Double Loop, Days 5-7: Ouray

June 13-15, 2022 | Photo Album

Meador Selfie Profile Pic

Over a decade ago, I drove the San Juan Skyway clockwise out of Durango, spending much of my time, when I wasn’t driving, in Telluride. But on my southward journey back to Durango, I noticed the pretty little town of Ouray nestled among steep mountains on every side. I didn’t have time to explore, so I decided that someday I should return.

Northern mountains of the San Juan Skyway loop out of Durango, Colorado

Over a decade later, when Wendy and I decided a trip to Oregon and California would be too expensive, I thought of Ouray and began checking elevations, as I suffer from altitude sickness. My past experience was that staying overnight at over 8,000 feet above sea level was risky unless I had plenty of time to acclimate. I had been unable to stay overnight at 8,900 feet in Crested Butte; the worst headache I’ve ever had sent me fleeing down the mountain. But I was able to handle Gunnison at 7,700 feet. So I was relieved to note that while Silverton at 9,300 feet is off-limits to me for an overnight stay without acclimation, Ouray is only 7,800 feet.


After passing through the Uncompaghre Gorge, we parked on Main Street and explored the shops. Wendy purchased some silver items at Columbine Gifts & Silver, and I spotted a coffee mug crafted by a local potter; Wendy had been on a quest to find some American-made mugs that was unfulfilled by the tourist shops at the historic plaza back in Santa Fe.

Ouray main street with mountains all around

Wendy enjoyed exploring the Columbine Mineral Shop and visiting with the proprietor while purchasing a few items. They both watch the Crystal Collector, Bryan Major, and Wendy shared videos about tourmaline mining in California and in Maine, although her specimen came from Colorado. We had dinner at the Colorado Boy Southwest Pub.

Ouray Mineral Purchases
The tourmaline and rhodochrosite Wendy purchased were collected in Colorado, and she also purchased a bed of crystals

The Alchemist Penthouse

Our vacation involved almost daily travels between hotels, so we needed some extra time in Ouray to afford a wee bit of hiking, to recuperate from frequent hotel shifts, and to wash some clothes and thus avoid having to pack and schlep too much baggage. In planning the trip, I had looked for a nice rental, instead of a hotel, and found at VRBO the Alchemist Penthouse. Retired pharmacists Curtis & Nancy Haggar had constructed a museum on the ground floor, their home on the second, and a rental penthouse up top. It looked spectacular with an outdoor deck in back and a balcony high above Main Street. Better still, our host Nancy was delightful to work with.

Alchemist Penthouse Street View
Ouray Alchemist Penthouse

We were given use of the alleyway garage for the minivan, uphill from main street. That way we only had to carry things up one flight, not two, to the penthouse. Nancy gave us a quick tour, and we noted her careful attention to detail and helpful notes about various items. It was a hot day, but a swamp cooler kept the penthouse quite comfortable so long as you remembered to crack open windows in the front and the rear of the suite for crossflow ventilation. The low humidity in the Colorado mountains allows a swamp cooler to work well, whereas back in the Green Country of Oklahoma they are often useless.

Alchemist Penthouse Roof Deck
Rooftop entry door and deck of the penthouse

The bed was comfortable, and in the morning you could lie back and enjoy a mountain view through the clerestory windows. We had purchased breakfast items at the grocery off Main Street, and Wendy treated me to a hot breakfast each morning prepared in the nice penthouse kitchen.

Celestory Mountain View
Oh what a beautiful morning

I had fun sitting on the balcony above Main Street, with a gargoyle perched above me and Whitehouse Mountain and Sister Peak in the background, day and night.

Box Cañon

You pass a box canyon/cañon as you drive into Ouray from the south. Canyon Creek narrows and spills thousands of gallons a minute over a 285-foot waterfall that plummets into a narrow quartzite canyon with walls that tower over the falls by almost 100 feet.

The unusually warm weather led Wendy to say we should pay the fee and hike at the falls right when the area opened in the morning. An old lighted BOX CANON sign visible on the mountainside at night from the penthouse promised a great adventure the next morning.

Bright and early the next morning, we parked, paid the fee, and walked to the falls. A protective metal walkway we later viewed from above led back into the narrow box canyon to the falls.

Box Canyon Falls Walkway from Above
The falls walkway viewed from above

The roar of the falls was intimidating.

Falls Walkway
The roar of the falls fills this space

You could see spray flying off the cascading water even with the falls themselves still hidden by the rock walls.


I spotted rusted remains below the walkway.

Rusted remains below
Rusty remains below the walkway

The walkway trembled as we made it to the end where we could finally see the cataract.

Canyon Falls
Box Canyon Falls

Being so early, we were fortunate to have the entire walkway to ourselves. We made our way back to the trail to climb about 100 stairs up the mountainside as part of a trail leading to the High Bridge.

Along the way, we had a good view of the Box Canon sign, and each of us posed with it in the background.

Signage told us the history of the sign and its restoration.

Box Canon Sign History

Then it was on up to the High Bridge, which was built in 1900 to carry a water pipeline between two reservoirs.

High Bridge Above
High Bridge

From the bridge we could see Canyon Creek streaming toward town, the box canyon beneath us, and the town spread out before us in the morning light.

Canyon Creek from High Bridge
Canyon Creek descending toward Ouray
Canyon Creek Below
Canyon Creek roars below
Ouray from High Bridge
Ouray viewed from on high

The bridge is part of the perimeter trail that winds around Ouray, and it leads to a short tunnel through the mountainside.

High Bridge
The bridge leads to a tunnel
High Bridge Tunnel
Wendy in the tunnel on the perimeter trail

We thoroughly enjoyed the park, but it was getting warmer and more crowded, so we descended to use the restrooms and returned to the penthouse.

Cascade Falls

That afternoon I braved the heat to walk uptown a few blocks to Cascade Falls Park. Cascade Falls is visible throughout town on a northeast mountainside. I say I walked uptown advisedly since it was a climb in high altitude from the penthouse to the falls at the east end of 8th Avenue. Despite my weekday morning aerobics back home, at about 700′ elevation, I was huffing and puffing by the time I reached the park.

So I rested a bit before embarking on the quarter-mile uphill trail that led to the waterfall, which is the lowermost of a series of seven waterfalls along Cascade Creek.

There were many people enjoying the view of the waterfall, and some who had clambered up to walk behind it.

Cascade Creek Falls
Cascade Creek Falls as you approach it from below
Ouray Cascade Creek Falls

I went up side trails on either side of the waterfall, which were part of the overall Perimeter Trail.

Perimeter Trail at Cascade Creek Falls
Perimeter trail

I took a shot from the left side:

Cascade Creek Falls Side View
Left side of Cascade Creek Falls from the perimeter trail

And another shot from below right:

Cascade Creek Falls from Below
Right side of Cascade Creek Falls on the perimeter trail

And then I made my way back to the penthouse, enjoying walking the streets of this town surrounded by high mountains. Some day I hope to return and hike the perimeter trail in cooler weather.

Ouray was a great highlight of our trip, but it was time to reverse course for home. I had originally planned to loop northward through Gunnison and Salida, but a festival in Salida complicated the planning and led us to retreat back through Pagosa Springs. Either route was fine so long as we could visit Trinidad and Capulin Volcano on our way home. They will appear in the next post.

Photo Album | Double Loop, Days 4-5: Durango to Ouray

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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