of everything one wishes to find in nature and if you ever have the time, take this route yourself and fill me in on the new things you’ve found. 

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