Thistledown CG, Nat Forest
Our biggest highlight of our time in Ouray was renting a Jeep for an all day trip on the Alpine Loop! We rented it from Switzerland of America Jeep Rental and picked it up the night before so we could get an early start the next day as we wanted to do the loop from Ouray, over the mountains to Lake City and back. Roughly a 10 hour day.
This is a heavy picture blog, but the scenery was BREATHTAKING! I won't comment much, just let you enjoy the pictures. There were many old mines and ghost towns along the way.
Red Mountain in the background. That's where we're headed.
A little early commuter traffic.
We took Ironton turnoff then Corkscrew Gulch.
Right off the bat the colors from the minerals and mining tailings were all around us. The weather was forecasted to be fairly nice but with a late afternoon storm moving in. As the Jeep is open in the back, we dressed very warm. Even Hurley had two layers on.
Other than some muddy, steep, narrow spots in the road, it was a decent road for quite a while. It climbed quickly and then got very narrow. With the steep, open drop offs, it was a little unnerving.
As we neared the top of the various passes, the views would open up and you could see mountain range after mountain range. Some snow covered all year. It was very cold and windy too.
Above the timberline, there were very few wildflowers.
There were gorgeous valleys we'd drive in and out of with several abandoned mines along the way.
I can't remember the name of this little lake, but the color was bright turquoise. They say they do not know just how deep it is, but it's over 1000 feet deep.
Hurley did a good job of holding on!
Looking down a closed mine shaft.
We were told we were NOT covered insurance-wise on Poughkeepsie Gulch. It was very technical and they strongly advised against it. From what we drove on so far, we decided that would be NO problem!
Another old mine opening.
The turquoise blue color of the streams up here is so pretty.
One of the newer homes in Animas Forks, an old mining town, very well preserved.
We saw almost no one all day until we got up here. It's a crossroads for several mining towns and roads to get to/from Ouray, Silverton and Lake City.
Quite a bit of snow up here on this side of Cinnamon Pass. We should make it over this pass before the storm hits.
WOW is it COLD up here!
Almost over the mountains and coming into Lake City. Much warmer and much sunnier.
Very interesting story of cannibalism in the mountains. Reminds me of the Donner Party that crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains near where we lived in California.
The small town of Lake City. We wanted to get some lunch at the Packer Saloon & Cannibal Grill (politically incorrect?), but the storm was a little worrisome, so we just picked up some coffee and headed back. Great coffee by the way!
The Aspen are still green up here. Just a tiny bit of color every once in a while. I'll bet it's gorgeous later in the later Fall.
Many waterfalls still coming down from the snowmelt.
Cute Marmots everywhere.
Unfortunately the Beetles have devastated many parts of Colorado's forests. There is about a 50% kill in this area. What a shame.
Very unique log home way up in thee mountains. You have to park across a gorge and walk over the very narrow bridge to get to the house.
While you would see a nice home every once in a while, most of the old "homes" are much more modest! Some are old abandoned mining shacks, some are just used for hunting.
Not much left of this one.
Here is a little description of the road from dangerousroads.org:
The gravel road to the pass is called Engineer Pass Road or Ouray County Road 18. The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both). This trail, combined with Cinnamon Pass, constitutes the famous Alpine Loop. Some of the highlights of this trail are the many mines, ghost towns, waterfalls, fishing and incredible views.
The road to the top is recommended for high clearance four wheel drive short wheel base, and is really too narrow for a 4WD pickup truck. There are a few narrow, steep places on the west side of the pass that will get your attention. The road remains an adrenaline-pumping journey and is definitely not for the faint of lungs, heart, or legs. This is a very high pass and should not be treated lightly. Don’t drive if snow covered. Caution should be used at all times especially in wet weather.
Do not travel this pass in severe weather conditions. Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime, being extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards, and driving under these conditions, can be extremely challenging.
Taking Engineer Pass on the way back is a bit steeper and quite narrow at the top!
We'll be down there in a bit.
Hmm. The storm is moving in quickly and we hear thunder in the distance. We sure don't want to be up at this elevation, exposed to the storm.
Temps are dropping even further and it's beginning to switch back and forth from rain to snow and back to rain.
Thankfully the worst of it holds off until we get back to the timber line. Now a nasty hailstorm hits us. Here's a little video of it below.
We pulled over for a bit to let it pass and let all that water run off a little.
Well, so much for that. The roads kept getting steeper and run-off was all over the road.
It really is hard to tell in the pictures how steep and uneven the road is in spots. Boulders and drop offs on the road itself led to me getting out and spotting Steve. There were many times all the tires were not on the road at the same time. Just a wee bit scary.
Rocky, steep, uneven switchbacks are many.
This section was the narrowest with a rock wall that hung over the road some and a steep drop off down the gorge on the other!
Another spot I had to help Steve maneuver around. The pointy boulder in the middle drops off about 2 feet on the other side. He was quite tilted on this spot.
Thankfully there were just a few more scary switchbacks before we hit pavement once again. While we are not bigtime 4-wheelers, we are not novices. I have to wonder how many people they rent to that have NO experience with a 4wheel drive on roads like this. Many foreigners come out here too. There are almost no places to turn around, so once you head up, you're committed!
The next morning I was wondering why my legs were sore. Then I realized it was from bracing myself after a 10 hour drive. Now I know why some advise to wear a kidney belt.
We sure loved our time in Ouray!