Dolores River Canyon
This route is a primary reason why I created the Wide Open Ride series. Colorado is one of the most beautiful states with numerous scenic highways to match. And this remote, little-known drive starting near Grand Junction in western Colorado is one of the best. Officially, it’s called the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. I’ve created three stories on the route. Heading south from Whitewater, the first half of the byway runs through Unaweep Canyon before arriving in the tiny town of Gateway. Unaweep Canyon and Glorious Gateway will star in two upcoming videos. This story features the Dolores River Canyon, the spellbinding 35-mile section past Gateway where the road zigs and zags around walls of stunning red rock. The river carved the canyon out of the soft sandstone. Fossils have been uncovered in these rocks, indicating dinosaurs roamed here millions of years ago. Much more recently, miners arrived in the late 1800s. The ruins of several mines can be spotted high above the highway toward the southern end of the canyon. Though it has several pullouts, the ride is so fun you may not want to stop! But you should at least catch your breath at the Hanging Flume Overlook where you can peek over the edge, admiring the river far below. Then, look for the remnants of a decaying wooden chute clinging to the canyon walls. Finished in 1891, the Hanging Flume is a long-abandoned water system used in the mining process. More ominously, the area is also known for playing a part in World War II. In the 1930s and 40s, ore was processed nearby to produce the uranium used in the first atomic bombs. In fact, the abandoned uranium mining town of Uravan is another six miles onward. From Uravan, the byway passes through Naturita and Norwood before ending in Placerville. Another 16 miles away is the historic resort town of Telluride. However, this video essay turns around at the Hanging Flume Overlook and returns to Gateway, giving the reverse view of the dramatic Dolores River Canyon.
Tiny Gateway is home to the gorgeous, spendy Gateway Canyons Resort with restaurants (at least one should be open depending on time of year) and a convenience store/gas station. At the southern part of the route, Naturita, Norwood and Placerville are small towns with a couple of cafes, motels and gas stations. Historic Telluride is just down from Placerville and offers all the amenities including world-class skiing and a film festival. To the north, Whitewater is close to Grand Junction, the hub of western Colorado. Along with numerous hotel and restaurant choices (and a superb wine and fruit growing area), the airport offers excellent connections to many major cities.
Route & Maps
Starting near Grand Junction, the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway runs from Whitewater to Placerville, following CO 141 and 145. This story profiles the Dolores River Canyon section from Gateway to the Hanging Flume Overlook.
The complete byway runs 133 miles, but this video features the 30-mile part from Gateway to the Hanging Flume Overlook.
From Grand Junction to Telluride, plan on 3½ hours with stops, one-way.
Best Time to Visit
The route is magnificent year-round but check winter road conditions.