Friday, June 12, 2015

Silverton, Colorado

June 4 -7, 2015:

The San Juan Skyway or route 550 from Durango to Silverton takes you from 6,512 foot elevation at Durango up over the Coal Banks Pass and Molas Pass at 10,660 and 10,899 foot elevations respectively to Silverton at 9,318 foot elevation.  It has several long steep climbs and equally steep descents with sharp curves.  Not to mention, the sheer drop offs on the road sides with no guard rails.  It was a handful for the Hawk, but we made it without incident and it is a beautiful drive.

View from Molas Pass
We arrived at the Silver Summit RV Park around noon and set up in a full hookup site. This is a very scenic setting surrounded by snow capped mountains with the Animas River and the Durango & Silverton train running right in front of the campground.  It is also a short ride, or within walking distance to downtown Silverton, a very convenient campsite.

View from our campsite

The train running out front of the campground

Silverton’s economy is very dependent on the train, the downtown is mostly empty in the morning until the trains arrives, then hundreds of tourists depart form the trains with two hours to shop and eat, then everyone gets back on the trains and the town is again empty and quiet. They have two trains arriving about an hour apart presently and a third train is scheduled to start next week. 

The most incredible story in this San Juan Mountain area (for me) is the life of Otto Mears.  He was born in 1840 to English and Russian parents and orphaned at age 11. He was then sent alone by ship to New York to a family contact who it turn sent him to San Francisco to meet another contact.  He never found the intended person and was on his own.  He joined the army, fought in Indian wars with Kit Carson.  He learned to speak the Ute Indian language fluently and became a friend of Ute chief Ouray.  He ended up in the San Juan Mountain area and started building toll roads through the mountain passes to connect the mining towns.  He then started building railroads through the mountains often along his toll road routes to service the local mines.  He ended up owning three railroads and amassed a fortune.  He lived to be 90 years old, a life well lived !  His life should be made into a movie ! 

I highly recommend the “Walking Silverton” tour guide book, it gives a great brief description of Silverton’s colorful history and it’s wealth of victorian buildings.  It’s ironic how the notorious Blair Street, which once had 32 saloons, gambling halls and houses of ill-repute is now the major tourist attraction. Of course, I suppose back in the day it was also the major attraction to many ?

View of Silverton from the highway coming into town

The Shady Lady Saloon isn't much fun these days

The train coming into Silverton

Silverton City Hall

Many colorful buildings in town

Lots of shopping and food available 

Great architectural embellishment
I also highly recommend the Mining Heritage Center and Jail Museum, it has absolutely the best mining exhibit anywhere.  The mining area is under the museum building, cold and damp, actually felt like being in a mine.  This museum is one of the best kept secrets in the west !  This historical society is a remarkable organization who initiated legislation for a bill that eventually became the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act.  This bill was one of the few bills passed with bipartisan support by the House and the Senate in 2014.  They also seem to be masters at getting grant money for historical projects.

It's not a fashion statement, the miners used to secure a
candle to their hat for light in the mines

Simulation of a mine inside the museum

Otto Mears gave his friends and influential people silver
or gold passes to ride his trains for free

The miners were transported to the mines in
this way, a real thrill ride

The inside of the modern jail cell

It rained off and on all day and night both Friday, Saturday and half of Sunday.  I believe that we are having more rain this spring that we have had in our previous two years of RV’ing combined.  It’s also been a cold rain, often sleet, but no snow in the valley.

A dark threatening sky

The rain makes the colors more vibrant

On Sunday after a short break in the rain I took a short ride on the “Alpine Loop” Trail for about 6 miles.  This is a great 4 wheel drive scenic back country ride from Silverton to Ouray over old mining roads.  There are old mines and ghost towns all along the route. Pockets of snow right up to the edge of the road.  Also a fair share of mud, the jeep was covered and no car wash in town.

View of an old mine site from the road

Snow bank on the edge of the road

The rivers are flowing fast

Next stop is Telluride, Colorado;
Twinkles & Slick

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