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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Matter of Degrees

Hardly a soul on the "Million Dollar Highway" to Silverton. Could of been because it was New Years Eve, but more likely it was below-zero temps. 

We left Lovely Ouray around 9:30 AM with the promise of nary a cloud and full sun. Red Mountain Pass had reopened and, excepting a few shady-side patches of black ice and smatters of rockfall, was in fine shape for travel. 

Forecasts for mountain towns is worth exactly what you pay for it, nothing. We were assured temps would warm into the 30's, which if fine for snowshoeing. But as we rolled into Silverton with -3 degrees below zero reading on the car's "Outside Temp," well, snookered again. 

Temp in Siverton, negative 3 degrees

It had been a while since we'd snowshoed from the cemetery above Silverton. We couldn't recall much about the potential for avalanche, other than the route snugs along the bottom of a south-facing mountain. But since it was heavily forested with aspen trees, we thought it would be a safe enough place to venture out.

The drive through Silverton let us know that they had received a lot more snow than Ouray. Snow was literally stockpiled everywhere there was space available. It was pretty, though, kinda put us in a holiday spirit.

County Courthouse

It was so cold our tires squeaked on the snow in town. I kept eyeing the "Outside Temp," trying to think of a good excuse to just head over to "The Bear" for some pastries and coffee.

Silverton's cemetery lies on a hill overlooking town. I reluctantly bailed out of the car...my white-hot fervor to snowshoe having been tempered to tepid. Adding layers and struggling into uncooperative snowshoe bindings warmed me up enough to give it a go. We headed east through the cemetery on fresh, well packed snowshoe tracks. I thought about grabbing a few photos of old headstones, but every time I left our packed track I'd get bogged down by knee deep sugar snow. 

Headstones...a lot of homesteaders and miners buried in this cemetery. Children, too.


Once out of the cemetery we lost our packed trail. The hundred yards of uphill in knee deep snow was brutal, but it landed us on an old unplowed road with snowshoe tracks. 

Looking back toward Silverton

They make custom snowboards down in that red brick building

Not much in the way of elevation gain or loss...and the packed tracks kept us up  and out of all but a few inches of fresh snow.

We came to a hundred yard section where last year's record snowfall avalanched across the road. Large diameter aspen lay snapped like toothpicks and/or pointed down mountain. 

Except for a few jays and squirrels, it was very peaceful

We finally reached a free flowing creek that serves as a source for Silverton's water supply. Though we have hiked beyond this point before, it would be problematic and dangerous to do it during winter. And here's the "believe it or not" part: In spite of below or near zero temps, Bobbie and I were overheated and sweating. We pulled off a few layers and stomped out a place to have lunch. Sitting there, literally steaming in full sun and dead calm, it felt like 65 degrees.    

Silverton's water supply

The view above. On the left are aspen trees bowled over from previous avalanches. They originate way up on the steep slopes of the distant peak. We kept an eye on it, figuring we had time to get out of the way should it decide to "run."

We added an extra loop out to La Chapell Park to overlook Silverton.  Snow here was waist deep in places off-track.

Once back to the car, we decided to have a look around town...maybe check out some of the homes and churches are dealing with all the snow...

An old garage/gas station

A 13,000 foot Kendal Mountain backdrop for an olden church and parsonage.

I hope you enjoyed our little tour of Silverton.

Peace out from Lovely Ouray,
mark and bobbie


  1. I shiver when I see your beautiful pictures. I've traveled your area many times in the summer but can't imagine doing it in the winter. Thanks for the show.

  2. The snow is so darn pretty, but that's some mighty cold temps. Now that I live where it snows a little I am amazed at how warm it can feel when the sun is out and the temps are low.

    Happy New Year to you both!

  3. Looks like we missed a fun day! Weather permitting we’ll see you soon.

  4. Well it's just lovely - from a distance. That is just too much snow for this person.

    1. That's why we (I) have an Rv :)
      As with most things, one must compromise...

  5. Those are some big piles of snow. Beautiful pictures! I'm afraid our winter is looking like a pretty dry one (hope that doesn't jinx us for the next 3 months).

  6. With all the snow Ouray and Silverton looks so wintery but open for business.
    I remember walking through the Silverton cemetery during the summer and noticing that several grave markers had 1918 as the death year. Further research indicated that Silverton lost 10% of its population to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
    How has the Subaru Forester performed on US550 during snowfall drives? Have you tried X mode in deep snow on the back roads? Has the Forester lived up to your expectations? Thanks for the great pictures of your snow shoe hike.

    1. The new Sue Bee exceeds expectations...mud or snow. X Mode makes a difference!

    2. Oh, and almost 9 inches of ground clearance doesn't hurt...

  7. I was wondering how these homes and businesses are heated? Natural gas, coal, oil, or electric??? Thank you.
    Don in Okla.

    1. There is natural gas piped into Ouray, but not all houses are tapped into the line. Being so remote, I would be shocked if Silverton has natural gas. So they are left with wood stoves...some of which can burn coal...electric (expensive) and coal furnaces. Ouray has a surprising amount of homes heated with electric baseboard heat...most supplement that with wood stoves due to the cost. And, they are still building condos with electric baseboard heat as it saves the contractor a few thousand dollars. So stupid...

    2. Thanks very much for the informative reply. I had electric baseboard heat in my home in Ohio and it about broke me. But then again, I didn't have to use AC during the summers, just some fans. Now that I'm back in the Okla. Panhandle, gas heat and electric AC.
      Always enjoy your blog. Take care and be safe up there.
      Don in Okla.

  8. Thanks for the tour of Silverton. One of my favorite places in the summer.

    1. We considered Silverton for a place to live before deciding on Ouray. It's a long way to Durango or Montrose for resonable groceries...

  9. Electric baseboard saves $ versus what is the expensive alternative? The snow is beautiful! the sky and mountains and your snow-shoe tracks through it all are appreciated and admired, but gladly from afar!

    1. Even tho it felt like 65 degrees? :)
      I'm not sure I understand your question...But as an example our winter time natural gas bill runs about $120 per month (including a gas range/oven). Our hot water heater is electric for safety reasons, and the Elect. bill runs about 100 to 110 during winter.

  10. Sue Bee has her work cut out for her! That gravestone offers some good advice: SLEEP. I sure wish I was born a bear. -scamp

  11. A lovely post as always. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Looks just as it did 20 years ago Mark on our only Winter visit to the area. As it was here the town was just as dead all covered in snow, not a soul in sight, it looked like a back lot at Universal Studios. Loved that old cemetery, and we were treated to an interesting sight a couple of years back as we got to see a trail ride with lots of cowboys & girls out for the day, almost look like a movie shoot for a some western saga.
    Thanks for rekindling those memories.


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