"Drive the Skyway,” Tom Barefoot, one of the project’s founders, told me before I left, “and it doesn’t matter where you point your camera – everywhere is magic.”
He was right. In Ouray, known as the Switzerland of America for its cirque of 4,000m-plus peaks rising sharply on three sides, I discovered waterfalls and box canyons. In Telluride, I simply fell in love. If there is a town that epitomises everything that is beautiful and bold about the Rockies, this is it. Located in a dramatic valley, Telluride emerges suddenly from the Skyway like a mountain Shangri-La. I saw the bank where Butch Cassidy robbed his first stash, and took a jeep tour up a steep and scary road to the remains of the old Tomboy mine at 3,507m, Telluride’s original industry.
Despite the dizzying exposure, I couldn’t take my eyes off the view. We stopped at a rocky outcrop and I creeped carefully to the edge. There was nothing but air on all sides. I lifted my arms and felt like I might float away. Somehow, here, it wouldn’t have mattered if I did.
When I reached Durango, near Colorado’s southern border, there was a treat in store. You can always drive to the old mining town of Silverton (also on the Skyway), but there’s a better way. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of the great train rides of America, cutting through the San Juan National Forest and along the banks of the rushing Animas River for 72km. In doing so, it rises over 900m in the process. Completed in 1882, it had been used by pioneers, miners and settlers for decades before it fell into disuse. I leant out of the open-sided carriage and listened to the engine whistle echo through the valley, the scent of steam drifting far behind.