Southwest Colorado Drives: Unaweep Tabaguache Scenic Byway
Scenic Drive Near Ouray Colorado for Motorcycles and Passenger Cars
In less than one hour from Ouray, the San Juan Skyway intersects the Unaweep Tabaguache Scenic Byway in Placerville after a magnificient ride over the Dallas Divide from Ridgway. It takes a mere 45 minutes to get to this intersection from Ouray.
Once the Unaweep Tabaguache Scenic Byway begins, the drive snakes along the San Miguel River as it flows downward through the San Miguel Canyon. High walls of red rock flank the road on both sides and riparian habitat carpets the valley floor along the river.
There are several boat ramps and camp sites along this area of the river managed by the BLM. Caddis Flats is about 2 miles south of Placerville and has numerous picnic tables and camp sites as well as nice river access and a small information kiosk. Lower Beaver is about 7 miles east of Norwood and has the same basic setup as Caddis Flats.
You leave the valley floor and climb Norwood Hill so that you are on top of the mesa. Wow! This is big sky country. The panorama in the distance includes the mountains surrounding Ouray on the far lefthand side.
Continue along this roadway and you will slowly see the topography change as you rejoin the San Miguel River. The visitor center in Naturita is a delight, staffed with very friendly faces and a wealth of information, including a nice brochure on the Hanging Flume that includes a self-guided tour. The best views of the flume itself are seen from River Road (turn left and cross the bridge at the UMETCO sign about 13 miles north of the Visitor Center in Naturita.) You must drive the River Road downstream and keep your eyes out for the flume.
Continuing down the river, you pass the site of Uravan. The mostly abandoned town of Uravan was very important during the dawn of the nuclear age. Uranium and Vandium (a mineral used to harden steel) was mined from the area beginning in the late 1930s and finally closing down operations in the 1980s. The town was home to as many as 800 people in its heyday. In the 1980's UMETCO received a $70 million contract to clean up the mine waste that remained. Along the route, look for old mining relics that remain high on the canyon walls.
As you continue through the Dolores Canyon you come to Gateway, home of the Gateway Auto Museum, a world class museum with a private collection of over 60 cars in exquisite condition. This area makes a nice rest stop. At Gateway Canyons, there is a gas station, a small convenience store and a restaurant.
Finish the journey through the 44 mile long Unaweep Canyon, the only canyon in the world that has a watershed divide in the middle of the canyon. Once you reach US 50 and Whitewater, the scenic byway route has ended. Head back to Ouray by taking US 50 South for about 95 miles.