My cousin is busy snapping a photo of herself, documenting the gondola ride up to Telluride’s mountain village, when I point directly below at a bear cub running through the quaking aspen.
“Look,” I shout, and the silent I-Phone-wielding crowd of six in our gondola stop updating websites and start observing nature. We excitedly press our faces to the windows as we watch first a black bear cub, then its mother ramble through the open fields. We keep our eyes open for more wildlife as Wasatch Mountain and La Junta Peak rise jaggedly in front of us. We pass over Prospect Creek, and below, a man fly-fishes in its shallows.
Telluride, Colorado, is the perfect box canyon jewel. At an elevation of almost 9,000 feet, and with peaks of over 14,000 feet, this town literally takes your breath away. Which is why we are riding the free gondola to a free concert promising sunset views and microbrews.
We decide to get off the gondola at the St. Sophia Nature Station–a halfway spot to the mountain village. Almost forgetting our water bottles, the gondola attendant chastises us to “drink, drink, drink water,” as he hands them to us. “Then drink some Freaky Fish.”
“Freaky fish?” my cousin asks.
“Sure,” the attendant laughs. “Best IPA ever.”
We hike along the two-mile Ridge Trail, which is covered with columbine and lupine in deep purples and pinks. Switchbacks, rolling valleys views–everything is surrounded by the spiked, frosted-with-early-snow San Juan Mountains. We are in Colorado heaven. By the time we get to village plaza, we are out of water and out of breath. It makes sense to sit on a grassy slope to hear bluegrass as we sip some Freaky Fish and eat food truck trout tacos.
After the sunset and concert, we head back down to Telluride and The Hotel Telluride, our basecamp for the long weekend. Telluride, a former silver mining camp along the San Miguel River, is chock full of clapboard Victorians, high-end ski shacks, and National Landmark brownstones. The hotel is situated perfectly between hiking trails and the historic district, and the vibe is mountain chic mixed with frontier swank. The lobby is outfitted in vintage flannel, repurposed barn wood, and with its antler chandeliers and fieldstone fireplace lit for cozy cocktails, my cousin and I sink in for the evening. Our bedroom is perfect for boutique camping; feather blankets, soaking tubs, and a deck overlooking lit-up Colorado Avenue.
The next morning, after a “mining camp” breakfast of sausage, scrambled eggs, and fresh muffins, we get our maps out. The concierge comes over and asks us where we are heading, as he hands us two more water bottles. He suggests Bridal Veil Falls.
“Old mines and rusted railroad tracks leading nowhere but over a cliff,” he says.
Sounds good to us.
We order bag lunches and fill four water bottles and we are on our way up a switchback dirt road that leads to the 365-foot, two-pronged, waterfall. My cousin takes photo after photo of blue skies, cascading falls, the No-Name and Ballard Mountain peaks, butterflies, chipmunks, rusted mining equipment, but eventually, the battery dies on her phone. I forgot to bring my phone or camera. We sit on boulders, feeling cool mist near the falls, and eat roast turkey sandwiches. Eroded canyon walls loom overhead. A hawk grabs the thermals above our heads. Silence is loud this far up on a trail.
A lone hiker passes us and then stops. “You know, you’re sitting just under a bear cave, don’t you?” We jump up and look up at the dark recesses of cavern above us.
We stuff what remains of our lunches into our mouths and decide to head down with him. Two hours later, we are in downtown Telluride, eating slices of “Figalicious” wood-fired pizza at High Pie and Tap Room, chasing it all down with dollar drafts. We are part of the hiking crowd with dusty faces, worn down muscles, and muddy boots.
“Free concert in the park,” the bartender tells us, and so off my cousin and I go, walking from downtown, along San Miguel River Trail to the Town Park. Families and friends sprawl in the fields as local blues bands play to sunset views over Lizard Head Wilderness and San Juan National Forest. After a food truck dinner of short rib tacos and tempura-fried avocado, it’s an adventure, hiking back to the hotel, with excited shouts coming from the campground, “Go on, bear!”
An elderly gentleman, sporting a headlamp and carrying a flashlight, shrugs his shoulders, “Happens every night,” he says. “Bears come down to help clean up the park. They like the tacos.”
Once back at the hotel, we fall straight into bed.
The next morning, we wake early, and hike up to Bear Creek Trail. Moderately sloped, with the babbling creek, there are lush valley views through Ponderosa pine and Rocky Mountain juniper across to Chicago Peak and Mt. Emma. After 4.6 miles, with cliffs and peaks on either side of us, we come to a dramatic waterfall. We lift our faces to the coolness. Cascading falls send rainbows over the deep pools of alpine streambed and late morning has just begun.
“You just missed the bears,” a young hiker says, pointing to a ledge nearby.
A vacation is about taking a break from the plugged-in world, catching a breath of mountain air below a bear cave and seeing what’s in front of you. Telluride is the place for all of it. Local bears included.