Whatever your chosen method of transport—on foot or wheels, with or without a motor—if you’re going out on the trails without a guide, get a map and ask for directions and information. Stop in at the town Visitor Center and learn what to see and do and where to go before you set off on the trail. And when you do go, take plenty of water! High altitude is dry altitude, and you need to stay hydrated. (You can drink from mountain streams, but considering what metals or other materials might be in them, it’s better to bring your own water.) And wear layers. Alpine weather is capricious; often cold in the morning, hot in the afternoon, frequently wet, and it can even snow in mid-summer. Bring sunscreen and a hat! Hot sun in thin air can cause serious sunburn. Bring a camera, your smart phone, or tablet. You’ll want to take pictures, and lots of them. If you’ll be out all day, bring snacks and trail food. You won’t find fast food stops or snack bars along the trail. (With very few exceptions, you won’t find restrooms, either.)
Wildflowers in San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Image, ©Carolyn Wilcox
However and wherever you go, follow the basic rules: Take only pictures, leave only footprints. Pack it in, pack it out. And if you’re driving, follow basic mountain courtesy: right-of-way to the uphillers. It’s harder to maintain an uphill drive on steep slopes than it is to pull over when you are driving downhill. While you wait, or if you’ve just pulled over to take in the scenery, breathe in the beauty that surrounds you. Practice patience. The mountains aren’t going anywhere. They’ve been here a long time. Take time to enjoy them.
Regardless of your preferred mode of transport, or the length of your high-country adventure—a few hours, a few days—you’re in for an unparalleled visual treat when you decide to soak in the scenery of the majestic San Juan Mountains.