Colorado - Utah Trip 2014

Part 5: Ouray

July 11th

We started out early in the morning with a very early breakfast, then headed up US 550 toward Silverton and Ouray where we were to pick up a rental Jeep for a day of wheeling in the San Juan mountains of south western Colorado. Our second day there included a scheduled tour over the infamous Black Bear Road and Imogene Pass. The rental companies don't allow people to take rentals on Black Bear due to one difficult part of the trail called "The Steps" followed by the tight switchbacks that are visible from Telluride.

Upon arrival to pick up our rental we were informed that our tour over Black Bear would not be occurring because of snow that still lingered on the switchbacks. The county would normally bulldoze the roads open by this time of year, but they have two dozers, both of which were broke down at the time. They offered us a different tour, but we chose to keep the Jeep an extra day instead.

This Jeep was also relatively brand new, it did not yet have its license plates. This one was the Willys version, V6 engine with a six speed manual transmission, a three inch Skyjacker lift, standard size tires, and a fold down soft top. I have always preferred manual transmissions, but the Jeep we had at Moab made me a firm believer in the automatic transmission. I also liked the Terraflex suspension better than the Skyjacker as it gave a better, softer ride.

We got the essential paperwork out of the way, loaded our stuff in the Jeep and headed south on the Million Dollar Highway by 8 AM. The road starts climbing immediately at the south end of town, traversing a couple of switchbacks before arriving at Bear Creek Falls. 

Bear Creek Falls, Ouray, Colorado Bear Creek Falls, just south of Ouray. This is where Otto Mears, builder of the road, had a toll gate set up. Mears was known as "The Pathfinder of the San Juans" due to the number of toll roads that he pioneered and built in that part of Colorado.

Sign at Bear Creek Falls, telling the story of Otto Mears, "Pathfinder of the San Juans" Sign at the Bear Creek Falls turnout, briefly telling the story of Otto Mears.

Idarado Mine and Red Mountain The Idarado Mine with Red Mountain in the background.

Idarado Mine, Corkscrew Gulch in distance More of the Idarado Mine with Corkscrew Gulch in the distant center of the photo.

Terry and rental Jeep, Miller Creek Basin Our Jeep for the San Juans, rented from Switzerland of America in Ouray. This is an unknown stream that feeds into Miller Creek, on the road that goes up into Miller Creek Basin. We followed this road up to an old mine site and explored it a bit, but there was very little to see there. At this time I had no idea what the name of this road was, or where it went, so we headed back down to the highway, then up past Red Mountain Pass to the turn off for Ophir Pass.

Now for some reason unknown to me, we did not take any photos of Ophir Pass. It is a rather basic four wheel drive road, and can be driven by anyone with even the most basic skills. The summit can be reached by car on the west side, as was proven by a fellow that went flying past us in a VW Jetta. He was in a heck of a hurry and was not sparing his 'pony' at all.

We eased along, enjoying the scenery, finally arriving at the top of the pass just to find the fellow who drove the Jetta flagging us down. This was starting to look alot like the Jersey Dude tale all over again! We stopped and chatted with the gentleman, who was an avid cross country runner. As it turns out, there was a race going on at this time called the Hardrock Run, and he wanted to watch the runners come over the top of the pass and drop down the east side. He wanted to know if we would give him a lift part way down the east side (too difficult for his Jetta) so that he could get to a good photo location before the runners arrived. We agreed and he hopped in, telling us where he wanted to be let out. NOW I know why we didn't take any photos! So we let him out where he wanted and continued on our way down the east side of the pass. Just as we were coming into the town of Ophir we started seeing runners - it turns out that our Jetta friend had the route wrong and he was waiting half way up the mountain for nothing.

Approximate route taken by runners in the Hardrock Run. The Hardrock Endurance Run is a 100 mile running race that starts in Silverton, then passes near Ophir, throught Telluride and Ouray, and ends in Silverton with a 48 hour limit. The runners endure almost 68,000 feet of elevation change, with an average elevation of 11,186 feet. The lowest elevation is in Ouray at 7,680 feet and the highest is on Handies Peak at 14,068 feet. Runners come from all over the world to participate in this grueling endeavor. The map shown here is an approximation of the route that the runners follow.

We continued on into Telluride where it was very, very busy. Height of the tourist season plus the Hardrock Runners were passing through on this day. We checked out Bridal Veil Falls and the Black Bear Road switchbacks from a distance, then headed up toward Tomboy and Imogene Pass.

Ingram Falls and Black Bear Road switchbacks from Tomboy Road Here is Ingram Falls and the Black Bear Road switchbacks as seen from Tomboy Road. It was hazy and humid, plus this was a long shot, so please excuse the photo quality.

Ingram Falls from Tomboy Road Ingram Falls and the remains of the Black Bear Mill (just to the right of the falls, at the top of the tallest part of the falls.)

Bridal Veil Falls from Tomboy Road, Telluride, Colorado Bridal Veil Falls and the power station, taken from Tomboy Road. Bridal Veil Falls is the highest free falling waterfall in Colorado at 365 feet. The power house at the top of the falls used to supply electrical power for the the Camp Bird Mine, located between Telluride and Ouray on the north side of Imogene Pass. 

Ingram Falls, Black Bear Road, and Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride, Colorado. Another view of L to R: Ingram Falls, the Black Bear Road switchbacks, and Bridal Veil Falls.

Along the trail on Tomboy Road, heading up to Imogene Pass Dad managed to get a photo of himself in the Jeep's mirror while getting a photo of another vehicle further up the trail.

Mill ruins at Tomboy Ruins of the mill at Tomboy, which is part way up to Imogene Pass.

Mill ruins at Tomboy More of the ruins at Tomboy.

Ruins at Tomboy And yet more at Tomboy.

Telluride airport from Tomboy Road Telluride airport from Tomboy Road. 

Terry and Jim next to snow field near Imogene Pass Our two travelers with their trusty steed next to a snow field on the way up to Imogene Pass

Jeep traffic on Imogene Pass Uphill traffic (us) usually has the right of way, but it is polite to wait for the road to clear before starting up. Here we are doing just that, waiting for a few other Jeeps to come down the trail.

Snow cut on road to Imogene Pass Deep snow along the road. The county actually plows these roads open with bulldozers in late May and early June, depending on the amount of snow present. The high four wheel drive roads attract wheelers, ATVs, motorcycles, hikers, and bikers from all over the country. These tourists bring in lots of money for the area, so it is worth the expense to get these roads open each spring. Although they are not common during the summer months, people have been killed in avalanches in Colorado in every month of the year except September.

Terry and Jeep at Imogene Pass, 13,114 ft above sea level Terry and Jeep at Imogene Pass, 13,114 feet above sea level. Imogene Pass is the second highest through pass in the continental US, surpassed only by Mosquito Pass (13,185 ft.) which is between Fairplay and Leadville, also in Colorado. In the center of the photo is the remants of the old lineman's shack. The lineman who lived there was responsible for the electrical lines that ran from the Bridal Veil Falls power house to the Camp Bird Mine by way of Imogene Pass. As for the mailbox, I have no idea of its purpose, and for some reason neither Dad nor I bothered to check it out. I suspect it contains a visitor's log.

Red Mountains 1, 2, and 3 from Imogene Pass Red Mountains 1, 2, and 3 (L to R) from Imogene Pass. The road coming from Hurricane Pass down into Corkscrew Gulch can be see near the upper left side of the photo between #1 and #2. The Idarado Mining property is visible in the lower center of the photo.

Ptarmigan Lake from Imogene Pass Looking east from Imogene Pass. Ptarmigan Lake and the miner's cabin is near right center. Handies Peak is in the far distance.

Panoramic View of Jim and the San Juan Mountains from Imogene Pass Panoramic view of the San Juan Mountains from Imogene Pass Road, looking north toward the Camp Bird Mine, Yankee Boy Basin, and Ouray. Imogene Pass is visible at the far left (just behind Dad). This is probably my number one favorite photo from the whole trip.

Panoramic View of San Juan Mountains with peaks named in photo Here is the same photo but with some of the peaks named on it. Yes, a few people have asked if I knew the names of any of the mountains. I knew a couple and had to look up the rest. 

Marmots near the Camp Bird Mine and Imogene Pass These furry guys can be found in many areas of the Rockies, always at high altitude. They are called marmots and are related to other rodents such as rats and beaver.

Huge slide area north of Imogene Pass and just above the Camp Bird Mine I wish I could have been here to witness half of a mountain falling off in the upper left of the photo. The landslide it created was huge and stretches down and across the photo to the bottom right. The slide area is HUGE!

Level Three of the Upper Camp Bird Mine is located just beyond the bottom of the slide, out of sight on the lower right. For some reason I neglected to take any photos of it. The Camp Bird Mine was owned by a rags to riches Irishman named Thomas Walsh. He introduced the eight hour work day and paid better wages than any other mine around. He also provided electric lighting in the mine, and electric lights and running water in the boarding houses where the miners lived. He was most certainly ahead of his time!

We continued on down to the Lower Camp Bird Mine, then made a left and headed up toward the Ruby Trust Mine and the Yankee Boy Basin. After travelling just a short distance, we passed the Torpedo Eclipse Mine on the right, followed by the now operating again Revenue-Virginius Mine. This particular mine suffered a serious blow in November of 2013 when two miners died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to unsafe procedures in the disposal of 1600 pounds of old explosives the previous day. No one was injured by the explosion itself, but instead two were overcome by carbon monoxide on the following day because proper ventilation was never implemented after the blast. Sad.

 Remains of the Atlas Mill, 2014 We continued up the road, passing the Atlas Mill. I took photos of it on my last trip to the area in 2003, and I could see a difference in the ruins from then until now. She's going fast now.

Atlas Mill in the late 1800's Here is a photo of the Atlas Mill from 'back in the day'. Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library, History Colorado.

Twin Falls, Yankee Boy Basin, near Ouray, Colorado We headed further up to Yankee Boy Basin hoping to find some good wildflowers, but no such luck. We did manage to get this photo of Twin Falls however. Legend says that this falls was the model for the falls in the Coors Beer logo. I am unable to substantiate that, but it could very well be possible.

It was starting to get late, so we headed back down toward Ouray, encountering a few of the Hardrock Runners along the way. We had supper at a local burger joint called Maggie's Kitchen, where guests are asked to sign the walls and ceiling with Sharpie markers. We then retired to our room at the Hot Springs Inn, which overlooked the Uncompahgre River running through right behind it. It was nice leaving the window open over night, letting the sound of the river lull us to sleep.


Click on "Part 5 - Ouray - Page 2" for the next installment.


Home Page Trip Contents Part 1 - Getting There Part 2 - Hotchkiss Part 3 - Moab
Part 3 - Moab - Page 2 Part 4 - Durango Part 5 - Ouray Part 5 - Ouray - Page 2 Part 6 - Buena Vista