Visiting Colorado’s San Juan Range – and paying homage to the past

Colorado’s San Juan range is arguably the most beautiful location in the Rocky Mountains. That’s because it is home to 13 peaks towering over 14,000 feet, numerous volcanic summits, historic towns, rushing rivers, and accessible waterfalls everyone can enjoy during the day.

Some call Ouray, the picturesque town situated in a river valley at 8,000 feet and surrounded by the San Juans – the “Switzerland of America.”

Well before I had the opportunity to visit this summer, the land I stood on at Ridgway State Park belonged to the Ute people, the oldest residents of Colorado. They’d migrated to the Four Corners region by the year 1300, eventually establishing settlements in each state – Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah – but also maintaining hunting grounds that extended into Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Today, the Ute Nation retains title to three separate reservation lands in both southern Colorado and northwestern Utah.

Views from a well-maintained walking path adjacent to the Ridgway State Park Visitor’s Center.
Overlooking Ridgway Reservoir from a viewpoint near the Ridgway State Park Visitor’s Center.

The more I explore my home state, and anywhere else for that matter, I find it important to know about the history of place and the original inhabits, especially if they’ve moved on either on their own accord or forcefully – something that has happened too many times over the course of human history. And as I stood there alone, I listened to the quiet overtake the the landscape, getting a sense of peace and the way life was here long ago. It was an amazing moment, one in which I could only experience by being present and aware of those who came before me.

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