Summer Adventures in Southwest Colorado are Just Beginning!
May is entering into the final days, heralding a summer filled with the excitement of back country explorations.
We had a decent winter this year - enough snow to keep us safe from draught, but not so much that it will be mid-July before it is safe to venture out at all.
Granted, there aren't a ton of four wheel drive roads open yet, But a quick drive to the twin falls in Yankee Boy Basin, or a leisurely drive along Owl Creek sure do sound like fun!
Four Wheel Drive Road Status as of May 30, 2014:
Animas Forks - Open
Alta Lakes - Open
Black Bear Pass - Closed
Blue Lakes Trailhead - Open
Brown Mountain - Closed
Cinnamon Pass - Clear to the top from the Silverton side
Clear Lake - Open
Corkscrew - Clear to the top from the Silverton side
County Road 2 to Animas Forks - Open
County Road 9 - Open
Cow Creek - Open
Engineer Pass - Clear to the top on the Silverton side
Fall Creek Road (to Woods Lake) - Closed
Governors Basin - Closed
Hastings Mesa - Open
Horsefly - Closed
Hurricane/California - Closed
Imogene - Closed
Iron Springs (Hwy 145 through to Hwy 62)- Closed
Last Dollar Road - Open - High clearance vehicles only; expect mud snow and ice
Little Cone Road (CR G49) - Closed
Maggie/Minnie - Closed
Miniehaha (CR 51) - Closed
Old Lime Creek - Closed
Ophir - Clear to the top of the pass on the Silverton side. Should be open on Ophir side by mid-June
Owl Creek Pass - Maintained to Vista Point - Currently Open 5.4 Miles from Vista Point
Pittsburgh Mine Road - Closed
Placer - Closed
Poughkeepsie - Closed
Red Mountain Town - Open
Shrine Road (CR 6) - Closed
Skyline - Closed
South Mineral Campground road - County road 7 - Open
Yankee Boy - Open
Stony Pass - Closed
Please remember as always: road conditions in the high country can change in minutes. Please use extreme caution during the early spring months. If in doubt, turn around and take a different trail. Even the low altitude trails can be very hazardous, and early Spring there is not as much traffic. This is definitely awesome in many ways, but also adds to the fact that breakdowns will result in a much longer walk. It is also very important to let someone know where you plan on going, as with hiking. Just let your front desk agent know you plan on exploring the back roads, and an approximate time to expect to see you back.
Let the staff at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs help you to have a safe and exciting adventure in the San Juan Mountains! We look forward to keeping you up to date on road conditions and the best possible trip ideas.
See you Soon!
From Mining to Ranching to Soaking in Natural Hot Springs; The Beauty of Ouray County is Everlasting!
The Ute Indians arrived in what is today known as Ouray County about 1300 AD to find a land formed some 35 million years ago by firs and ice. Immense volcanic eruptions resulted in deep, lava formed craters. The most recent Ice Age scoured the mountain valleys, carving great amphiteatres, cliffs and peaks. the Utes valued the Uncompahgres based on abundant wildlife, plentiful streams, and of course the natural hot springs. For ages, the Ute tribe lived in harmony with the land.
It is widely believed that the first white men to visit the valley were "Gus" Begole and John Eckles in 1875 in search of gold and silver. Soon the men found the area was rich in possibilities, and soon claims were being made all through the area.
The following spring, the rush was on. The town was surveyed, streets laid out, and most of the timber in the Ouray area was cut down for cabins. In the fall of 1876, the town was incorporated and given the name of Ouray in honor of the great Ute chief famed for his efforts to maintain peace between the two cultures.
Mines were also taking root higher in the mountains in Imogene and Yankee Boy. Pack trains carried supplies and ore between local mines and Ouray, now over 400 strong, boasting a school, four stores, two hotel, a saw mill, an ore sampling works, post office and an assortment of saloons and gambling houses.
In 1883, entrepreneur and engineering genius Otto Mears carved a toll road between Ouray and the towns of Silverton and Ironton to the south. This road is now known as US Highway 550, or more lovingly dubbed the Million Dollar Highway.
In 1887, the area experienced another boom when the Denver Rio Grande Railroad established a depot in town, which allowed the profitable mining of low grade ores. With rich discoveries made northeast of town in the Gold Hill area, and the mining industry booming, the population of Ouray exploded to over 2000 residents by the year 1890. The following year, the town of Ridgway was developed as a travel hub for the railway.
The town suffered a scare in 1893, when the value of silver plummeted, but three years later was again riding high when Tom Walsh struck it rich at the Camp Bird Mine, southwest of town. Between 1896 and 1910, the mine produced over $26 million.
At the turn of the century, Ouray entered a boom or bust cycle as mining became less productive and tourism became more of a focal point. The Ouray Hot Springs Pool was built, and the city purchased Box Canyon Park.
Ridgway prospered as a railroad transportation center until the Rio Grande Rail Southern Rail halted service in 1951. Today, Ridgway is a successful ranching community, gifted with moderate climate and fertile land. The town continues to serve as an important junction, leading to some of the finest skiing in Colorado, and energy rich mineral deposits in the west.
The city of Ouray has been designated as a National Historic District. Beautifully preserved and restored Victorian architecture serves to recall the century old mining traditions and ingenuity of the early settlers. Even the city pool is on the National Historical Register.
The Ouray County Historical Society Museum is housed in what was once the hospital, and offers a sampling of the rich and varied past of the area.
There are over 10,000 abandoned mine shafts, tunnels or cuts within a ten mile radius of Ouray, for hikers to seek and discover, as well as access to over 500 miles of four wheel drive trails, most leading to ghost towns and abandoned mines high in the mountains. It is always fascinating to experience in a four wheel drive vehicle trails that were once traveled by hearty men and women on horseback or on foot, often in the winter through feet of snow. Yikes!
The Bachelor Syracuse Mine, just a few miles north of the city now offers tours, taking people over 2,000 feet into the ground to experience a tiny taste of mining at the turn of the century.
Rich in history and overflowing with natural beauty, Ouray County offers a variety of adventures. Whether fascinated by the old town feel, or eager to soak in the natural mineral hot springs, there is something for everyone here.
See you soon!
Not so Long Ago, Ouray was Just One Of Many Towns in Southwest Colorado.
Founded in 1883 and quickly becoming one of the largest towns in the area with over 1800 residents at its peak, Ironton, Colorado, originally know as Copper Glenn, was a thriving mountain town until the late 1950's. At the end of the mining craze in Southwest Colorado, it, along with so many towns, was eventually abandoned by its residents.
A few years ago, while out four wheeling with my family, my step father, born and raised in Ouray, began telling us about his days as a miner in Ouray County. One of my favorite stories was how he and his friends would sneak out and head up to Ironton for the night when they were kids. Apparently, it was quite the place to hang out, always full of miners and good times. Of course, I did wonder if he was referring to Red Mountain Town, which was reputed to have more bars than houses, but he was a pretty mild man, so Ironton probably seemed quite dangerous when he was 15.
The saloons are no longer standing, but one bar can be found in the Saloon at the Historic Western Hotel on 7th Street in Ouray. If you get the chance to, go enjoy a beer and the owners will share with you some interesting facts. Such as the fact that when the bar was dismantled, the pieces were numbered, but somehow, they still wound up putting it back together wrong. Not that it matters. It is a beautiful piece!
Ironton was still considered a town up until the 1960's. In fact, there is an episode of the series "I've Got A Secret", dated December 18, 1961, that is quite amusing, and features the last resident of the town, Milton Larson. He and his brother stayed in Ironton working their mines until they passed away. Although the clip shows a picture of Miltons house in Ironton, it is difficult to picture where it is when in what is left of the town today. Not only that, but from what I have read and heard, as the mining industry began to decline, people just abandoned their homes and those left were known to move into an empty house if it were in better condition than their own. What an interesting time they must have had! Imagine choosing from a variety of homes every day.
Unlike Ouray and Silverton, Ironton suffered several fires through the years, destroying much of the original architecture. It is fascinating to look at old photos on the Historical Society website.
Easily accessible from highway 550, Ironton can be visited any time of year. During the winter months, the Ouray Nordic Council grooms cross country ski trails all around the ghost town. There is little to compare to skiing around the remaining buildings in the surreal quiet of a winter day in the Uncompahgres. It is tempting to step inside and explore these silent witnesses to a time long passed regardless of the season. Be warned though, it can be pretty dark, and these houses are literally falling down. Enter at your own risk!
Jeep tour guides will tell a variety of stories about some of the homes and characters of Ironton and the surrounding mines. One story that stands out is about a man so in love with his wife, he spent 8 years building her dream house in town, complete with a heart shaped deck. Less than a year after she joined him, she became ill and passed away during the long cold winter. The story goes that instead of putting her in the cellar until the spring thaw, she was wrapped in a blanket and set in her rocking chair on the porch she loved, gazing at the spectacular view until Spring.
As with any old ghost town, stories about the people who once walked the streets are prolific. Of course, standing between two of the buildings still standing so pristine, one can create their own image of what it must have been like. One of my favorite things is to have conversations with the people that were actually there. Remember, Ironton is a fairly young ghost town, so many of our residents remember a different time. The Ouray County Museum is a great place to visit to view pictures of Ironton and many other towns that once were thriving communities, and they also offer a number of "Evenings in History" with speakers sharing a piece of American history from not so long ago.
Getting There: The town of Ironton is located just off of Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton. From the Box Canyon Lodge, turn right onto Highway 550 heading South toward Silverton. Just past Crystal Lake on the right, about nine (9) miles, there is a pull out on the left. Signs indicate the turnoff for Corkscrew Pass, Brown Mountain, and Ironton Park. This is an easier turn off to spot, and the town can be reached from this turn off, however, perhaps a quarter mile further south is a short dirt road leading to the town site, County Road 20D. The road is quite grooved, but you can get to the parking area without a four wheel drive.
Take a Journey into History, While Experiencing the Majesty of Southwest Colorado on a Jeep Tour!
Have you ever wondered what all of the fuss is about when people talk about four wheeling in the San Juans? Whether it is your first visit, or your hundredth, regardless of your off road experience, taking a ride with one of the knowledgeable guides in Ouray is well worth it.
From the moment we boarded the twelve passenger tour jeep, everyone knew this was going to be a day of fun. Greg, owner of San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours picked us up promptly at 8:30, and immediately set a mood of adventure with his friendly, professional manner.
We jumped on Highway 550, and began our tour with a quick stop at the Bear Creek pull off. This section of the Million Dollar Highway was just recently expanded and offers a spectacular view of the Uncompahgre Gorge. A plaque honoring Otto Mears stands testament to the fact that this section of road was built and maintained by hardworking people. Photos of the highway and toll booth when it was fist built, remind us of how times have changed.
Another quick stop to walk around in the town of Ironton was a fascinating journey into the history of the Uncompahgres. It is hard to believe that once there were over a thousand residents where now there are only a few buildings still standing. You cannot help but marvel at how quickly Mother Nature takes back an entire town.
Just past the Summit of Red Mountain Pass, the real adventure began, as we turned off onto a county road, which would lead us to the Highway to Heaven. San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours is the only tour company with permission to drive this road, so there were no other vehicles as we unlocked the gate and began the ride.
Wildflowers dot the countryside as the road climbs in altitude, past abandoned mines and falling down houses on the deceptively smooth road. Perhaps ten minutes after the gate, the real ride began. Greg stopped and told us some history of the area, then gestured beyond to the beginning of the Highway to Heaven. The grade was daunting, and the tour truck immediately geared into four low as we began the ascent. Looking to the side, there is very little shoulder, and the countryside opens in a breathtaking panorama. Sitting in the far back seat, it was fun to look forward and see nothing but sky past the heads of my co travelers.
As we reached the top of the road, clouds obscured our view for a moment, and we all got out of the vehicle to stand at the edge, where no one questioned whether we truly had risen as far as the name of the tour proclaimed. A light breeze pushed aside the clouds, and we found ourselves gazing down at the Million Dollar Highway from what seemed like a thousand miles above.
Some of us tried to get our picture taken with a finger in the lake below, but our aim was a little off.
The ride back down was amusing. some folks with weak stomachs opted to walk as opposed to riding back down the steepest part of the road. Greg just chuckled when asked if his feelings were hurt. The drivers on these tours have traveled these roads so often, it is old hat to them. We caught up with them quickly enough, and the ride down the hill was not nearly as frightening as everyone thought it would be.
Shortly after, we found ourselves in the tiny town of Silverton. A quick stop at the courthouse to use the restrooms, then we headed to Handlebars for lunch. This little restaurant is a popular spot for lunch, between the atmosphere, friendly service and great food its no wonder!
Heading home, we took Corkscrew Pass. This four wheel drive road is full of twists and turns, but not overly treacherous. It takes you up above timberline again, and we all got out to look across the way at the mountaintop we had just been to.
Once back at the hotel, everyone was truly satisfied, and perhaps a little tired. There is nothing like spending an entire day travelling the back roads around Ouray. It always seems as if there is something more magnificent to see beyond every switchback, and it is hard to leave, but once the day was over, everyone was glad to relax and download all the pictures, or soak in the mineral hot spring tubs.
Let us help you decide on the perfect jeep tour for your visit! At the Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs, our team makes it a point to know what will best suit your party. Whether you are looking for bumpy roads and heart pounding adventure, or a scenic ride to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, we can help create the perfect adventure for you.
See you Soon!
Jeep Trails are opening up in the high country. Head on up to Ouray today!
Ouray Coun ty has had a beautiful Spring! With the snow almost gone, it is time to head out to the high country and enjoy the amazing scenery of the San Juan Mountain range. Wildflowers are blooming everywhere. It's just a question of where you want to go to see the full effect of blankets of color over green grass.
Photographers fantasize about days as full of images as one might see in less than a morning here. With over 500 miles of trails to choose from right outside of town, it is no wonder Ouray, Colorado is nick-named The Jeeping Capital of the World!
Even driving the highway is a pleasure this time of year. Everywhere you look, the new calves and foals are roaming pastureland. Just earlier this week, a guest reported sighting a baby bear as she drove into town!
With the re-opening of three mines on Camp Bird Mine Road, the track is already open to the bathrooms at Yankee Boy! Take advantage of the mild weather and quiet time of year to explore the Uncompahgres!
Four Wheel Drive Road Status as of June 13, 2013:
Alta Lakes - Open
Black Bear Pass - Closed
Blue Lakes Trailhead - Open
Brown Mountain - Open
Cinnamon Pass - Open to Lake City
Clear Lake - Open
County Road 2 to Animas Forks - Open
County Road 9 - Open
Cow Creek - Open
Engineer Pass -Open
Fall Creek Road (to Woods Lake) - Open
Governors Basin - Open
Hastings Mesa - Open
Horsefly - Open
Hurricane/California - Open
Imogene - Open to Richmond basin and Silver Basin on Ouray side - Open to the Summit only on San Miguel side.
Iron Springs (Hwy 145 through to Hwy 62)- Open
Last Dollar Road - Open
Little Cone Road (CR G49) - Open
Maggie/Minnie - Open as far as the Kitty Mack Cut-off
Miniehaha (CR 51) - Open
Old Lime Creek - Open
Ophir - Open - BE ADVISED ICY CONDITIONS
Owl Creek Pass - Open
Picayune - Open
Pittsburgh Mine Road - Closed
Placer - Open
Poughkeepsie - Closed
Red Mountain Town - Open
Shrine Road (CR 6) - Open
Skyline - Open
South Mineral Campground road - County road 7 - Open with hosts on site
Yankee Boy - Open
Stony Pass - Open to Pole Creek *Please use extreme caution crossing Pole Creek in the Spring!
Please remember as always: road conditions in the high country can change in minutes. Please use extreme caution during the early spring month. If in doubt, turn around and take a different trail. Even the low altitude four wheel drive trails can be treacherous as winter melt off erodes paths and causes rock slides. Every trip is an adventure, and once you have spent the day exploring the San Juans, there is no better way to relax than a long soak in our soothing mineral hot spring tubs!
Let the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs help plan your next trip in the high country! We can arrange jeep tours or jeep rentals with the company of your choice. For tours, the driver will come pick you up from our lobby and bring you right back to us at the end of an eventful day.
See You Soon!
Celebrate the Fourth of July surrounded by the majesty of the San Juan Mountains!
So, you may be wondering..."What to do in Colorado on the Fourth what with the fireworks cancelled?" Well, you've come to the right place! Long before fireworks were a prevalent part of the Independence day celebration, Ouray has provided a full day of family fun and entertainment, and this year may well be one of the best yet.....fireworks or not!
Ouray and the surrounding towns in Southwest Colorado provide a truly original experience on the Fourth of July. Virtually unchanged since its birth in the 1800's, this tiny mountain town provides an historic taste of our countries special day. Traditions in Ouray on the fourth have lasted through the years, changing only slightly.
First thing in the morning, join your fellow running enthusiasts at Fellin Park for the Ourayce 10K, part of the Ouray 2012 Race series. The race will finish up just in time to converge on Main Street, which will be closed at 10:00 am for the annual Fourth of July Parade. Cheer for all of the different organizations and individuals marching, or, enter yourself!
After the parade, the fun is just beginning. Family fun and games start at 11:00 am, and are an all day event at Fellin Park. The Ouray Elks, among others will be offering great barbeque options, from burgers and brats to some of the best ribs ever. If you're looking for an escape from the outdoor activities, all of the restaurants and shops will be open and ready to provide you with a great experience of small town hospitality and good cheer.
Highway 550 will close down for the second time of the day at 2:00 pm when the annual water fights commence. A tradition started in the late 1800's, with as many rocks as there was water shooting from the fire hoses, these hearty miners stood for up to an hour against each other with no protection but a ladies bathing cap. These days, competitions are timed and teams wear protective gear, limiting the number of injuries but certainly not the amount of fun audiences have watching competitors push their endurance to the limits.
Dinner is a difficult decision in Ouray on the Fourth of July. All of the local restaurants offer a fabulous variety of dining options with the celebratory air of the day. Enjoy margaritas on the deck, or prime rib in an old fashioned saloon.
The Wright Opera House will be offering a free viewing of ET at 4:00 pm, and 6:00 pm, which is a great way to wind down after a day of frivolity and fun.
Of course, the night isn't over yet! Not by a long shot! Also starting at 4:00 pm, Mike Gwinn and the North Fork flyers will begin a free concert in the park! All of the activities and booths open throughout the day will stay open at Fellin Park until the JEEP GLOW PARADE at 9:00 pm. Bring your Jeep to the Ouray “Switzerland of America” Overlook on Hwy 550 at 8:15 to line up for the “glow” parade, starting at 9:00 PM. Glow sticks and decorations provided by the Ouray Chamber Resort Association. Donations accepted.
Whether this is the first or the fiftieth time you experience the Fourth of July in Ouray, it will be a day to remember!
With over 500 miles of accessible 4WD trails at our doorstep, is it any wonder Ouray is know as the Jeeping Capitol of the World?
When driving to Telluride in the winter, or in a sedan, or if you're in a hurry, it is a circular route down Highway 550 to Ridgway, turn on to Highway 62, then a few miles further down the road, turn onto Highway 145 which takes you to a town very similar to Ouray, but a mountain range away. The entire drive is forty-seven miles and takes about an hour.
Of course, thats not the only way to Telluride, just the fastest. Imogene, Black Bear, Ophir and Last Dollar are some other options, but not for the faint of heart (except perhaps for Last Dollar).
Black Bear Pass is the shortest in miles, but takes alot longer than the highway. A short twelve miles of sharp twists and narrow turns, this level five trail is not for the faint of heart. In fact, most rental companies strictly forbid the use of their vehicles on this one. Definately take a tour though!
Imogene is a level four jeep trail traversing 17 miles of spectacular scenery. This is propably the second most popular trail in the area, taking drivers over rough terrain to the summit of 13,100 feet. Both of these typically open around July Fourth so the early opening of these roads is exciting indeed! Perhaps I will let someone drive me over them this year!
Ophir Pass is considered one of the easier four wheel drive roads in the area. Summiting at a little over 11,000 feet, this level three trail travels past waterfalls, and a mountain lake as it eventually drops you into the small town of Ophir, a few miles away from Telluride. As you enter into the 'city limits' of Ophir, you are greeted with a welcome sign which proclaims the population down to house pets. Super cute!
Are you a John Wayne fan? Last Dollar Road takes travellers past the Ross Ranch, one of several film locations from True Grit in and around Ouray County. Accessed about 10 miles outside of Ridgway, at the top of Dallas Divide, this level one trail gives drivers a sense of the majesty of the back country without the extreme switchbacks and sheer drops of some of the more difficult roads.
Do them all, perhaps not in one day, but each road is its own adventure and well worth the drive. After that, no worries! Take a drive to Silverton over Corkscrew or head on over to Lake City on Engineer, or explore some ghost towns in Red Mountain Town.
120 years ago the population of Ouray was at its peak and silver mining supported the town.
Getting the ore down from the mines and supplies back up to the mines was carried out by freighting outfits who employed dozens of men and kept hundreds of horses, mules, burros (donkeys) and wagons. The standard ore wagon had a five-ton capacity and was pulled by six horses or mules (see attached photo).
The wagons of course could only be used on roads, but many of the mines were located on narrow trails. Long teams of mules or burros could be seen every day on the streets of Ouray preparing to head to the mines. Horses were too skittish for hauling to the mines on narrow trails and mules were much more sure-footed. A mule could carry 200-400 pounds of material while a burro could carry 75-150 pounds. Burros have the advantage that they would feed themselves by eating natural vegetation while mules needed to have food provided. Some of the items freighted to the mines included food, coal, machinery, rail, lumber, explosives and tools. Lumber was hauled up to the mines tied at one end to a burro and dragging on the other end. It would be ordered six inches longer than needed so the damaged end could be cut off.
Dave Wood’s Magnolia Line was the most important of the early San Juan freighting businesses. He followed the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad’s railhead and provided freight service from there to towns further west. In 1884 Wood built his own road, still known today as the Dave Wood Road, from Montrose to Telluride. He served towns until the railroad arrived: Ouray in 1886 and Telluride in 1892. At one point he had over 500 head of horses, mules and oxen at work. When a newcomer to Colorado asked him how long he had lived in these mountains, Wood replied, ”Madam, I hauled these mountains in here.” In spite of his great success he went bankrupt during the Silver Panic of 1893.
Even after the railroad arrived in Ouray in 1886 freighting was still needed to get materials to the mines. The largest freighting company to serve Ouray’s mines was owned by John Ashenfelter. His company served Ouray from 1882 until his death in 1910 and was the exclusive freighter for the Camp Bird and Revenue Mines. Ashenfelter’s business occupied both sides of 8th Avenue in the block west of Main Street. He had two large barns, wagon and grain warehouses, three livery stables, corrals as well as blacksmith and carpentry shops. At the height of his business he had 24 six-horse teams, many dozen pack mules and a herd of 80 burros. Ashenfelter also ran a daily four-horse stage up the Camp Bird Road. In 1899 his stage was the scene of the only reported stagecoach robbery in Ouray County.
Ouray was also served by many smaller livery stables. They did a brisk business in renting buggies, wagons and horses. It was common practice for miners at the Camp Bird and Revenue Mines to walk into Ouray on a Saturday and then hire a horse on Sunday to ride back to the mine. The horse would then return riderless to the livery stable.
John Donald came to Ouray in 1886 and started a packing business with a string of burros. He did most of the ore packing for the mines on Gold Hill north of Ouray. He eventually bought what remained of the Ashenfelter stables in 1920. The Fellin brothers established a freighting business in 1911. They did most of the hauling for the Atlas and Mountain Top Mines. The Fellin brothers purchased John Donald’s business after his death in 1933. Fellin trucks continued to haul the Camp Bird ore to the railroad until the 1960s.
Other livery stables included Union Livery Company which was located on Main Street and had wagons and carriages on the first floor and stables in the basement with large corrals in the back. A. A. Moore established the Free Coinage livery in 1898 at the corner of 9th Ave and Main Street. Today’s Ouray Livery Barn traces its history back to 1883 when the O. K. Stables were established. In 1893 Charles Rowley, who had married John Ashenfelter’s sister, purchased the O. K. Stables and operated it until his death in 1930.
About the Author: Don Paulson is the curator at the Ouray County Historical Society and Ouray County Museum. He is also a retired Professor of Chemistry where he specialized in organic chemistry. Don is an active member of the Ridgway Railroad Museum, and an avid hiker, 4WD (jeep) enthusiast, and photographer in addition to his duties as curator for the museum.
About 50 Miles South of Ouray, the Old Lime Creek Road Provides an Easy Forray into Backcountry Driving (4WD)
Drive the original US 550 through beautiful coniferous and aspen forests. In the fall, this road is a great fall foliage scenic drive and Colorado Color tour through shimmering aspen tree forests. Most of the road is quite easy, but, a high clearance vehicle is essential in some rocky sections.
Take US Forest Service Road 591 approximately three miles north of Purgatory Ski Area. This scenic drive in Southwest Colorado takes adventurers to Scout Lake, approximately 3 miles from this intersection. Scout Lake provides an incredible landscape for Plein Aire painters all summer long. The lake is full of blooming lilly pads in July and August and home to numerous ducks, geese and other water fowl. Past Scout Lake, the road becomes a wide shelf road, overlooking the beautiful Lime Creek Valley below. In sections, you will see remnants of the original US 550 through this area; notice the intracate rock and brick guard rails that were built in the 1930s through the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The Lime Creek Road lies on the edge of old Ute land, running along Lime Creek from the Upper Animas River Basin to the Silverton area. It was first used as a hunting trail by the Utes. Captain Charles Baker was one of the earliest prospectors to use the trail in 1860, prior to mineral prospecting rush of that decade. The trail was converted into a formal road in the late 1800s. It was used heavily by prospectors carrying gold and silver as well as early pioneers trying to access Silverton’s extremely profitable mining country. Even though this road may seem primitive and a bit treacherous by todays standards, it was still the easiest route to reach the Animas Valley. The other alternatives meant trekking the steep slopes of the Molas Divide or attempting the Animas Canyon. Imagine what it would have been like to ride the road in a horse drawn wagon!
This road rejoins the current US 550 12 miles later, about 11 miles south of Silverton on the slopes of Coal Bank Pass.
Off the Beaten Path 4WD and Motorcycle Roads in Ouray County Colorado for Wildflower Viewing and Fall Foliage
Ouray County Roads 2 and 4 are often overlooked by visitors who want to climb to dizzying heights in the San Juan mountains. Now don’t get me wrong, because I love doing the same thing. But close to home are two readily-accessible roads that offer access to Billy Creek State Wildlife Area, along with spectacular views and wildflowers. The roads, shown in the GPS track below, are easily reached from US Hwy 550, just north of the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk Campground at Ridgway State Park. This post tells you how to find these great roads and gives you a sample of the views and wildflowers I captured on camera on a mid June afternoon.
Let’s suppose you’re renting a Jeep, but that’s tomorrow. What to do today? If you have a conventional 2-wheel-drive sedan, you can easily travel up County Road 2 and also up to the top of the ridge on County Road 4B, enjoy the incredible views, then turn around and retrace your steps. The road is a bit rutted, but time will knock the ruts down even more. Now, let’s suppose that while you’re waiting for that Jeep you have your SUV or pickup truck. You can easily add County Road 4 to your itinerary and see even more. Pay attention to where there are some rocks embedded in the road surface and you’ll be fine—I don’t recommend it for low-clearance highway vehicles like our Prius. If you take your dual-sport or dirt motorcycle, note that there is some scree. Also note that parts of CR 4 border private property, so please obey the “no trespassing” signs and stay on the road. Also please note that vehicles going uphill have the right of way (but use common sense).
From Ouray, drive north to Ridgway. Keep on going, about nine miles. You’ll pass the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk campground—in another half mile you’ll find the turn onto County Road 4. If you’d prefer the tamer County Road 2, travel a couple miles further north on US Hwy 550 and you’ll see this sign on the east side of the road near a small collection of homes and the big metal maintenance building for Billy Creek.
Before looking at the wildflowers, let’s take a look at the GPS track below that highlights both roads. You may want to print this map and take it with you.
Note there are primitive campsites near the intersection of CR 2 and CR 4A. Observe the signs. If you’re bringing ATVs along, this is where you’ll want to park and unload.
Above: The view from the parking area at the easternmost end of CR 2. In the fall this field is dotted with hay rolls and is gorgeous. It's quiet here and there's plenty of room to park, plus a trail to go further into Billy Creek on foot or horseback.
When I was up there yesterday evening, I found wildflowers everywhere, especially up toward the intersection of CR 4A and CR 4. I stopped to take a picture of one and ended up spending quite a bit of time capturing pictures of others.
So, there you go! A low key, straightforward ride through some beautiful areas with gorgeous views. This is one of my favorite rides!
Below: Pinion Pines Biome on County Road 4.
About the Author: Dave Casler is an avid motorcycle rider (both dirt and street) and lives in Ouray County. He has the very best website documenting the roads of Ouray County for motor enthusiasts. He also has information on routes in Montrose County as well as San Juan County (Silverton), Hinsdale (Lake City) and San Miguel County (Telluride). All 4WD enthusiasts will appreciate his GPS maps and documentation of routes although he specializes in motorcycles.