Crisp cool mountain air and bright sunlight can be expected in the San Juan Mountains during the autumn season. The days are shorter and the shadows of the mountains cause fall to arrive early in this region. The lush green growth of the summer monsoon season is long gone and the snowy ski season is just around the corner. Autumn happens quickly in the San Juan Mountains and this short season leaves a stark contrast on the landscape. Shades of brown ground cover and the white bark of barren aspen trees accent the green alpine forests and rocky mountain tops. When looking at this pristine mountain landscape it is easy to feel as if autumn is just a temporary state of mind. Oddly enough, this feeling is true, because the autumn season does not last long in the high elevations.
During the fall season, taking a scenic drive on Colorado State Road 145 easily gets top billing. This scenic drive actually starts down by the Four Corners region in the town of Cortez, then SR 145 winds its way uphill through Delores to the Rico Ghost Town. The drive on SR 145 from Rico to Telluride offers some spectacular views of the high elevations in the Sand Juan Mountains. One might say that most of the scenery along the road from Rico to Telluride is for your eyes only. This is because there are very few places to safely pull off the road to take pictures along this route, so be sure to not pass up any good opportunities along the way. Roadside parking with a great view is easy to find near Lizard Head Peak, Wilson Peak, Sheep Mountain and the Matterhorn. There also is a small roadside parking spot that overlooks Trout Lake, which is surrounded by high mountain peaks in the background.
For those who prefer to make the most out of a scenic drive, there is plenty to do along SR 145 between Rico and Telluride. There are several San Juan National Forest hiking trails and campgrounds along this route. This region is also a top pick for rock climbing ventures. Nordic ski trails and world famous downhill ski runs is what old historic Telluride is most famous for in this modern age, but mid autumn is a bit early for the powder snow season.
Even though it is still t-shirt weather near Four Corners, the autumn temperatures can be quite brisk in the high elevations of the San Juan Mountains, so be sure to bring along some warm clothes for the ride. Staying extra hydrated in the high elevations is the best way to avoid altitude sickness, so be sure to pack plenty of water, especially if doing some hiking is on the agenda. The views along SR 145 are as dramatic as can be during the autumn season and this is reason enough to do the grand tour!
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