Relaxing on my balcony in the Mountain Village, high above the 19th-century mining town of Telluride, I remembered why it is one of my favorite places in the Rockies. Telluride’s rivals may have more-lavish hotels and more-sophisticated restaurants, but few, if any, can compete with the drama of its setting. Looking west, I could just make out the ribbon of the airport runway, at an elevation of 9,070 feet, from which private jets would rise lazily into the sky and then swiftly disappear. Ahead of me, on the far side of the valley, stretched an unbroken wall of 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks, a rampart given scale by the toy figure of a paraglider suspended beneath a scarlet canopy. And to the east, fissured cliffs and forested slopes sealed off the box canyon that for decades rendered Telluride virtually inaccessible to the outside world.
Not only are the mountains that surround Telluride some of the highest in the Rockies, but they are also among the most spectacular. In particular, 14,017-foot Wilson Peak, which dominates the landscape to the southwest, is an almost perfect pyramid. At the time of my recent trip, in the waning days of summer, the snow had all melted, even on the highest summits, but the panorama was still grand, and in my mind’s eye, it was not difficult to recall the glistening white slopes of a previous visit in early spring.
Founded in 1878 as Columbia, the town was renamed Telluride in 1887 for the gold tellurium compounds that had been discovered elsewhere in Colorado. (Telluride’s fame and fortune would be chiefly due to silver, so this change in name seems to have been a case of wishful thinking.) The town experienced a rambunctious early history, and in 1889, Butch Cassidy got his criminal career off to a promising start by robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank of $24,000. (Astonishingly, Google suggests that today this would be equivalent to just over $730,000.) The historic district is exceptionally well preserved and contains numerous large Victorian buildings, including the New Sheridan Hotel and Sheridan Opera House, as well as side streets lined with charming clapboard houses.