Durango has served us very well as a home base for the exploration of the San Juan Mountains and the Four Corners Area. At a population of approximately 20k the city, located at 6500ft/2000m, offers pretty much everything one needs, including at least six decent breweries.
Two roads connect Durango to the rest of the world, highways 160 running east to west and highway 550 running south to north. It is highway 550 that is also known as the Million Dollar Highway connecting Durango to the communities of Silverton and Ouray on the north side of the San Juan Mountains. On it’s 65 miles/100 km stretch from Durango to Ouray the Million Dollar Highway climbs three times to elevations of approximately 10500ft/3200m. Our current plan is to leave Durango tomorrow and travel to Gunnison, CO and if possible we will travel on highway 550. Considering we are driving an 18 tons vehicle over these alpine passes with steep drop-offs, that trip will be entertaining.
However, whether we will be able to travel highway 550 through the San Juan Mountains tomorrow remains to be seen. A little bit more than a week ago the “416 Fire” started less than 4 miles from where we are currently parked. In the meantime, the fire has grown to about 16000 acres/ 65 km2, is only 10% contained and forced the repeated closure of highway 550. The RV Park where we are currently parking has been declared a pre-evacuation zone and depending on the fire development we may be forced to leave as early as tonight. Even the famous Durango-Silverton steam train is currently not operational.
Yesterday, the dogs and I took a very nice hike near Molas Pass in the high country of the San Juan Mountains. Upon return, a 10 miles stretch of the highway was closed. We waited approximately an hour until firefighters told us definitively that the highway would not open before 8AM the next morning. Well, we had to take the long way home traveling over Ouray, Telluride, Dolores to Durango. A 210 miles trip all because of 10 miles of road closure 15 miles from home.
While staying in Durango we spent two days at the Mesa Verde National Park to visit the Cliff Palace dwellings
and the Balcony House dwellings.
The Mesa Verde dwellings can only be visited via guided ranger tours. It does not make a whole lot of sense, but tickets for these tours cannot be reserved online. They have to be purchased in person at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center. However, as we learned too late, tickets are also available at the downtown Durango visitor center. Tours have aduration of 1 hour and start every 30 minutes. The cost per person is $5.
We visited the old mining town of Silverton, located at 9300ft/2800m in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. During the summer months the small city is visited daily by one or two trains and flooded with tourists for a few hours. However, people around here told me that aside from the tourist disturbance in summer Silverton is a pretty cool place to live.
The hiking on both sides of highway 550 was fantastic before the fire screwed the access to the trails and the visibility of the vistas up. Some of the trails we hiked were the Haviland Lake Trail, Segment 25 of the Colorado Trail (the Colorado Trail stretches 486 miles from the Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver all the way to Durango), Cascade Creek East Fork Trail and the Crater Lake Trail. Some of these trails climb way above the tree-line to over 12000ft/3700m and afford great view of the Rocky Mountains.
While in Durango I strongly recommend a visit to the small historic downtown area and a stop at the Durango Steamworks Brewery. These good folks offer a great selection of fine beers combined with very good food.
Last but not least a word about Anthony Bourdain. Over the years I had watched a large number of his “No Reservation Required” videos and was always fascinated by his taste and love for simple food. Only recently did I read his book “Kitchen Confidential” and started to appreciate his writing as well. Rest in peace Mr. Bourdain.
You all stay tuned.