Trip Reports: Quick Tour Through The San Juans, Colorado - August 2017

Having lived in Ridgway/Ouray for about a decade, I've thoroughly explored the San Juan Mountains, as is evident in the fact that my San Juans photo collection is larger than all my other Colorado photos combined! When you live near such vast and awesome mountains it's naturally difficult to motivate to drive further afield for mountain adventures. This last summer we had 2 months to backpack around in Colorado and our plan was to revisit many of the other Colorado ranges that I've neglected in the past decade or longer. But nevertheless, in mid August we found ourselves drawn back to the San Juans like moths to a flame.

After spending my birthday with some friends in Ouray, we drove up some of the jeep roads above Red Mountain Pass and car camped a few nights up there. We drove rough high elevation old mining roads eastward through the San Juans over Corkscrew Pass, Hurricane Pass, California Pass, and Cinnamon Pass, then did a one night backpack trip into Cataract Gulch near the 14er Sunshine Peak.

Colorado, Gray Copper Gulch, Red Mountain, San Juan Mountains, photo

Red Mountain #1 reflects in an alpine tarn at sunrise.

Prints Available

Colorado, Red Mountain, San Juan Mountains, solar eclipse, photo

In August of 2017 a solar eclipse was visible over most of the United States; in southern Colorado it wasn't a total eclipse but was still quite interesting to witness, especially from about 13,000 feet up in the San Juans! I poked a bunch of pinholes in a sheet of paper and the eclipse was clearly visible in the light/shadows cast through the holes.

Brown Mountain, Colorado, Red Mountain, San Juan Mountains, photo

After enjoying the solar eclipse we continued up to the 13,339-foot summit of Brown Mountain which offered a great view looking back south towards Red Mountain and the endless San Juans beyond.

Prints Available

Animas Forks, Colorado, San Juan Mountains, mine, wildflowers, California Gulch, photo

A dilapidated mine ruin in California Gulch above the mining ghost town of Animas Forks (up valley from Silverton).

Prints Available

Cataract Gulch, Colorado, San Juan Mountains, beetle kill, pine beetle, forest, photo

In the last decade the forests of the eastern San Juans have been devasted by pine beetle kill. Pine beetles burrow under the tree bark and introduce a blue stain fungus that blocks water and nutrient transport within the tree, thus killing it. The beetles are a natural part of the forest, normally playing an important role of attacking old and weak trees, thus aiding development of younger trees. 

However, what's not natural is this kind of widespread annihilation of entire forests that's happening these days. This is yet another dramatic and alarming sign of the effects of human-caused climate change. As average temperatures rise, the forests experience less and less prolonged deep freezes during the winters which are necessary to kill the beetles and keep their population in check. Milder winters, hotter drier summers, and a century of forest fire suppression have all combined to weaken the forests, allowing the pine beetles to just continue to spread until the forest is almost totally wiped out. The unprecedented outbreak of beetle kill in the last decade is happening throughout not only Colorado but across much of the West, in what might be the largest forest insect blight ever seen in North America.

Prints Available

Cataract Gulch, Colorado, San Juan Mountains, waterfall, photo

A cataract in Cataract Gulch.

Prints Available

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Sunshine Peak, 14er, photo

After hiking up Cataract Gulch we found this amazing overlook with a front and center view of Sunshine Peak and the Lake Fork Gunnison River valley.

Prints Available

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Sunshine Peak, 14er, photo

Evening light on Sunshine Peak, just barely a fourteener at 14,001 feet high.

Prints Available

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, sunset, clouds, photo

Fiery sunset-lit clouds over the eastern San Juans.

Prints Available

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Sunshine Peak, 14er, photo

Sunrise light briefly shines on Sunshine Peak through a gap in the clouds.

Prints Available