Our recent road trip to southwestern Colorado was so amazing and included hiking, sightseeing, and, I don't know how else to put it: super-sketchy Jeep roads.
Of course, none of the photos or videos fully capture the fear and anxiety that would build up inside of me as we approached a rough and rugged rocky section where I was sure we'd hit bottom or tip over, or the times I closed my eyes because if we were going to fall off a cliff or get the Jeep stuck, I guess I didn't want to watch it happen 🙈, or the time I fully got out of the Jeep to observe from the sidelines.
At one time in our recent history of Jeeping, I might have said I thought I was going to die on a Jeep road. I can say now with full confidence that I had no idea what I was talking about back then.
Colorado Jeeping: Day One
My husband's aunt and uncle from Minnesota joined us in Gunnison, Colorado, and the four of us got up Tuesday morning, us in the Jeep and they in their Bronco, and we headed toward our first Rocky Mountain Jeep road: Cinnamon Pass.
Before we left pavement, however, we stopped to take a few photos of the Gunnison River. I liked how it winds and cuts through the landscape.
The drive along this highway was beautiful.
When we arrived in Lake City, Colorado, we loved the small-town look and feel of the community and, in our Jeep, felt slightly outnumbered by all of the side-by-sides cruising the streets. We stopped at a souvenir shop to pick up a couple treasures and then continued on our way.
We exited the pavement and made our turnoff onto the start of the route over Cinnamon Pass. We chose to navigate this pass on day one to "get our feet wet" for when we tackle the infamous Black Bear Pass on day two.
The first few miles of the route, we were shocked at how well-maintained the gravel road was. Someone even goes the extra mile by applying a coat of oil to to the road to keep the dust down.
Shortly, we arrived at San Cristobal Lake.
Can you imagine having a cabin tucked away amongst the trees and mountains along this rustic road? Amazing!
Next, we stopped near a campground along the river so that the guys could air down the tires and my husband disconnected the Jeep's sway bar to ensure its tires would maintain as much contact with the rough terrain as possible over the next few days we'd be traveling on them. Needless to say, I took this opportunity to snap a few more photos of this idyllic landscape.
Once the vehicles were set, we jumped back onto the gravel road and continued our way on the route to the top of Cinnamon Pass.
As the road paralleled Lake Fork, we slowed as we approached a pick-up truck that was stopped in the middle of the gravel road; its passengers standing and looking across the way. So we stopped to see what was up.
Two more moose! What a treat! I spent 40-plus years never having seen a moose in the wild, and in the past few months, I've now seen nine! The very first sighting was on a hike in Grand Teton National Park. Only this time, I actually had my DSLR camera at the ready.
What great timing!
We kept moving along this incredibly scenic gravel road... tight quarters around this shelf-road corner!
We decided it was getting time to stop and eat, so we parked at the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch Trailhead and enjoyed a tailgate lunch. This was our view. The trailhead was quite busy with lots of side-by-sides, 4x4s, and hikers. We even saw a curious doe checking things out.
After this point in the route, the road got slightly rougher, steeper, and more remote as we climbed to the summit.
Then we reached Cinnamon Pass at 12,640 ft. Amazing views!
After stopping for a few photos and to take in the amazing views, we got back in and started descending to our next destination: Animas Forks mining ghost town.
But first! A couple of money shots on the way down.
The backgrounds are so amazing they almost look fake.
It is also worth noting that on all of our Jeep excursions on this trip, we saw probably 30 marmots. They were all over the place. Almost as ubiquitous as the Jeeps in Ouray.
When we got back down to the bottom – and by "bottom" I mean 11,200 ft. – I got out to walk around the abandoned homes in this old mining town. Now managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Animas Forks was established in 1875 and was occupied until the 1920s.
According to the BLM website:
"The town's first log cabin was built in 1873 and by 1876 the community had become a bustling mining community. At that time the town contained 30 cabins, a hotel, a general store, a saloon, and a post office. By 1883, 450 people lived in Animas Forks and in 1882 a newspaper, the Animas Forks Pioneer, began publication and lasted until October 1886. Every fall, the residents of Animas Forks migrated en masse to the warmer town of Silverton. In 1884, a 23-day blizzard inundated the town with 25 feet (7.6 m) of snow, the residents had to dig tunnels to get from building to building."
At this point, we decided to continue on the Jeep road to conquer another three mountain passes before heading to the resort in Ouray, grabbing some dinner, and getting settled in for the night.
The first of these was the beautiful California Pass at 12,960 ft.
The views from this pass were absolutely incredible – from every direction! And it's always fun to get to a high spot where you can look back at the Jeep road you just drove up to get there. (I feel the same way about a hiking trail, too!)
We even got our first peek of Como Lake, an unexpected sight with its bright blue water sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the multi-colored rocks and mountain peaks.
From California Pass, we took the Jeep road to Hurricane Pass, which took us down to 12,730 ft.
Then it was on to Corkscrew Pass, but somehow, I did not see a sign for this one, and so I didn't take any photos. Not long after, we returned to the paved Million Dollar Highway that would take us the rest of the way into Ouray.
This was our first time in the "Switzerland of America." I haven't been to Switzerland, so I don't know how Ouray compares, but it was pretty remarkable. This small town with a quaint downtown is nestled in a bowl surrounded by the San Juan Mountains. Looking at it from above is really quite something, because you feel as though you're looking at a miniature model town.
Tomorrow, we attempt the sketchiest Jeep road of this trip: Black Bear Pass.