TELLURIDE - Let's not mince words — when it comes to mountain towns that have the whole "picturesque" thing down pat, Telluride takes the cake.
So much so, in fact, that New York-based Thrillist once called the tiny Old West town with a population of about 2,300 Colorado's "best of the best."
One visit there, and it's easy to see why.
The town's roots are far from upscale wealth, however, with history in seedy gambling dens and even an infamous bank robbery.
Join us Friday afternoon on Instagram for a photo tour of Telluride!
A Wild West Mining History: "To Hell You Ride"
As with so many Colorado towns, Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the Telluride area, specifically the Ute tribe.
They lived in summer camps along the San Miguel River and migrated to the canyons and nearby lowlands in the winter.
In the 1700s, Spanish explorers and fur trappers passed through, naming the San Juan Mountains, hunting beavers to near extinction for furs and hats, then leaving soon after.
The gold rush of 1858 would truly put Telluride on the map.
Telluride was originally named "Columbia" as a mining camp, but the United States Post Office wouldn't grant the town its own branch because of another mining camp in Columbia, California.
There are two theories on how the name Telluride came to stick. One explains the name was derived from the mineral tellurium, associated with gold deposits (but not found in the valley).
The second comes from the famous send-off given to those brave enough to seek fortune in the mountains - "To hell you ride!"
At its peak, Telluride was home to about 5,000 people as the railroad brought infrastructure to the area, including many immigrants from across the globe who migrated to work in the mining industry.
It truly was the "wild, wild west."
The town has a famous history of its heralded red light district, seedy gambling dens and thriving underbelly of saloons at the end of the 1800s.
With mining wealth also came trouble: Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch began their brazen bank robbing career at the San Miguel National Bank in downtown Telluride in 1889, pilfering $24,000 in mining payroll.
In 1891, LL Nunn & Westinghouse worked with Nikola Tesla's alternating electrical current invention to run about two and a half miles of power line from a hydroelectric plane in Ames to the Gold King mine.
Later, those lines would bring the first alternating current electric power in America to the town of Telluride.
Just a couple of years later, the silver crash and World War I effectively ended the town's mining boom and by the 1960s, Telluride was little more than a ghost town. Just 600 people lived there.
The town's resurrection came in the 1970s with the discovery of another valuable currency: snow. A group of locals and entrepreneurs worked together to form the foundation of Telluride's first world-class ski resort.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival
Bringing some of music's most popular stars to a gorgeous backdrop of the San Juan Mountains, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival draws sellout crowds each year in June, on the weekend closest to the summer solstice.
This year's festival (the 44th annual) takes over the town for four days of music, camping, food and drink.
In past years, Robert Plant, Mumford & Sons, The Decembrists and more have taken to the many stages of the festival.
This year, its headlined by Dierks Bentley, Brandi Carlisle, Norah Jones, and Dispatch.
For more, visit their website.
Telluride is tucked into a valley between the awe-inspiring San Juan mountains and has a lively bar and restaurant scene, along with a popular ski-and-golf resort, historic landmarks and museums and plenty of mountain activities (hiking, biking, camping, fly fishing, river sports, horseback riding, ATV and 4X4 off-roading, rock climbing, paragliding, paddle boarding, you name it).
Telluride is a bit of a drive from Denver, 6 hours (330 miles) southwest along US-285, but it does have an airport accessible by charter plane and private jet. Mountain Aviation's Telluride Air Club offers service directly from DIA, but it's pricey — $3,450 a flight.
Telluride airport has more economical flights, too, on United's partner airline Great Lakes, from about $400 to $800. Service will resume June 30. Flights are also available from Denver to Montrose (about an hour and 15 minutes away), for about $500, or nearby Cortez for $150-$350 on Boutique Airlines.
The town itself is pretty small, just eight blocks wide and 12 blocks long, with streets lined with Victorian homes, boutiques, art galleries and gourmet restaurants.
Just a 13-minute gondola-ride away, at a 9,500-foot elevation, is Mountain Village, the area providing access to the Telluride ski resort and Uncompahgre National Forest.
The village is typically packed in the winter with skiers, but also offers access to gorgeous hiking and biking trails in the summer.
Gravity Play, located in Mountain Village, is also worth checking out, especially for those with a bit of a daredevil streak in them. The venue offers a ropes course, "water walkers" and a bungee trampoline.
Colorado Avenue, Telluride's "Main Street"
A stroll along East Colorado Avenue, which serves as Telluride's main street, offers plenty for visitors, too.
Bookstores, clothing stores, gift shops, theaters, chocolate shops, thrift stores, salons — Telluride is a hub of business activity.
There's no shortage of places to grab a bite, either. Brown Dog Pizza, Floradora Saloon and Roma Bar & Grill offer traditional American fare, La Cocina De Luz serves up Mexican cuisine, Rustico Ristorante cooks Italian — there's even a sushi joint, Pescado, among the many other offerings in the town.
Gourmet baked goods can be found at The Butcher & Baker Cafe (you'll certainly smell it as you walk by), and coffee lovers can support local business by making their way to The Coffee Cowboy.
For a more artsy feel, head to There (627 Pacific Ave.), an eclectic hangout serving small plates and "playful" cocktails.
Looking for a beer? The Telluride Brewing Company (156 Society Dr.), founded by Chris Fish and Tommy Thacher, serves everything from pale and brown ales, to IPAs, to wheat brews and more.
As Fish and Thacher put it on their website: "Adventure brought us to these mountains. Friendship made us stay. At the end of the day, it's all about the beer."
Another option is the Last Dollar Saloon, a rustic bar serving more than 60 kinds of beers.
Mountains for more than skiing
Across the San Miguel River, from the town's main street, is the city's Town Park.
The Park offers all the traditional things (trails, picnicking areas, playgrounds), and also has a community pool and the Herzog Theater, Telluride's main movie venue.
The Town Park is home to the popular "Blues and Brews Festival," a three-day gathering of artists and breweries. This year's festival takes place September 15-17.
The Town Park Skate Park offers kids (and the young-at-heart) a place to practice. It has a half-pipe-style vertical ramp, mini-ramp and vertical wall.
Telluride's scenic mountain backdrop also makes it a popular place for wedding and parties (get in early, however, as we hear the venues there are usually booked solid months in advance).
A place like this will obviously by pretty costly to live — and it is. According to real estate website Trulia.com, Telluride's median sales price stands at $917,000, and its median rent is a whopping $8,500.
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