Very spur of the moment, we decided to head to Ouray to hike over the weekend.  We found a great web site with trail descriptions of the area (http://www.ouraytrails.org/trails.html) and chose the Silvershield Trail #199.  From the description, it sounded like it offered great views of some of the local mine relics and the town of Ouray.  If you take the entire route as we did, you will hike approximately 6.2 miles and gain around 1,680 feet in elevation.  I did not bring my GPS so all mileage and elevation information contained here is estimated from info found on web sites and trail signage.  The images were shot with a Canon S100 point & shoot as I wisely did not want to haul my big heavy 60D and tripod up the mountainside.  The quality isn’t nearly as good, but my back is thanking me today.

To get to the trailhead from Ouray, take a right off the main street onto 7th Avenue, cross the river, and take a right on Oak Street.  The info we found indicated it was called “River Road” but every sign we saw said “Oak Street.”  At any rate, it’s the first right past the river.  Follow the road past the camping grounds, a mobile home park and a new subdivision.  After about 1.2 miles, make a left turn onto a not-well-marked street that has a tiny green sign that says “Silvershield Trailhead.”  You go straight into a tiny, tiny parking lot, and the trail starts here.  At least the trail was well marked with a sign.  If you are even with the Silvershield Mine remains (a big, dilapidated metal structure), you’ve gone too far. Turn around and look to your right for the sign and parking area.

Silvershield Trailhead marker

As you look up the mountainside, you may wonder (aloud – as we did) “How in the he** are we getting up THAT?!”  The mountainside appears to be almost vertical here, but the wonderful trail builders worked miracles and created a trail using switchbacks that get you up without it being a total scramble.  I will not lie to you:  it is STEEP.  It is about the same grade up as that of the Hanging Lake Trail in Glenwood Canyon, but the bonus here is that you don’t have to constantly lift your feet high to clear rocks and boulders.  The trail for the most part is dirt.  As we started our ascent, I noticed an old mine up on the mountainside across the highway.  It was pretty far up there!  (Little did I realize at this point that eventually, we would climb to the same height, and beyond…)

Old mine on mountainside

At .3 miles up the trail, there is an overlook and, thankfully, a flat spot where you can catch your breath.  Great views of the old mines on the mountain across the way (Gold Hill) and of Ouray, which was getting smaller by the step.

Sign at the overlook, .3 miles from trailhead

Ouray, getting smaller

Onward (and upward) we went.  The trail continued to snake its way up the mountainside, and rob all the oxygen from my lungs in the process.  I kept gauging our progress by watching the mine.  We were soon even with it.

Almost there…

Now we’re even

By the time we reached the juncture with the Oak Creek Trail at 1.1 miles, I thought I was going to die.  My lungs were bursting!  But WOW, the views!!!  I couldn’t stop now.  I had so much to see ahead of me.

Oak Creek juncture

At this point, the trail veered toward the south, which meant back toward Ouray.  I couldn’t resist one more peek at Gold Hill.  Amazingly, there’s a huge house up above the big abandoned mine.  My husband and I peered at the mountainside, in awe as to how someone actually built a real road up to the house (though we couldn’t pick it out).

Last look at Gold Hill

Thankfully, the trail’s steepness dropped off as we had “mostly” reached the top.  There was still a fair amount of climbing to be had, but definitely not at the same lung-bursting grade.  We broke out into several open meadows, which I’m sure during the summer are filled with wildflowers.  We were too late, and with the dry summer Colorado has experienced this year, the crop likely wasn’t as abundant as usual anyway.

Trail meanders through an open meadow

Highway 550 (the “Million Dollar Highway”) snakes its way along the valley floor

At around 2.3 miles, we reached the juncture with the Twin Peaks Trail and the trail started veering westward.

Trail juncture with Twin Peaks Trail

View of Ouray, which now looks very tiny

Finally, the trail also started heading the right direction (DOWN!)  I will not lie to you:  it is STEEP going this direction as well.  Be careful, watch your footing, and don’t let yourself get out of control because you could fairly easily slip, slide, pitch over the edge of the cliff, and well – DIE.  Despite that hanging over your head, enjoy the views. They are spectacular!

Finally, the trail begins to wind downhill

Aspen grove and rugged peaks

There is one creek crossing.  At this point in late summer, it was easy as pie, but it could be an entirely different story during times of high runoff and after heavy rains.  Use your common sense whenever doing water crossings.  Less than a foot of swift-moving water can knock you off your feet and sweep you away.

Waterfall and cascades at creek crossing

After the creek crossing, you go up again for a short time (don’t worry, it’s not long!), and you get spectacular views of the Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks

Unbelievably, up to this point in our hike, we had not encountered a SINGLE person.  About a mile from the bottom, we ran into our first group of hikers.  Then, at long last, we reached the bottom of the mountain.  Whew!!

The End…sorta

We then had to walk back to our car on the River Road a/k/a Oak Street.  Not the most pleasant part of the hike to be sure, but it was neat to get an up-close look at some of the neat Victorian style homes in Ouray with their cute little yards and gardens.  We could have simply turned around, but we tend to like loop hiking to avoid duplicating our steps.

We ended the day by eating at the True Grit Cafe in Ridgway, which was the town where part of the John Wayne classic “True Grit” was filmed.  The south wall of the cafe at that time was on the exterior side and was used in one of the town scenes.  The food and service here is good (with plentiful portions), the prices not too outrageous, and the cafe is chock full of John Wayne memorabilia.

True Grit Cafe

Just as we left, a rainbow formed over the Silver Jack Reservoir area.  What a neat way to end a great day hiking in the glorious San Juan Mountains of Colorado!

Rainbow over Silver Jack

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