Million Dollar Views, Mines & Brothels – Silverton, CO

“The election was a very quiet one compared to former years. There were only four shooting scrapes, sixteen fights, and thirty drunks up to three o’clock, at which time our reporter was unable to follow his regular vocation”
The Gladstone Kibosh, April 13th, 1901

A rough and tumble mining past
Notorious Blair Street, Silverton

The Gladstone Kibosh was a fictional newspaper that ran farcical bits of news for over 7 years. It was a total laugh and a fine representation of its time. Silverton in the early 1900’s was a place of enterprise, riches, desolation, tall tales and wild west. It was a town where millions were made and millions were lost and you needed both a tough skin and a good sense of humor to survive it. Just my kinda old west town!

It started, like all the SW Colorado stories with gold and silver. In the late 1800’s the draw of riches drew settlers like magnets to the San Juan Mountains. Silverton, lying as it did in a wide basin became a natural a focal point. The arrival of the Rio Grande Railroad in 1882 sealed the deal and it grew like a weed into a rough and tumble mining town.

With growth came all the reputation and notoriety of an old west town. Down the main drag (Blair Street) there established an astonishing 34 saloons and bordellos, the biggest enterprise outside of mining. The brothels with classic names like “The Bent Elbow” and “Shady Lady” were run by hard-nosed madams and independent women looking to make their own way. Out here money, gambling, booze and loose ladies ruled the roost.

The Silverton of today has kept all the lure of that fascinating old past. There’s a fabulous museum dedicated to its’ mining history (Mining Heritage Center) the original Silverton Narrow Gauge terminus and Railroad, notorious Blair Street with many of the old saloons, and a bunch of cute little cafes and shops. You can even pan for gold at the Old Hundred Gold Mine. We spent a cool 4 hours exploring all of it, eating at the local BBQ and even getting to see the steam engine come into town (and you BET I was excited!).

Downtown Blair Street in Silverton, CO
Sheer cliffs and sharp drop-offs at the Uncompahgre Gorge of the Million Dollar Highway
Views from Hwy 550
Views from Hwy 550

But you gotta make the drive to get to all this wonder, and that drive is one in a million. The 25 miles between Ouray and Silverton make up the core of the famous Million Dollar Highway  (Hwy 550).  Characterized by sharp curves, sheer drop-offs, towering cliffs, narrow lanes and nothing between you and your maker this is not one for the faint of heart. There are big ‘ol 18-wheelers who make the drive, but I saw an outer wheel come off the edge as one of them took a turn, and was rather happy “the beast” was safely back at camp.

Why it’s called the Million Dollar Highway no-one knows. Some say a million dollars of gold ore are hidden in its fill-dirt, others that it cost a million dollars to build. I like to think it’s the views, but that’s just the romantic in me. Either way it’s one helluva drive and worth the time to take the winding road. This is the place where riches were made, and the drive, the spot, the history and the views make it all worth a million dollars in my book. A good day indeed!

Now THAT's what I call lunch. BBQ at Thee Pits Again.
Now THAT’s a lunch! BBQ at Thee Pits Again.
One of the many great displays at the Mining Museum in town
One of the many great displays at the Mining Museum in town
Downtown Silverton
The Silverton steam engine in town!!
Thee Pits Again BBQ. Featured on TV it’s THE place to eat in town.
Bits of mining history everywhere on the Million Dollar Highway
Old miners hats at the museum
Downtown Ouray from Hwy 550
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. says

    So many memories as I follow along with you. We spent two weeks every summer in the San Juans from Durango to Silverton to Ouray, Telluride, Bayfield, etc. It was our favorite part of Colorado. We used to take our jeep out in the back of Silverton. The views are incredible on 550, but you are absolutely correct–not for the faint of heart south between Ouray and Silverton–my husband wasn’t afraid to drive it in the motorhome, but I couldn’t do it as a passenger so we stayed in Durango and did day trips. We used to try to hit the Iron Horse race each year. So glad to read that you were there. If you get over to Telluride (To Hell You Ride), take a ride out in back of the town to see the restored electric plant and the waterfall. I read about it on the web in 1999, and we went to see it that year when a young couple lived in the house with their baby. Here’s an interview with Eric Jacobsen – I thought it very interesting:
    I bet the falls were beautiful this year because of the snow fall last winter. We were there in May and June and they were spectacular! Look forward to your next post.

    • libertatemamo says

      This is definitely a jeepers paradise. If we had a 4×4 we’d probably be exploring more of the backdoor areas.
      Oh, and the waterfalls ARE beatiful right now. Lovely all around.

  2. says

    We were in that area many years ago with our daughters. We took the train between Durango to Silverton. Wonderful ride. Don’t miss Telluride…now that was a more challenging drive for sure. But, what a cool place. Pictures are great! Brings back good memories.

    • libertatemamo says

      We went to Telluride last week and really enjoyed it! Love the fact that it was so pooch-friendly.
      We’ve definitely had alot of fun in this area.

  3. says

    Nina, it’s been way too long since we were there, taking that highway, and seeing the wonderful scenery. We rode the train from Durange, but we didn’t get into the history of the place, so you have expanded our vista, and for that we thank you!

  4. says

    Do you plan on being in CO the first week of August? We’re going to be in Estes Park/ RMNP area and would love to buy you a coffee or something in exchange for picking your brain about full timing. We’re headed out with a fifth wheel as soon as the house sells.

    Love the blog,


    Henry Harrison ( travelingmel’s husband )

    • libertatemamo says

      Hi Henry!
      Ahhhh…too bad.
      We’ll be a bit more West by then, up by the Flaming Gorge in UT (Canyon Rim Campground).
      That’ll proably be a bit too far of a drive either way :) We would love to meet up with you
      at some point. Our travels are taking us towards ID by end August so if you’re anywhere close let me know.

        • libertatemamo says

          I had to look that one up! We’re not heading up that way this year,
          but might well come back around that area next year.
          I think Colorado may become a yearly thing for us. We just love it here!

  5. Terry & Linda says

    Ah yes, our favorite area. We will be there by mid August and stay for a month. But first a week in Buena Vista and a week in Lake City. Grumpy’s is a good place to eat in Silverton also. The True Grit in Ridgway is good for simple foods such as burgers (plus you can say you ate at the True Grit). Yes you really do need a Jeep to fully enjoy the area.

    • libertatemamo says

      Ooooo…cheers for the eating recommendations. We’ll have to put those on the list for when we come back.
      We definitely enjoyed the area! Nina

  6. says

    I don’t know about the mines and brothels but one things for sure and that is the bbq looks so delicious! That lunch looks great…did you leave us any? Notorious Blair Street seems like the hang out back in the day.

    • libertatemamo says

      I’m afraid the lunch was gone way before I wrote the post (almost a minute
      after I took the picture in fact LOL). It was delicious :)


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