The Golden Aspens Trip

A long weekend in southwest Colorado

This was a three-night getaway from Albuquerque into the San Juan Mountains, just past the peak of fall color. The weekend includes a night in Durango and two nights in Telluride, plus some great hikes.

Day 1

The drive from Albuquerque into Colorado

The three-night excursion into the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado began with a drive up Interstate 25 and US 550, the latter of which continues through New Mexico into Colorado.

I made it to Durango in time to explore a fun dirt road that cuts into the middle of the San Juan Skyway Loop. About 12 miles west of Durango on US 160, the road into La Plata Canyon begins. This road starts out as smooth dirt, but gets bumpy as it heads to Kennebec Pass. The final few miles are rated for 4-wheel-drive vehicles, and even though I had an SUV, I decided to turn back, perhaps a mile or two before the end of the road. Even though I didn't make it to the end, it was still an excellent adventure. The road passed old cabins and barns, as it curved between stands of Aspen trees. I may have arrived about one week too late -- it was the first week of October, and I think the peak of fall color had already arrived.

Day 2

To Silverton, the Million Dollar Highway, and a Ghost Town

After spending a night in Durango, I headed up one of my favorite stretches of highway in America. US 550, the San Juan Skyway, heads north from Durango to Silverton, passing over Coal Bank and Molas Passes. Along the way, I found some picture-perfect scenes, with mirror-surfaced lakes and old livestock corrals, all surrounded by golden leaves.

Once in Silverton, I ventured out onto another dirt road, one that I had been hoping to travel for years. Animas Forks is a ghost town, nestled deep in the San Juan Mountains. A bumpy, but passable dirt road provides the only easy access (although there are a couple of other, very rough 4x4 trails that connect to the town. Once in the ghost town, there are dozens of old buildings to explore, along with the ruins of the town's old mining operations.

It took a good portion of the day to drive out to Animas Forks and back into Silverton. My hotel for the next two nights was in Telluride (just a few miles away, as the crow flies, but a significant distance by road). Unfortunately, it was starting to get dark, in between the mountains, but I was still able to enjoy the "Million Dollar Highway" portion of the San Juan Skyway, from Silverton to Ouray. I arrived in Ridgway (the top of the San Juan Skyway Loop) just in time to take a few pictures before the sun set. Then, I drove on to Telluride in the twilight.

Day 3

Exploring around Telluride

Since I was spending two nights in Telluride, I didn't have to go anywhere on Day Three, which meant I could focus on enjoying Telluride. First, I drove up to the iconic power station, atop Bridal Veil Fall. Yes, you can get there with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The road beyond the power plant is legendary as one of the most dangerous Jeep roads in the world. Beyond the waterfall, the road is one-way, downhill, but it's okay to drive uphill to that point.

Later, I drove around the beautiful neighborhoods near the Telluride Airport, along Last Dollar Road. Finally, I ended the day with a hike up Jud Wiebe Trail, which climbs up from downtown Telluride, to a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the valley.

Day 4

Out of the mountains and back to the desert

On this day, it was once again time to hit the road, and unfortunately, I had to make it all the way back to Albuquerque by mid-afternoon. I took Highway 145 south through Rico and Cortez, and then made a short side-trip out to a place I'd never been before (although I'd been close, numerous times) -- the Four Corners monument.

After that, it was a nearly-non-stop drive back to Albuquerque via US 491 across the Navajo Nation, then Interstate 40 eastbound.