Historic Dolores, Colorado!

Historic Dolores, Colorado!

When the Desert Southwest is sizzling in the extreme heat of summer, heading off to cooler destinations in the Colorado mountains sure is a mighty appealing idea!  The combination of the high elevation weather and being just a few hundred miles north of the sun belt can really make quite a difference in temperature.  Summer temperatures in Colorado tend to be nearly 25ºF cooler than what can be found in southern California, southern Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.  The cool mountain air definitely makes for a much more pleasant summer vacation experience! 

The Four Corners Region of Colorado is fairly easy to get to when traveling from the Desert Southwest.  There are many travel routes to choose from and most are scenic two lane highways.  Some of the roads pass by picturesque National Parks and National Monuments, so there is plenty to experience along the way. 

After crossing the border at the Four Corners National Monument into Colorado, U.S. Highway 160 runs north through the Ute Mountain Reservation to the town of Cortez.  Cortez is the starting point for Mesa Verde Country adventures and this town is a popular summer vacation base camp.  Cortez is also a gateway to the western and central San Juan Mountains. When heading up through the west end of this mountain range, the old historic riverfront town of Dolores will be the first tourism destination along the way.

From Cortez, Colorado State Road 145 runs north to Dolores, Rico Ghost Town and Telluride.  This scenic byway is a popular choice for weekend warrior motorcycle rallies and classic car club cruises, because this route can be turned into a long touring loop by heading back on the Million Dollar Highway to the starting point. There are a lot of summer season weekend music festivals in the mountain resort towns and this is part of the draw too.  SR 145 parallels the Dolores River as it runs up through mountainous terrain deep into the San Juan National Forest and the panoramic views along this scenic byway certainly are as picturesque as can be!

The town of Dolores has an interesting historic past that began long before the Spanish explorers discovered this place. Much of the ancient history has to do with the Dolores River and the availability of life sustaining water.  The entire Four Corners Region was occupied by the Pueblo People long ago and ancient pueblo ruins can be seen everywhere that the Delores River flows.  The town of Dolores is the home of the Anasazi Heritage Center, which is also the Canyons Of The Ancients Visitor Center.  Two ancient pueblo ruins are also located at the Anasazi Heritage Center and both overlook the Dolores River, which is now a large reservoir lake in this area. 

Dolores is a gateway to the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument, which has over 6,000 archaeological sites.  More ancient Pueblo People archaeological sites and ruins can be found at Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park, which are both located within a one hour drive from Dolores.  Those who are interested in America’s ancient past will certainly find plenty to see and do when visiting this region!

The modern history of Dolores began in the late 1700s when the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition passed through this region.  The two priests called the local river the Rio de Nuestra Senora de las Dolores, which loosely translates as “the river of sorrows.” After the Spanish gave up their expedition, the regional Ute Tribes controlled this region till the age of the pioneers began.  At sometime shortly after the Civil War, cattle ranchers took to this lush green region and a settlers began to call the spreads by the river their home.  When the Colorado silver mining boom took place in the late 1800s, a railroad junction was built in Dolores to connect mining operations in Rico with points abroad.  The railroad junction is what put Dolores on the map and there is a museum dedicated to this subject in town. 

The town of Dolores was subject to the rise and fall of the regional silver mining operations, which took a sharp dive after the market was flooded with this precious metal.  Dolores saw plenty of hard times after the silver market bottomed out, especially during the Great Depression.  The railroad continued to service this remote area till the golden age of automobile travel was in full swing sometime after WWII.  Like many towns in this region, the local economy of Dolores gradually shifted from mining and cattle ranching to tourism and hospitality.  Catering to tourists during the summer vacation season and offering lodging for winter season snowbirds eventually kept the town of Dolores on the map. 

In recent years, a rebirth of automobile tourism has taken place and towns like Dolores appeal to those who want to get away from it all.  There are several campgrounds, rustic mountain lodge resorts and cozy old fashioned motels located on scenic State Road 145 in Dolores.  Dolores has many attractions of its own that capture interest too.  The Dolores River is famous for trout fishing and the wild game hunting in this forested region simply cannot be beat.  Whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Dolores River is a top notch activity and there are plenty of rentals to be found.  Local businesses also cater to the four wheel drive enthusiasts and mountain bikers that like to take on the challenging dirt roads and trails in this end of the San Juan National Forest.

Like many small towns in the west, the local commerce targets both summer vacationers and weekend warriors.  Dolores has art galleries, tribal trading posts and old fashioned boutique shops that market local artisan goods.  There are shops that cater to weekend antique hunters and there is even a local brew pub too. Dolores has a few interesting local eateries and one of the most popular is the Pearson-Bracken Saloon & Grill, which is also called the Dolores Tavern.  This spacious old fashioned Colorado style saloon is literally located on the banks of the Dolores River.  The saloon has a large wooden deck overlooking the river with plenty of outdoor table seating.  Customers can arrive by car, 4×4, mountain bike or river raft, so this riverside saloon definitely is a good weekend party spot!

The historic town of Dolores may only look like a tiny speck on a map and those who assume that there is nothing to do in this little town will surely miss out on some good fun times!  Dolores is a great little getaway destination of its own and this town is a good starting point for outdoor adventures in the local region.  Even if the venture is just a Sunday afternoon scenic drive on Colorado State Road 145, Dolores is still well worth making a planned travel stop.  Taking the time to check out what Dolores has to offer will result in pleasant smiles, because this historic Colorado destination is so easy to like!  


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

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