Awesome, Amazing, Alpine Adventures

Pophyry Basin (© Priscilla Sherman)

Pophyry Basin (© Priscilla Sherman,

[July 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]
By Kathryn R. Burke

FOR THOSE OF US WHO LIVE in San Juan Mountain country, it’s a given that one of the main reasons we do is our incredible scenery. Everywhere we go, everything we do, we are surrounded by it. Work or play, it’s our life, and the lifestyle often takes precedence over everything else. It’s not uncommon to change plans to accommodate a beautiful day—grab your walking stick or ski poles, get on your biking or hiking gear, haul out the canoe or kayak, and head out into the magnificence we call home. Although, sometimes, like what happened with Laurie, our publication designer, intention turns into a totally different adventure. Headed out on Fathers Day with her son to go fishing, she had the foresight to pack cross-country skis. The lake was frozen. Instead of fishing it, they skied it.

Which way will you go? (© Priscilla Sherman)

Whatever your plans, they’d better be flexible. These are the Rocky Mountains, where weather is capricious and Mother Nature rules. You go with the flow, and that doesn’t just mean white water rapids or a sudden high country deluge. You pack a backpack with extra clothing (especially socks), energy bars, sunscreen, bug spray and bandaids, handi-wipes and plastic bags to ‘pack out’ after using, and plenty of water. If you’re a repeat visitor, like the folks who hang out at Red Mountain RV year after year, you know the rules and you plan accordingly.

Marmot, or ‘Whistle Pig’ as the miners called them because of the sound they made.

Day trippers and vacationers quickly discover it’s better to rent a ride than drive your own vehicle up on the trails. And, if you’re not used to narrow, rocky, sometimes muddy or snowy roads, are nervous about driving on them, let someone do it for you. Take a tour! The drivers know the area and can relate its history while you enjoy the scenery.

Twin waterfalls, Yankee Boy Basin.(© Carolyn Wilcox)

Any season is a good season in Alpine country. Spring means cascading waterfalls and wildlife babies. Summer means fields of wildflowers and perfect blue skies. Fall color is spectacular—it’s a favorite time for many jeeping and motorcycle groups to tour our area. Winter is a crystalized wonderland, drawing skiers, boarders, and ice climbers from all over the world.

Whatever your destination, “The mountains are calling, and you must go!”

Road through Red Mountain Mining area (© Priscilla Sherman)

Not surprisingly, many who come to visit our high country love it so much they want to live here and be one of the ‘locals’. So, they pack up their stuff and return with a moving van. (Then it snows, and they quickly learn what identifying as a ‘local’ really entails.)

Road to Ophir Pass.

Road to Ophir Pass. (© Carolyn Wilcox)

High country living is a little different from high country exploring. Some years we have four perfect seasons and enjoy activities relative to each. Other years, we might have too much hot and not enough wet. Drought and resultant forest fires happen all too often. Then, occasionally, we have a two-season year: winter and July 4th, and sometimes, like this year, July 4th still has so much snow in the high country, we are better off skiing it than jeeping it.

But, whether you’re a ‘local’ living here, a frequent visitor staying here, or a first time, awe-struck visitor who is seriously thinking of relocating, one of the best ways to explore is with a tour company. There’s always something new to see or learn about. It’s a great way to make new friends, too. Those of us who live here do it all the time. Then, local or visitor, you hop in the jeep or ATV, (yours or the one you rented for the day), pack your gear, and head out to the trails to explore a little more.

Come back to a hot toddy or ice cold drink on the patio of your favorite restaurant. If in Ouray, you might head to the hot springs for a soak. Silverton is a little more seasonal, not too many places are open year-round there. Ouray, because of its proximity to Telluride, a world-class destination, stays open all year. Whatever your destination, “The mountains are calling, and you must go!”

Alpine Trails/Jeep® Roads

13 mi. Silverton to Animas Forks
28 mi. Animas Forks to Lake City via Cinnamon Pass
26 mi. Lake City to Animas Forks via Engineer Pass
44 mi. Ouray to Animas Forks via Mineral Creek
78 mi. Silverton, Lake City Round trip
14 mi. Silverton to Ophir
18 mi. Ouray to Telluride via Imogene Pass

*Some of these trails may not be open due to snow.

Webcam.  Before you start out. If leaving from Ouray, check the weather.