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A primer on touring for fun, adventure, and history

This series continues our coverage of the renowned “San Juan Skyway,” which traverses five counties in a dazzling 236-mile loop. This time we’ll head northeast from Dolores and travel up and over Lizard Head Pass, to a finish in Telluride. (Durango to Cortez was covered in the Summer/Fall 2023 edition.)


Dolores (population 900) offers several good restaurant options, but those in the know often head to the Dolores Food Market at 400 Railroad Ave., which is the main drag through the narrow town. The market offers a surprisingly wide selection of culinary delights. The deli offers plenty of options, and if the scrumptious pies haven’t already been snatched, grab one quickly!

Tiny Rico (population 302) has a few lodging options, one being the frightening-sounding but very cozy Rico Mine Shaft Inn, located right along the main street, Glasgow Avenue (State Highway 145). Several bed-and-breakfasts are scattered around the charmingly rustic town. You can spend a whole week in Rico for about the price of a one-night stay in Telluride, boasts Rico’s town manager, Chauncey McCarthy.

Rico’s year-around (or nearly year-around) food options include the Fireweed Café, where you can get a latte and baked goodie; the 130-year-old Enterprise Bar & Grill, which offers pub food and a retro speakeasy downstairs; and the Prospector for fine sit-down dining.

Galloping Goose No. 5

Telluride (population 2,500) has myriad options for both lodging and food, with an international smorgasbord of culinary choices. If it’s history you seek, head toward the 26-room New Sheridan Hotel, built in 1895 and renovated most recently in 2008 (the original wood-frame building burned down in 1894). The hotel’s Victorian-era furnishings and carved mahogany bar help your mind wander into the past, where six-gun-wielding miners and ranchers would belly up for a shot (of liquor).


How to spend the days? It’s season-dependent, but there’s always something. The drive itself is enough for some.

If water sports are your thing, McPhee Reservoir, the state’s second-largest reservoir, is located just west of Dolores. With 50-plus miles of shoreline, it’s easy to find elbow room. The reservoir is open mid-April through October. The marina is on the south end, and there’s also a boat ramp at House Creek on the east shore. These are overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, and there are campgrounds at each site. On the water (a bit nippy at 7,400 feet) you’ll find everything from motorboats to stand-up paddleboards to pontoons, which can be rented at Doc’s Marina.

The Galloping Goose Historical Society museum and gift shop at 421 Railroad Ave. in Dolores offers a low-key and fun look at local history, with an emphasis on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad. Exhibits include a miniature train layout from the 1940s, an old-fashioned telegraph, and the funky-looking Galloping Goose No. 5 itself. The Goose, a self-contained railcar designed to haul people and freight, still runs periodically on the Durango & Silverton and Cumbres & Toltec tourist lines.

It’s easy to breeze through Rico without giving it much thought, but for the hearty (cold-tolerant), the old mining town at 8,800 feet has much to offer.

First settled in 1879 as a thriving silver mining district, Rico is making strides as an art and recreation community. The Artists of Rico exhibit local works during the summer, and in January rally the community for the annual Snow Sculpture Contest. McCarthy said the town now grooms a railroad-grade and other tracks around Rico for Nordic skiers, fat-tire bikers and those on foot. The Rico Trail Alliance maintains 117 miles of trails around the area for mountain bikers, hikers and horses, and often throws a winter bash for fat bikes.

Highway 145 keeps climbing north of Rico to the top of Lizard Head Pass, 10,246 feet. Before starting down to Telluride, maybe it’s time for a ski tour?

The Telluride Nordic Association maintains several cross-country ski venues. The most scenic is the Trout Lake Railroad Grade, accessed atop Lizard Head Pass. A bit lower down, the dog-friendly Priest Lake trails are just south of Matterhorn Campground on the east side of Highway 145.

Telluride may be your destination but consider a stop at the town of Mountain Village (9,545 feet), which incorporated in 1995 as a sort of adjunct to Telluride. Fancy and casual dining are available, and first-class accommodation at Mountain Village includes the ritzy Franz Klammer Lodge, which Klammer, the legendary Austrian downhiller, helped develop.

You can drive between Mountain Village and Telluride, but it’s much more fun to take the gondola, enjoying awe-inspiring panoramic mountain views along the way. The gondola, used by commuters as well as visitors, runs from 6:30 a.m. to midnight most of the year, and – check this out – It’s free.

Telluride, once a small, rugged mining town, is now world-renowned for its skiing as well as its cornucopia of captivating entertainment extravaganzas. The mid-June bluegrass festival began it all, and now there’s an internationally significant film festival, the renowned Blues and Brews, as well as events for lovers of cars, balloons, mushrooms, yoga and food.

Looking for something to brighten up the winter doldrums? Check out the Telluride Comedy Festival, which brings famous and not-yet-famous comedians to the Sheridan Opera House from Feb. 15-18, 2024.

And of course, as a skiing/snowboarding venue, with its challenging terrain and its stunning scenery, Telluride Ski Resort is hard to beat.


Contact info:

Doc’s Marina: Call or text 970-560-4801

McPhee Boat Rentals: 970-676-1119

Dolores Food Market:, or 970-882-7353

Galloping Goose museum (summer hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; mid-October through mid-May open only for special events): 970-882-7082;

Dolores Chamber of Commerce:

Rico Mine Shaft Inn: 970-967-4996 or

Mountain Village:, or 970-728-8000

Telluride’s festivals:

Telluride Nordic Association:

Telluride Ski Resort:


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