west: salida, co.

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

The Million Dollar Highway.

That’s a name that was worth asking about.

It runs between Durango and Montrose, through Silverton and Ouray. Turns out it earned its name not because of the considerable cost of building such a road, as it winds up and over the San Juan mountains (reaching an elevation of well over 10,000 feet), but because of the amount of gold ore contained in the earth underneath of the asphalt. If you’re looking for a road with a view, I can’t imagine that you’d find one better than this. The views come with a cost, of course. I paid it in full with white knuckles and sweaty brow. You see, The Million Dollar Highway has somewhere around 14,765 switchbacks, hairpin curves, and other treacherous deviations. All with no guard rail. It’s one of the narrowest two lane roads I’ve ever been on– perching precariously between jagged mountain rocks and, well, nothing. A straight drop off which, if unfortunately taken, will surely be the last wrong turn you ever make. It was a beautiful drive, but I was ready to kiss the ground when we got to Ouray.

I wish we could have explored Ouray, but we were hard pressed for time. Known as The Switzerland of America, this great little town boasts killer views and a saloon or six. Upon our arrival, Rodney accurately stated that while traveling around the world has its perks, you don’t really need to leave the boundaries of the US to find unmatched beauty such as this. If you never have the chance to go to Europe and see the Alps first hand, go to Durango, and drive to Montrose along the Million Dollar Highway. It’s the closet thing you can find. And you don’t have to worry about bringing along a translator or exchanging currency to get around. Hopefully I can land a gig in Ouray when I head back there in August with Josh Grider.

We made it to Montrose, and hung a right, bound for Salida. Yet again, as if by design, the landscape around us changed almost instantly as we left Montrose. The green bodied, snowcapped mountains gave way to brownish blue pastures and sandy hills. Salida’s annual whitewater festival, the FIBArk was wrapping up, and we were scheduled to play an early afternoon show at the Tenderfoot Tavern. Salida is a welcoming town on the banks of the Arkansas River and The Tenderfoot, complete with sunken bar (so the bartender can look the customer in the eye when they’re seated, I was told) lies in the heart of downtown. With the darker confines of the tavern lit with the bright sunshine that pushed its way through the open door, we began playing. It was fun to watch people walking by the door, hearing the music, and then turning around to stick their heads in. Most of them came in to listen to a few songs, and by the time we wrapped up the show we had a great little crowd in front of us.

We tore down our gear and walked a few blocks away to a pizza joint for some dinner. Afterwards, we made the 60 mile drive to the town of Guffey, where we’d be playing the next day. The road hugged the Arkansas almost the whole way, and with the sun setting behind the mountains, I thought about how jam-packed our day had been with scenery. Colorado is really one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I was glad that our job pushed us well off of the beaten path, so that we could enjoy the countryside intimately. The owners of the Bull Moose Saloon in Guffey were kind enough to set us up with a cabin for two nights, and as we pulled in, the sun having retired for the day, we checked the place out. It was fantastic. Solitary and beautiful– the perfect place to unwind after a long day of music and travel. No phones, no internet, just the sound of the breeze through the pine trees and the coyotes in the distance, with a big front porch upon which to relax and take in the sounds of mother nature.

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