Today the road has brought me to Ouray, CO.
Ouray (pronounced you-ray) is nicknamed the Switzerland of America and is a quaint, mountain village nestled in the Rocky Mountains. I was actually led to this trip by a couple (The Jacksons) whom I met when I visited Racine, WI earlier this year. They told me I had to visit Ouray as it contained the most beautiful B & B they had ever visited: Black Bear Manor owned and operated by Tom and Cyndi Elliston.
The inn was actually on my list, but on the farther end as Ouray is nearly 13 hours away from Omaha. But with the country rapidly reopening and the fact that I hadn’t had a proper vacation in nearly two years, I decided to embark on the biggest road trip I had undertaken.
This was truly a tale of two drives. The first day of the drive was pretty flat as once you get past Lincoln, the state of Nebraska is pretty flat and sightless. Around Kearney, the route veered off the interstate and became mostly a highway drive which broke up the monotony as I at least was able to drive through small towns.
Around noon, I found myself in the tiny town of Alma, NE and I decided I could use a lunch break to stretch my legs and stopped into KJ’s Café for a bite to eat.
It was a pretty decent little diner where I enjoyed a Special Hamburger (it’s uniquely seasoned) along with some fries while I continued working through my latest volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. After a restful meal, it was back on the road.
The lack of scenery continued to be broken by occasional forays through small towns as I passed from Nebraska into Kansas and eventually into Colorado.
After 7.5 hours, I finally found myself at my stopping point of Limon, CO. It’s a town of only 1,000 people yet actually has a Holiday Inn. I was weary and truly grateful for the free upgrade to a suite as I was darn near ready to collapse after the grueling drive.
A couple hours of relaxing did rejuvenate me enough to attend an evening service at Our Lady of Victory. Most surprising to me was that the service was at 7pm as, historically, most Catholic services tend to be held between 4 to 5:30pm on Saturdays.
It was a very nice service as Father shared a great sermon about witnessing and the best way to do it was to tell people about why Jesus was my friend. After the service I returned to the hotel where I read for a bit before finally answering the calls to the land of Nod.
The next morning, I was out the door by 8am for another long drive. But the scenery began to change around Colorado Springs when I saw the Rockies looming in the distance. Soon I was enjoying a picturesque drive through the mountains and forests and I just drank in the scenery as well as watching numerous rafters shoot the rapids.
Around 3pm, I finally arrived in Ouray and felt like I was transported back in time. The town definitely has the feeling of another era with its older building designs and a Main Street where all the major businesses are located. And everything is within walking distance.
Soon I found myself at Black Bear Manor which is one of the most interestingly constructed houses I had seen and I suspect the building had been a traditional hotel once upon a time. Before I could dial the inn’s number, Tom opened the door, introduced me to Cyndi, and gave me the nickel tour of the inn before leading me to lucky number 7, Cliffside King.
The room is small, yet comfortable, with a soft king-sized bed and a private balcony which has a view of the Rockies. I got settled in, wandered about the inn, and then took a walk through town.
Ouray has a semi-boxed in feeling as it’s surrounded by mountains on all sides and only has two ways in and out. One from the north and one from the south. The southern entrance/exit is actually the start of the Million Dollar Highway. This highway is a 20ish mile stretch of road considered the most beautiful drive in America. The flip side is that it’s also considered one of the most dangerous with its narrow roads, hairpin turns, and lack of guardrails. The speed limit never exceeds 25 mph on this road that connects Ouray with Silverton.
I had a relaxing walk through town (though it is very steep) and stopped in at Ray’s Jerky where I bought some jalapeno jerky for my hikes the next day and snacked on an old-fashioned hot fudge sundae complete with whipped cream, sprinkles, and a cherry at The Yankee Girl Café & Sweets before going back to the inn.
I decompressed for a bit before heading out to dinner at the Ouray Brewery. Only rooftop dining is currently available, but it was a cool evening and I supped on a Green Chile Cheeseburger while sipping on a Box Canyon Brown (most beer in Ouray is brewed locally or regionally) which was quite flavorful and tasted closer to a black beer without the bitterness. After a satisfying meal, I returned to the inn and spent some time in the hot tub where the churning water massaged and soothed aching muscles. I then went back to my room where I forced myself to stay up late to compel my body to adapt to Mountain Time.
The plan worked as I woke up at 6am. I then lazed about watching some TV and catching up on the news. At 9am I headed down to breakfast.
Black Bear Manor is unique in that it offers two breakfasts. At 7am a continental breakfast is laid out and then a hot meal is served at 9am.
The hot breakfast is served buffet style so you can have as much or as little as you please. The place was packed as the inn was actually sold out (the first I’ve experienced since starting this project back in 2013). I filled my plate with a smidge of everything so I was able to enjoy a taste of French Toast Souffle, ham, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, and fruit. It was such a nice day that I ate outside and enjoyed some conversation before heading off to commune with nature.
I began my day at Cascade Falls Park and I certainly got my exercise in. It’s not an extremely difficult trek, but it is steep and one has to take the much higher altitude into consideration so be sure to pace yourself. Interestingly enough, the trek actually starts at the waterfall and it is an awesome sight, not to mention a quite refreshing one as cool air buffets you from the thundering falls. I spent nearly two hours hiking around and keeping my strength up with water and jerky.
When I was through with Cascade Falls, I made my way over to Box Canyon Park which included a brief, and I do mean brief, drive on the Million Dollar Highway. Box Canyon contains two treks. An easy 500 foot walk to Box Canyon Falls and a difficult trek up to a high bridge overlooking the falls. With the sun beating down on my head and my protein supply depleted, not to mention the few hours I had just done, I decided to simply visit the falls.
The roar of the falls in deafening and one wouldn’t even be able to have a shouted conversation. As I gazed upon this force of nature, I suddenly realized how the battle between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty would have played out in reality.
I then returned to Black Bear Manor where I organized photos and caught a small nap. Around 4pm, I took a walk down to Ouray Hot Springs and back and partook of Black Bear Manor’s happy hour where I enjoyed some regionally brewed beer.
About 6pm, I headed over to an Ouray institution, The Outlaw, for dinner. The restaurant has a rustic feel, but is actually a fine dining establishment. I entered the restaurant and smiled as I listened to the piano player deal up a bevy of standards and movie tunes. I was led to a table at the back where I ordered a New York Strip with garlic mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables. I had a side salad added on and the meal came with a small loaf of freshly baked garlic bread.
In fairness I didn’t think the salad merited the extra $5, but that was countered by the steak which was tender and delicious and seemed a bit bigger than the 10 oz advertised on the menu. The potatoes were fluffy and light and the vegetables were nice and crisp.
From there it was back to the inn for another session with the hot tub and a quiet, peaceful evening.
Breakfast the next morning consisted of a breakfast casserole, personal quiches, bacon, eggs, and fruit. I had another round of great conversation with fellow guests before embarking on my day.
As the previous day had been quite active, I decided today would be a relaxing day. So I decided to visit The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings. This is a very unassuming hotel, but hides the incredible vapor baths below.
For $25 per two hours, day guests can enjoy a soaking session in the famed caves. The mineral water that comes from the springs is a constant 104-108 degrees and is not recirculated. The water is completely chemical free and is known for its restorative and therapeutic properties. The cave acts as a natural sauna so you’ll really sweat out the impurities. Sections of the cave also drip much cooler water which helps to cool down the body after a session in the springs.
From there I returned to Cascade Falls where I just admired the waterfall while engaging in a conversation with my best friend. Afterwards, I headed down to the riverbank by Black Bear Manor where I pondered life for a little while.
In hindsight, I think I made the day too relaxing. By mid-afternoon, I was itching for another activity, but some nearby museums had not yet reopened and the local historical museum was about ready to close. Should I ever find myself this way again, I’ll be sure to visit them as well as schedule a jeep tour, another local highlight.
Instead I took a little walk and then enjoyed the happy hour where Tom serenaded the guests with some solo guitar work and songs. He even takes requests and I joined him for some two man harmony on Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)”.
Then I made my way to The Mineshaft & Tiki Bar. This completely outdoor restaurant provides a comfortable eating experience under the sun and I enjoyed a Philly Steak for the evening repast before returning to Black Bear Manor for a bit of writing and photo organizing.
What a way to close the trip! Today I had what is easily one of the best breakfasts I’ve enjoyed since starting this project. This morning I enjoyed Chile Relleno Casserole, breakfast enchilada (with some red and green salsa), country potatoes, and a cinnamon roll that just melted in my mouth. Braced for the long trip, I wrapped up this article and said my good-byes.
If you ever find yourself in Ouray, rest assured you’ll find plenty to do. It’s a popular tourist site with activities for all seasons (famed for ice climbing and skiing in the winter). And if you want some real hospitality, make sure to visit Black Bear Manor. Tom and Cyndi will treat you right and you’ll enjoy comfortable rooms and food that will knock your socks off.
Until the next time. . .happy travels.