Top Ten National Forests in the United States

Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado
By Rene Vasicek

The Rocky Mountains sequester plenty of worthy mountain forests, but few can come anywhere near the sheer ferocity of the Uncompahgre National Forest's cloud-shredding volcanic crags that isolate historic mining towns like Ouray. The density and intensity of these serrated ridges are unsurpassed; its mountain passes are harrowing and unforgiving. It is an otherworldly landscape of alpine tundra that envelopes crags like the 14,150-foot Mount Sneffels and the 13,113-foot Lizard Head. It is an untamed land where Bear Creek carves a chasm deep into the earth like an unrelenting chainsaw of water as a rapid-fire series of waterfalls cascade down the canyon.

While many Rocky Mountain forests were despoiled by 19th-century mining, the forbidding terrain of the Uncompahgre is so rugged and remote that it actually served to limit the devastation. Nevertheless, the forest offers the most impressive mining ruins to be found anywhere precisely because these mountains are so hostile and intolerable. Visitors can ponder ramshackle wooden mining shafts built into sheer vertical cliff walls. Old mining trails traverse impossible narrow ledges that were once trudged by mules and heavy equipment. These haunted ruins serve as a testament to the sheer will of the American miner.

Just the Facts

Size: 102,000 acres

Ouray founded: 1876

Ouray elevation: 7,760 feet

Ouray population: 700 year-round

Features: Intrepid hikers must hike the Bear Creek National Recreation Trail that snakes its way past the Grizzly Bear and Yellow Jacket mines. After a hard winter day on the slopes of Telluride, skiers can relax their muscles in the pool at Ouray Hot Springs. Or simply get naked at Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway where nude bathing in simmering waters of 100 degrees plus melts away any worries and inhibitions.


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