San Juan Mountains

Telluride - Silverton - Durango

Photos © Peter Mansbach, Sept 2004.
No commercial use without written permission.

On this trip I drove the scenic San Juan Skyway loop, a series of highway segments through the San Juan Mountain Range in southwestern Colorado (click here to view map, in a separate window). The loop passes through Durango, Cortez, Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, and back to Durango, for a total of 240 miles. Along the way I did a number of day hikes. The high points of the trip, pictured on this page, were Telluride, and the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway.


The town of Telluride is about a mile long, and only four blocks wide. It is wedged between mountains, rising directly from the edge of town in the short north-south direction, and only a bit further off toward the east. The photo on the right is looking east along Colorado Avenue, the main street. The town itself is preserved as a historic district. (The newer ski resort condos are located in Mountain Village, several miles away on the other side of Coonskin Mountain.)

I hiked to Bridal Veil Falls, east of town; Bear Creek Canyon to the south; and the Jud Wiebe Trail to the north. The latter two trails start right from the edge of town. The next two photos were taken from the Jud Wiebe Trail.

Downtown Telluride
Downtown Telluride

  Telluride from Jud Wiebe
Telluride, seen from the Jud Wiebe Trail

Telluride Mountains
Mountains near Telluride, with aspens turning color

Path by the River
River Trail
One of the charms of the town is the San Miguel River Trail, a path that runs the length of the town (the long way, east-west), next to the river, and away from vehicular traffic. I was able to walk from my motel to any of the many restaurants in downtown Telluride without seeing or hearing cars until I turned north for the last block or two across town.

The Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was originally built to carry silver and other ores from the mines in the mountains to the major rail lines to the south. "Narrow gauge" refers to the distance between the two rails, much less than the standard gauge used by most railroads. This allowed laying track on narrower ledges and around sharper curves, resulting in less expensive construction in this rugged terrain. The mines have been abandoned, and the railway is now operated as a tourist attraction. They still use coal-burning steam locomotives to pull the trains.

I rode that railway, from Durango to Silverton and back, on the last day of my trip. Despite having seen lots of beautiful scenery on the rest of the trip, I was absolutely awestruck by the incredible mountains rising up from the Animas River. (The original Spanish name of the river is El Rio de las Animas Perdidas, the River of Lost Souls.) The railroad pretty much follows the river for the 45 miles from Durango to Silverton.

I was on the next-to-last car of the train. The photos below were taken as the train rounded curves, so the front of the train is visible.

Durango-Silverton Railroad
Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
on "The Highline" shelf overlooking the Animas River

Railroad, Animas River
Railroad, Animas River

Railroad, Animas River
Railroad, Animas River

Sept 2007 trip to Colorado: Crested Butte and Aspen
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