Appropriately called the "Gem of the Rockies" and "Little Switzerland of America," the city or Ouray nestles in a steep V-shaped valley in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, several topping 14 thousand feet, the jewel-like Victorian town, at 7700 feet, is an historical journey, a scenic feast. The town is designated a National Historic District.
Throughout the county, recreational and cultural opportunities abound year-round. For more than a century, ruggedly scenic Ouray County has been a destination for travelers from around the world and people seeking a scenic place to put down roots.
Ouray County boasts hundreds of jeep trails —most are four-wheel drive—through the old mining country, hiking, biking and driving trails past wildflowers, waterfalls and forests teaming with wildlife. Lakes and rivers provide a multitude of water sports and great fishing. Naturally flowing hot springs offer scenic soaks beneath blue skies and starry snowflakes. In winter, deep snows blanket the mountains and red rock- walled gorges. Spring brings thundering waterfalls and the quaking of new green aspen leaves. Summer is lush, with warm days, shady forests, colorful carpets of wildflowers in the high country and world-class fishing in the clear mountain streams. Fall is a kaleidoscope of color as the aspens and oak turn to rich reds and golds. In all seasons, nature's abundance beckons, drawing artists, musicians, writers and photographers from around the world. To the south, the aptly named Million Dollar Highway (U-Tube Video) winds and climbs to Red Mountain Pass, gateway to San Juan County and Silverton. To the north and east, Highway 62 crosses Dallas Divide, following the old railroad grade past the spectacular Mt. Sneffles Range on its scenic way to Telluride, winter playground of ski enthusiasts.
HISTORY. Once the hunting and resting ground of the Utes, who called the San Juans the "Shining Mountains, " when Ouray was originally founded, it was called Uncompahgre City, after the Ute word that translates as "hot water springs." The name was changed to commemorate Ute Chief Ouray who signed the Brunot Treaty, giving the San Juans to the United States. Hopeful miners soon flocked to the San Juans in search of gold and silver. Although the mines are no longer commercially operated, parts of the old mining camps and towns have been preserved. One, The Bachelor-Syracuse Mine, operates as a tourist attraction with a mine train into the old tunnels. Others, in the Red Mountain Area—once home to nearly 10 thousand brave souls—are wonderful photographic opportunities. In town, the Ouray County Historical Museum (once the county hospital) features exhibits on mining, minerals and life in the Victorian times. At the Ouray County Fairgrounds, the Ridgway Visitors Center and Railroad Museum provides exhibits, including railroad rolling stock. Of particular pride is Goose Number One (Mother Goose), a reincarnation of the first of the unique hybrid auto/train boxcar combinations to ply the rails allowing steam passenger service to be discontinued. And at the north end of Ouray County, in Colona, the Ouray Country Ranch History Museum presents an excellent interpretation of early ranching life in the area.
GEOLOGY, Ranging in elevation from seven to 14-thousand-plus feet, Ouray County is a land of steep gorges, towering peaks and tumbling waterfalls. Just south of Ouray (near the old powder house) Box Cañon Falls thunders into a cavernous pool below. On the mountainside above Ouray, Cascade Falls holds true to its name, offering refreshing spray in summer and world-class ice climbing in winter—as does the Ouray Ice Park in the Uncompahgre Gorge near Box Cañon Falls. The natural hot springs, flowing eons before the Utes walked the area, are harnessed for swimming and soaking pleasure at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and in Ridgway, at Orvis Hot Springs. If you are looking into Colorado real estate, Ouray is a prime spot of spectacular beauty.
CULTURAL OPPORTUNITIES. Galleries offer outstanding work by local, regional and national artists. Annually in August, enjoy the San Juan Chamber Music Fest and the Artists Alpine Holiday. Each fall, the Ouray County Historical Association hosts the Ouray Highgrader's Holiday with contests, lectures and a miners' dinner. At the historic Wright Opera House take in a first-run movie or other entertainment venue. (The Wright was just recently purchased by a preservationsist group that will turn it into a true arts center.) In the theater above Cecilia's Restaurant in Ouray, the San Juan Odessy, a scenic journey of the San Juans, and narrated by C.W. McCall is presented nightly through September. The Ouray County Performing Arts Guild (OPAG) presents music events throughout the year, and the Weehauken Creative Arts offers classes and events to the community. Three Ouray County museums offer a variety of historal exhibits: Ouray County Historical Museum, downtown Ouray, the Railroad Museum, in Ridgway, and the Ranch History Museum, in Colona.
LODGING, DINING, SHOPPING. Ouray County Lodging ranges from low-end camping to high-end bed and breakfasts offering gourmet meals, rooms filled with antiques and in-room fireplaces and hot tubs. Restaurants, especially in summer, run the gamut from quick deli to leisurely fine dining. You can eat-in, take-out, order-ahead for a picnic lunch. You'll find Mexican cantinas, an Irish Pub, Italian, Chinese, Tai, great steaks, seafood, and vegetarain - even one place specializing in duck! The shops offer everything from fun and funky to high end clothing and home furnishings, to camping cookwear and cameras. Especially impressive are the art gallery and stores carrying custom jewelsry. And of course, you can't leave town with out a commenorative tee shirt, piece of jewelry, or simple souvenir.