I-70. One letter and two numbers that strike fear into the hearts of the hardiest outdoorsmen. Sure it might jus be a highway, but it’s what it represents that sends mountain men packing to Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. I-70 isn’t just a highway, it is officially a commercial corridor. I-70 has turned the once-wild mountains into neatly packaged products.
Nature itself has become a commodity to be consumed in small doses; ideally when walking from your SUV to the spa. Condos and resorts crowd the slopes, and traffic backs up for miles when old man winter rears his frosty head.
How committed are we to the complete and total command of nature? To the eradication of the unknown in the name of commercial success? Well, the fact that we bored through an entire mountain should give you some idea.
When it comes time to plan your getaway, why not actually try and get away? Get back to that authentic pioneer spirit that brought people to the Rockies in the first place. If 3G service is a must-have for your vacation, you have some serious soul-searching to do. This summer, get away from the traffic, headaches, and day spas of I-70.
The San Juan mountains in Southwestern Colorado are the perfect escape from the trappings of modern-day life. You might have to drive a little farther, but the experience will make up for those extra hours in the car. Telluride is just six hours from Downtown Denver. Trust me, those hours fly by thanks to the scenic and diverse drive. Where else can you see alpine peaks, lush forests, and majestic desert in one road trip?
The promise of rugged adventure (and untold fortunes waiting within the peaks) first brought people to the San Juan Mountains. Evidence of large-scale mining operations is everywhere. While some towns, notably Telluride, made the successful transition from rowdy mining outpost to tourist hub, that doesn’t mean the area has lost any of its rustic charm. Old mining camps and ghost towns abound, adding a spooky history lesson to most hikes and tours in the area.
For the Powder Hounds
For those already planning their winter adventures, the San Juans are the place to be when those big Colorado flakes start falling. Most everyone gets sick of the attitude, price, and mink coats of the big-ticket resorts lining I-70. As someone who grew up on the slopes of my hometown hill, I can say the (relatively) small resorts like Telluride, Wolf Creek, and Silverton are the best bang for your buck when it comes to skiing in Colorado. Sure, they might not serve caviar at the lodge, but there is no line for the champagne powder.
For those who breathe diesel and exhale exhaust, the San Juans are a veritable playground. The spiderweb of old mining roads make for great jeep tours. You could roam the hundreds of miles of dirt roads in the San Juans for years without getting bored. From technical forest drives to scenic high-altitude excursions, the dirt roads, jeep trails, and mining routes of the San Juans have it all.
For the young, or at least the young at heart, Uncompahgre Peak makes a great day hike. At 14,314 feet, it is the tallest peak in the San Juans and the sixth highest mountain in Colorado. All of this adds up to spectacular views and a truly memorable experience. Despite its formidable height, Uncompahgre is a relatively easy climb for the fit and motivated.
Like all of the San Juans, Uncompahgre is of volcanic origin. Although the region has been dormant for thousands of years, the spectacular topography still provides some excitement. Uncompahgre itself looks like a giant shark fin of stone rising dramatically over the high-altitude tundra. This massive exposure makes for great views especially if you lie down and dare to peer over the edge, but don’t get too close…
Keeping it Mellow
For those who want to get off the beaten path without totally going native, the San Juans offer great shopping, dining, and sightseeing. Be forewarned, you are bound to fall hopelessly in love with Telluride’s rustic downtown. If clanking over a jeep trail isn’t your cup of tea, try one of the many scenic drives giving you a bird’s eye view of the remote mountains from the comfort of your car.
For a truly unforgettable experience, make the trip in late September, the explosion of color that is fall in Colorado is something everyone needs to see at least once.
All in all, the San Juans haven’t changed a bit since the first prospectors staked their claims in these remote mountains. Although developed enough to bring the whole family, these truly unique mountains provide the rugged and authentic experience much of Colorado is lacking.
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The author of this article is Damien Wilhelmi and writer for InaRaft.com. If you enjoyed this piece you can follow me on Twitter @Custparadigm. I’m an adventure enthusiast at heart! I love skydiving in Moab Utah, Backpacking across Europe, white water rafting in Colorado, and swimming with dinoflangelties in the Carribean. Doing anything and everything I can to see what this wonderful planet has to offer.