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When the Desert Southwest is sizzling with the extreme heat of summer, heading off to cooler destinations in Colorado sure is mighty appealing idea. The combination of high elevation weather systems and being just a few hundred miles north of the sun belt can really make a difference in temperature. July and August temperatures in Colorado tend to be nearly 25ºF cooler than Southern California, Southern Nevada and Arizona. This 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 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 many Southwestern Colorado ventures and this town is a popular summer vacation base camp.
From Cortez, Colorado State Road 145 runs north to Dolores, Rico Ghost Town and Telluride. This scenic byway is a popular choice for motorcycle rally organizers and classic car clubs that head up to Telluride for the summer season music festivals. SR 145 parallels the Dolores River as it runs through mountainous terrain deep into the San Juan National Forest. The panoramic views along this scenic byway certainly are picturesque.
The town of Dolores has an interesting historic past, which 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 before European explorers landed on American shores. Remnants, artifacts and pueblo ruins of this ancient society can be seen everywhere that the Delores River flows.
The town of Dolores is the home of the Anasazi Heritage Center, which is a great destination of its own. The Anasazi Heritage Center has a museum full of Pueblo People artifacts with multi media displays that provide a good learning experience for visitors of all ages. Two ancient pueblo ruins are also located at the Anasazi Heritage Center. The Escalante Pueblo Ruins overlook a portion of the Dolores River, which is now a large reservoir lake.
Dolores is also the gateway to the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument, which has over 6,000 archeological sites. More ancient Pueblo People archeological 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 the region surrounding Dolores. The information that the Anasazi Heritage Center provides is a great help for those who seek these sacred places.
The modern history of Dolores began in the late 1700's when the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition passed through this region. The priests called the river "Rio de Nuestra Senora de las Dolores." After the Spanish gave up their expedition, 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 spreads by the river their home. When the Colorado silver mining boom took place in the late 1800's, a railroad junction was built to connect mining operations in Rico and a few towns further north with points abroad. The railroad junction drew pioneers away from the river and soon the old west railroad town of Dolores on the map.
The town of Dolores was subject to the rise and fall of the regional silver mining operations. Dolores saw plenty of hard times, especially during the Great Depression. The railroad continued to service this remote area till the golden age of automobile travel was in full swing after WWII. Like many towns in this region, the local economy of Dolores gradually shifted from mining and cattle ranching to tourism. Catering to the Route 66 style tourists during the summer vacation season and ski lodge snowbirds during the winter helped to keep 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 lodge resorts and cozy old fashioned motels located on scenic State Road 145 around Dolores. Dolores has many attractions that interest tourists too. The Dolores River is famous for trout fishing and the hunting in this forested region simply cannot be beat. Whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Dolores River is top notch and there are plenty of businesses in the area that cater to fans of these water sports. 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 a railroad museum too.
Everybody gets hungry when enjoying the great outdoors, so as expected, the town of Dolores has a few good eateries and interesting old saloons. On my way back to Cortez from Rico, I decided to stop by 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 arrive by car, 4x4, mountain bike and river raft. This combination of clientele leads to some pretty good conversations and fun times in this great old fashioned riverside saloon!
The historic town of Dolores may just look like a tiny dot on the map and those who assume that there is nothing to do in this little town are dead wrong! Dolores is a great little getaway destination 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 to the old silver mining ghost towns further up the line, Dolores is 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!