Things to Do in Southwest
The San Juan Mountains are Colorado’s largest unbroken mountain range: They stretch from the San Luis Valley in the east to the deserts of the Four Corners Region to the west, from the Gunnison Valley to the north and south into New Mexico. This is Colorado at its wildest, the final refuge of the grizzly bear in the state and the location of the state’s largest wilderness, the mighty Weminuche. It can take days or a lifetime to explore these mountains, be it on foot or on some of Colorado’s most hair-raising four-wheel-drive roads.
The story of this region is also the story of the small towns, established during the gold and silver rush days of the late 1800s. Durango, Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, Lake City, Crested Butte, Creede – some of Colorado’s prettiest towns can be found nestled in canyons here, along with old mines built in seemingly impossible spots above the towns. Rough Jeep roads like Ophir Pass and Engineer Pass connect the towns and attract off-road vehicle enthusiasts from across the country. Passenger car drivers can get a glimpse of its splendor on U.S. Highway 550, “The Million Dollar Highway,” connecting Durango and Ouray and offering some of the finest scenery along a paved road in the West.
Some remarkable places can be found along the fringes of the San Juans. To the east is the San Luis Valley, known for its many hot springs. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park covers a massive canyon that has to be seen to be believed. Southwest of the San Juans is Mesa Verde National Park, home to the famous Ancestral Puebloan cliff houses built 1,000 years ago.
Some of the state’s finest ski areas are located in this region: Crested Butte is located to the north, Telluride to the west, Purgatory to the south and Wolf Creek, known for getting the most snow in Colorado, to the east.