Heaven via Road or Steam Engine
In this southwestern pocket of Colorado, where desert meets mountain, the goal is the mountaintop panoramas, but getting up there is half the fun. Many roadsters herald the San Juan Skyway as the most beautiful drive in the continental United States. An officially designated scenic byway, it links the old boom-or-bust mining towns of Ouray and Durango, the latter a charming caught-in-time place that makes a great base for exploring the area. Besides exceptional, nonstop Rocky Mountain panoramas, the trip offers a nostalgic journey back to the early years of Colorado’s statehood, and its gold-mining days: A section of its length is known as the Million Dollar Highway, alluding (some say) to the value of the low-grade gold ore present in its road bed.
Train fans should hop on board the Durango and Silverton’s puffing, vintage steam locomotive, which makes several trips a day (in season) along the 3½-hour, 45-scenic-mile route from Durango to Silverton, climbing a 3,000-foot ascent through glacier-carved valleys, along narrow canyon ledges, and through impassable stretches of the dense San Juan forest and mountains (the “newest” of the Rockies). After a two-hour layover, it makes the return trip to Durango. The Silverton once hauled mine workers, supplies, and precious ore along its narrow-gauge tracks (36 inches apart, versus the standard 56.5 inches) from one isolated mining camp to another. But today’s precious cargo is wide-eyed visitors, the lucky ones getting off halfway at a designated flagstop in dense evergreen wilderness.
This is Tall Timber Resort, an all-but-hidden forest retreat that can only be reached by the steam engine train (or its 21st-century alternative: helicopter). A river runs through the secluded resort’s 180 private acres—virgin territory that knows no roads. Here in the middle of nowhere, Tall Timber provides both an extraordinary setting and impeccable service. The hotel’s helicopter whisks guests even farther aloft to an 11,000-foot meadow for a high-altitude picnic that gives new meaning to haute cuisine.