You are here
On The Rocks 2021 Summer Vacation
On The Rock’s Colorado Summer Vacation, July 30 to August 7 of 2021, was spent in Ouray, Colorado known as the Switzerland of America and the area lived up to its name. Recent rains made everything pop with color with abundant flowers at the higher elevations. Ouray (elevation 7,792 feet) is in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado.
Most of us arrived on Friday, with the majority of the group staying at the Ouray Riverside Resort an RV park on the north side of town along the Uncompahgre River with views of each side of the canyon. Our group consisted of Laura and Mike Whittington, Daunne and Dean Fraley, Joanna, Nash, and Chad Oellien, Keith Lyon, Kenneth Lombino, Cathy and Bob Besch, Niki and Garth Thomas, Amy and Mike Dobry, Terey and Michael Sidlinger, Wendy and Bruce Phillips, and of course Brenda and me.
We ran trails each day except for Tuesday, which was our day off to do whatever came to mind and there is a lot to do in the area. Starting on Saturday we ran up Yankee Boy Basin, which starts out relatively easy and becomes more difficult during the ascent. The initial start to Yankee Boy Basin is from the Camp Bird Road, which is shortly after leaving town. There are abundant trees along the lower section of the trails that taper off with elevation to a high-altitude meadow covered in flowers surrounded by a towering cirque of towers. This is an in and out trail so on the way down we turned onto Governor Basin trail. At the turnaround point on the Governor Basin, we stopped for lunch before turning back down toward Ouray. We had a little rain occasionally that did nothing to dampen the experience of being in Southwest Colorado.
On Sunday, we were off to Silverton, another historic town to the south of Ouray by way of the Million Dollar Highway (Colorado 550). It is called the Million Dollar Highway supposedly due the high cost to build the road. Along the way are frequent hairpin curves, shear drop offs, and few guardrails; but the views are impressive. After arriving in Silverton, we ran a simple trail up Kendall Mountain for some high elevation views. This is an up and back down trail and at the bottom we headed for lunch in Silverton. After lunch it was raining, but that did not detract some of us from heading up the Arrostra Creek trail (after the rain stopped), which is northeast of Silverton and follows the aerial tramway from the Mayflower Mine high up the canyon to the processing plant at the bottom. Along the way, you can see many remaining tram towers and overhead cables, several of which still support ore buckets. The mine entrance at this location is blocked off, however, there are plenty of mine equipment ruins such as ore cars, narrow gauge rails, winches, etc. After descending this trail, it was back to Ouray via the Million Dollar Highway being careful not to hit one of the many deer along the highway. There were too many picas, chipmunks, and marmots to keep track of along the trails we were on.
Monday, we were going to run Black Bear Pass, however, the weather report indicated rain. But you guess it, it was a beautiful day. So instead of Black Bear we ran Mineral Creek Trail, Poughkeepsie Gulch Trail, Corkscrew Gulch, and Red Mountain Mining Area. Starting at Mineral Creek Trailhead, which is a little under 4 miles south of Ouray we proceeded to and turned south onto Poughkeepsie Gulch Trail. We ran the harder line on Poughkeepsie Gulch Trail as normal. Some of us made it up the hard part without winching and some of had to use the higher winch point at the top. After Poughkeepsie Gulch Trail, it is a hard right onto Corkscrew Gulch. Corkscrew Gulch has some steep downhill runs and tight hairpin turns that in some ways felt more challenging than on Black Bear Pass. The day turned out to be a wonderful without the forecasted rains. Along the way people were stopping to take picture of mushrooms that looked like overgrown strawberries with red coloring with white spots. Afterwards, we also roamed around the Red Mountain Mining area where the remains of an elevator headworks are above the shaft to the mine below. This was unique in that most of the mines in the area lead directly horizontally into the mine.
Tuesday was our day off and everyone scattered to various parts of Southwest Colorado. Brenda and I headed to Durango to walk the historic downtown area near the train station. The historic Silverton train climbs to Silverton from this train station. Brenda and her powers of persuasion talked one of the workers into giving us a private tour of the historic Strater Hotel so that we could see some of the exceptional and impressive stain glass in the hotel. The hotel is a time capsule back to a grand old time in the hotel’s history. We even poked into the room Louis L’Amour stayed in frequently to write his many western novels. His books are tucked into a locked glass case in the room.
Wednesday, we were off to Black Bear Pass & Imogene Pass with lunch in Telluride. This was one of our longer days starting off at 8AM from the RV park. Black Bear Pass is a one-way trail starting south of Ouray just over the border into San Juan County or roughly about half way to Silverton. The trail starts out relatively friendly until the top and then it is downhill to the switchbacks. The waterfall on Black Bear was in great form this year. No one in our group had problems with the switchbacks even at the tight turn above the power plant. The view down to Telluride was just as great as ever. Once in town, it was time for lunch, where some of us stopped at the familiar Cornerhouse Grille. Around 2PM, everyone gathered for the trip on Imogene Pass back to Ouray. We stopped as usual at the crushing plant ruin along the way to explore the area and look for interesting rocks in hopes of finding gold. There were several large groups on the trail this time around. It was a nice day without any problems.
Thursday, we started off on the Mineral Creek Trail until reaching Colorado Route 2 (CR2) and then turning south to Picayune Gulch. We basically did a big loop within Picayune Gulch and then back on CR2 north to Animas Forks for lunch, which is on a series of roads known as the Alpine Loop. At Animas Forks are the ruins of a mining town (built in 1906) with several homes and buildings still standing including the old jail. After lunch, we headed back via California Gulch Trail and onto Corkscrew Gulch and Hurricane Pass Trail. Once on Highway 550, we made it back to Ouray in time for our group dinner. This was our shorter day and once again it was a wonderful day in the mountains of Colorado.
Brenda, after many phone calls, was able to arrange for us to have dinner Thursday night at the Ouray Café & Steakhouse, which is at the RV park. Many of the restaurants in town either were too small or were understaffed to handle our group. However, Amber, one of the family members who own the RV park arranged for the restaurant to be reserved for us from 5 to 6:30. After dinner, the group tried to sing the Neal Diamond song Sweet Caroline, which also occurred after the group dinner in Moab at the Brewery. Even our waitresses sang along. But trust me, this group should not be allowed to sing outside their respective showers.
Friday, it was once again onto Mineral Creek, this time turning left at the intersection with CR2, which leads to Engineer Pass. Along the way are views that go on for miles. We stopped to take pictures at Odom Pass. Below was a large flock of sheep grazing on the lush vegetation. We later saw the sheep herder’s tent perched on a platform on the side of the mountain. After Odom Pass is Engineer Pass at elevation 12,800 feet. And being an engineer, I had to take a picture of the monument sign. From Engineer Pass, it is basically down the mountain to Lake City a small historic city. Along the trail, Niki, our wildlife spotter, spotted a bear and her cub high up the side of the mountain and of course those with binoculars spent some time tracking the bear. At Lake City we all stopped for ice cream at a small old fashion ice cream parlor, which is the proper way to end Engineer Pass. After Lake City it is a short drive on the highway to Cinnamon Pass where the drive starts out along a large mountain lake. At CR2, we turned south to Silverton and then back on CR550 to Ouray.
Saturday (8/7/2021), unfortunately our time in Ouray came to an end and the remaining groups in town packed up and head out on the asphalt trail.
I want to thank everyone who came along, because without all of you the trip would not have been possible and definitely not as good. Also, I am thankful for the good weather we had for the majority of the trip and no mishaps on the trails. But most important is that everyone was able to enjoy the San Juan Mountains and arrive safely at their final destinations so that we can all do it again. So, until next time, happy trails to you.
Brenda and Jerome