Our first full morning in Telluride turned out to be a glorious one. The view from the balcony was picturesque, and the day promised some sunshine. Unlike most trips, on this one, we had a loosely knitted itinerary. I spent some time calling the Telluride museum and emailing the various outfitters for available adventure opportunities. Surprisingly, Teresa answered the phone at the museum, and we tried to set up a private walking tour of Telluride. But as I mentioned in my first post, that didn’t quite pan out. I did, however, manage to book an off-roading trip for later that week with Telluride Outside. That done, we looked at our itinerary for the day.
Alta Lakes, a set of three alpine lakes in the nearby ghost town of Alta, was our first stop. I read that the road could be a little difficult to drive but the beauty of the lakes was worth the effort. Once done with the lakes, we would grab lunch, head down to Telluride to do a little walking tour of our own, and then hit one of the hiking trails. With plans set, we first stopped at the Market Village to pick up snacks and drinks for the day and ended up with a few bottles of freshly squeezed orange juice.
As we drove towards Alta Lakes Road, we had our first sighting of Wilson Peak. You may know its outline from its cold perch on a Coors light can. Wilson Peak and the neighboring Sunshine Mountain became very beloved as we passed them daily coming and going. The Alta Lakes Road was only about 20 minutes from our lodge. Alta is an old mining town, now a ghost town. But there are campgrounds in this area. The road leading up to Alta Lakes is closed during winter. Not surprising, given that it’s quite narrow and not paved. The information posted at the bottom of the road recommended driving a high clearance vehicle.
Soon, we could see why! The first several yards of the road was the most treacherous as the road rose upwards with no guardrails on the passenger side. It was rutted, and we had to drive carefully. Higher up, the road seemed to improve a bit but not by much. After driving about half a mile at a slow pace so as not to damage the vehicle, we decided it wasn’t safe to proceed further. We didn’t know how far ahead we could go and if the roads to the lakes were even open (many roads still had snow blocking the paths). So once we got to a section of the road with sufficient width, we made a slow U turn and drove back down. The roads were so narrow I wondered what we would do if we met someone going the other way! Apparently, the one climbing the mountain has the right of way!
With our first destination abandoned, we headed to Telluride. Although the Telluride museum wasn’t open, I found a downloadable walking tour of the town. Armed with that information, we parked close to the courthouse and walked. (Parking can be an issue in Telluride since most parking spots require a permit). While the spread of the town isn’t wide, the backdrop of the mountains in the distance, the variety of architectural details on the homes and buildings we passed, the historical plaques and markers scattered around all kept us quite occupied for an hour or more.
The mountains around Telluride were the summer homes of the Ute Indians until the 1800s, when they moved to the reservations. Between1858, when gold was discovered, and 1978 when the Idarado Mine closed, Telluride’s fortunes were closely linked to mining activities. We came across a marker that said that the Telluride mountains contain 350 miles of tunnels. And billions of dollars worth of gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc have been produced here since 1880, and mining continues to this day. In 1878, the town was founded under the name Columbia, but the USPS forced an eventual name change to avoid confusion with another mining town of the same name.
Along the way, innovations and entrepreneurial spirit rode high. For example, the first commercial AC power plant was built near Telluride by LL Nunn in partnership with Nikolai Tesla and George Westinghouse in 1891. He went on to provide power to all of Telluride and eventually to several other states nearby. Others like Otto Mears envisioned and built engineering marvels like the Rio Grande Southern Railroad and the high mountain pass between Ouray and Silverton, now called the Million Dollar Highway.
With the waning of the mining industry, Telluride reinvented itself as a skiing town with the opening of the Telluride Ski Resort in 1972. This was followed by the founding of Mountain Village in 1987 and the establishment of the Gondola in 1996. Now Telluride attracts visitors year-round, both for its ski resort/winter activities as well as its arts, history, and culture. Not surprisingly, Telluride was designated a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1963, representing an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.
Although we didn’t get to all the places on the walking tour, we stopped to see the San Miguel County Courthouse, The New Sheridan Hotel and Opera House (which was a beehive of activity with the Mountainfilm festival), the Pekkarine building, the Town Hall, LL Nunn House, and Popcorn Alley. The original county courthouse was burned down, but the bricks were saved and used to build a new one that stands today and is functional. The New Sheridan Hotel is history personified! Telluride’s first hotel was built in 1891, ravaged by a fire in 1894, and rebuilt with bricks in 1895. Its bar was built in 1895 and has remained unchanged to this day, one of the oldest ones in the West. The Sheridan Opera House was added in 1913. The current Town Hall that served as the first school, the painted houses on Popcorn Alley that once were female boarding houses, a variety of homes and churches brought this tour to life. The one significant thing we missed was the Galloping goose railcar.
By now, we were hungry and a bit cold. As we mulled over lunch options, we noticed signs for public restrooms. They were easily accessible and clean-and certainly much appreciated!. Soon, we came across Steamies Burger Bar. As their name suggests, Steamies specializes in steaming burgers instead of grilling, charbroiling, or frying. This is supposed to enhance the flavors, intensify the taste, and provide a healthier alternative for both the consumer and the environment! Sonny JJ is a huge burger fan, and so he enjoyed a veggie burger Steamie style while we scooped up the vegetarian chili and a side of Fuego fries. True to their name, the hatch chilies, cheese with a dash of sriracha made a spicy combo.
After a filling lunch, we strolled around town for a bit before heading for the Bear Creek Trail. One of the most popular trails in hiking and biking this is a 5.1-mile hike to upper Bear Creek Falls and back. Winding its way through Bear Creek Preserve, the trail is considered moderate in difficulty and gains about 1050 feet by the end. For more dedicated hikers, the Wasatch Trail leads further upwards to Bear Creek Canyon. The trailhead is at the end of South Pine street. We parked a few streets away and walked to the trailhead.
While we knew better than to hike a trail on a full stomach, it’s what we ended up doing! Bad decision! Plus, we had two small backpacks with reusable water bottles that were full and growing heavier by the minute. And a couple of OJ bottles to add to the mix!! It was our second day at Telluride’s elevation of 8750 feet which did not help matters any! Although the incline was gradual, it was a constant uphill climb. We stopped every few minutes to rest and breathe deeply. We were frequently outpaced by locals walking or walking their dogs. Most of the pets were not leashed but stayed close to their owners and didn’t bother us.
Although the climb to the upper Bear Creek Falls was a grind, the beauty of the location was not lost upon us. The verdant young aspen groves and pines against a backdrop of towering cliffs leant a certain allure to the trail. We expected to reach the falls in an hour. It took us an hour and forty-five minutes. In the last part, close to the upper falls, the hike was a bit more exerting. But the beauty and the coolness of the mist from the falls were well worth the effort. What I also enjoyed was the paucity of people. While we crossed other hikers at regular intervals, the trail wasn’t flooded with them. Everyone we met had encouraging words as we slowly trudged upwards.
After drinking in our fill of the falls and resting for a while, we made our way back. The walk downhill was significantly easier and took us just over an hour. Despite all the fluids and tangerines, we were worn out. Back at our lodge, we strived to push fluids all evening. After an easy meal cooked in the kitchen, we settled down for the evening. It was so rewarding to put our feet up after a day of hard work!
A couple of thoughts about the hike: I would highly recommend it! The falls were definitely worth the climb!
- Of course, don’t hike after a lunch of chili and fries.
- Wear good hiking shoes and comfortable clothing. At times the gravel shifted under our feet and made the hike a little slippery.
- Use a hiking pole if you have one. We came across several people using them on this trip.
- While water and some snacks are important, keep the backpack light! It’s amazing how heavy a backpack can become! And at this elevation, the breathing is heavier, and every step demands greater work.
- Keep the schedule light, especially if you plan to hike. We enjoyed this hike a lot since we didn’t have anywhere else to be.
The hike was very refreshing and allowed us to soak in the tranquility of nature. After a year and a half of dealing with a pandemic and worrying about dear and near ones, it was so soothing to be outside and connecting with the natural elements! I can’t imagine a better way to rejuvenate the mind, body and soul!!