Our Ouray

Two (Unknown) Lovers Hot Tubbing It in Ouray

Two (Unknown) Lovers Hot Tubbing It in Ouray

Named for the chief of the Ute Indians, the little town of Ouray (pronounced your-ay) has become one of my favorite getaway destinations in the Rocky Mountains.  One might argue that this is because it’s only an hour’s drive from Telluride, but its appeal extends far beyond its proximity to my place of residence.  And I’ve hardly partaken in the two activities most associated with Ouray:  ice climbing and jeeping.

I’m drawn to Ouray for its striking natural beauty and the delightful mix of Rocky mountain charm and elegance that most of the town’s establishments exude.  It’s not unheard of to spot a couple of five-pointed bucks crossing Main Street in the middle of the afternoon.  Here the mountains plummet into this National Historic District claiming the unpaved backstreets as its foothills, the main street as its valley floor.  The views are so striking in this boxed canyon that Ouray is often referred to as The Little Switzerland of America, a moniker that you can hardly dispute as you gaze up to the jagged peaks that almost entirely encircle this old mining town where tourism is now king.

My boyfriend, Steve, and I have made it a tradition of sorts to spend a short weekend here at the onset of summer, two years in a row that we’ve both been beguiled by the authentic character of this old mountain town.  No fast foods and not a single stoplight either.  Instead Ouray claims bragging rights to a quaint collection of B & Bs and down-home lodges, a jumble of fun shops and restaurants, world-renowned hot springs and a gorgeous hotel that is itself worth the trip.

The Beautiful Beaumont

The Bodacious Beaumont

O.K., by now you know I love luxury hotels.  Well, I’ve found my bliss at the beautiful Beaumont Hotel & Spa.  Even if you just stop by for a drink on the patio, this hotel is a must in Ouray, a must-see in the Rockies.  The Beaumont is a destination hotel that’s worth going out of your way to experience.  And yes it is likely you’ll have to negotiate your schedule and maybe even some scary mountain roads to find your way to this remote part of Colorado.  But do go.  Once here you’ll experience the full glory of the golden days of mining when grand hotels were erected in remote little towns in order to properly receive the high rolling businessmen of the day.  Built in 1886 during Ouray’s heyday, the Beaumont reopened in 2003 after having undergone a five million-dollar renovation lovingly carried out by Dan and Mary King.  The hotel emerged from a near state of ruin as every detail—from its grand staircase to its flourish of ornate wallpapers—was restored, or exactly replicated, to its original Victorian splendor.  In the hotel’s Tundra Restaurant you’ll be greatly impressed by the beauty of the dining room as well as the food and wine offerings.  (The owner, Dan King, was a former wine merchant.)  Dining in this dimly lighted, dark wood paneled space beneath high ceilings makes me feel as though I’ve landed in an old Scottish castle.

Yes, I do love the Old World and also anything Old World-ish in America as long as its exceedingly well done.  Bulow’s Bistro, also in the Beaumont, is one such example.  Its tiled floor, wrought iron accents, café tables and blackboard writings make me feel as though I’ve just landed in a French bistrot.  Here, too, you can expect a remarkable choice of wines.  It’s so reassuring to know that my French fix is only an hour away.

Outdoor activities reign supreme in Ouray but in truth, I’ve always just spent my time strolling around town, poking into shops and checking out a few of the natural spectacular attractions such as waterfalls, the hot springs, and the peaks, known as The Amphitheater, that encircle town.

The Utes were drawn to healing sources for both therapeutic and spiritual reasons, so it comes as no surprise that these springs were greatly revered by this tribe of native Americans.  Descendants of Chief Ouray, the leader of the Utes, still frequent the original source where these springs flow from the base of the mountain into the Vapor Cave of The Wiesbaden, a lodge where a bathhouse once operated as early as 1879.  Here Steve and I most like to loll in the Lorelei, a private outdoor soaking pool that assures you relaxation, rejuvenation and a near-sacred moment shared with your sweetie in steamy waters.  Best to reserve in advance.


One of Several Private Tubs at the Box Canyon Lodge

One of Several Private Tubs at the Box Canyon Lodge

From here, I recommend going back to your room, especially if it’s one of the spacious condo-types we once experienced at Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs.  Or just flop into a seat at the Main Street Theater to watch the multi-media presentation San Juan Odyssey.  (O.K., maybe you could head out for a libation or a bite to eat as well.)  Narrated by C.W. McCall (of “Convoy” fame) with music by Aaron Copeland and The London Symphony Orchestra, this panoramic presentation takes you into the rugged peaks, the gentle valleys and the high mountain passes of the San Juan Mountains.  You traverse some of the most spectacular terrain of the United States during this thirty-five minute show, embracing nature in all its gentleness and cruelty—from blooming wildflowers to charging avalanches—that so mark this part of the Rockies.

“If it’s there, you’ve got to climb it,” seems to be the motto of visitors and residents alike of this uncompromising land for the past century and a half.  Whether you’re hiking, on a horse or jeeping, people tackle these awe-inspiring peaks with fierce determination and drive.  I was grateful that the San Juan Odyssey transported me to some of the most reputed sites of the region:  Yankee Boy Basin, Imogene and Engineer Pass, Mt. Abrams, all places I hope to venture to some day in person.  But in the meantime, I’m perfectly content to experience them from the comfort of my theater seat after a relaxing soak.

Not surprisingly, the presentation—and perhaps the whole town—had the opposite effect on Steve.  Our usual one-hour drive home turned into a four-hour expedition as Steve pulled off onto Last Dollar Road at the top of Dallas Divide.  We rumbled past the broken down farm which appears in the opening scene of “True Grit” and forged forward onto the less-trammeled part of this old dirt road.  Jostled and shaken in his beat-up Jeep, Steve and I felt like two rancheros out on the trail as “San Antonio Rose” blared from the CD player.  I made sure Steve kept his eyes on the road but we both still marveled at magnificent mountain views from elevations as high as 10,000 feet.

We stopped just long enough to take pictures before approaching our descent into another heavenly mountain town, our beautiful Telluride.  Now let’s be clear about the renowned back roads—most old mining roads—of the San Juans.  We weren’t on Black Bear Road, the infamous course which begins at the summit of Red Mountain (just outside Ouray), passes by Bridal Veil Falls (the highest waterfall in Colorado), ending just beyond in Telluride.  Thank goodness it wasn’t this one-way road where more than one traveler has met his demise.  It was plenty challenging for me, however, just enough to give me a taste of the amazing high country exploration available in this part of the Rockies.

We vowed to go back and do more four wheeling along the area’s famous alpine loop in the fall.  Fortunately I feel confident that such an excursion will include stops at my favorite watering holes and rest stops in Ouray, mostly because Steve’s grown attached to them as well.  It’s nice to have more than one magical mountain town to call your own.

Beaumont Hotel & Spa, 505 Main Street, 888-447-3255 and 970-325-7000, 970-325-7050 (Bulow’s Bistro), 970-325-7040 (Tundra Restaurant), BeaumontHotel.com

The Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings, Corner of 6th Avenue & 5th Street, 970-325-4347, WiesbadenHotSprings.com

Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs, 45 Third Avenue, 800-327-5080 or 970-325-4981, BoxCanyonOuray.com

San Juan Odyssey, 630 Main Street, 970-325-4940; best to call for show times.

Other Ouray Favorites

Ouray Hot Springs Pool, 970-325-7073

Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee, 520 Main Street, 970-325-7285, MousesChocolates.com

Rockin P Ranch, 512 Main Street, 970-325-0434, RockinPRanch.com

Buckskin Booksellers, 505 Main Street, 970-325-4044, BuckskinBooksellers.com; open 365 days a year!

Best to check opening days and hours with most Ouray establishments since business is very seasonal.


Fun and Funky Shopping in Ouray

Fun and Funky Shopping in Ouray


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