Double Loop, Days 4-5: Durango to Ouray

June 12-13, 2022 | Photo Album

Meador Selfie Profile Pic

Bernalillo was already infamous to Wendy and me before we actually stopped there. On a previous trip to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Trixie the GPS app repeatedly mangled the pronunciation of that small town just north of Albuquerque. This time we actually stopped in Bernalillo for lunch on our way from Santa Fe to Durango, Colorado.

Consuela De La Morrela is a Mexican cleaning maid on Family Guy who is known for saying No…no (and for being obsessed with Lemon Pledge). Wendy was reminded of her repeatedly on our trip by the pandemic residue, including labor shortages and supply chain issues.

A prime example was when we walked into a Yelp-recommended Mexican restaurant in Bernalillo. Wendy asked for chicken tacos.


Okay, beef, then. Can I get a tamale?


And the beef tacos we received were something to be forgotten. But we were just getting started on the Nos from closed businesses or requests that could not be met:

  • Can we eat in the Wendy’s in Durango? No.
  • Okay, we wound up at Applebee’s, and Wendy would like a Dr. Pepper. No.
  • Let’s return to our old favorite hotel in Pagosa Springs. No.
  • Okay, we’ll stay here at the Riverwalk instead. Do you have an elevator? No.
  • Can we eat at La Plaza in Walsenburg? No.
  • Okay, how about Tina’s Family Cafe? No.
  • It’s so hot here in Trinidad; let’s get some ice cream at that shop. No.
  • We’ve finally reached the hotel. Is our room ready? No.
  • I would love a coffee mug made in Colorado. Are any of your mugs not made in China? No.
  • Let’s grab a bite at Clayton’s Hotel Eklund. No.
  • We have a reservation here for a suite. No.
  • Does this hotel have a decent breakfast? No. No. No. No. No.

But we were persistent and did not allow the parade of Nos ruin our trip; a sense of humor helps!

To Durango

Back in 2011, I drove alone from Durango to Albuquerque via highway 371 south out of Farmington. I remembered how deserted and desolate that road had been. So I wondered if the stretch of highway 550 a bit east of that through northwestern New Mexico would be equally forbidding. But it turned out to be a four-lane road with plenty of restroom stops and nice scenery. We would be staying on 550 as far north as Ouray, but we would first make a stop in Durango.

After many miles in the dry high country, it was a bit of a relief to descend to the San Juan river valley at Bloomfield before we entered Colorado. For miles I had noticed the telltale signs of a pipeline buried to the east of the highway, and we noticed compressor stations and a large Harvest Midstream plant.

Well, it turns out that the San Juan Basin east and south of Bloomfield has over 40,000 natural gas wells, which are the red dots on the map below.

Bar D Chuckwagon

Wendy and I stayed in Durango back in 2015, enjoying the Dirty Deeds at the Depot melodrama at the Strater Theater (sadly discontinued) and of course a ride on the wonderful Durango-Silverton steam train. But I had been on my own in 2011 for the Bar D Chuckwagon show just north of Durango. So I bought us both tickets for the show to share the experience with Wendy.

Cy Scarborough moved to Durango in 1969 after entertaining at the Flying W Chuckwagon show in Colorado Springs for 25 years. He, along with Jim Blanton and Roy “Buck” Teeter, founded the Bar D Chuckwagon Suppers north of Durango that has entertained tourists for over 50 years. I had seen Cy perform one of his humorous songs in 2011, but he passed away in 2020 at age 93.

But Gary Cook still flat-picks his guitar for the show and Matt Palmer still plays what is described as “his little fiddle” by humorist and upright bass player Joel Racheff. Seeing those three were still in the show reassured me that we would have a great time. For this season they were joined by Danny Rogers and David Bradley.

Danny Rogers, Matt Palmer, David Bradley, Gary Cook, and Joel Racheff

We enjoyed our chicken and beef with baked potatoes, baked beans, biscuits, applesauce, and spice cake. The performers are also servers, and I noticed a tall fellow offering up lemonade at the tables had an incredibly deep “radio voice” – sure enough, that was Danny Rogers. He moved to the Bar D from the similar Bar J show in Jackson Hole which recently closed after 44 years. His incredible bass performance starts off Ghost Riders Reindeer in the Sky in this clip from an old Bar J Wranglers show:

The show also featured champion yodeler David Bradley. Before the show, we had browsed the shops, and Wendy bought a geode to be hammered open later. After the show, we returned to the Homewood Suites, which was definitely nicer than the Best Western we had stayed at back in 2015, where we had crammed into a small upstairs room, dragging our luggage up an exterior stairway.

The Million Dollar Highway

Back in 2011, I had driven the scenic but intimidating famous stretch of highway 550 south of Ouray, heading southward in my 2001 Toyota Camry sedan. This time I would drive it both ways in Wendy’s 2019 Honda Odyssey minivan.

Our conveyance

But before we headed north on 550, we walked around the tiny Botanic Gardens in Durango and along a stretch of its trail alongside the Animas River. We ended up having lunch at a Subway, after a No for dining inside their Wendy’s. Then we headed north towards Silverton, which we had previously visited via the narrow-gauge railroad’s steam train.

We negotiated the Coal Bank and Molas passes to Silverton, with me pulling over near Lime Creek for the vistas.

Granger loves a vista
Approaching Lime Creek

Wendy also scanned the ground for sparkly rocks and pretty flowers.

We pulled over again at Molas Pass, enjoyed a pit stop in Silverton, and then headed on the Million Dollar Highway toward the Red Mountains.

Molas Pass

In the early 1880s, valuable columns of silver ore called “pipes” were discovered in the Red Mountain valley. By 1883 nearly 40 mines were sending silver ore to smelters. The mining area’s heyday lasted two decades with silver, lead, zinc, copper, and gold extracted that would be worth over $250 million today.

Red Mountains
Red Mountains

Red Mountain has three peaks, with the iron ore that covers their surfaces giving them their distinctive color.

Red Mountain

The towns of Silverton to the south and Ouray to the north were entry points into the district. A road from Ouray was completed in 1883 and would eventually become the Million Dollar Highway. The geography was particularly challenging for railroads, but a line from Silverton reached the mining camp of Ironton in 1887 and Albany by 1889. That allowed medium and low-grade ore to be sent to smelters in Durango and Pueblo. That 18-mile narrow-gauge railroad was called the “Rainbow Route” because it arched across the mountain divide like a rainbow in the sky. Its chief engineer said it was “the steepest, the crookedest, and the best paying road in Colorado”.

Final Red Mountain Shot

You can visit what remains of the Idarado Mine, which consolidated claims from several old mines in 1939. The Telluride Mining Company acquired several other old mines, and near the end of World War II, the two mining companies connected below ground. Both were gone by 1978, and little remains of the towns in the district, with only about 50 structures still standing and the outline of the old railroad grade barely visible.

Idarado Mine
Hayden Mountain North
Hayden Mountain North

We then navigated through the Uncompahgre Gorge, cut by the namesake river and Red Mountain Creek just south of Ouray. In Ute, uncompahgre means “rocks that make water red”. The highway there is particularly impressive, cut through the steep cliffs high above the river with no guard rails. The river flows into a deep box canyon at the north end of the gorge; we would visit that canyon the following day.

Below us, nestled deep between the surrounding mountains, was Ouray, the subject of the next post.

Ouray Below Us
Ouray, Colorado

Photo Album | Double Loop, Days 1-4

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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