Scenic USA - Colorado

San Juan Mountains

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San Juan Mountains on Rt 550r - San Juan County, Colorado

Photo by Paul Winters
High Country Aerie - Paul's Summit County Blog

     The San Juan Mountains, the largest mountain range in Colorado, make up a large section of the state's mineral belt. Here on the slopes of the San Juans thousands of miners and prospectors were lured in with discoveries of gold and silver. Many cities in the San Juans, including Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride, began as mining towns in the mid 1800s. With some 300 mountain peaks topping 13,000 feet, many of the mining camps were located on mountain slopes above 8000 feet. After the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, many of the small towns were deserted and remain to this day as popular ghost town tours.
     As Colorado's written history began with gold and silver discoveries, and mining settlements, the period between the 1300s and 1800s is a most intriguing time for Native Utes, Apache and Navajo. Before the Spaniard's arrival, these tribes had no horses or domesticated animals. Equipped with new ideas from the Spanish, the Native Americans quickly learned the advantages of horses and guns. Their culture underwent radical changes, and by 1860s Utes and Navajos forced the Spanish into a retreat to El Paso. But, by 1868 another treaty with the Utes Indians allowed them to keep their land, but excluded mineral rights on the mountains. Eventually overrun, the Utes ceded all of the San Juan area and were forced onto a reservation to the south.
     Today the San Juan Mountains are a boon to the travel industry. With its majestic mountain peaks, remote wilderness areas and beautiful mountain streams, anglers, skiers, campers, hikers and kayakers come to experience the great outdoors in the San Juans. Historic towns, four-wheeling trails, old railways and abandoned mining camps draw a separate group of enthusiasts. With four distinct scenic byways in the San Juans, there's much to be explored.

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