John’s Note: I spend a lot of time on this site talking about the places I travel to (it is a travel blog, after all). Whether I’m traveling for work or vacation, the truth of the matter is that I’m on the road and away from home for the majority of the year. But for the weeks or weekends when I’m actually in Colorado, the travel doesn’t stop. I tend to explore new areas around my hometown of Denver or go further afield to other destinations throughout the state.
I haven’t shared much from my travels around Colorado on this site (with the lone exception being when I drove to the top of Mount Evans), but I’m looking to change that in the near future. Colorado is an amazing state with incredible natural beauty, stunning diversity, and unique, charming towns dotting the Rocky Mountain landscape. That’s why I’m excited to announce my partnership with Mountain Reservations to bring you the stories and images of my favorite place in the world, Colorado. First up in this series is a town that for years was on the top of my Colorado Bucket List: Telluride.
The road to Telluride is not an easy one to pass, and no matter where you’re coming from, Telluride always seems to be far away. 6.5 hours from Denver. 7 hours from Salt Lake. 8 hours from Phoenix. Even if you have the cash to fly into the Telluride airport, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to fly direct unless you’re coming from Denver or Dallas. So it’s no wonder then that after living in Colorado for 26 years I still hadn’t made it out to this remote former mining town.
The journey into Telluride from Denver plays like a slideshow showcasing the natural beauty of Colorado. After climbing into the foothills past Red Rocks Amphitheater, the road twists and crawls up the Rocky Mountains. The ski resorts of Summit County are the logical stopping point for many weekend trips in the Colorado mountains, but the road to Telluride presses on through Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, and Keystone, venturing further into the Colorado mountains. Even the world class resort of Vail can’t stop the Telluride-bound; it serves merely as a stopover enroute.
Telluride isn’t for the weekend trippers (and certainly not the day trippers from the front range of Colorado). This gives the city a unique vibe as it avoids the sphere of influence that pervades many of the other mountain towns choked with visitors from Denver, Boulder, or Colorado Springs. It’s a quiet, calm place where visitors and locals mingle at the local bars and cafes, and everyone is staying for more than just a day or two.
A stroll down Colorado Avenue is an appropriate way to acquaint yourself with the town. The Victorian storefronts along Telluride’s main thoroughfare house the coffee shops, art galleries, bakeries, and adventure outfitters catering to hikers, campers, kayakers, and climbers who flock to the region. The Historic Bar at the New Sheridan has remained largely unchanged since 1895, giving a glimpse into the life of the hearty miners who settled Telluride. But instead of the prospects of silver and gold in the surrounding hills, the patrons today talk about their latest outdoor conquests.
Despite counting the likes of Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey as residents, Telluride still maintains a small mountain town vibe. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than at the Free Box, a community-run resource where Telluride residents and visitors alike can pick up anything from clothing to ski equipment to electronics, all donated by others living in or visiting the town.
The Free Box has been in operation since the 1970′s when the town was known more for its hippy vibe than its high end skiing resort status. But the Free Box has endured and today it operates by a few simple principles: the box must be kept neat, clean, and organized and the items donated must be usable – the box is not a dumping ground for unwanted household trash. Browsing through the box can yield sneakers, bed linens, stereos, or clothing for all shapes and sizes, and for the most part it is all in excellent condition.
The Free Box is a resource that could only exist in a town like Telluride, an affluent yet decidedly quirky locale. Though the mega-mansions throughout the hills around town would say otherwise, Telluride at its heart is still maintains its hippy, independent vibe. It is the kind of town where yards are decorated with old license plates and even older ski equipment, where funky murals and kitschy decorations adorn the sides of houses and garages, where puppy parking is more abundant than car parking, and where gardens are grown in old ski boots.
The vibe continues into the shops, storefronts, and galleries in Telluride. Between The Covers is an independent bookstore that spreads the innuendo on thick. The small coffee shop in the back of the store serves as a living room for the city, where locals and visitors alike gather to share stories of wildlife sightings, the days’ best hikes, or of delicious meals from the night before. Books are browsed through over a cup of chai, though you’re more likely to find guests engaged in spirited conversations with the baristas than burying themselves in a book.
With all the charm of the historic downtown, it’s easy to forget about the abundant natural beauty and outdoor activities in the surrounding mountains that make Telluride famous. Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and kayaking all provide summertime diversions in the surrounding San Juan mountains.
For the most iconic views, visitors head up the jeep trail behind the old mill at the end of town for the four mile climb up to the top of Bridal Veil Falls. The waterfall is the tallest free falling waterfall in Colorado and those who climb all the way to the top are pervy to spectacular views into the box canyon below.
The Cornet Falls and Bear Creek trail hikes provide less strenuous alternative routes to waterfalls in the surrounding hills from town, each accessed from trails that start within city limits. On the Cornet Falls trail, hikers are treated to towering pines, red rock formations, and a cascading fall ending in a cool mountain stream.
The hikers in Telluride have turned stacking rocks into an art form, leaving the improvided stacked-rock sculptures around every twist and turn of a mountain trail. These rock sculptures have been taken to the extreme on the Bear Creek trail where hundreds (if not thousands) adorn the path.
For those averse to hiking or climbing, the town Gondola whisks visitors up to 10,500 feet and the top of the Telluride Ski Resort. But the Gondola isn’t just for skiing and sightseeing, it also provides one of the most popular (and fun) methods of transportation in town. Each day, hundreds of residents and seasonal workers commute using the gondola between the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village. Riding it isn’t just for tourists – it’s also a free form of public transportation for the locals going to and from work.
From the top of the gondola, a short quarter mile trail leads to one of the best views in all of Telluride. It is from up here that one can take in the city in its appropriate context – an incredible town in its own right, but one that is dwarfed both literally and figuratively by the spectacular and abundant natural beauty surrounding it.