We really enjoyed our time at the Dutch Charlie area of Ridgway State Park, where we had camped for four nights. When we looked to stay longer, though, it was booked up. So Thursday morning, we packed up our gear, rearranged the car like a terrible game of tetris, enjoyed breakfast at the camp, and departed the park around 10 AM. Thursday would be Operation: Find a Place to Sleep.
Telluride was on our list, so we headed south from the park, picked up the San Juan Skyway west to Placerville, then on south to Telluride. It’s the only town on the San Juan Skyway scenic loop that does not sit directly on the route. It is situated in a box canyon only accessible by highway from the west, and so requires a 10 minute detour off the loop to reach it.
I had a spot in mind for camping, which came onto my radar when I was driving cross country with my brother Kaivan about a month or so ago, and we’d spent a few days in Telluride.
Last Dollar Road, a national forest access road, runs up from Telluride, past the airport perched up on a plateau, and miles into the mountains. It crests near Last Dollar Mountain before coming down on the other side of the range and connecting to the San Juan Skyway closer to Ridgway, where we’d spent the past several nights. So up we drove, along a dirt and rock road for about 20 minutes into the mountains.
The dispersed campsite I had in mind was near empty when we arrived, so we excitedly set up our tent and dropped off some of our weight from the car at the site.
We spent the afternoon in Telluride, walking around the famed mountain town and enjoying some Detroit style pizza from Brown Dog Pizza, with a cold beer to complement.
The evening was perfect up at camp, with a wonderful, slightly hazy sunset and distant mountains to soak in our gazes.
The night was anything but perfect, as a massive camper rig had set up next to our site, and ran their furnace all night, effectively ruining any chance at a good night’s sleep. So the next day, after having some words with our neighbors, we decided to move camp up the road a bit and into the woods. It turned out to be a blessing, as we enjoyed more peace and solitude among the grove of aspens where we situated.
We spent Friday recovering from our lack of sleep and getting to know Telluride a bit more. The Jud Wiebe trail, named for a US Forest Ranger who had the vision for in-town access to great hikes, got our blood pumping. Only about 3 miles on the loop, the trail climbed about 1200 feet and offered very little in the way of breaks from the steep incline. The trail brought us about 1500 feet above the heart of Telluride, with views of the bustling Main Street and surrounding mountains and ski slopes falling into Telluride Valley.
Gnar Tacos serves up some pretty funky combinations, but all are delicious. We decided to grab an early dinner before heading back to camp, and opted for a couple pulled pork and a couple chorizo tacos with all the fixin’s.
The night at our new camp was just what we needed. With no other folks in sight, we enjoyed a night of stargazing and tried our hand at some more night sky photos. We were also treated to an audio show of wailing coyotes in the night, as well as some bugling elk
Saturday morning, we slept in a bit at camp and put together a quick breakfast of hard boiled eggs, yogurt with granola, and a cup of coffee to wash it down. Our plan for the day was to check out a hike south of Telluride, along the San Juan Skyway south of Ophir.
Hope Lake sits in a basin beneath San Miguel Peak, a summit just a couple hundred feet below qualifying as a “14er.” To get to the trailhead requires some off-road driving up a steep ascent of switchbacks. The hike itself is not too difficult and not technical at all, as we saw many families with children of all ages along the way. But it’s a nice hike, with vistas in every direction and the subtle whispers of autumn emanating from the quaking Aspen trees.
We decided to continue on past Hope Lake when we arrived, instead opting to climb higher above the lake to get some peace from the groups gathered on the shore. We hiked up to a pass about a mile higher than the lake, with views back on the lake and in front of us down the other side of the pass. After some rest and time to let the scene sink in, we started back down the way we came, accompanied by a few instances of snow and then rain as we continued to drop in elevation.
Making it back to the car by mid-afternoon, we made a quick snack before setting out back to Telluride for dinner and stocking up on water and gas for the night.
Sunday morning arrived, and we had decided prior that we’d spend Sunday evening at a hotel. We’d been camping for about a week straight, the past few nights of which we didn’t have showers/restrooms because we were “boondocking” on US Forest Service land and not at a campground.
We were in no rush to get to the hotel, as we had all day to do whatever pleased us. As I had mentioned previously, we were camping along Last Dollar Road, only a handful of miles up the road into the hills away from Telluride. The entire road stretches from Telluride to Noel, maybe 15 miles up and through the mountains. We let some air out of the tires and prepped the car for some more rugged driving.
The drive took about an hour and a half, with some stops along the way at lookouts. When we were finished, we looped back around to Telluride via the highway, as I’m not sure the car could handle back to back runs up over the mountains.
We stopped back at camp, reloaded all our gear and supplies, and said so-long to the Telluride area, making our way north to Montrose, where we’d booked a night at a hotel. I don’t think the idea of a hot shower left mine or Jamie’s mind the entire ride there.