Ridgway and it’s Chipeta Solar Springs Resort are the starting point for remarkable outdoor adventures
Ridgway and its Chipeta Solar Springs Resort have been blessed with extraordinary public and private efforts over the years to salvage, repair, restore, preserve and enhance the region’s incredible environment in order to provide visitors and residents with the best possible choices for outdoor experiences. Ask any nature lover, hiker, fly fisher or other outdoor enthusiast to name their favorite destination in Colorado, the Ridgway area and its Uncompahgre River in the San Juans are likely to be named. For many of these outdoor enthusiasts, however, the Uncompahgre River in the San Juans may be one of the least known and appreciated swaths of nature in the state. Born in Lake Como, high in the windswept San Juan Mountains and making its way northward through the towns of Ouray, Ridgway, and Montrose, the rivers 75-mile journey toward a rendezvous with the Gunnison River in Delta, in the language of the Ute Indians, truly is a swath of God’s creation. (“Uncompahgre” translates to “red water spring” in reference to several natural hot springs near Ouray and Ridgway.) The Uncompahgre River in Ridgway State Park flows adjacent to Pa-Co-Chu-Puk Campground. Fly fishers often refer to the Uncompahgre fishery simply as “Paco.” But the story of the River and its transformation into a formidable fishery needs to be appreciated. After the Ridgway Reservoir was completed in 1988, serious questions prevailed as to whether the 1.5-mile stretch of public water below the dam could support a fishery. The upper watershed had been punctuated with so many leaky abandoned mines, waters below were like a polluted gutter. In 1994, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited collaboratively undertook a herculean habitat improvement project at Pa-Co-Chu-Puk. In addition to mine cleanups upstream, two hydro turbines at Ridgway Dam were installed to increase oxygen and decrease nitrogen levels in the river. The fruits of this labor have been drastic improvement of Uncompahgre water quality and an impressive fishery.
A prime spot for accessing the marvelous Uncompahgre river is Dennis Weaver Memorial Park, located about 1.5 miles north of Ridgway on River Sage Road. Chipeta Solar Springs Resort celebrates the life, work and legacy of humanitarian and pioneering environmentalist, Dennis Weaver. So many professional photographers, anyone with a cellphone camera and artists have been inspired to capture some magical facet or scenic vista in the park named after him. Chipeta Solar Springs Resort wants to make sure that visitors and everyone else knows about the 175 acres of spectacular Rocky Mountain terrain along the Uncompahgre River that Dennis Weaver dedicated as a wildlife preserve and recreation area that today honors his memory. In addition, the Park needs to be viewed as part of the larger recreational vision of Uncompahgre RiverWay Trail that eventually will connect Ouray and Ridgway to the Montrose area. A Navy pilot during WWII, athlete and decathlon finalist in 1948, most people know of Dennis Weaver as an actor on Broadway, in motion pictures and TV roles like Gunsmoke. A talented musician, writer and entertainer, Dennis had a love of nature that led to creation of an 80-acre Park as a wildlife preserve and riparian area along the Uncompahgre River Corridor. The Dennis Weaver® Memorial Park dedicated to the memory and vision of this actor/environmentalist is full of nature’s beauty and wildlife. A permanent wildlife preserve, visitors to the Park may see bears, elk, deer, small ground animals like fox, squirrels and rabbits, and certainly plenty of songbirds and local birds. The Park and its river habitat have become a nesting place for ducks, geese, eagles, hawks, herons, and an occasional osprey. In the spring, families and other visitors love to watch and photograph rows of baby goslings learning to swim and native blue heron stalking along the river’s edge looking for food.
Just minutes from Ridgway and Chipeta Solar Springs Resort, the entrance to the park is marked by a sign “Dennis Weaver Memorial Park.” Within the park are miles of winding hiking and biking trails with spectacular mountain and river vistas. Hiking Trails radiate from the park, meandering along the river and traversing the sagebrush-covered mountainsides. For a delightful and easy walk, follow the walkway along the river south to the old railroad bridge in town. The walkway along the river is open all year. In addition to a lovely picnic area, the park can be used for special events. The Park also hosts various events, including a Summer Solstice Ceremony and an annual Paint in the Park contest. Bike Trails weave throughout the park. East and west of the park, bike trails wind through woods and open spaces with awesome views of the San Juan Mountains. Fall colors are spectacular in the Park as well as elsewhere in the San Juans. For family fun and the scenery, take the path along the Uncompaghre River which follows the old railroad grade. Pedal north to Ridgway State Park or south across the railroad bridge to Ridgway. Spring snowmelt from the San Juan Mountains and late spring and early rains make the river really enjoyable for rafters, kayakers, and canoers. This section of the Uncompahgre RiverWay Trail from Ridgway State Park through the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park to Ridgway eventually will link Delta to the north with Ouray to the south. The Uncompahgre RiverWay Trail is a 65-mile route along the Uncompahgre River for which only two major segments have been completed in Montrose and Ridgway. Portions of the planned trail and currently completed sections use a former Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad line. Visitors to Ridgway and the Chipeta Solar Springs Resort have the option of starting on the trail from either Montrose or Ridgway or the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park. Speed limit on US Highway 550 with Ridgway reservoir on the Uncompahgre river in the background, south of Ridgway, CO, USA.
From Montrose’s Trailhead, the trail joins the former rail corridor, crosses the river, traverses fields and ranchlands of Uncompahgre River valley before arriving at the Ute Indian Museum, definitely worth visiting for its extensive collection of resources on the local tribe. The trail surface changes from concrete to gravel and continues for a few miles adjacent to U.S. 550’s unpaved frontage road. A reward for this part of the route is spectacular vistas of the San Juan Mountains to the south, the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west, Grand Mesa to the north, and the Cimarron Ridge and rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to the east. This gravel frontage road, which is suitable for running walking and mountain biking, continues for 5 miles to the tiny community of Colona, a distance of about 5 miles. Visitors who choose to follow the Ridgway portion of the Uncompahgre RiverWay Trail northwards can begin in the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park or at Ridgway State Park’s Dallas Creek area or at Chipeta Solar Springs Resort or from downtown Ridgway. The trail, which is paved throughout Ridgway, runs primarily on the same former Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad corridor as Montrose’s segment and features a restored railroad trestle just north of town. This option leads to the marvelous Dennis Weaver Memorial Park and then northward to Ridgway State Park’s Dallas Creek area at the southern end of the Ridgway Reservoir. In addition to all of the other outdoor activities, the Reservoir provides anglers with a fishery comprising rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, trophy brown trout and yellow perch.