Over 500 Miles of Four Wheel Drive Trails Provide a Glimpse into the History of Southwest Colorado Mining History.
It is hard to believe as we put our jeep into four low and ascend the side of a mountain, high above timberline that once hardy men and women made this journey in the dead of winter an foot and with mule carts heavily laden with gold, silver, and other precious metals.
Driving along the narrow trails and gazing to the side of a 200 foot drop, a jeep tour driver will share stories of how these tough men and women would have to choose between the team of animals or the wagon they were pulling. Sadly, the gold won out much more often than the hardworking donkeys.
At an elevation of over 11,000 feet, the tiny town of Animas Forks began with just one small cabin in 1873, and within three years, boasted over 450 residents. With a post office, jail, general store hotel, and of course, a saloon, the town prospered for a few years during the mining boom. In 1997 and 1998, a grant to San Juan County served to preserve and stabilize the last few buildings of the once bountiful town. Now part of the Alpine Loop scenic byway, Animas Forks is a small window into life in the San Juans in the early 1900's.
Parking at the base of the remaining buildings, one is somewhat haunted by the overwhelming beauty of the area. Only the foundation remains of what was once a boarding house that served as a resting place to over 150 miners. Gazing out of what must have been a basement window, the spectacular views almost make up for the harsh life they must have had.
The Gustavson House was once lauded for its indoor toilet (a glorified outhouse connected by a hallway). The family lived here year round, unlike many of their neighbors who left to winter in Silverton at the first signs of snow.
The Duncan House was built in 1879, and is often mistakenly referred to as the Walsh House, although Tom Walsh never lived there. Its beautiful bay windows look across to the river and the Columbus Mine which sits the the fork of the Animas River.
With work always in progress to maintain the stability of these buildings, one can wander through these old homes and marvel at the tiny rooms, narrow staircases, the incredible views and the "modern conveniences". Glass still covers the windows, and it is easy to be taken away to a different time, as you imagine the hustle and bustle of the streets below less than a hundred years ago.
Animas Forks can be reached either by traveling the Alpine Loop, accessing the town either by Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass or California Pass. If you are not looking to spend the day on the jeep trails, you can get there by taking County Road 2 out of Silverton. The first half of the drive is along a well maintained dirt road, eventually becoming a bit more rough. Although I did see some two wheel drive vehicles on the trail, something with a little more clearance might feel more comfortable, and allow for more exploring on the numerous little side trails.
Let the staff at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs help you to map out your next adventure in the high country! A perfect base camp for all of your four wheel drive fantasies, our knowledgeable staff will male sure you get everything and more from your visit, not to mention the inviting natural hot spring tubs just outside your door to soak away the dust of the road.
Adventure Awaits in the High Country all around Ouray!
June almost over, and July is waiting for us in the distance. Soon, all of the passes will be open for the adventurer to explore and experience The days are long and liesurely. Snow melt in the high country creates roaring rivers and seasonal waterfalls at every turn. One needs just to look up to be overwheled by the beauty and majesty of the Uncompahgres.
Wildlife looks on as if we are the ones on display, and wildflowers dot the countryside in a rainbow of colors. Travelling the four wheel drive trasls this time of year is both challenging and immensely thrilling. It is like travelling back in time. Every twist and turn is filled with wonder at the springtime beauty of a world awakening from a long winter nap. Adrenaline pumps through your veins as you wonder whether the mountain will permit passage.
The weather can change in a heart beat. One minute, cruising with the top down and wondering if you put enough sunblock on, and the next pulling on sweaters and raincoats as mother nature teases with rain or snow.
Passes are opening in record time, and by the end of the month will be so well travelled, it will seem like old hat.
Four Wheel Drive Road Conditions as of June 27, 2014:
Alpine Loop - Open Animas Forks - Open Alta Lakes - Open
Black Bear Pass - Closed
Blue Lakes Trailhead - Open
Brown Mountain - Open
Cinnamon Pass - Clear to Lake City
Clear Lake - Open
Corkscrew - Open
County Road 2 to Animas Forks - Open
County Road 9 - Open
Cow Creek - Open
Engineer Pass - Open **Please Note! The Trail is Extremely Rough.
Fall Creek Road (to Woods Lake) - Closed
Governors Basin - One mile of Governors Basin is clear
Hastings Mesa - Open
Horsefly - Closed
Howardsville/Cunningham Gulch to Highland Mary Trail - open Hurricane/California - Closed Imogene - Closed - started clearing 6/9 to Richmond Basin and Silver Basin 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 - Open
Owl Creek Pass - Maintained to Vista Point - Open to West fork Intersection. Gunnison County will open their section by mid June **Please note! There is still deep snow.
Pittsburgh Mine Road - Closed
Placer - Open
Poughkeepsie - Closed
Red Mountain Town - Open
Shrine Road (CR 6) - Closed
Skyline - Closed
South Mineral Campground road -Open to Bandora Lane
County road 7 - Open
Stony Pass - Open over the top to Pole Creek. ***Please note: Travel through Pole Creek is not reccomended
Yankee Boy - Open
Whether this is your first time, or you have been driving these roads for years, comsider taking a tour! The experienced drivers with all of our tour companies take the work out of experiencing the high country! Even if you brought your own vehicle, taking a half day tour is a wonderful way to get a feel for the road conditions and difficulty levels you are comfortable driving yourself. Not to mention the fact that when someone else is driving, you get to focus on the scenery, and getting the perfect shot with your camera!
If you are renting a jeep, or bringing your wn four wheel drive vehicle, please always remember to be safe! Check road conditions prior to setting out, and know the limits of your vehicle, as well as your own comfort levels. Let the satff at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs help you to map out the perfect itinerary. They have the most up to date information at their fingertips, and are eager to help you plan an adventure that you will enjoy. Remember to let the staff know when you return, and update us on how the roads are!
Don't forget that every one of these roads is taking you over 9,000 feet. Weather conditions in the high country can change in moments! You are also a lot closer to the sun up there, so please remember sunscreen. Even if it doesn't seem hot or even sunny, take my advice on this one! Sun burns hurt, and make the rest of your dream vacation uncomfortable. Bring layers. In just a few feet, the weather can change from warm and sunny to a wintry snow storm, on into hail, followed by freezing rain, then back to seventy degrees again. If you come to a spot of trail that you are unsure of, scout ahead on foot before attempting. There is no shame in turning around and finding a trail you feel safer on.
Respect your fellow adventurers! Remember, ettiquette on four wheel drive trails allows right of way to up hill drivers, however, often due to the width of the roads, it is appropriate to trade off depending on who has more room. Don't try to pull offf without a comfortable space for your vehicle, and please remember the tundra is extremely fragile, so stay on the designated trails.
Above all, HAVE FUN!!!!!
The majesty of the high country is unbelievable. Bring your cameras, and be sure there is plenty of memory. Every turn holds new wonders to behold, and opportunities to capture just a taste of the San Juans!
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!
Last Dollar Road Provides a Stunning Backdrop for Photographers Year Round and Springtime is no Exception.
The Original "True Grit" starring John Wayne was filmed on several locations in Ouray County including the town of Ridgway, in the Ouray County Courthouse, and up on Owl Creek Pass. However, the Ross Ranch was actually just outside of Ouray County on Last Dollar Road.
In Ridgway head west on Colorado Highway 62 up and over the Dallas Divide and then turn left on Last Dollar Road (marked with a brown Forest Service Sign) about 2 miles west of the summit. The initial stretches of road (4-5 miles) are easily accessible by a passenger car.
The Ross Ranch is private property, so, it is best to obey the signs, but, it is right alongside the road so pictures are easy. This building has fallen into further disrepair but, from this angle, it is still recognizable. The purple lupine flower in early June on Last Dollar Road.
These buildings are right there too.
Just beyond the Ross Ranch, amazing scenic vistas of ranchland as far as the eye can see and the amazing yellow flowers are dandelions.
Part of Last Dollar Road is a wonderfully scenic drive with a passenger car for the first few miles and easily past the Ross Ranch. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, you can continue to Telluride on this road, but, if you are in a passenger vehicle, there will be some spots that are not passable. Last Dollar Road is a fairly easy road for a 4WD enthusiast, however, if the road is wet, it can be trechourous.
If you are lucky, you may even enjoy some wildlife viewing as Elk and Deer are prevalent in the area.
We offer more information on True Grit locations in Ouray Colorado, just let us know how to help you. If you stay with us, we have created a self guided tour of many locations that we will share.
There are several locations in and around Ouray County that are sure to spark recognition and a sense of the Old West. Not much has changed in these little towns since the days the movie was filed, and it is easy to slip into the past.
Let us arrange a special advwenture centered around exploring the silm site of this classic film! We will take care of all of the details, so all you need to do is show up ready to begin your adventure. Check in at the Box Canyon, then head out to pick up your rental jeep. Enjoy a nice long soak in our mineral hot spring tubs, then settle in for the night to enjoy your True Grit dvd. In the morning, head on out with the coordinates and information for a day exploring, then back to Ouray for dinner at the Outlaw Restaurant. Know as The Pick in 1969, this little saloon was a favorite of the entire cast. Pictures and memorabilia decorate every wall, and if you ask nicely and are very gentle, they may let you hold Juhn Waynes hat!
We can't wait to help you with a fantastic adventure!
See you soon!
As the last leaves fall, Southwest Colorado prepares for Winter Activities.
We have seen a spectacular season of fall this year, with colors still hanging on for the time being, however the high country has seen some winter storms, and soon will welcome the first snow of the season. Granted, there is no way to truly know when that will happen, and until then, the jeep trails are still open, but it is important to remember the weather can change in a heartbeat.
There have been some temporary closures of the more extreme jeep trails, and the local tour companies are no longer taking groups up, but if you have your own vehicle, we have compiled a list of the jeep road status as provided by Ouray County, San Juan County and San Miguel County. Happy travels, and please be safe!
Alta Lakes - Open
Black Bear Pass - Open ***PLEASE NOTE THAT IT IS ONE-WAY FROM INGRAM FALLS INTO TELLURIDE.***
Blue Lakes Trailhead - Open
Brown Mountain - Open
Cinnamon Pass - Open
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
Gladstone - Open
Governors Basin - Open
Hastings Mesa (Hwy 62 to Hwy 145- Top of Dallas to Sawpit) - Open
Horsefly (From Montrose County to Montrose) - Open
Hurricane/California - Open
Imogene - Has been plowed and re-opened. ***please use extreme caution
Iron Springs (Hwy 145 through to Hwy 62)- Open
Last Dollar Road - Open
Little Cone Road (CR G49) - Open
Maggie/Minnie - Open
Miniehaha (CR 51) - Open
Old Lime Creek - Open
Ophir - Cloed on 9/25/2012, however, the trail has been re-opened. ***Please use extreme caution.
Owl Creek Pass - Maintained to Vista Point
Picayune - Open
Pittsburgh Mine Road - open
Placer - Open
Poughkeepsie - REQUIRES EXPERIENCE AND SPECIAL VEHICLE EQUIPMENT.
Red Mountain Town - Open
Shrine Road (CR 6) - Open
Skyline - Open
South Mineral Campground road - County road 7 - Open
Yankee Boy - Open
Stony Pass - Open
Each county and all of the jeep tour companies agree to use extreme caution in the high country this time of year. When in doubt, it is always best to turn around and try a lower altitude pass. As the weather changes from rain to snow, road conditions can become icy and slick very quickly. There are still several passes which are regularly used and provide some of the most photographed scenery in the country any time of year.
With the jeep trails beginning to close, this just means we have winter activities to look forward to! There are some amazing hiking trails, scenic drives that do not require 4WD, and ice climbing season is just around the corner! Late October and November are ideal times to visit and enjoy a quiet, relaxing escape as the hurried season comes to a close, and before the busy Holidays begin.
Needless to say, a long soak in the mineral hot springs is a rejuvenating experience in the peaceful atmosphere of the San Juan Mountains.
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.
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.
Current Status: October 18, 2011
Due to the recent snowfall in the upper country, all four wheel drive trails above 10,000 feet are snow packed and icy. Fall colors are still in bloom in much of the lower country although many of the aspen have begun to shed their leaves in preparation for winter. Trails like Last Dollar are especially beautiful this time of year, however please remember to use caution, as muddy trails can be quite hazardous.
For information on Fall Color, look at these other articles:
Yankee Boy - Open to the restrooms only
Gladstone - Open
Last Dollar Road - Open Fall colors are still fantastic in this area!
Old Lime Creek - Open
Imogene - CLOSED
Governors Basin - CLOSED
Clear Lake - CLOSED
Alta Lakes - Open
Hurricane/California - CLOSED
Maggie/Minnie - CLOSED
Stony Pass - CLOSED
Black Bear Pass - CLOSED
Engineer Pass -CLOSED
Picayune - CLOSED
Placer - CLOSED
Ophir - CLOSED
Skyline - CLOSED
Although most passes are now closed, there is much to see from the lower altitude trails. As always, use caution on all trails this time of year, and dont forget your camera!
Thanks to visiting the Ouray area as frequently as possible on my Colorado vacations, I’ve stumbled upon my fair share of perfect picnic spots. Some are easy to reach; some not so much. I’d like to focus on the hidden, not-so-easy-to-find picnic spots of Ouray County. Some of these beautiful hideaways may take an hour or more to reach, but that’s the beauty of being in Ouray… you’re not in any hurry, are you?
East Dallas Creek
Head toward Ridgway and then travel west toward Telluride on Highway 62. Look for County Road 7 as it exits the highway on your left. There should also be a sign that says East Dallas Creek. Follow the signs for CR7 and stay to the right when the road forks. The road begins winding up and you’ll enjoy in-your-face views of Mount Sneffels. Continue past the National Forest boundary sign and you’ll see signs for Blue Lakes Trailhead. Once you get near the top, you’ll notice a lesser road that turns to the right and heads away from the mountain range. Turn on this road and follow it into a huge clearing along a rustic fence. It turns into a two-track lane and dead ends in a field. Pop out of your car, and unload, because this is your destination. The mountains are close -- really close. And they create the perfect backdrop for a picnic. A trailhead is behind you…just walk through the opening in the fence and take a short hike to a stream. There’s even a porta-potty in a grove of aspen trees if you drink too much soda with your picnic. The views are sweeping and your picnic is pretty private; most cars continue traveling down the road to the Blue Lakes Trailhead.
Yankee Boy Basin
Four-wheel drive is not needed to reach the picnic spot, but recommended (because everything is more fun in a Jeep). The turnoff for Camp Bird Road is just outside of Ouray. Get on the Million Dollar Highway like you’re headed for Silverton and then turn immediately right, at the Box Canyon Falls. Follow Camp Bird Road as is takes you past Drinking Cup, under the famous Hanging Rock and leads you higher into the Basin. Once you pass the crumbled remains of the Camp Bird Mine on your left, you are getting close to the Twin Falls. These are the waterfalls featured on the old Coors beer cans. You can’t miss them; they will be on your left. If you are picnicking in July, you are in for a treat: the Colorado wildflowers that blanket the Basin will stun you into silence. Bluebells, Columbines, Asters, Indian Paint Brushes and approximately 875 other varieties will encourage you to spend the afternoon getting in touch with your inner photographer. Plop down with your lunch in a clearing and bask in the sounds of the waterfalls and the splashes of color. Mount Sneffels and a cirque of mountains surround you. If you have four-wheel drive, continue up Camp Bird Road to explore the rest of the amazing Yankee Boy Basin.
Part 1: Best Off the Beaten Path Picnic Spots in Ouray County identifies three other great choices for a summertime picnic adventure in the San Juan Mountains.
About the author: Marion Zachary is a website designer, photographer, videographer and four-wheel drive enthusiast who attempts to spend every spare moment in the San Juan Mountains. Her website featuring her Colorado adventures with her Australian Shepherd, Rio, is filled with incredible information on jeeping roads and 4WD trails near Ouray.
Ouray enjoys a bountiful snowfall in most years and the high alpine terrain around Ouray Colorado gets even more. To ensure a longer lasting and great 4WD season, Ouray and the surrounding counties call on their road and bridge department personnel to clear the roads. In early May (weather depending of course), Ouray County starts the plowing efforts. Typically, Camp Bird Road (Ouray County 361) gets the first days of plowing. The bulldozer driver and a volunteer head up the way, slowly moving snow from the road to the side. This road is plowed past Twin Falls and up to the location of the bathrooms. The remainder of the basin remains unplowed for the time being.
Then, the crew moves to the roads of Red Mountain and then onto Corkscrew Pass. Meanwhile, San Juan County (Silverton) and San Miguel County (Telluride) crews are also working on their roads. Each county plugs away on their territory and the glorious sun does its work too (and hopefully, temperatures cooperate) and melts much of the snow away. By the time the counties hit the high alpine passes in mid to late June, the job is still daunting, but the task is just about complete. Road crews meet at the top and then residents and visitors alike can enjoy the spectacular San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado.
The process of clearing snow on the large north facing snowfield in Imogene Basin and then up on the pass is very dangerous. Since the road is not visible, the dozer driver must be meticulous and accurate with ample experience to know where to plow next. As you see from the photograph, the road is not very obvious so experience in the terrain is a must. Imogene Pass is typically the last area cleared and the goal is that it is complete by July 4th weekend but never guaranteed. With its high elevation, warm days are not the norm. Enjoyable temperatures remain in the fifties and sixties at the pass itself, even on the hottest days in Ouray.
If you are thinking of a scenic jeep tour in the Ouray area or you would like to rent your own jeep and drive the 4WD roads, the season typically begins in mid-May and lasts until the roads close again in the fall, typically by the end of October.
At our Ouray hotel, we are delighted to make reservations for your scenic tour. Typically, one day notice is all that is required to get you on a tour, but, if you have a particular desire, it is best to let us reserve your trip with more advance notice. The Box Canyon Lodge also offers a Stay and Play package that includes a jeep tour for two. Our natural, odor free Colorado hot springs feel very good after a long day in the high country!
Latest Status: As of May 22, 2011, Ouray Road and Bridge are still working in Yankee Boy Basin. Follow us on Facebook and we will keep people updated.