San Juan Sky­way is a stun­ner

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - TRAVEL - BON­NIE JO MOUNT

All roads lead to a des­ti­na­tion. Some roads are the des­ti­na­tion. Colorado’s San Juan Sky­way, a des­ig­nated All-Amer­i­can Road, does both. And it’s one I hope to travel again and again.

I started my 236-mile loop in Du­rango. Af­ter load­ing up on “The Cure” — a lo­cal spe­cial­ity of eggs, pota­toes, cheese, green chili and ba­con — I dou­ble-checked the GPS. The time from Du­rango to Ou­ray, where I wanted to soak in the fa­mous hot springs: 1 hour, 45 min­utes. But that’s only if I didn’t stop. Five hours and a whop­ping 1,550 frames later — mo­tor drives! — I ar­rived. On a road like this one, I’d have to be wear­ing blin­ders to ar­rive any sooner.

In just 70 miles, I’d pho­tographed a neon hot spring, cow­girls on horse­back, hill­sides blaz­ing with Aspen, aban­doned mines, sheer cliffs, har­row­ing drops, moun­tains ris­ing more than 13,000 feet and the funky for­mer min­ing town of Sil­ver­ton with its name­sake rail­road.

All of it is stun­ning. And a per­fect pre­lude to a soak. Un­for­tu­nately, the pub­lic springs were closed for ren­o­va­tion. But an­other place, maybe an even bet­ter place, was just up the high­way. Cloth­ing: op­tional. Tem­per­a­ture: per­fect. Ahhh. One hun­dred and sixty-six more miles to go.

As I was push­ing to­ward Tel­luride, the 14,000-foot San Juan peaks be­came draped in dark­ness. Not want­ing to miss more, I booked a room in Plac­erville and rested for the night.

Ev­ery­body knows about Tel­luride — the ski­ing, the fes­ti­vals, the end­less recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties — but I only had time for break­fast. On my way in, I paused for a herd of elk that were obliv­i­ous to rush-hour traf­fic. On my way out, I lin­gered be­neath fresh con­trails stream­ing across a bril­liant blue sky. Then I braked again and again as the land­scape shifted, and stun­ning peaks, val­leys and ev­er­greens gave way to desert, mesas, canyons and the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal won­der­land of Mesa Verde Na­tional Park.

Here, in a land­scape once in­hab­ited by an­ces­tral Pue­bloans, I pon­dered the cliff­side dwellings that seemed al­most un­fath­omable to scale and the peo­ple who once called this sa­cred space home.

I wanted to spend the night be­neath this vast open sky but I had an­other hour to Du­rango, a flight to catch, and a des­ti­na­tion that un­like this one, was not about the jour­ney. Sigh.

The Wash­ing­ton Post/BON­NIE JO MOUNT

Con­trails stretch above Tel­luride, Colo., along the San Juan Sky­way Scenic By­way, a pic­turesque road through Colorado.

The Wash­ing­ton Post/BON­NIE JO MOUNT

Views of Ou­ray, Colo., from the San Juan Sky­way Scenic By­way sup­port its self-pro­claimed sta­tus as the “Switzer­land of Amer­ica.” The town is also known for its hot springs.

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