Jeeping has got to be one of my favorite things, so it is hard to believe how long it has been since the last time I went traversing in Western Colorado in the back of a Jeep. As a tourist, renting Jeeps can be incredibly pricey. We were fortunate enough to have dear friends take us. These friends have been in Colorado for 4 generations and know the land. Our tour guide, let’s call him Albert, bought his first jeep at 16 back in 1978 and has been jeeping ever since. He is proud to announce that he has never had a flat tire in the over 30 years of his jeep record. We met up in Ouray, CO on Saturday (Sept. 5). This was AJ’s first jeeping experience in Colorado, so it was so fun to see the landscape through fresh eyes.
Busy. Very busy. Not only was it Labor Day weekend, there was also a big motorcycle rally going on in Durango. Along the route, we stopped in a few spots that felt like a Walmart parking lot, others were desolate and bleak. Nonetheless, it was gorgeous.
Our route was:
- Ouray to Million Dollar Highway
- Cut off at Engineer Pass
- Poughkeepsie Gulch
- Lake Como
- California Pass
- Frisco Mine
- Animas Forks
- Million Dollar Highway
- Red Mountain Pass
- back to Ouray
We left at 10 am and landed in Silverton by 4:30 pm. Definitely a full day, but lots of time to stop for a picnic, hike, and take pictures.
We started our trek through Engineer Pass. Hairy. This was the roughest terrain of our route. All seat belts locked and holding on for dear life. It provides the adventurous visitor an opportunity to see old mines, ghost towns, gorgeous vegetation, and scenic beauty that is truly epic. In early September, there are vivid hues of yellow and purple flowers with trees still holding green. Late September is when the leaves will turn their vibrant fall colors, but can also call for snow, so it is a gamble to Jeep later in the month.
Next stop was Poughkeepsie Gulch (elev. 12, 500 ft.) . This gulch leads to the Uncompahgre River up to Lake Como. We were met by a caravan of 7 vehicles trying to crawl over the creek. It was quite amusing to watch the naive drivers wreck their bumpers, but also annoying to see them ruin the landscape. There were guys jumping out to spot each vehicle while yelling, “Move that rock there! Turn your tire to the left! Slowly…. stop!!!” After they moved on, we stayed back to take in the beauty of the waterfall up the mountain.
We then made is to Lake Como for lunch. This teal blue lake is tucked in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at an elevation of 11,765 ft above sea level. The road to Lake Como is known to be the most rugged road in Colorado. Not only is it one of the highest mountain roads in Colorado, it is also one of the most beautiful in my opinion. We picnicked near the lake and took in the breath taking view. AJ couldn’t resist himself from taking a chilly dip. Stripped down to his skivvies, he dove right in knowing he would reconsider if he dipped a toe in first.
We got out to stretch our legs at the Frisco Mine. I am sure to print out one of these pictures for my home. AJ and our friend “Albert” stood and gawked over the architecture and wood work of the tongue and groove design of this old gold mine. As woodworkers, they admired the incredible beauty of the building that was active from from 1875 to 1910. The mine produced ore having a value of $20,267,078.
We continued our journey down to the abandoned ghost town of Animas Forks (elev. 11,200 ft) which was an active mine from 1873-1920’s. Prospectors from all over the country settled here and reached a population of 450 people. At that time, the Animas Forks had 30 cabins, a hotel, a saloon, a post office, and a general store.
Arriving in Silverton for dinner, we dined at the Bent Elbow and toasted to a successful day. The town was bustling with tourists, including ourselves. This rustic cowboy town is a fun place to shop, dine, and take in the outdoors.
Our final trek was through the Million Dollar Highway that stretches from Silverton, CO to Ouray, CO over Red Mountain Pass. Truly an incredible drive and the only paved road during of our trip. The highway ended us back in Ouray where we enjoyed an ice cream cone from our favorite, Mousse’s Chocolates before heading home.