Leaving McPhee Reservoir Recreation Area, we drove an hour on the San Juan Skyway, called “Road to the Sky” to our next destination. Along the way we had beautiful views of the towering 14,000 foot San Juan Mountains and green rolling hillsides.
We arrived at our campground, Cayton Campground in the San Juan National Forest for a six night stay. We had a very nice electric site along the Dolores River. At night we were lulled to sleep by the sound of softly flowing water.
The only drawback to this campground was we had absolutely no cell phone service which meant no internet. We were able to get satellite TV so we had news and weather. At an elevation of 9,400 feet, the daytime highs were in the low 70’s and nighttime lows in the mid 40’s. A wonderful respite from the hot weather we had recently experienced. Each afternoon we had a brief thunderstorm or rain shower.
Six miles south of our campground was the tiny town of Rico. Twice we drove into town to use the internet access at the public library. Thank heavens for these friendly public libraries that are a big help to travelers like us.
Rico was settled in 1879 as a silver mining town. At its peak Rico had a population of nearly 5,000. It had two dozen saloons and a thriving red light district. No longer a mining town, today it has a population of 266 and is made up of a main street with an inn, gas station, post office and town hall. The public library is open four hours a day Monday through Saturday and is located in two rooms of the town hall building. I talked a bit with the librarian who said the public school in Rico closed last year due to declining enrollment. Today the parents have to take their children either 35 minutes north to the town of Telluride or an hour south to Dolores. Parents are responsible for getting their children to and from school. She said most parents work in Telluride and therefore their children go to school there. Quite different from most towns and cities in the United States where children just walk a block or less to catch the local school bus. The librarian said she wonders if the Rico library would ever close and expressed sadness that she no longer has children come by after school. She said the library summer reading program ended a couple years ago. Now she averages six or seven people who visit the library each day, less than fifty a week. The two times we visited we only saw two locals come in to use the library internet. I never saw anyone return a book or check one out. Very sad. We did note that after many many years of significant declining population, the population did rise by 65 people between 2000 and 2010. Maybe there is hope for this sweet little town.
On Friday we drove our car north to Telluride for the day. Also once a mining town, what a difference from Rico. With a population of 2,400, Telluride is a busy, active resort community similar to Vail. In the winter it is crowded with skiers staying in the many condominiums, resorts and hotels. In the summer people visit to enjoy the cool weather and gorgeous views. It is nicknamed the “Festival of the Rockies” because of the vast array of cultural events each summer. The name Telluride came from gold telluride minerals found in parts of Colorado. Strangely, telluride minerals were never found in Telluride but zinc, lead, copper, silver and other gold ores were mined there.
One of the best things about Telluride was the FREE gondola rides. We have been on several gondola rides in our travels and they are usually pretty pricey. This is the first free gondola ride we have ever seen and according to Telluride it is the first and only free gondola public transportation in the United States. It was begun in 1996 to address air quality concerns by keeping cars off the eight mile route between Mountain Village and Telluride. Since 1996 it has transported over forty million people.
We read it is best to park at the free parking garage at Station Village and ride a gondola down to Telluride because street parking is very limited in Telluride. We parked the car at Station Village, elevation 9,545 and rode a gondola to Mountain Village Resort, elevation 9,540. We got off there and got another gondola which took us to Station St Sophia, elevation 10,535 and then continued down to Telluride, elevation 8,750. The whole trip took about thirty minutes. All the gondola workers were extremely friendly and helpful. The tricky thing about gondolas is they never completely come to a stop so you have to quickly jump on and off. Pets, bikes and skis are all allowed on the gondolas. It was interesting to see how the bikes are attached to the outside of the gondolas. The Big Mountain Enduro bike event was going on during our visit. Bikers ride the gondola up the mountain and they ride bike trails to the bottom.
Every Friday they have a Farmers Market with fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods and beautiful flowers. We found a geocache at the Galloping Goose, a unique hybrid vehicle that was a truck and train combination. It was powered by a truck engine that rode on train tracks beginning around 1930. It ran on gasoline and carried both passengers and freight until 1951. We noticed the hybrid buses around town today are nicknamed Galloping Goose. We really enjoyed walking around Telluride!
We caught the gondola back from Telluride to Station St Sophia and got off and walked around the area. In the summer this is a popular area for bike riders to ride up and down the steep slopes. We went in the Nature Center where they had the biggest container of sunscreen I have ever seen. It was freely available to everyone. At 10,535 feet, you burn quickly. By this time our ears were stopped up and I was starting to feel some altitude sickness. I was lightheaded, slightly nauseous and my skin was clammy. We still had to ride two more gondolas to get back to the parking garage. I was dragging by the time we got back to the car. But after drinking an entire bottle of cold water from the cooler, I was feeling much better. We drove into Telluride and had a nice dinner. I think just the act of chewing food helped our ears recover. We both agreed this was the most fun we have had in awhile!
Next up: Ridgway, CO