Color-ado Gold, San Juan Skyway
The Leaves were changing and looking spectacular this year and I presume it was from the unusually wet spring we experienced. With the change in season, I began itching for a change in scenery if only for a few days. I had heard some amazing things about the San Juan Skyway loop and have seen some epic jeep trail adventure shots of jeeps and Tacos crawl over mountain passes among Colorado’s legendary mining towns. I had a few open days so it was time to see this for myself. So I thought I’d bring along my new to me Hallmark truck camper and camera or two to chase Color-Ado-Gold, Fall colors that is!
From Park City (pictured above), I decided I would avoid interstates to the extent possible with the exception of the Green River to Moab section. In Utah, I stopped in Helper for the first time to diesel up and check out the revitalization going on in that old coal mining town (more on my San Rafael Swell trip). Arriving in Greenriver at lunch time, auto pilot vectored me directly to Rays Tavern for a delicious life sustaining cheese burger that would keep me comfortably tied over until reaching Telluride later that day.
I decided I would start the Skyway in Telluride and then go counter clockwise. I thought the light might be better for the time of day I would be on the road, though in retrospect, I don’t there is a wrong way to do this loop. I planned to camp near Telluride and then near Ouray. Having wolfed down Ray’s cheeseburger, I drove trough Moab passing Canyon Lands on the Right and Arches on the left and continued on past the Hole in the Wall for the turnoff to the La Sal mountains. This was a beautiful stretch, hilly and windy at times.
As I entered Colorado’s San Miguel county, the road snaked along side the San Miguel river. If I had more time, camping in that area would have been a treat but I decided to press on to Telluride hoping I might snag one of the last first come first serve sites in the Town’s campground.
As luck would have it, I hit Telluride during rush hour and yes Telluride has a rush hour. It seems comprised of Range Rovers toting Mountain Bikes to trail heads, parenting picking up kids located at the choke point entering town, and contractors scurrying about. Telluride is a small thriving little city not all that different from Park City. Both towns have open space as you enter town, rotaries, and it’s main street is nestled within a box canyon with mountains all around. Many of the same type shops, restaurants and galleries line the street with only paid parking to be found for the non-natives. The city campground I thought I’d try fist was at the end of Main street near the city park. Even though I was arriving on Monday at the end of September, the campground was full. Of course traveling with a truck camper, a full campground is rarely a problem as there are so many options due to a small foot print and all the self-contained amenities one might desire on your back. In this case, I did a quick search on Campendium and found numerous nearby suitable options and opted for Sunshine Mountain which views of Mt Wilson and Wilson Peak. Off I went.
The campground was at just over 9200 with some occupied but many open spots. Near, my spot, there was an overlook trail great for catching the setting sun. With changing seasons, strong winds of change accompanied my drive from Utah to Colorado and persisted through the night. Temps dropped from the lows 70s to below freezing though I stayed quite comfortable with my camper’s Truma heater which runs very quiet and efficient in both 12V and propane usage. I wasn’t sure how Truma would perform at elevation so this was a nice little test, it was warm and quiet…perfect. Likewise were the soft sides of the Hallmark Milner. I just didn’t know what to expect in the higher winds.
One of the other really unique and cool features I like with my Milner is the Lewmar Skylight. It’s a clear enough that I can see the stars and wide enough that I can pass through to access the roof. With the wind, I decided tonight would be for viewing only and I would save the night sky photography for another time. Up with the sun, I broke camp and headed into Telluride, again dealing with rush hour…ugh… to find an ATM since that campground only accepted cash and overbite on my part. From there, I headed south to Durango, passing through a few lessor known small towns en route. Much of this stretch of road descends from the high alpine landscape with an 11,000 ft pass back to more of that high desert setting, beautiful but not what makes the skyway the draw that it is. The section of 550 from Durango to Ouray is definitely the most spectacular of the trip and frankly the reason you drive the skyway, especially as you approach Silverton. Views abound on both sides of the road. There are some steep drop offs with no guard rails. Granted I was driving in absolutely perfect conditions, the road was safe, and I suspect that in rainy or wintery conditions, it would be fine assuming normal precautions. Now if you can’t take your eyes off of the Color-ADO Gold, that could be problem. FYI, here are many pullouts along the way so.
Dropping over the Molas Pass and descending into the old mining town of Silverton is nothing short of gorgeous. Silverton got it’s start as a mining town and is now a popular tourist destination among adventurers. Silverton has retained its old western town charm with its wide dirt roads, historic buildings and the presence of the coal fired narrow gauge steam train that shuttles tourists from Durango to Silverton and back, daily. Color-Ado Gold filled the mountain sides surrounding the town. I stopped in Handlebars Saloon for a late lunch and if I wasn’t intent on Ourey as my resting point, would certainly have imbibed in a craft brew or two.
Like Silverton, Ouray is another one of my favorites on this route. The stretch of road between these two charming towns is stunning. Like Silverton, you get see a birds eye view when approaching from the south.
Ouray has retained much of its old-time charm though is more updated as the paved 550 goes through the center of town. There are several hotels, restaurants, breweries, and most importantly a high end gear shop with a knowledgeable crew. Ouray is a hot bed for hiking, climbing, backcountry skiing, hunting and other off road activities. With the help of the Campendium app and validation at the gear shop, I found a quiet forest service campground just a couple miles from town. I was nestled among the Quaking Aspens with striking Color-Ado Gold all around…just perfect.
The view from my Ouray Camping spot
Admittedly this was a very quick trip to get the lay of the land while taking in spectacular scenery and capturing a few nice photos. Part of me feels guilty for not spending more time hiking and taking in more of what the area has to offer. I suppose it’s the difference between being a tourist and a traveler. On this trip I was for sure a tourist and now, I look forward to returning soon where I can really make the most of being a traveler.
The Skyway Roadtip Gallery in Full (scroll right)
As for the gear that made this trip fun and effective, my pop up truck camper performed exceptionally as I had hoped when I was first entertained the thought of buying it. It’s fairly streamlined so I get relatively good gas mileage (17+), while staying comfortable in windy and chilly conditions at altitude. I could find last minute camping spots even if they were small and uneven. While this was more of a road trip, I can easily get deep into the backcountry on o forest service or double track “road”. Lot’s of capability! Set up and take down is quick and easy so I can spend more time on the road, yet it’s roomy enough that I can stretch out and / or use it as a photo editing office, should time and weather dictate. I’m digging the integrated Truma heater / hot water system as it is extremely quiet and evenly heats the camper through it’s ducting. It well thought out as the ducting runs near my water tank and pump and under sink plumbing which helps ensure their performance in freezing temps. It’s very efficient with it’s use of 12V and propane. My single battle born 100AH and Sterling DC to DC charger allows my truck to fully charge a depleted battery in just 3 hours of driving. Yet, I with the LED lights and efficient Truma, I can spend 3+ days camping (running the heater at 60 at night without fully depleting the battery. Lithium is forgiving if I provide only a partial charge so if I really got into a bind, I could just start the truck and supply 30amps/hour to the system. I’m considering portable solar but at this stage have not needed it. I also love the mechanized way to raise and lower the roof with a standard battery powered drill or hand crank. This capability does a few things. Most importantly, it allows me to physically get on the roof via ladder or Lewmar skylight and take in the night sky or for a better perspective of wildlife viewing. It also allows me to have roof racks with storage for support gear and toys like Stand Up Paddleboards. I don’t have to offload these items before raising the roof. This will work great particularly for those longer trips or when glamping is the goal, i.e. when wife and pup are joining me.
I hope this has been helpful and informative for those interested in the San Juan Skyway and the Hallmark Popup Camper.