This summer our family took a week long vacation to Colorado, looping through the San Juan Mountains in the souther part of the state. We spent a few nights in at a cabin in Durango, and then moved on to Ouray to spent a couple nights there before pressing on. For those not familiar with the area, this is right in the heart of all the old mining operations with small, old towns like Silverton, Durango, Ouray, Telluride. As the crow flies they are not far from each other but the tall mountains, deep valleys, and slow, twisty, precarious mountain roads space the towns much further apart than one would figure.
We weren't planning on renting a Jeep, let alone heading out on any 4x4 adventure, but when we stopped in Silverton for lunch (between Durango and Ouray) we noticed tons of rental Jeeps. Then, as we arrived in Ouray there were even more Jeep rental companies. We started asking around and found out that there are TONS of Jeep and 4x4 roads all over the San Juan Mountains in this area, in addition to ghost towns and abandon mines. So we made a spur of the moment decision and rented an Orange JK fitted with some mud terrain tires and made new plans to head out the next morning.
That night I poured over the map the rental company loaned us and did some quick research (bull****ted with the other Jeepers staying at our hotel) on routes to take. While the route over Imogene Pass into Telluride was very appealing, it sounded like a loop over Red Mountain, Hurricane Pass, and a visit to Animas Forks was a better bet for our family (and rental Jeep) and more promise of ghost towns and old mines.
The day started out nice and sunny with a scattering of clouds. My wife got some coffee as we bought provisions at a local cafe in Ouray early in the morning. Then we were off. Our start point was 8 miles south of town on Hwy 550. As soon as we pulled off the pavement the soft top went down for some open air wheel'n that day. Then a quick shift into 4Lo (the JK needed the extra grunt) and we started climbing up. And up, and up and up.
The first leg of the journey took us up to the pass at Red Mountain. The whole way up the views just got more impressive with each mile. Red Mountain looked sureal, as if someone dumped a bunch of paint on it. The peak and immediate downslopes were red (surprise) and barren, free of rock outcroppings or vegetation. As we crested the pass we got a great view back down the way we had come. And looking the otherway the moutains and valleys opened before us and we could see the Jeep trail threading off into the distance. Also visible down in the valley was an abandon mine. So we packed up in the Jeep and headed down there to investigate.
At the pass near Red Mountain (which is on the right) looking back down the valley
we had just come up.
At the pass at Red Mountain (on the left) looking off toward Hurricane Pass. It's hard to see
but there is an abandon mine down below that we explored.
The trail ahead. My son chucking rocks off the top of the mountain.
On the way down we ran into another couple out in another rental Jeep (the rental Jeeps were all over the place this day). They were a little lost and looking to get to Silverton but they hadn't bothered to get a map. So we showed them where we were on our map and I suggested to the guy that he take a bunch of photos of our map with is cell phone. It was better than nothing. Then we pointed them on their way, wished them luck, and continued on to the mine.
The old mine was definitely cool to poke around. The shaft was flooded with water and there was evidence of some "recent" activity there in the form of plastic pipes, an electrical panel, some kind of fiberglass water channel / generator(?) thingy, and a rubberized canvas plenum hanging from the wall of the mine. But who knows how long ago someone was working it. We didn't loiter long and set off again.
The trail down to the mine.
Inside the abandon mine shaft. We only poked our
noses in and didn't go any further.
We came over the pass near Red Mountain (upper middle of pic), but
if we continued down the valley toward the left it leads to Silverton.
With an eye on the time we set out again. The big destination was Animas Forks and we had another hour or two of bumpy mountain travel to go. We retraced our steps to the next intersection and pressed onward and upward to Hurricane Pass. On the way we drove past another mining site with some wooden chute perched above the road. Nearing Hurricane Pass we looked back down the valley with the mine and we were rewarded with yet another stunning vista. The whole day was like this, big open views out among the tops of the mountains. Being well above the tree line there was not much to obstruct views, either.
Hurricane Pass was a quickie stop to take a picture of the sign and look out over Lake Como. The pass was at 12,730 ft of elevation, more than 2 miles above sea level and we could all tell. Coming from Seattle with our elevation between 0 - 250 ft we definitely noticed the thinner air. We had been noticing it since the start of the trip as most towns were at ~6,000+ ft of elevation but it was particularly acute up at the tops of the mountains.
The mining chute next to the road up to Hurricane Pass.
At Hurricane Pass, 12,730 ft.
Lake Como below Hurricane pass as we look down Poughkipsie Gulch.
On the other side of the ridge on the right is California Gulch.