the san juan skyway scenic byway: telluride to mesa verde

When I woke up in Telluride, the sun had finally come out, making it seem more inviting than the clouds and rain of the day before. It was too late, though. I had to leave.  After stopping at the Shell station for gas, a huge herd of deer ignored me as I drove back to the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway to resume my loop drive.  My destination was Mesa Verde National Park.

Gorgeous views greeted me right away. A deer skittered across the road in front of me.  The snow-covered Sunshine Mountain, El Diente Peak, Mt. Wilson and Wilson Peak, all part of the Lizard Head Wilderness Area, glowed in the distance.  Chartreuse aspens lined the road.


San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway


San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway

At one viewpoint, a man, a self-proclaimed photographer, was setting up a tripod on top of his van.  He told me that in the fall, the apron of aspens at the base of the mountains glowed like gold.

The mountains at this viewpoint were set aside by the Secretary of Agriculture in 1932 as the Wilson Mountains Primitive Area. In 1980, Congress reaffirmed this protection by establishing the 41,196-acre Lizard Head Wilderness through the passage of the Colorado Wilderness Act.


Sunshine Mountain, Mt. Wilson and Wilson Peak

Lizard Head Wilderness offers outstanding opportunities for solitude, as well as access to three “fourteeners:” Wilson Peak (14,017′), El Diente (14,159′), and Mt. Wilson (14,246′). The area is open to foot and horse travel, but is closed to all mechanized means of travel, according to a sign at the site.


San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway


Sunshine Mountain, Mt. Wilson and Wilson Peak


aspens in front of Sunshine Mountain, Mt. Wilson and Wilson Peak


aspens along the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway


San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway

I drove past Priest Lake, and over Lizard Head Pass (10,222′).


Elevation 10,222 feet

I passed Sheep Mountain (13,188′), Lizard Head Peak, and Barlow Creek.  Canadian geese flew over a lone bicyclist. The road followed a meandering river through a red rock canyon dotted with Douglas firs. More chartreuse aspens lined the road to Rico, which looked like a ghost town except for the lone gas station where I stopped for a restroom break and a snack.  The lady manning the register was very friendly.

Before long, I was in Montezuma County, crossing Scotch Creek, and then the road followed the Dolores River to the Green Snow Oasis, a spread with tiny inviting cabins set fetchingly in green pastures. Red rock, aspens, cottonwoods, and Douglas Firs accompanied me to Priest Gulch. A man in a golf cart zipped around a campground. Log cabins hunched in the gulch, which was really a wide valley with cow-dotted pastureland and pretty ranches.  Sunlight glowed in amoeba-like shapes on the mountains and pastures.

I left the San Juan Forest and arrived in Dolores at 11:00.  Past a lumberyard, I saw miniature log cabins for sale. A psychedelic painted school bus hollered a welcome. Dolores offered up a horse farm, the Outpost Motel, Cozy Comfort RV park, Railroad Cafe, Ponderosa Restaurant, the Railroad Museum, The Ginger Jar and Chavolito’s Mexican Restaurant. I kept driving through the town and emerged into wide open vistas.

By 11:14, I’d reached Cortez, elevation 6,200 feet, where I found Ken Banks’ Shooter’s World: Firearms and Accessories. A sign advertised Western Saddles Corral: Saddle Repair.  This was cowboy country for sure.  From Cortez, I was now retracing my drive from the Four Corners to Durango several days earlier, passing the Mesa Indian Trading Company, the cute and colorful Retro Inn, and Tequila’s Family Mexican Restaurant.

By 11:45, I was at the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, which I’d explore the rest of the day and the following morning.


The San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway – this part of the route was from Telluride to Dolores to Cortez to Mesa Verde

You can read about the various Colorado towns along the San Juan Skyway on my previous posts:

  1. Telluride

*Sunday, May 20, 2018*


“PHOTOGRAPHY” INVITATION:  I invite you to create a photography intention and then create a blog post for a place you have visited. Alternately, you can post a thematic post about a place, photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels: churches, doors, people reading, people hiking, mountains, patterns, all black & white, whatever!

You probably have your own ideas about this, but in case you’d like some ideas, you can visit my page: photography inspiration.

I challenge you to post no more than 20-30 photos and to write less than 500-800 words about any travel-related photography intention you set for yourself. Include the link in the comments below by Wednesday, May 1 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Thursday, May 2, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, every first and third (& 5th, if there is one) Thursday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired. 🙂

  1. Carol, of the Eternal Traveler, wrote a photo essay about an old covered bridge in Ontario: The Kissing Bridge.

Thanks to all of you who wrote photographic posts following intentions you set for yourself. 🙂

I am traveling from April 4 to May 10. If I cannot respond to or add your links due to wi-fi problems or time constraints, please feel free to add your links in both this post and my next scheduled post. If I can’t read them when you post them, I will get to them as soon as I can. Thanks for your understanding! 🙂