There are many reasons to visit Telluride. But the top three have got to be the following:
1- The free gondola between the quaint old town and the swanky new ski town on the other side of the mountain. And the gondolas run until midnight, so no need to worry about not making a quick, action-hero get-away if one thing leads to another.
2- The very nice campground in the Town Park on the east end of main street. Walk-in campsites are available for $15/night, showers are $3 and the views are free. Definitely the cheapest accommodations you’ll find.
3- Jaw-dropping, yodel-evoking, kid-in-a-candy-store mountains. Holy cats! I’ve been a lot of places, but the western San Juans have risen comfortably to my top-three list of amazing mountains to ogle (the others being, of course, the Dolomites and the Gore Range).
The proximate reason for me driving seven long hours to Telluride was to partake of the Imogene Pass Run, a big trail race from Ouray to Telluride, now in its 39th year. However, the larger purpose was having a little away time and put a nice finish on what has been a hectic and stressful summer (mostly in a good way, but hectic none-the-less).
The best way to taper the day before a tough trail race is not to go out on a moderately tough trail run with lots of vertical gain, but I couldn’t resist driving up to Lizard Head Pass and running up to the mountain of the same name. It was flat-out amazing and, if number of photos is any judge, I’m as smitten with Lizard Head as well, take your pick of metaphors. It didn’t hurt that the weather became sunny and clear just as I got above tree line on the non-descript but view-ridden Blackface Mountain or that the trails were wonderfully clear and zippy. A few flowers were still hanging on there and the fall colors were just starting to make an appearance.
Lizard Head is an old volcanic neck left over from umpteen million years ago I spent quite a while on the nice trails around its southern flank. The surface was powdery lava surface and the geology very obviously different from my usual Front Range haunts. An early lunch was gnoshed in the company of at least six marmots at the pass above Bilk Basin as I gazed raptly at the rest of the San Miguel high peaks (the Wilsons, Cross Mountain, Gladstone, etc.). The descent down the Cross Mountain trail was fast and furious though I stopped frequently to throw lovelorn parting glances over my shoulder at Lizard Head. Even the final two miles of gentle uphill pavement running back to the car was a pleasure.
In the afternoon, I listened to wisdom and decided not to run up to Bridal Veil Falls at the head of the valley above Telluride… I drove up instead. It was a bone-fide 4wd road, but Zebulon Pike, my elderly Subaru Impreza, loves a challenge and we made it up in good style only scraping bottom once or twice along the way. Reaching the point where all the big, studly high-clearance vehicles were parked, we threw in the towel and I hiked over the top of the falls and a quarter mile up the beautiful valley toward Blue Lake wishing I’d brought better footwear and some water (It’s only 3 miles to Blue Lake. What’s another few miles on already-tired legs?).
So, good times in Telluride. The town itself is a ritzy ski town, but didn’t feel oppressively opulent the way Aspen does. There is enough hippy culture clinging to the edges that I never felt out of place. I had nice chats with the guys at Jagged Mountain and several other shops as well, perused the bars, and had a dandy time.
So in summary, free gondola, camping, spectacular mountains! Woo!