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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jeeping in the San Juans

My brother-in-law had been telling me for years how much fun and invigorating taking a jeep ride over the mountains in the San Juans near Ouray was.  I decided to do just that during our annual motorcycle trip this past summer (June '09).  The guys and I rented two jeeps and tried it out ourselves.

We stayed 3 nights in cabins at the Ouray KOA, which is a great campground in a very pretty and quite area just north of Ouray.  We rented the two jeeps at the campground and picked them up at 4:30 on Sunday June 14, '09 and returned them before 5pm the next day.

We left the KOA around 8 after breakfast and headed into town.  We stocked up on snacks and drinks, after all there is not a Burger King on the Alpine Loop. :)

We drove south out of Ouray on US 550 for about 3+ miles and turn left on Country Road 878 a.k.a. The Alpine Loop.  We left the nice paved road and began a day long adventure. (Photo of 1/2 our group as they round a corner on the Alpine Loop)

Within the first 2 miles we hit some pretty big (by this amateur jeepist's standard) rocks and it was pretty rough, but became much better quickly.  The vistas were great.  To the south of the road snow covered Tuttle Mountain was visible.  (That is the picture at the top of the blog.)

The trail continued to ascend up the mountains and we passed several abandoned mines and cabins including Mineral Point that was founded in 1873.  Soon after passing Mineral Point we ascended above the timberline.  Snow patches were plentiful and the higher we went the more snow there was.  Snow melt made the road muddy in places and fed the mountain streams and falls.

Mineral Point as seen from the Alpine Loop.

Another abandoned mine on the loop.

The closer to Engineer Pass the colder it got and the muddier the roads were.  Prior to Engineer Pass there  is a big pull off area named Oh! Point.  There was plenty of room to park (room enough for our two jeeps, ten 4-wheelers that arrived from Lake City on the east end of the Alpine Loop with room to spare). The view was spectacular.  From Oh! Point we could see Engineer Pass and the road that continued east.  (See the next photo)

We continued to Engineer Pass (12,800 ft) in spite of one in our group who was having a difficult time with the sheer drop offs and narrow trails.  At the pass we were rewarded with an amazing view, cold winds, a lot of snow and the thrill of making it to our destination.  We enjoyed the moment and took several photos.

(Here is a link I found on Youtube of jeeps going to Engineer Pass that can give you an idea of the trail.)

We back tracked passed Oh! Point and headed to Animas Forks, an abandoned mining town.  Animas Forks is a great ghost town and is at elevation of almost 11,200 feet. Several buildings are still standing.  We walked around and in buildings. There is a lot history there.  Animas Fork at one time had a newspaper known for being printed at the highest elevation for any newspaper.  A record it still holds.

We continued west through California Gulch surrounded by snow.  At times the snow banks on either side of the trail were 8-12 feet high!  We passed Hurricane Peak (13,447 ft) and drove through Hurricane Pass and continued pass Red Mountain 1(12,592 ft) and down the appropriately named Corkscrew Gulch. (photo on the right was taken at the beginning of Corkscrew Gulch)

At the end of Corkscrew Gulch we come to US 550 and head back to Ouray.  This was my first jeep outing in the mountains, but it will not be may last!  My rating of the Alpine Loop and jeeping around the Ouray/Silverton area is:                                   


  1. Great photos! I definitely recognize all of these places. :) I can't wait to get back out there this summer.

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

  2. I know it's only January but I'm so ready to get back out on the trails. Snowshoeing is a good option right now but summer and the high mountain hiking is the best!

  3. I recognized your photo of that abandoned mine near Ouray immediatly...we've been there for sure but quite a few years ago. I'll never forget it, it was beautiful there. I think your photography is excellent!