It’s Pronounced You-Ray: Ouray, Colorado
I posted earlier about my harrowing mountain drive along the Million Dollar Highway, just south of Ouray, Colorado, but I didn’t say much about what a great place the town of Ouray is.
First thing you need to know is it’s pronounced You-Ray, not OOOray.
(Every time I think about that pronunciation, I have flashbacks to the Gilmore Girls episode where Kirk starts a driver service called Ooober, claiming it's an entirely different name from Uber. But I digress.)
Entering Ouray is traveling into the 1800s, with good reason. Established in 1876, it’s named after the highly-respected Native American Ute Chief Ouray.
Ouray is known as the Outdoor Recreation Capitol of Colorado. It also lays claim to being the Switzerland of America. Take a look at the aerial shots on their website and you’ll know why.
It’s a popular place for skiers in the winter, motorcyclists in the summer and outdoor enthusiasts all year round. I discovered later I have at least two friends who have ridden their bikes through there.
I knew none of this before arriving there in March. I stumbled upon Ouray, pronounced You-Ray, entirely by chance. I’d stopped at Monarch Crest, perched 11,000 feet up on the top of Monarch Pass, and mentioned to the clerk that I didn’t know where I was headed next. She suggested Ouray, 140 miles west and south of there.
Entering from the north, the first thing you’ll come across entering Ouray are the hot springs signs and a number of motels and lodges.
Ouray’s geothermal hot springs have been enjoyed for hundreds of years, including by the Ute tribe that lived in the area. The water contains many minerals including iron, manganese, zinc, fluoride and potassium but no sulfur, making them odorless.
The hot springs naturally range in temperature from 80 to 150 degrees and are available to the public. The modern facilities were renovated by the city in just the last 10 years.
If you’re even slightly a lover of history, as I am, you’ll love downtown Ouray, pronounced You-Ray. It’s like walking into the past.
The street is lined with shops, restaurants and more than a few drinking establishments. But, and it’s a big positive "but", it doesn’t have the feel of a tourist town. So many towns in Colorado have turned themselves over to tourists with streets neatly lined with prim and proper shops.
Not Ouray. Ouray is still a “town”. It feels like walking down a real main street, not a make believe town at some big theme park.
Markers posted up and down the street provide architectural-style designs of what the storefronts looked like around 1880 and again 20 years later. You can look directly across the street from those images to how things appear today.
The town’s small grocery story is right in the middle of Main Street and where else are you going to find places like the Burning Ass Trading Company or Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing, Colorado’s 66th brewery and still grumpy after all these beers.
Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing
While I’m on the subject of Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing, what a hoot. The place truly lives up to its name.
There’s not one, not two, but three signs around the front door telling you it isn’t the door for Maggie’s Kitchen, the cafe next door.
I strolled in shortly after the posted opening time with no other customers in sight, asked the gentleman tending to the wood stove that supplies heat for the place, I assume Grumpy himself, if he was open and the response was a curt, “What are you looking for?”
My response was an equally straight forward, “I’m looking for a beer,” which must have been the appropriate response because he walked behind the bar and asked me what kind I wanted.
He gave me my beer, took my money and that was the full extent of our interaction, for the entire time I was there. I spent the 20 minutes to half an hour it took me to drink my beer checking out the multitude of notices posted behind the bar, photos on the walls and various other knickknacks strewn about.
He spent his entire time between tending to the wood stove and sitting at the end of the bar, staring at the wood stove.
It was great. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Whether he was just putting on an act or truly is that grumpy, it was well worth the price of admission. He did offer me a friendly “have a good day” as I walked out the door so I suspect there’s a heart under there somewhere.
It’s impossible to pick out a favorite amongst the grumpy sayings and signs found on the walls, including the one on the bathroom door encouraging people to provide positive reviews on Trip Adviser (sic), even though he really doesn’t care. I’ll post photos below where you can check things out and maybe decide for yourself which is the best.
By the way, you know I just had to open the medicine cabinet in the restroom. Ok, show of hands, how many of you check out the medicine cabinets when you’re at a party at a friend’s house? I thought so.
This one was perfectly stocked in case of an emergency with a disposable razor, a couple of toothbrushes and toothpaste, and a dirty paper cup for rinsing. You never know when you’re going to meet that someone special in a brewery and need to spruce up a bit.
The place doesn’t have a website. It does have a Facebook page but, no surprise, it hasn’t been updated in the last six months.
St. Elmo Hotel
One final shoutout to the place of my accommodations for the evening, St. Elmo Hotel. I love this place.
I’m a bit of the fan of the 1980s movie, St. Elmo’s Fire, so the St. Elmo Hotel name caught my attention. (Just to be clear, there is no connection nor comparison between the St. Elmo in the movie, a college hangout bar in Georgetown, and the St. Elmo Hotel in Ouray.)
I hadn’t made a reservation before arriving in town but after driving by and seeing the name, I knew I would forever regret it if I didn’t check it out.
Best decision ever.
Let’s skip straight to the best part, my room was covered with floor to ceiling floral wall paper. I put the real key, not some magnetic card, into the door, swung it open and immediately was struck with sensory overload. I couldn’t have been more excited.
The hotel reminds me of what an 1800s boarding house might have been like. Turns out, that’s kind of what it was.
The St. Elmo Hotel, it’s kept the same name throughout its history, was opened in 1898 by Mrs. Kittie Heit who also owned the restaurant next door. The hotel soon became the main place of lodging for miners in the area.
Mrs. Heit, was a favorite of the miners who called her Aunt Kittie because she often provided a free room or meal to a down and out miner and was sympathetic to their union movement.
The hotel has changed hands many times and seen both ups and downs in the years since Aunt Kittie opened its doors. The current owners however have it on a very positive path. The building is listed on the National Registry of Historical Buildings and it’s been renovated to reflect its Victorian heritage.
It really is a beautiful hotel and the kind of place where you get the feel of family. People staying there are more than strangers passing in the night.
There are no televisions in the rooms. A large parlor on the main floor provides a television for communal use, board games, magazines and books. The breakfast provided is a place where guests sit down with each other and feels more personal than the bagels, large pans of scrambled eggs and yogurt cups served up at large chain hotels.
The original hotel would have had shared bathrooms so private baths have since been added to the rooms. But, to accommodate them to the buildings original design, the sinks are in the main living area. To anyone, like me, who appreciates and even looks for quirkiness, it’s an added bonus.
I’ll be having wonderful visions of that wallpaper in my dreams for years to come.
Just remember, it’s You-Ray.
**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.