Southwest Colorado – Vacation Away from the Crowds Part I

My husband and I decided this week to pick up and drive to southwest Colorado for a mini-vacation with our youngest.

It’s a part of Colorado that doesn’t get as much attention because it’s not along the I-70 corridor, like Vail, Breckenridge and the outlet mall at Silverthorne. I’d love to keep it that way. No crowds, little traffic, tons to do, super nice people.

We took the long way down from Denver, heading down Highway 285 by Fairplay, Buena Vista and Salida, turning west at Poncha Springs and over Monarch pass on Highway 50 through the coldest place in the state most winters – Gunnison, home to Western State College.  The drive through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is so amazing, and so different from what you think of as Colorado landscape.

We drove down the Million Dollar Highway 550 through Ouray and Silverton, so named because of all the mines along the route. The drive is absolutely breath-taking. It adds quite a bit of time because it is over several mountain passes and has many switchbacks (not to mention shear drop-offs). I definitely recommend doing this in the summertime.

Ouray is located in Box Canyon and surrounded by the most amazing mountains, much rockier and shearer than the northern mountains around Vail. The town is named after the great Indian chief Ouray who was known as a peacemaker. We were there only briefly but it is the ultimate in a charming, historic mountain town, with little shops and restaurants on the main street and not too touristy. Not far to the west is Telluride, a favorite residence for stars such as Tom Cruise.

After Silverton, the drive is pretty open down to Durango, through the San Juan National Forest. The mountains start to open up into the foot of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, just south of Durango.

Durango is almost indescribable. It has so many sides – western, artsy, outdoorsy. You can spend your entire trip exploring the main strip or avoid that completely and hike and fish. It has several historic hotels or you can stay in a chain nearby. The airport is also a short drive if you choose to fly in. You can catch the narrow gauge railroad and ride it up to Silverton and back – it’s all day and it’s expensive but it’s beautiful!

We visited  the Durango Discovery Museum ( which is located in an old depot on the main drag. At first, we walked in and I didn’t think there was any way I could keep the little guy busy for more than about 45 minutes. I was wrong. He LOVED it! It has a ton of great interactive science exhibits that he was fascinated by – even at 3 years old.

A huge globe that changed to show each planet, its rotation and atmosphere and a high tower to climb held him for a long time. They have a huge Lego lab where you can program a robot and a huge marble maze that my son watched for at least 10 minutes straight. Tons of great activities that all ages can enjoy at this museum.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about the adventures outside of Durango but just a short drive away.

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