In the Durango/Silverton Area of Colorado, one of best rewards is access. Access, to the great wide open or The Backcountry, as they refer to it here. Old mine trails weave and wind through passes, forests, along streams, and to places most humans will never see or touch. The Jeep trails are bumpy and sometimes dangle on a cliff side, but there is no better feeling than reaching the top of a pass at over 13,000 feet above sea level. The wind howls through the valleys and reminds you just how high in the sky you really are. The views go on forever and the sunset, well, the sunset is pure radiance. On this particular day I decided to head up to a well known attraction, Animas Forks- an old mining town, but instead of taking the normal easy route I decided to go in through the other side of the mountain and hitting two passes along the way. The first pass, Hurricane Pass, tops out at 12,407 feet. The second pass, California at 12,930 feet and the last pass, Engineer at 12,800. With 360 degree views of the Lower San Juan Mountain Range, these three passes are not only some of the highest in Colorado they also provide one hell of a scene.
At 12,407 feet, you feel the lack of oxygen the second you step out of your vehicle. The wind blows by and the mountains go on forever. To the right of Hurricane pass you can see California pass and the trail leading up to carved through the mountainside. Lake Como, the start of the Uncompahgre River, lies right below both passes and leads the way down into Ouray, the next town north of Silverton. As you head down into the valley, the mountains seem to extend even further off into the distance until you reach the valley and they tower above you. Climbing up California pass, on the Jeep trail, you almost forget you are up over 12,000 feet because flowers line the roads and green grows everywhere. But at the top of a California, one can feel like they can touch the clouds! In fact, you spend most of your day on cloud nine when traveling through the backcountry.
Once over California Pass, I headed down to my camping destination, Animas Fork. After camp was set up, I got back in the jeep and headed to Engineer Pass for sunset. However, I never actually made it up to the tippy top of Engineer Pass. The sun was starting to set and I saw a perfect place for even better pictures. I must admit as that sun started hitting the peaks and the orange glow bounced off the clouds, I felt right at home. Sunset is one of nature’s grandest sights and back dropped by peak after peak, you can’t help but feel small and big at the same time.
Spending any time in the backcountry of Southwest Colorado, one can’t help but be inspired. Millions of years have shaped this great wide space. Humans have come and gone time and time again. What was once a place of hard work and impossible tasks is now an adult playground where you can discover what a night sky truly looks like.