5 days of wheeling in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

B_AIRS

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I left Houston last Monday on a week long trip to Ouray, CO and the San Juan Mountains for the Jeep Jamboree. I knew that the event wasn't going to give me the opportunity to run all the trails I wanted to so I made the decision to go up early and hit some of the other trails in the area before it started.

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Monday was a 16 hour haul from Houston to Durango, CO. I made that trip so that I could get up early Tuesday morning and meet several people at the Black Bear pass trail head at 8 am. Black Bear Pass was one of the primary reasons for coming up early so I was anxious to get it done that morning as the weather report was calling for rain that afternoon. The scenery was amazing and as many people have said, the tip up to the top was pretty effortless.

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Coming down the back side of Black Bear Pass was a little more intimidating, but I didn't really find it to be as bad as I have read in some places. Careful tire placement and paying attention to the road, not the scenery when moving was key. The most difficult spot for me was actually the two off camber drops just before the Steps. I had my drivers side rear tire slide towards the edge on me pretty good coming off one of those and got the blood pumping a bit, but had plenty of room.

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After getting down into Telluride I had a quick bite to eat and then headed for Last Dollar road. Last dollar road was a very scenic drive back over to the Ouray side of the mountains and passes Ralph Lauren's property as well as the set from the movie True Grit. This trail was by far the easiest I ran all week, but the changes in scenery along the route were nice. There is a good mix of open meadows, Aspen forest and high mountain views to keep your eyes busy. I have read that it can become a greasy mess if you run it when wet though, so keep that in mind if you are in the area. I stopped at the look out point about half way in and took some drone shots, because well look......

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Last Dollar road pops out on the Highway just West of Ridgeway so I followed it back to 550 and back South to Ouray to check into my Hotel for the next several nights and grab some dinner. After dinner I explored Cascade Falls park and hiked up the trail there a ways which was a nice break from all the sitting I had been and planned to do in the Jeep.

The next morning I got up and met two guys from the event Facebook page at the trail head for Mineral Creek (Engineer Mountain Road) and the Alpine Loop off 550 just south of Ouray. Mineral creek was an absolute blast and was probably the most technical and my favorite driving trail of the week. Lots of off camber spots and some different obstacles to play on while you are driving past epic views and old mining equipment. It is also the fastest way to Engineer pass from Ouray.

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Mineral Creek has one major offshoot trail about 2/3 of the way to Engineer Pass that is Poughkeepsie Gulch that I didn't run, but will definitely tackle the next time I come to the area. At the end of Mineral Creek you have two options, 1) Turn right and head towards Animas Forks and several other trails or 2) turn left and head up Engineer pass. We chose the latter in order to drive the Alpine Loop.

Going up Engineer pass from that side is mainly a narrow shelf road with some switchbacks but not too difficult. Just before you get to the pass itself there is a turn off for O Point that offers some amazing views so we stopped and took some pictures and I put the drone up as well.

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Not far after O Point you reach Engineer Pass and then start your way down towards Lake City. The drive down the back side of Engineer pass is much wider and easier. Once you get drop down off the pass itself it turns into a graded dirt road and we saw many types of cars and other vehicles on that side. There is a cool old cabin that is on the backside that you can walk to and potentially camp in (not 100% sure on this) not far down from the pass.

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Once we made it to Lake City we grabbed some food in the Jeep and made our way over to Cinnamon Pass. Once again, from the Lake City side, Cinnamon Pass is a grated dirt road until you get to the Y at American Basin and the switch backs up to the pass but you are rewarded with beautiful scenery. We also got some on again / off again rain during this section of the trip and it seemed like every time we stopped to get out of the Jeeps to take pictures it would start up. We also took the short offshoot into American Basin. I highly recommend this little offshoot as it doesn't take 10 minutes to get down to the parking area and the view is absolutely worth it.

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After leaving American Basin we backtracked and made our way up to the top of Cinnamon Pass.

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After the pass we made our way back down to Animas Forks and had a decision to make. We could either take a left and head south into Silverton and take the Highway back to Ouray, or press on to the right and head up California Gulch to California Pass, Hurricane Pass, and Corkscrew Pass. Seeing as it was still early enough in the day and the weather was not getting any worse than occasional small showers we decided to take the passes back to 550 and Ouray.

At the top of Hurricane Pass I came to the full realization of what people mean when they say pictures don't do certain scenery justice. Most of this trip was like that, but the view off of that pass was one I will never forget.

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After such a long day of wheeling we were all exhausted and made our way back to Ouray for dinner and an early nights sleep.

The next day was the check in for the Jamboree but I had the morning to kill so I decided to make the trip down to the Red Mountain Mining district and explore a little bit. This area is pretty much an easy dirt road similar to Last Dollar, but there are some switchbacks and a high ridge that might make some more nervous than Last Dollar. So many cool old mining buildings to look at including the famous Yankee Girl mine building that is probably one of the most photographed in the area. Once again views did not disappoint and it was a much shorter trail after the previous days adventure.

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This trail spits you back out just North of Silverton and its an easy drive back into Ouray along the Million Dollar Highway. I grabbed some lunch and waited for the Jamboree registration to begin.

The next morning I made my way to the event staging point for Ophir and Imogene Passes with the Jamboree. The weather started off rainy and we headed South out of Ouray to the trail head of Ophir Pass off 550 where we held our drivers meeting and the guides discussed safety and the itinerary for the day. We then headed up to the top of Ophir Pass which isn't the most scenic of the passes in the area, but was still worth the drive and is another way to make it over to Telluride if you don't want to tackle Black Bear Pass.

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After making it to the town of Ophir we hit the highway for a short drive into Telluride and then started up Imogene Pass. You pretty much drive to the end of a neighborhood street and start this trail and we ran into a lot of traffic coming down the trail on this side. You do get some pretty incredible views of the Black Bear Pass switchbacks as you start up that side of the mountain and pretty soon you come to Social Tunnel where you have to snag a picture of the Jeep. We made it up to one of the larger mining areas and stopped for lunch below the pass itself. The crew from Rancho joined our group on this run and took some photos for their social media at our lunch spot as well. They were testing out some new products on their Jeeps during the event as well, but I missed the opportunity to ask them any specifics on what it was they were testing.

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After lunch we made our way up to the top of Imogene Pass which is the highest pass in the San Juan's and the second highest in CO. Again, the views were epic and after the dreary morning we were glad to see some sun at the top.

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The way down the other side of Imogene is definitely more technical and probably more fun climbing it running it the opposite direction (I will try that too next time I'm in the area). Once you are down off the pass you drive through some forest trails and have the opportunity to make a couple water crossings (there are bridges as a bypass) before making it back to the dirt road that takes you back into Ouray.

The next morning I got up and made it to the staging area for Yankee Boy and Governor Basin which were the planned trips for the day. Once again the weather was a little wet which was a little disheartening as the guides said we may have to skip one of the more challenging sections at the end of the day if the weather didn't let up. We set off up the same dirt road that I had come back into Ouray from Imogene the previous day and stopped at Twin Falls. The weather started to break a bit at that point. We all got hopeful, and there were some very cool pictures had of the clouds rolling in and out of the valley.

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We left Twin Falls and made our way up to Yankee Boy Basin. Due to the weather and the mud I had my first real challenge making it up a rock ledge just below the basin, but a better line and a little momentum as well as engaging the rear lockers made it quick work on the next attempt. Once we got to the top the sun really broke through and we had a great lunch there in the basin.

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After lunch we head back down the way we came up and made a right turn to go up Governor Basin. This was a pretty narrow shelf road, but really not anything compared to what Black Bear or Imogene have to offer. Once we got up to the basin we split up into smaller groups to make our way over to the mine on the other side as the large group would not have room to turn around.

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After everyone had the opportunity to go check out the mine, and since the weather had cleared for the entire afternoon we were delighted to find out we were going to make the more challenging drop down into Sydney basin. The obstacles on this section were by far the best of the trip so far. Two rather steep ledges and some tight boulders to pick your way through down into the basin. We all made it down fine and got our group picture for the day.

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As you can see from the picture though, the weather didn't hold out and it started to rain and sleet on us as we started to make our way back up and out of the basin. This made those obstacles pretty slick on the way back up and one of the Jeeps that didn't have lockers had to get strapped up the more challenging ledge. Once we all got up and out we made our way back into Ouray for dinner and goodbyes.

I can't wait for another trip back to this area and I cannot recommend it enough to those who are thinking about going. You don't need to do the Jamboree to enjoy it and some of you would likely prefer doing it without the large group. I would honestly say that the days I spent before the event were easier in that I got to move at my own pace and explore side routes that I wanted to, but if you are new to Jeeping or don't have anyone to tackle a trail with, these events are a good way to do that and meet some fellow Jeepers that you could call on to go out with in the future outside of the event.

If you read this far, thank you for your time and I hope you enjoyed the pictures and my comments.





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Krondor

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Great pictures. Thank you for sharing!

I'll be trying to get up there 11th-14th if the weather holds out.
 

BDinTX

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Nice pics and write up! We were there a month ago and weren’t prepared for how beautiful it is. Will definitely be going back! Thanks for sharing.
 

Dkretden

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We were also at JJ in Ouray. This was our first JJ and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Did not get a chance to meet you. We arrived on Thursday for registration and departed at 7am on Sunday.

We did the Bunny Slopes (Maggie, Minine, Eureka then Stoney Pass and Buffalo Boy). It was fun and informative. And really terrific, as you mention, talking to other Jeepers. The guides were also great.

for folks who may not have attended a Jeep Jamboree, I can recommend. I think attendance may be down a bit this year but there was, IDK, maybe 100 Jeeps there? (all but one was a wrangler, I think, LOL).

anyway, OP, your images are truly stunning and it was very smart of you to go early and explore. The weather was spotty but it really made for some dramatic sky for images, no? Well done! Oh, and we moved to Colorado in May from....... Houston (downtown). Small world.
 
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TrailScooter

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Awesome stuff, Brian. Great pics . :clap:


I was up a few weeks ago with my son. Forgot my camera.. Just had some old gopros running. Still, hard to mess up a picture there. I still try...
 

Billy goat

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I left Houston last Monday on a week long trip to Ouray, CO and the San Juan Mountains for the Jeep Jamboree. I knew that the event wasn't going to give me the opportunity to run all the trails I wanted to so I made the decision to go up early and hit some of the other trails in the area before it started.

1.JPG


Monday was a 16 hour haul from Houston to Durango, CO. I made that trip so that I could get up early Tuesday morning and meet several people at the Black Bear pass trail head at 8 am. Black Bear Pass was one of the primary reasons for coming up early so I was anxious to get it done that morning as the weather report was calling for rain that afternoon. The scenery was amazing and as many people have said, the tip up to the top was pretty effortless.

3.jpg

6.jpg


Coming down the back side of Black Bear Pass was a little more intimidating, but I didn't really find it to be as bad as I have read in some places. Careful tire placement and paying attention to the road, not the scenery when moving was key. The most difficult spot for me was actually the two off camber drops just before the Steps. I had my drivers side rear tire slide towards the edge on me pretty good coming off one of those and got the blood pumping a bit, but had plenty of room.

7.jpg

8.JPG


After getting down into Telluride I had a quick bite to eat and then headed for Last Dollar road. Last dollar road was a very scenic drive back over to the Ouray side of the mountains and passes Ralph Lauren's property as well as the set from the movie True Grit. This trail was by far the easiest I ran all week, but the changes in scenery along the route were nice. There is a good mix of open meadows, Aspen forest and high mountain views to keep your eyes busy. I have read that it can become a greasy mess if you run it when wet though, so keep that in mind if you are in the area. I stopped at the look out point about half way in and took some drone shots, because well look......

11.JPG

12.JPG


Last Dollar road pops out on the Highway just West of Ridgeway so I followed it back to 550 and back South to Ouray to check into my Hotel for the next several nights and grab some dinner. After dinner I explored Cascade Falls park and hiked up the trail there a ways which was a nice break from all the sitting I had been and planned to do in the Jeep.

The next morning I got up and met two guys from the event Facebook page at the trail head for Mineral Creek (Engineer Mountain Road) and the Alpine Loop off 550 just south of Ouray. Mineral creek was an absolute blast and was probably the most technical and my favorite driving trail of the week. Lots of off camber spots and some different obstacles to play on while you are driving past epic views and old mining equipment. It is also the fastest way to Engineer pass from Ouray.

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Mineral Creek has one major offshoot trail about 2/3 of the way to Engineer Pass that is Poughkeepsie Gulch that I didn't run, but will definitely tackle the next time I come to the area. At the end of Mineral Creek you have two options, 1) Turn right and head towards Animas Forks and several other trails or 2) turn left and head up Engineer pass. We chose the latter in order to drive the Alpine Loop.

Going up Engineer pass from that side is mainly a narrow shelf road with some switchbacks but not too difficult. Just before you get to the pass itself there is a turn off for O Point that offers some amazing views so we stopped and took some pictures and I put the drone up as well.

24.jpg

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Not far after O Point you reach Engineer Pass and then start your way down towards Lake City. The drive down the back side of Engineer pass is much wider and easier. Once you get drop down off the pass itself it turns into a graded dirt road and we saw many types of cars and other vehicles on that side. There is a cool old cabin that is on the backside that you can walk to and potentially camp in (not 100% sure on this) not far down from the pass.

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Once we made it to Lake City we grabbed some food in the Jeep and made our way over to Cinnamon Pass. Once again, from the Lake City side, Cinnamon Pass is a grated dirt road until you get to the Y at American Basin and the switch backs up to the pass but you are rewarded with beautiful scenery. We also got some on again / off again rain during this section of the trip and it seemed like every time we stopped to get out of the Jeeps to take pictures it would start up. We also took the short offshoot into American Basin. I highly recommend this little offshoot as it doesn't take 10 minutes to get down to the parking area and the view is absolutely worth it.

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After leaving American Basin we backtracked and made our way up to the top of Cinnamon Pass.

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After the pass we made our way back down to Animas Forks and had a decision to make. We could either take a left and head south into Silverton and take the Highway back to Ouray, or press on to the right and head up California Gulch to California Pass, Hurricane Pass, and Corkscrew Pass. Seeing as it was still early enough in the day and the weather was not getting any worse than occasional small showers we decided to take the passes back to 550 and Ouray.

At the top of Hurricane Pass I came to the full realization of what people mean when they say pictures don't do certain scenery justice. Most of this trip was like that, but the view off of that pass was one I will never forget.

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After such a long day of wheeling we were all exhausted and made our way back to Ouray for dinner and an early nights sleep.

The next day was the check in for the Jamboree but I had the morning to kill so I decided to make the trip down to the Red Mountain Mining district and explore a little bit. This area is pretty much an easy dirt road similar to Last Dollar, but there are some switchbacks and a high ridge that might make some more nervous than Last Dollar. So many cool old mining buildings to look at including the famous Yankee Girl mine building that is probably one of the most photographed in the area. Once again views did not disappoint and it was a much shorter trail after the previous days adventure.

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This trail spits you back out just North of Silverton and its an easy drive back into Ouray along the Million Dollar Highway. I grabbed some lunch and waited for the Jamboree registration to begin.

The next morning I made my way to the event staging point for Ophir and Imogene Passes with the Jamboree. The weather started off rainy and we headed South out of Ouray to the trail head of Ophir Pass off 550 where we held our drivers meeting and the guides discussed safety and the itinerary for the day. We then headed up to the top of Ophir Pass which isn't the most scenic of the passes in the area, but was still worth the drive and is another way to make it over to Telluride if you don't want to tackle Black Bear Pass.

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After making it to the town of Ophir we hit the highway for a short drive into Telluride and then started up Imogene Pass. You pretty much drive to the end of a neighborhood street and start this trail and we ran into a lot of traffic coming down the trail on this side. You do get some pretty incredible views of the Black Bear Pass switchbacks as you start up that side of the mountain and pretty soon you come to Social Tunnel where you have to snag a picture of the Jeep. We made it up to one of the larger mining areas and stopped for lunch below the pass itself. The crew from Rancho joined our group on this run and took some photos for their social media at our lunch spot as well. They were testing out some new products on their Jeeps during the event as well, but I missed the opportunity to ask them any specifics on what it was they were testing.

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After lunch we made our way up to the top of Imogene Pass which is the highest pass in the San Juan's and the second highest in CO. Again, the views were epic and after the dreary morning we were glad to see some sun at the top.

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The way down the other side of Imogene is definitely more technical and probably more fun climbing it running it the opposite direction (I will try that too next time I'm in the area). Once you are down off the pass you drive through some forest trails and have the opportunity to make a couple water crossings (there are bridges as a bypass) before making it back to the dirt road that takes you back into Ouray.

The next morning I got up and made it to the staging area for Yankee Boy and Governor Basin which were the planned trips for the day. Once again the weather was a little wet which was a little disheartening as the guides said we may have to skip one of the more challenging sections at the end of the day if the weather didn't let up. We set off up the same dirt road that I had come back into Ouray from Imogene the previous day and stopped at Twin Falls. The weather started to break a bit at that point. We all got hopeful, and there were some very cool pictures had of the clouds rolling in and out of the valley.

48.jpg


We left Twin Falls and made our way up to Yankee Boy Basin. Due to the weather and the mud I had my first real challenge making it up a rock ledge just below the basin, but a better line and a little momentum as well as engaging the rear lockers made it quick work on the next attempt. Once we got to the top the sun really broke through and we had a great lunch there in the basin.

49.jpg

50.JPG


After lunch we head back down the way we came up and made a right turn to go up Governor Basin. This was a pretty narrow shelf road, but really not anything compared to what Black Bear or Imogene have to offer. Once we got up to the basin we split up into smaller groups to make our way over to the mine on the other side as the large group would not have room to turn around.

53.jpg


After everyone had the opportunity to go check out the mine, and since the weather had cleared for the entire afternoon we were delighted to find out we were going to make the more challenging drop down into Sydney basin. The obstacles on this section were by far the best of the trip so far. Two rather steep ledges and some tight boulders to pick your way through down into the basin. We all made it down fine and got our group picture for the day.

55.jpg


As you can see from the picture though, the weather didn't hold out and it started to rain and sleet on us as we started to make our way back up and out of the basin. This made those obstacles pretty slick on the way back up and one of the Jeeps that didn't have lockers had to get strapped up the more challenging ledge. Once we all got up and out we made our way back into Ouray for dinner and goodbyes.

I can't wait for another trip back to this area and I cannot recommend it enough to those who are thinking about going. You don't need to do the Jamboree to enjoy it and some of you would likely prefer doing it without the large group. I would honestly say that the days I spent before the event were easier in that I got to move at my own pace and explore side routes that I wanted to, but if you are new to Jeeping or don't have anyone to tackle a trail with, these events are a good way to do that and meet some fellow Jeepers that you could call on to go out with in the future outside of the event.

If you read this far, thank you for your time and I hope you enjoyed the pictures and my comments.
We did this trip the first week of August. It’s definitely a bucket list trip.
 

Dkretden

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Brian, forgot to ask above.

is your rig on the Stock 285’s? And, is it lifted? I can’t quite decide from the images. I’m still on stock and I’m very new so I chose to do the easier trails. Curious about your setup.
 
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B_AIRS

B_AIRS

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Brian, forgot to ask above.

is your rig on the Stock 285’s? And, is it lifted? I can’t quite decide from the images. I’m still on stock and I’m very new so I chose to do the easier trails. Curious about your setup.
Yes, I am running stock tires and suspension. I do have the full Metalcloak belly and differential skids for protection and those did come in handy on this trip.
 

Abend

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Thanks for sharing. I'm leaving tomorrow morning for Ouray and your pictures are making it hard to wait till morning to leave. :)
 

Chubrocker

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I was there also for the JJ. Was an awesome time, your pictures are better. Right after Poughkeepsie the view of the lake was my favorite. Going up Imogene (opposite side from Social Tunnel was definitely fun, some optional obstacles to make it interesting). All in all, not super challenging trails (except for the wall) but by far the best off road experience I've been a part of.

IMG_4959.jpg
 

TrailScooter

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I was there also for the JJ. Was an awesome time, your pictures are better. Right after Poughkeepsie the view of the lake was my favorite. Going up Imogene (opposite side from Social Tunnel was definitely fun, some optional obstacles to make it interesting). All in all, not super challenging trails (except for the wall) but by far the best off road experience I've been a part of.

IMG_4959.jpg

Awesome shot. :clap: I think I can see my house..:facepalm:
 

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