Trip Reports: Late Early Summer In The San Juans, Colorado - June-July 2019

Last year in the spring of 2018 I was talking about how that winter's meager snowpack had caused summer to arrive a full month early in May, and I was able to trek from Ouray to Telluride in mid-May when normally that would be a mid-June type of thing to do. Well, this year we have a massive snowpack that is still melting into July, and summer has arrived a month late! So, in early July I've been doing the kind of hikes I'd normally be doing in early June. Wackiness! Here are a few of my recent photos from this late early summer around Ouray, Ridgway, and the northern San Juan Mountains.

Colorado, Mears Peak, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, wildflowers, lupine, photo

Stormy Lupines

Mears Peak, the Sneffels Range, and a field of lupine wildflowers under a stormy sky in June.

Colorado, Mears Peak, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, wildflowers, lupines, photo

Lupine Sunsplash

A splash of sunlight beams through over a field of lupines as rain clouds roll over Mears Peak and the Sneffels Range - June.

4th of July, Colorado, Ouray, San Juan Mountains, fireworks, Mount Abrams, photo

Fireworks Over Ouray

4th of July fireworks over the town of Ouray with Mount Abrams behind. San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Ouray is a really unique place to watch fireworks; the sound of the booms echoing around the mountains is almost as impressive as the fireworks themselves! 

4th of July, Colorado, Ouray, San Juan Mountains, fireworks, Milky Way, photo

Ouray Cosmic Fireworks

4th of July fireworks in Ouray, Colorado, with the Milky Way galaxy above. To create this photo I first photographed the fireworks then left the camera in the same exact position for about an hour after dusk then photographed the stars, and combined the two photos.

Colorado, S9, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, aspens, lupine, wildflowers, photo

S9 Sunlight

Late afternoon light streams through the aspens and lupine meadows below peak S9 in the Sneffels Range.

Colorado, Mears Peak, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, aspens, lupine, rainbow, wildflowers, photo

Mears Peak Rainbow

A rainbow shines in front of Mears Peak as rain showers pass over the Sneffels Range.

The photos above were taken near roads or on short hikes. By early July I was itching to go on a real backpacking trip in the mountains, but the high basins are still mostly snowbound. So I picked out an obscure lower elevation trail and camped on a meadowed ridge right below the snowline, with fantastic views of Wetterhorn Peak to the east and the Sneffels Range to the west.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak, photo

Wetterhorn Breaking Storm

Clouds swirl off of Wetterhorn Peak after an intense thunderstorm.

When the weather forecast is unsettled I'm usually more excited about backpacking since it often means dramatic cloud and light conditions to photograph. On this trip soon after I arrived at my destination I could see a big dark thunderstorm headed my way so I made sure to set up my tent in the shelter of tall trees, then huddled inside as the lightning and thunder pounded all around. Once the rain stopped I headed out again just as the clouds were clearing off of Wetterhorn Peak across the valley. Awesome!

Colorado, Potosi Peak, San Juan Mountains, Sneffels Range, pine, photo

Potosi Forest

Potosi Peak with thunderclouds looming behind.

In recent years I've been so distraught about the ever-spreading pine beetle epidemic which is killing off vast expanses of pine forests in the San Juans (and Colorado, and the West in general). Most of the southern and eastern sides of the San Juans are already dead -- like, entire forests, as far as the eye can see, completely dead and brown. It's been spreading westward and recently some of my favorite wilderness basins near Silverton have succumbed and are full of dead trees too. So, seeing vibrant green healthy forests is something I no longer take for granted and I try to photograph them when I can. Hopefully not for a future before-and-after documentation...

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, pine, forest, photo

Cutler Creek Forest

Healthy pine forest in the mountains near Ouray, Colorado.

Bridge of Heaven, lupine, wildflowers, Ouray, Colorado, San Juan Mountains, photo

Bridge of Heaven Lupine

Lupine on the Bridge of Heaven above Ouray, Colorado.

So far it's been a glorious late-arriving summer and it should only get better once the higher alpine basins melt off and turn green and full of wildflowers!