Magazine article Sunset

New Day for Ouray

Magazine article Sunset

New Day for Ouray

Article excerpt

Dubbed "Little Switzerland" for its setting, a historic mining town welcomes back a landmark

Last summer, a few days after the remaining patches of ugly pink paint had been scraped from the Beaumont Hotel, an old woman ducked past the scaffolding and unfolded her arms in a gesture of embrace. Laying her cheek on the side of the building, she ran her hands over the newly uncovered red bricks, as if welcoming a long-lost loved one back home.

That's the way the people of Ouray feel about their signature building, which spent the last 35 years shuttered and vacant. During that time the grand hotel, once among the classiest in western Colorado, engendered more pity than admiration. All of which makes the 116-year-old landmark's gradual reopening over this past summer all the more joyous.

"We were surprised at how strong the emotional ties were to this place," says Mary King, who, with her husband, Dan, bought the hotel in 1998. "We could have redeveloped the building as offices or retail space, but when we canvassed the town, people overwhelmingly told us to reopen it as a hotel."

The Kings have spent more than three years and several million dollars to renovate the building. Shops and two restaurants opened this past summer; a spa and 14 minisuites will open this fall. The original registration desk has returned to its place in the lobby, and wood, wallpaper, and trim have been painstakingly matched to the originals. Built in 1886, at the height of southwestern Colorado's mining boom, the Beaumont is a living link to the horse and buggy era.

A tangible mining history

But it's hardly the only link in Ouray. The past is quite present in this compact town in the San Juan Mountains. Founded in 1876, it has a striking collection of turn-of-the-century buildings, including the French-influenced 1904 Elks Lodge, the stately Wright Opera House, and the Courthouse. They blend in along a busy sevenblock stretch of Main Street that is thick with restaurants and galleries.

Other vestiges of Ouray's past still haunt the mountains above town. The most notable of these is the old Idarado Mine complex, which straddles U.S. 550 about 11 miles south of Ouray and overlooks the Yankee Girl shaft house, rising from the hillside directly opposite.

But the best way to see ghost towns-and fall color-is to rent a four-wheel-drive (some roads can be impassable for citified SUVs) or take a guided tour. The latter provides commentary, and experienced drivers. If you do head out on your own, get a map from a rental outlet.

One popular loop climbs old Ophir Pass to Telluride, returning via arduous Imogene Pass. Though only 60 miles long, the round trip takes up a full day-partly because the roads permit top speeds of just 20 miles per hour, and partly because the history and mountaintop scenery along the route merit frequent stops. Leave an extra hour for the side trip to see wildflowers in Yankee Boy Basin.

Another route, the Alpine Loop Scenic and Historic Byway, travels to Lake City and back via Cinnamon and Engineer Passes-a 140-mile, day-long round trip. A century ago, stagecoaches rattled over these roads. Think about that while you peer over the cliff edges (if you dare) from the safety of your four-wheeler. …

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