The Spectacular San Juan Mountains
Our Favorite Range of The Rockies
The jagged peaks that zigzag around Ouray are intersected by highly mineralized veins rich in gold, silver, zinc and other metals. Naturally, these valuable metals attracted immigrant miners from all over the world. They poked around Ouray as early as the 1850s, but the serious "rush" started in the 1870s.
Photo courtesy of Kane Scheidegger
Although the Brunot Treaty of 1873 stipulated the sale of the San Juan Mountains from the Ute Tribe they were not permanently forced out of the area until 1881 when the government began distributing promised funds and land in northeaster Utah. Word of the huge silver strikes increased the town's population from 400 in 1876, to over 2500 by 1890. Horses and carriages brought the first prospectors; the railroad would not make its mark in the valley until 1891. Otto Mears had a transportation business that not only made toll roads, but hauled freight by way of mules and burros between the booming mining towns. It's been written that this Russian immigrant made more of an impact on the San Juans than anyone else. His transportation contributions enabled Ouray's mining industry to swell remarkably by hauling in much-needed equipment and provisions. Ouray's mining heyday peaked between 1883 and 1893 with most mines closing by 1923. The town evolved from a miners' camp to the Grand Madam of the San Juans with the construction of incredibly beautiful buildings. The town's architectural vernacular was Queen Anne Victorian and quickly became a preferred destination on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad's narrow gauge "Around the Circle Tours." By 1936 the train closed, but Ouray's beauty, ambiance and abundance of recreational activities continues to attract travelers from all over the world. Learn more about the historic railroads in Ouray County at the Ridgway Railroad Museum.