Switzerland of America
SAN JUAN MOUNTAIN RANGE, COLORADO
The San Juan Mountains is one of April’s favorite places! The San Juan Mountain Range forms the southern part of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and is thought by some to have the best, most varied scenery of all. This area of the country is labeled as “The Switzerland of America” due to how high and rugged the mountain range is, similar to those found oversees. It is hard not to see why it gained this name.
Spanning the continental divide, it has numerous jagged volcanic summits, 13 of which rise to over 14,000 feet, many lakes, waterfalls and streams including the source of the Rio Grande, several historic towns and countless relics from the gold and silver mining era of the nineteenth century, this latter reflecting the extensive mineralization of the range, as evident from the vivid colors of many of the rocks. Prospectors struck gold in 1873, irreversibly changing the region. The region produced more than $109 million between 1873 and 1940. The booms and busts left behind a mining legacy that can still be seen around the San Juan Mountains today. Large scale mining has ended in the region, although independent prospectors still work claims throughout the range.
Most of the central San Juan Mountains are reachable only on foot or jeep trails – an area 40 miles square with no paved roads that includes about 80 miles of the continental divide, and is thought by some to be the last refuge of grizzly bears in Colorado.