Have you ever just been strolling along through life and had something hit you square in the face that just couldn’t be ignored? For some people it’s a job opportunity, a way to make a dream a reality, an idea that might solve some of life’s’ problems, or maybe a new relationship, but for me it was a town. There I was, minding my own business, rolling along The Million Dollar Highway on one of my motorcycles and BOOM! There down below was a postcard perfect sight I’ll never forget! I’ve been some places and seen some things but nothing had ever caught me quite like this! All I could do was stand and stare, jaw dropped, eyes wide, and mind racing a million miles an hour. Where am I and how have I never heard of this magical mountain wonderland?!
I needed to see more and know all of the secrets the hills here had to tell. As I rolled down the mountain more of the town came into view here and there, catching sneak peaks in between hair pin curves. The sky was vivid blue, the mountains stood tall at attention, and the streets seemed to unfold in front of my wheels. One road in and one road out, unless you have 4 wheel drive or a dirt bike, and all of the streets except the main drag in town are dirt. The air smelled better, the colors looked brighter, the flowers smelled sweeter, the birds chirped just a little bit louder, and maybe it was just me, but, the tequila tasted a tad smoother in this fairy tale town I had found.
Silverton, after the many mines in this area of the San Juan’s that produced silver by the ton over the last century or 2. The railroad runs up from Durango daily and once upon a time used to continue on through to Eureka and Animas Forks before they became ghost towns of local legend. Tram lines, trails, and very few remnants of homes and businesses long gone are all that now remain passed the city limits and a few blocks beyond the Depot in town is the end of the line for the train.
It didn’t take long to discover that the locals here were as friendly as the place is beautiful and everyone is always willing to lend each other a hand and a smile. My plan was to stop for lunch and continue on….this turned into a 3 day adventure! There are more waterfalls to see and explore than anyone could accomplish in a months worth of hiking. Lakes and mountain peaks that seem to never end and the river of lost souls flowing through it all. Endless places and secret spaces all waiting for me to discover!
My 1st visit was 3 years ago and I have made well over a dozen returns and still have not seen all there is to see or done all there is to do! There must be 8 different hotels in town one just as lovely as the next. Restaurants and bars lining the streets with various menus and atmospheres. Definitely something for everyone’s taste and style. It doesn’t matter if I camp, couch surf, or plant myself in a hotel the magic is still in the air when I am there.
I have crafted the art of traveling to Silverton from Wisconsin, the perfect trip requires a jeep, a street bike, and a dirt bike. Luckily I have all 3 and a trailer to make such things happen! The 1st stop is actually in Ouray at the Orvis Hot Springs for a soak and a nap or possibly a good read or just a zen out session after an 18-20 hour drive. Something about steaming lithium water and some deep breathing that does the body good!
A good soak should be followed by one of Ridgway’s spectacular dining experiences…. Taco Del Gnar, Thai Palace, Route 66 Eatery, Kate’s Place….the list goes on. After some great food the adventure begins….again! The best stretch of highway I have ever travelled in my 49 states worth of travel, The Million Dollar Highway, CO 550. From Ouray to Silverton is 23 miles of pure bliss and not for the tame of heart. I’ve never counted the curves but there are many and guard rails are few if any. The left side is beautifully colored rock wall that jarts a tad out into the non-existent shoulder of the road and sometimes drips or runs with water while the right side in many places is sheer drop offs of several hundred feet down to a raging river. The 2nd half of this journey is filled with switch back curves and the entire 23 miles is the most impressive scenery some have ever had the pleasure to see. Along the route are multiple pullouts and places to hike or bike or jeep. Waterfalls, mines, trails, tunnels, and a lot of WOW as far as the eyes can see. The wildlife can be abundant at times, I have seen moose, elk, deer, fox, marmots, big horn sheep, and the occasional Pica crossing the road.
Maybe the drive to Silverton is just as important as being in Silverton….honestly I think my attraction is due to the backdrop and possibilities for adventure and exploration rather than the actual town itself but if it wasn’t for the town I would have never found the rest. The most impressive piece of nature in Silverton to me is its backdrop mountain, Mount Kendall. 13,066 ft of complete and utter amazement. There are numerous ways to experience Mount Kendall, Jeep or other 4×4, Dirt bike, mountain bike, hiking, or just simply sitting back from a distance and admiring its massiveness. One of my favorite things is waiting until September every year when the snow has most certainly all melted from the top. Only then is the road open right up to around 12,500 feet and I can take my jeep to the tiny landing pad just below the peak to camp for a night and see the entire town below and all of the mountain tops around. I am absolutely on top of the world in that place, even if it isn’t the highest peak in the world it will always be to me.
Second on my list of favorite Silverton things is South Mineral. This is a campground, a 6-ish mile road, and a whole lot of area to explore. The gravel road starts a few miles out of town off of Highway 550 and ends at the Rico trail. There is one road off to the right along the way that leads up to Clear Lake and, if you are up for a hike, Ice lake. South Mineral Creek runs along the road all the way to the campground and then shys away from the main road. Once you reach the campground you can drive on for another few miles or stop and head out for a hike. There is a trail that heads straight up the mountain side and if you can follow the waterfalls up if you choose, though the trail disappears and you have to find your way along some difficult and interesting terrain. I climbed roughly 5 miles up the waterway and saw 5 fantastic waterfalls along the way. The 2 falls coming together at the top was well worth the climb/hike up. If you venture down the road beyond the first falls at the camp ground you can find the water running rapidly and falling frequently several yards east of the road. The falls are not tall but they are surrounded by beautiful red rocks and the water flows swiftly through the shallow canyons…. I highly recommend finding your way to the river from the road here. In South Mineral I have come across several moose and seen signs of bear. As for the lake road it is a wonderful easy drive for anything off-road capable and there is a giant waterfall and amazing valley view along the way.
I was typing all about South Mineral and realized it played a part in Silverton capturing my heart. I visited town for the 2nd time and while I was filling up at the gas station I took a few minutes to look around at the tourist things they had out on display. I was spinning the rack of postcards and a picture of a waterfall caught my eye, I pulled the card from the rack and the location given was South Mineral Creek, Silverton. I bought the card and decided I was going to find the falls in the photo for my adventure that afternoon, and that is precisely what I did. 5 hours and several photos later I was convinced this was the place I needed to spend my life in….while traveling elsewhere on vacation often of course!
Next on my all time favorite Silverton things list is a place called Chattanooga. This is a small section of HWY 550 towards Ouray that is complete with a short mountain road, waterfall, and hot spring. I managed to take a Dodge Dart up the short mountain road against my better judgement and came to a large parking area?… I parked the car wandered over to the edge of things and noticed there was a small stream flowing down a canyon that looked intriguing. I have a bit of a self-control problem when it comes to discovering what is on top of and behind things so I had to venture into the great unknown! Roughly 1 wet foot and 45 minutes later I was sitting on a gigantic boulder in a small canyon below a raging waterfall at the top of a mountain and admiring the cars that looked like ants pass by on the highway off in the distance. All I could hear was the water running behind me and the sight in front of me was nothing short of majestic, mountains and trees and blue sky along with the stream flowing out below me that I had just climbed up to be where I was. Oh what a feeling!!!
I feel that I could go on for days about the Silverton area but I think I’ll stop here for now… and there is so much more I have yet to explore!!!