2: The Great Colorado Expedition of 2012, Pt2...Alpine Loop

Ranger Joe

Feed the Rangers, not the wildlife!
Jan 27, 2012
Quick links to all trip reports in this series:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

Greetings again and welcome to the second installment of the Great Colorado Expedition of 2012. Today we venture forth out of Ouray and hit the Alpine Loop, a scenic 4WD byway that takes you into the heart of the San Juan Mountains.

The day started out kinda drab, with clouds and a bit of rain...enough rain to send most of the ATVers headed for shelter.

Within twenty minutes, the rain stopped and it started to clear a bit.

The Alpine Loop starts just south of Ouray and heads up towards Engineer Pass via Mineral Point. The trail isn't too bad, but there are a few rocky spots and some tight switchbacks.

We parked briefly at the spot where the Poughkeepsie Gulch trail breaks off.

There's a nice little waterfall near this intersection.

There's also a nice mud puddle.

Mine ruins are quite abundant along the Alpine Loop. Some have been stabilized to handle the annual snow load, others are merely smashed piles of lumber.

Some of you may have seen this exhaust system posted on Facebook. Apparently, a couple of months ago a guy in a Ford Escape tried to go up this trail and had a bit of a problem -- the trail ripped his entire exhaust system out from underneath. The photo that was on FB showed the exhaust system in the middle of the trail...the guy didn't even bother to pick up his scrap. The muffler and pipes now lay along side the trail, missing its catalytic converter. His Escape must have made a heck of a racket on the way back to town.

Climbing up above the treeline.

Once above the treeline, we made our way up towards Engineer Pass. The road is narrow and steep in places, but otherwise not too difficult (unless, of course, you're driving a Ford Escape.)

We stopped to catch our breath at Oh Point, very close to the Engineer Pass summit. Many a Jeep commercial has been shot here. Unfortunately, the clouds were closing in again.

Jeeps headed for Engineer Pass.

We pose at the pass. Either the Libby has grown larger in the thin mountain air, or we've turned into Oompa-Loompas.

The descent from Engineer Pass towards Lake City is pretty easy.

We saw this guy soaring overhead...we believe it's a golden eagle. The various small furry animals among the rocks were not terribly happy to see him floating above.

This explains why there are so many gold and silver mines in the San Juans.

A small cabin below the tree line.

You may have noticed that the aspen trees are changing color...It's kinda hard to miss. We hit the color change right on the head.

This chubby fellow ran up to the side of the road and posed for about five minutes.

We made it down to Lake City without incident and had lunch at the Cannibal Grill, named for a local celebrity named Alferd Packer.

I had a burger. I stayed away from the finger food.

After lunch, we headed back to Ouray via Cinnamon Pass.

We posed at the Cinnamon Pass trail marker. About a minute after this photo was taken, we had a brief flurry of snow and sleet.

As you descend from Cinnamon Pass, the ghost town of Animas Forks comes into view.

Whoever owns this cabin has a heck of a view and a darned difficult time getting there.

From Animas Forks, we could have taken the easy route into nearby Silverton, or continued on through California Gulch to the three passes of California, Hurricane and Corkscrew. Since we were on vacation, in a Jeep, with no other plans for the day, we opted for the three passes.

We picked up a group of firefighters from California who were touring the area and travelled along with them for a while (coincidentally through California Gulch).

Near the top of Hurricane Pass, we had a breakdown. The driver side windshield wiper blade broke off its mount, so we swapped the passenger side in and tried to fix the broken blade with Zip-ties...to no avail. We swung the wiper arm into its up position, but we were concerned that a good jolt might knock it loose, causing the arm to smack the windshield and crack it.

Our solution involved an old sock I found under the back seat of the Libby. We wrapped it around the arm and let it slide back and forth over the windshield. No problem.

We descended Corkscrew Pass in the rain and eventually made it back to the paved road.

Stay tuned for Part 3, two transits of Black Bear Pass.

Quick links to all trip reports in this series:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

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Jun 16, 2012
Great TR! I was in the same area this past weekend, and I had planned to drive Engineer Pass, but I ran out of time after hiking up to Highland Mary Lakes. Now you've made me wish I had been able to drive Engineer Pass!

Is the bird a hawk...maybe a rough-legged hawk?


Jan 19, 2012
Love the pics of the puddle with the jeeps reflection in them!!

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