Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tell U 'Bout Telluride

One of the places we visited on our summer travels was Telluride, Colorado. It's worth a lengthy post.

Telluride is in southwestern Colorado. It's easy to get to--ha, ha. From the east coast, all you have to do is fly to Dallas or Denver, then take a smaller plane to Montrose (or Cortez), then drive another hour and fifteen minutes and voila, you're there! (Or, you can fly your Gulfstream into the Telluride Airport.)

The locals don't mind being isolated--that's part of the charm.

Telluride is also a true mountain town, nestled into a box canyon at a mere 8700 feet above sea level. Telluride's companion Mountaintop Village is at 9500 feet. That means when you get there you'll be gasping for breath for at least a day, and you won't get a good night's sleep for another couple days. Again--the charm thing. (The painting above is from the Telluride Plein Air festival, an arts festival that takes place in conjunction with the town's Independence Day celebrations--more on that below.)

Despite the altitude, Telluride is plenty comfortable in the summer, with highs generally in the low 70's and lows in the mid-50's. If the sun is out, it's strong in the thin air and will make you feel much warmer than the air temperature. But afternoon showers are frequent and can drop the temperature 10-15 degrees in a matter of minutes.

But lest you think it's not worth it, think again! Most people think of Telluride as a ski resort, and that it is. We can't comment on the ski aspect, at least not yet (although the locals say the slopes and lifts are never crowded in ski season).

As a summer destination, however, Telluride is "da bomb."

We were there for the Fourth of July. The locals advertise it as quite a bash, and that it was. On the Fourth, the town has a very all-American, super-tacky parade, with many of the townsfolk marching, biking, roller-blading, unicyling, motorcycling, horseback riding, jeeping, strolling or just floating along on a makeshift parade float. The fly-overs by vintage WWII Mustangs and modern Air Force figher jets are pretty cool, too.

Make sure to get invited to (or crash) one of the many townie parties along the parade route, where you'll get your fill of BBQ, beer and other libations.

After the parade, everyone convenes at the town park, where the fire department serves beef BBQ and all the fixin's, followed by various games and contests. We missed much of this (napping off the thin air), but we made it to the highlight: a contest where kids wade around in three foot deep makeshift pools stocked with fish, trying to catch one of the slippery critters with their hands. Catch one and you get a $. The Curmudgeon kids, initially reluctant to give this a try, soon waded in, one making a great grap and earning himself a dollar.

After that, the town settles down a bit waiting for the big fireworks celebration. This is a good time to see some of the local celebrities. We happened to see Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and daughter Suri eating ice cream on Main Street (they have a place nearby), and we didn't even disturb them. (The photo above, from some tabloid website, was taken at about the same time.)

Little did we know that TomKat was hosting the Beckhams that weekend--our little soccer maniac would've been quite interested in that info.

In any event, us jaded easterners assumed Telluride would put on a paltry little show of fireworks, certainly compared to our high class celebrations on the Mall in the Nation's Capital. Well, we were wrong. It took awhile to get started--it didn't really get dark until after 9:30. But once they got going, the show was quite spectacular. We thought the best part was the noise--the reverberations and echoes in Telluride's box canyon magnified the bombs bursting in air at a level well above what we're used to in town here.

But it wasn't just the sound. The fireworks went on, and on, and on. It was the first time we'd ever been at a fireworks display and thought "enough already." And these were good fireworks--about as good as at the Washington Monument, but without the accompaniment of the National Symphony.

There's plenty to do in Telluride in the summer, especially after you catch your breath. The four wheel drive tour of the old gold mining areas and to the summit of Tomboy mountain is well worth the price, taking you to a magnificent view at over 13,000 feet (where you can munch on fresh mustard flowers). Like fishing? A number of outfitters will be happy to provide you with everything you need. Biking? Apart from some pretty treacherous looking mountain biking, there is a perfect little trail meandering on a pretty level plane next to the river for a number of miles down the valley.

Hiking? Take the relatively easy Bear Creek trail to the falls, or try one of the more difficult treks around town. Shopping? Outdoor wear, jewelry, leather, western wear and other goods are in abundance around town.

Golf? But, of course! We played the links at the Telluride Golf Club, in Mountaintop Village. Your ball will fly quite nicely at 9500 feet, but the course is pretty tight, the fairways soft and the greens slow. Unfortunately, it was on the golf course that we learned how fast the temperature can drop if a little storm pops up in the afternoon. It was around 70 degrees when we started, but 52 degrees when we finished, wet, shivering and quite ready for a hot shower!

You can also take the free gondola ride (believe us, it's the best bargain in town--everything else costs an arm and a leg!) to Mountaintop Village and stroll around what is a lovely, but not particularly distinctive, ski village. The best part is the gondola ride itself.

If you're there for a bit longer, side trips to Moab, Indian pueblos, and other parts of the West are within easy reach.

We ought to mention that the town of Telluride, itself, is worthy of serious exploring. It's pretty compact--the main part of town is roughly 8 blocks long and four blocks wide, with many historic buildings. It's not too difficult to half close your eyes and picture it as it might have looked a hundred years ago when the Butch Cassidy robbed the local bank. Many of the old victorian houses have been painstakingly restored and maintained. (And for a mere $3-10 million, one of them could be yours to keep!)

By the way, keep an eye out for bears! According to the local, local newspaper, a black bear decided to tour the lobby of one of the downtown hotels one evening a couple days before we arrived (and was caught on the security camera). He seemed to be looking for a bathroom--maybe even bears get tired of doing it in the woods all the time. (Another bear made it's presence know to quite a few folks down at the town park while we were in town.)

Bottom line: Telluride is a bit of a hike, but once you're there you should have a great time.

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