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.
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!
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!
Wildflower Season In Ouray Colorado - Best Spots for Photographers
Although wildflowers are starting to come out in the Ouray area now, the spectacular scenes with fields of color really don't show their stuff until early July. As the temperatures warm and the snow melts away, wildflowers begin their ascent up the mountain valley. Today, dandelions blanket the Magic Carpet between Ouray and Ridgway, a wonderfully beautiful sight, just whetting one's appetite for the season to come.
Some of the best wildflower viewing areas near Ouray are:
Last Dollar Road
Last Dollar Road peaks first in most any year. Incredible fields of Sunflowers blanket the area. It is a bit dryer than most of the other wild flower areas in the area, so the season is earlier. Check out this area in mid to late June for peak sunflowers.
Yankee Boy Basin
No one comes to Ouray without a trip into Yankee Boy Basin. Although more traveled than most places, the waterfalls and the incredible basin filled with Columbines (the State Flower) make this a not to miss destination. Columbines blanket the upper basin in late June and by mid-late July, are complemented with a cadre of other wildflowers including delphiniums and Queen Anne's Lace.
Black Bear Pass
Black Bear Pass has beautiful flowers as well and well worth a trip. The West Side of Black Bear Pass is one way (down only) into Telluride and the drive is trechourous. Only the most experienced 4x4 drivers should attempt this route in its entirety, but, the East Side has great wild flowers, with plenty of spots with water. One can even find herds of elephants (Elephant Ear - not shown) in some slightly marshy sections on the east side. Head up Black Bear starting the third week of July.
Imogene Basin is the highest basin in the area so it is the last area to start blooming but it can provide glimpses of Columbines well into August and vast fields of delphiniums.
Near the summit of Imogene Pass, wildflowers thin as the climate changes into an alpine tundra, but, small hardy plants overlook the Million Dollar Highway and Red Mountain and bloom late into August.
Don't have a desire to find the wildflowers on your own? Then, talk to one of the Jeep Tour Companies in town and hop on for a half day or full day tour. Mention your desire for a wildflower adventure and they will surely satisfy. Of course, we are delighted to make your reservations for you.
And, we would love to know when and where you find the best wildflowers in Ouray County! Leave us a comment with your favorite location.
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.
Take a photographic journey with renowned Nature Photographer Robert Floyd in the San Juan Mountains this July!
With over forty years of experience, Robert Floyd has a lifetime of knowledge to share. His July Photo Tour in Ouray, Colorado this year is a fantastic opportunity to learn the subtle nuances of truly spectacular photography in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Join Robert and your fellow enthusiasts on July 24, 2012, for a two day, three night experience you won't soon forget (perhaps never, considering the amazing pictures you will take home with you!)
Tuesday, July 24. Arrival.
Pick up meal, drink, tour vouchers and information packet at Beaumont Hotel front desk.
Sign up for optional half or full-day tours on Wednesday, and other optional activities.
7-9 pm. Welcome Dinner at the Beaumont Hotel.
Meet Photographers Robert Floyd and Kathryn R Burke,
and Brandy Ross from Switzerland of America® Scenic Tours.
Wednesday, July 25 Full-day High Country Scenic Tour
7 am. Breakfast.
8 am Depart for full-day in the mountains in 8-passenger tour Jeeps® (hotel pickup).
Lunch included with the tour
5 pm. Return to your hotel.
Evening on your own.
Thursday, July 26 Half Day Tours
7 am. Breakfast.
8:30 am Depart for half-day tour.
1 pm. Return to SOA office. Lunch on your own.
Afternoon Town Tour or other optional tours or activities. (See Options below.)
8 am. Departure for (optional) full-day tour with Robert, lunch included
5 pm. Return from full day trip.
6-7 pm. Farewell Cocktail Party with Photographers
Friday, July 27
This all-inclusive package Includes 3 nights lodging, welcome dinner with cocktails, full day scenic tour and half day tour (optional 2nd full day) with Robert, half-day Town tour with Kathryn, tour lunches, all breakfasts and plenty of time with Robert! Tour Jeeps® provided by Switzerland of America® Scenic Tours. bookings must be made through the Beaumont Hotel.
Rates are as follows:
50% deposit due
with Reservation by
May 30, 2012.
with 50% refund through
June 15, 2012.
Payment in full due by
June 25, 2012
Package Prices 3 nights
(1 queen bed)
Luxury Shared Room, $945
Luxury Shared suite, $1145
Luxury Private Room, $1095
Luxury Private Suite, $1245
(2 queen beds)
Shared Room, $845
Private Room, $995
July is the perfect time to visit Southwest Colorado. All of the trails in the high country are open, and the opportunities to capture something spectacular are innumerable, from wildlife to historic mining towns, to an amazing variety of wildflowers not seen anywhere else in the world, the San Juan Mountains are a photographers dream. Don't miss this one!
Colorado Wildflower Update 2011: Southwest Colorado Near Ouray
July 31, 2011
Pictures of flowers near Twin Falls from July 31, 2011, show that the flowers are still in full bloom. The basin near Twin Falls has numerous flowers that are out and there are many that still have buds too. The flowers will be fantastic for many more days. Remember wildflower etiquette: Do not pick the flowers and try not to walk on them either so that everyone can enjoy the beauty of the basin!
July 22, 2011
Pictures of flowers near Twin Falls from July 22, 2011, from a mobile phone, show that the flowers are coming in beautifully. The basin near Twin Falls has numerous flowers that are out and there are tons of buds too so the flowers will be fantastic for many more days. Remember wildflower etiquette: Do not pick the flowers and try not to walk on them either so that everyone can enjoy the beauty of the basin!
July 1, 2011
Ouray Colorado Wildflowers in Yankee Boy Basin look a little behind schedule in 2011. Typically, wildflowers peak during the third week of July (July 24th). Here are pictures from July 1, 2011 from Twin Falls and above. Notice the snow coverage and beautiful lush green foliage. Yankee Boy Basin is filled with seasonal waterfalls and streams. There are a few flowers out now, but, the majority are still developing!
Stacking Rocks Just to Stack Them well above Twin Falls
Colorado columbines near Twin Falls in Yankee Boy Basin
Deer in the woods below Twin Falls
Jeep sitting between Twin Falls and Wrights Lake Spur
Seasonal Streams and Waterfalls
Wrights Lake Spur in Yankee Boy Basin - Notice the trail requires a little snow travel at this point.
Wrights Lake Spur Looking East
Add Some Color to Your Colorado Summer Vacation – Book a Wildflower Jeep Tour Package with Ouray’s Box Canyon Lodge
Ouray, nicknamed “Switzerland of America,” is one of Colorado’s premier locations for wildflower viewing. During the summer wildflowers cover the ground around Ouray, offering a stunning backdrop for a picture-perfect photography Jeep tour. Book the Box Canyon Lodge’s Scenic Jeep Tour Special to get a guided, up close and personal look at the fabulous flora. Stay for one night in a standard room and receive two vouchers for two half-day scenic Jeep tours. The cost of the package is just $275/night, double occupancy.
Be sure to bring along your camera to capture colorful candids of the dozens of varieties of native plants that blanket the area. Indian paint brush, Rocky Mountain columbines, delphinium and Queen Anne's lace are some of the most prominent plants. The crescendo of flowers begins soon after the first snow melts, though the biggest plants flourish from late July into early August.
Some of the most popular Jeep routes include Black Bear, Spirit Basin, Red Mountain Pass, Blue Lakes, Clear Lake, Hurricane Pass, California Gulch, Animas Forks, Ice Lakes and American Basin. Another local favorite is Cinnamon Pass, offering great views of the Animas Forks Valley. At the top of the pass there are wonderful alpine flowers and widespread vistas of the San Juan Mountain Range.
Even if the wildflowers are not in bloom when you visit Ouray, there are other natural wonders - such as waterfalls and lakes - that make beautiful subjects for a photography-focused Jeep tour. Cascade Falls is a series of seven waterfalls that carry snowmelt off the mountains and down one of the two flumes through Ouray. The falls are accessed by the Lower Cascade Falls Trail that starts at a parking area at the east end of Eighth Avenue.
The Box Canyon Falls in the Uncompahgre Gorge, just steps from Box Canyon Lodge, is the culmination of Canyon Creek narrowing and spilling thousands of gallons of water per minute over the falls. Photographers may capture dramatic shots both above and below the 285-foot falls.
Crystal Lake, with its beautiful reflections of the iron-rich Red Mountains, offers another great photo opp. The best time to shoot, according to locals, is early morning as the sun hits the tops of the mountains. Finally, at Ironton Park/Yankee Girl Basin, 100-year-old mining structures are accessible amid a beautiful grove of Aspen trees, making this a favorite destination any time of the year.
About Box Canyon Lodge (www.boxcanyonouray.com)
The Box Canyon Lodge is located in beautiful Ouray, Colo., nicknamed “Switzerland of America.” Box Canyon Lodge, a hot springs motel boasting four, all natural hot springs tubs, offers a peaceful location, clean, comfortable and nicely decorated rooms, meticulously-maintained grounds and warm, personal service. The Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs has been recognized by a variety of publications, receiving the “Award of Excellence” by the Colorado Connoisseur and Travel Holiday magazine and listed as one of Sunset magazine’s “Best of the West.” Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs has also earned the four key rating from Green Key, a well-known eco-rating program.
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!
Best Scenic Jeep Tour in Ouray: Yankee Boy Basin!
Nothing beats a scenic jeep tour in Ouray Colorado. The mountains surrounding the town are exquisite in any season but summer wildflower season reigns supreme for family fun times near Ouray. Many high alpine basins are covered in wildflowers but Yankee Boy Basin is one of the very best.
On a 1/2 day adventure into the basin, be sure to bring your camera; photographers flood the area to capture the absolute beauty of the wildflowers. Native plants like indian paint brush, rocky mountain columbines, delphinium, queen anne's lace, and dozens of other varieties paint the landscape with dramatic colors. They bloom like a symphony; only for a short while are all the flowers blooming. The crescendo of flowers begins soon after the first snow melts and the biggest plants bloom in late July and into early August. By the end of August, many flowers are past their prime but the forest readies itself for the golden onslaught of aspen leaves.
Jeep tour drivers allow plenty of time for pictures and tell the tales of generations of miners that worked underground in the early history of the state of Colorado. On the tour, you will pass old mine relics, ghost towns and icons of the past and the drivers' historic knowledge brings these mute remains to life as they describe the life and times of hardrock miners.
These tour drivers also provide information about the flora and fauna as it comes up as well as the geology of the region. In four hours, you are mesmorized with history and amazed with the grandeur of the rocky mountains near Ouray.
Our Ouray hotel offers a jeep tour package and we are delighted to schedule your tour for you. Morning or afternoon tours are availabe each and every day through early October.