San Juan Skyway


San Juan Skyway

The San Juan Skyway is one of the scenic byways in the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway System. It forms a 236 mile (379 km) loop in the southwest part of the U.S. State of Colorado traversing the heart of the San Juan Mountains.

U.S. Highway 160

Starting in Durango, Colorado, the largest city on San Juan Skyway, the byway follows U.S. Highway 160 west through the town of Mancos to Cortez passing the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.

State Highway 145

At Cortez, the byway turns north following State Highway 145 through the town of Dolores and follows the Dolores River into the San Juan National Forest. The byway passes through the small town of Rico, county seat of Dolores County prior to 1941. The old Courthouse still remains. From Rico, the byway crosses 10,222 ft (3116 m) Lizard Head Pass and enters the Uncompahgre National Forest. Lizard Head Pass provides views of 14,159 ft (4316 m) El Diente Peak, 14,246 ft (4342 m) Mount Wilson, 14,017 ft (4272 m) Wilson Peak and the pass's namesake, 13,113 ft (3997 m) Lizard Head Peak. The byway descends near the little town of Ophir past the location of the famous Ophir Loop of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad. A spur road heads off to the old mining town turned ski resort of Telluride. The byway follows the San Miguel River down to the little town of Placerville.

State Highway 62

The byway turns east at Placerville onto State Highway 62 and follows it over Dallas Divide. There are many excellent views of the San Juan Mountains, especially of the mountains around 14,150 ft (4313 m) Mount Sneffels. From top of the divide the byway descends into the town of Ridgway. The entire route of the byway from Durango to Ridgway roughly follows the route of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad.

U.S. Highway 550

From Ridgway, the byway turns south onto U.S. Highway 550 following the Uncompahgre River into the Victorian mining town of Ouray. From Ouray south back to Durango, the highway is referred to as the Million Dollar Highway. The first seven miles (11km) south of Ouray, the byway follows through the Uncompahgre Gorge. Just past the only tunnel on the route, just south of Ouray, the road crosses over Bear Creek Falls on a bridge at the location of an impassable toll booth on the original road. The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway, a four wheel drive jeep road takes off in the gorge south of Bear Creek Falls. Before leaving the gorge, the byway passes through a snow shed under the Riverside Slide avalanche zone. A monument stands near here honoring those who have lost their lives in the avalanche, including several snowplow operators. At this point the byway enters Ironton Park, a nice flat valley in contrast to the gorge. The road ascends several switchbacks, or S curves, past the Idarado mining peration to the 11,018 ft (3358 m) summit of Red Mountain Pass, providing views of Red Mountain (Colorado) and several ghost towns. Back into the San Juan National Forest, the highway descends through the Chattanooga Valley to Silverton.

From Silverton the byway passes over 10,910 ft (3325 m) Molas Pass and 10,640 ft (3243 m) Coal Bank Pass descending past the ski resort of Durango Mountain. From Hermosa the road parallels the Durango and Silverton narrow gauge raiload before returning to Durango.

External links

* [http://www.byways.org/explore/byways/2101/ National Scenic Byways Program - San Juan Skyway]
* [http://www.coloradobyways.org/ByWay.cfm?byWayIDpar=SAN20011203091122 Colorado's Scenic and History Byways - San Juan Skyway]


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