Amy and I had a great time last year out near Kebler Pass seeing Colorado in all its autumnal glory, so we headed out again this year for some mellow camping and leaf-peeping. Kebler Pass wasn't "going" yet, and there were all kinds of conflicting reports about conditions elsewhere, so we randomly picked the Ouray region figuring there'd be something to see there. We've never been to the San Juans and figured it would make a good scouting trip for future adventures.
We continued past the National Forest boundary to where there are numerous dispersed campsites in the woods by the road. We found a nice one repleate with babbling brook and a couple of elk bones for Luna to gnaw on, then continued to the end of the road. From here, we hiked up to Blue Lakes Hut in the gathering twilight to see good views of Mt. Sneffels and Mt. Ridgeway, lightly dusted with snow and dappled by the sunset.
|Mt. Sneffels and the East Dallas Creek valley looking ominous.||The storm clears from Mt. Ridgeway in the evening light.|
|Amy and Luna enjoy camp in their own ways.|
Back at camp, we cooked a chilly dinner amidst the wind, then settled in for a very chilly night.
|East Dallas Creek on Sunday morning.||The Sneffels Range from Ridgeway.|
There were two sites we wanted to hit in Ouray before heading up into the mountains. First was the Lower Cascade Falls which was about 100 yards up steep trail from the end of 8th Avenue. Nice enough, but not all that exciting. Next, we loaded up to visit the famous Box Canyon. We hiked up the road to the entrance only to discover that they don't allow dogs. For all the publicity about the place, it would be nice if they'd mentioned that. Nonplussed, we ate lunch, and went back to the car.
|Crystal Lake on US 550.||Red Mountain #3 from one of the large mines on Red Mountain Pass.|
Scenery along Camp Bird Road.
Afternoon was winding on, so we headed up Camp Bird Road winding through a narrow valley SW of Ouray. The colors here were definitely out and the convoluted cliffs on both sides provided a really interesting backdrop. We drove up to the spectacular shelf road above the Camp Bird Mine before losing our nerve, then headed back down to the Thistledown mine site where a small FS campground provided a nice creekside campsite. Tonight wasn't quite as cold or windy and we got a good fire going and spent a while watching the crystal-clear skies.
The higher we got, the more aspens there were and the large clearing below Chimney Rock was especially pretty. Unfortunately, the sun was exactly in the wrong place for good photos and the lighting was all wrong with the thin clouds. Owl Creek Pass itself was a non-event, but we quickly descended through nice evergreen forest with occasional bursts of aspen groves in various states of color. The sky was completely overcast by the time we got to Silver Jack Reservoir which was a shame. The aspens here were going all-out and the surrounding needles of rock provided a great backdrop. Finally, we packed up and drove the long, scenic road out Cimarron River Valley, along the rather depressing Blue Mesa Reservoir, through Gunnison, over Monarch Pass, Trout Creek Pass, Hoosier Pass, and the Eisenhower Tunner to home.
|The Sneffels Range across the valley as weather starts to build.||Cimarron Ridge on the way up to Owl Creek Pass|
|Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain from Owl Creek Pass||Flaming aspens at Silver Jack Reservoir.|
While the weather and foliage weren't as perfect as they were last time, it was great to check out a new area in the state. Despite the long drive, I can't wait to get down to the San Juans again. Next time, we'll tackle some of the hikes, maybe bag a peak or two, or do a long trail run. In fact, the Imogene Pass Run next September goes right up the spectacular area of the Camp Bird Road. Maybe I'll do that...
The Wilderness Journal