Adventures on the Alpine Loop: Cruising to Colorado – Day Six

On our sixth day in Colorado, Cody and I had big plans for the day. Our goal was to enjoy the day traveling through the Alpine Loop, situated in the San Juan National Forest, something we had been planning for months in advance. Before this day, we had loosely followed the schedule we had planned for the trip. That was about to change because Alpine Loop was calling our names and we weren’t about to say no!

(Click on the following days to read more of my “Cruising to Colorado” series. Blog post: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four and Five)

We packed our camping gear into the truck and said our farewell to our campsite at Molas Lake. To reach Alpine Loop, we drove back into Silverton and took County Road 2 past the Mayflower Mill in the direction of Animas Forks ghost town.

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Alpine Loop Map

There was something in the air that made us both believe that everything would work out one way or another during this adventure. We were ready to explore and accomplish our goal of reaching Engineer Pass before leaving Colorado.

As we traveled along the trail to reach Animas Forks, the scenery was already breathtaking. We saw chipmunks, marmots, deer and even wild horses. Everything was awe-inspiring and words truly can’t describe the beauty–it’s something everyone should experience at least once in their life.

The Animas River snaked along the trail, its rushing clear water moving fluidly. The day was beautiful with great weather and clear skies. There was a chance of rain that could hit us but even that couldn’t bring our spirits down. We kept making our way through the winding trail enjoying the views.

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Animas River

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For the most part, we passed a lot of people driving in Jeeps. We were definitely the unusual ones in the vintage Ford Courier that had been converted to a four-wheel drive. As we passed groups of people leaving the trail, a man waved us down. He couldn’t believe that we were in a Ford Courier, since they’re a rare sight to see these days. Even more shocking to him was the fact that it was a 4WD Courier. It was great for someone to be interested and appreciative of the truck. He wished us luck in our adventure and we parted ways.

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The drive to Animas Forks felt quick since we were so captivated by the scenery around us. It took us about an hour to reach the ghost town since we took our time, stopping to take pictures and enjoy our time in the wilderness. When we finally did see the ghost town in sight, excitement took over and we couldn’t imagine what life was like back when the town was thriving.

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Animas Forks Ghost Town

The first building we came up on was the jail, complete with an incredibly thick door and window with bars. We had fun snapping some pictures here. I guess if you had to be in jail, the Animas Fork jail would be the one to choose…the views you can see from outside the window are pretty scenic for a jail cell. According to Preservation Nation, the jail was built with solid 6-inch walls and held men who were arrested in Animas Forks before they were transported to Silverton.

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Some background info about the Animas Forks Jail

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All of the buildings in Animas Forks have been kept up and restored with respect to their historical backgrounds. The homes are within walking distance of one another so you can explore the town, walking from one building to the next. Some of the homes even include descriptions of the original inhabitants. We both enjoyed seeing a vintage Coleman fuel can in one of the homes.

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The William Duncan House

While we explored the town, a light rain started to come down. This didn’t dampen our mood and we got back into the truck to decide our next plan of action, either small, fun trails or the “big bambino”–Engineer Pass? We saw a long trail of Jeeps coming down one trail and soon found out that was the way to Engineer Pass, our decision had been made…we were about to navigate our way up to an elevation of 12,800 feet.

Engineer Pass

I had no idea what to expect of this trail when we started out. We really didn’t even know if we were going the right way until we finally saw a sign with arrows pointing to different destinations. Engineer Pass happened to be one of them.

The trail started out easy enough. We could still see the ground so that calmed my nerves. It was a slow ascent as we traveled higher into elevation, enjoying the lush green land that still had snow in spots. No one else was on the trail when we went so it was isolated. It made me feel like I was in a “Lord of the Rings” film with the scenery we were surrounded by.

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The beginning of the Engineer Pass trail

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As we got higher, the landscape changed dramatically. The green valleys had been replaced by a more rocky terrain with mountains and snow. It was hard to believe there was this much snow in July! The rain that had lightly been drizzling turned to snow the higher we got.up-high

The most nerve-racking part was feeling like we were so close to the edge on the trail at times. There are definitely some narrow spots! As long as you drive slow and have some trail experience there really isn’t anything to worry about.

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Eventually, we wondered when we would arrive to the top of Engineer Pass. The trail got windier and after one final turn we had reached the top. We had made it the entire way without a hitch! It was like none of the problems with the truck had ever happened. We were both in such a euphoric state, joy just overtaking us that we had accomplished our goal of reaching Engineer Pass!

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The top of Engineer Pass

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In the grand scheme of things, the ride up to Engineer Pass went considerably fast! It took us only about 40 minutes to get to the top. We were so proud of the truck and I was incredibly proud of Cody. He is a great driver and handled the trail with ease. I think I was less nervous on the trail than I was traveling on the narrow paved highway to Silverton.

Once we figured out which way to take to get back down (we took the same way back), we were on our way to Ouray having decided to take the trail route instead of backtracking to Silverton and taking the Million Dollar Highway. Boy, were we in for a surprise!

The Trail to Ouray–Mineral Creek

The trail to Ouray started out easy enough. We were still so happy about making it to the top of Engineer Pass, and back down it! The trail led through forested areas with old buildings from the mining era.

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“Mystery” trail to Ouray (Mineral Creek Trail)

When we started this trail (around 6 p.m.) we had no idea what its name was so we didn’t know the difficulty of it. Of course we assumed it wouldn’t be bad and that we would be in Ouray resting in the bed and breakfast before dark–we definitely underestimated it!

This trail was rocky and hilly. Several times I had to get out and be Cody’s spotter to make sure he was going down the rocks in a good spot. I will admit, I am lacking in spotter skills so this was all brand new to me!

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New Jeeps with high trail capability passed us easily. We thought surely we were close, but looking out into the wilderness dampened our hope. We didn’t see a sign of any town nearby. It was a desolate feeling, yet surreal since everywhere we looked the nature was so overwhelmingly beautiful.

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After being on the trail for over two hours we finally caught a glimpse of a paved road! We had hit the end of the trail! The road, which was the Million Dollar Highway, would take us into Ouray where our warm room was waiting for us.

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We made it to the end, which also happens to be the beginning for some, too!

The Million Dollar Highway is another road that can make the calmest people nervous. No guardrails with twists and turns containing huge drop-offs can give you butterflies, and not the good ones.

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A tame section of the Million Dollar Highway

We only drove the road a short distance before arriving in Ouray, another charming town similar to Silverton. Ouray has more of a hip vibe with several bed and breakfasts and popular restaurants and stores. We stayed at the Main Street Inn, a quaint B&B on the main road in Ouray. Our room was incredibly cozy on the second floor with its own patio/balcony. The two best parts about staying here was having a flushable toilet (no more vault toilets!) and a comfortable bed (no more air mattresses!). I love camping but you need to indulge yourself on a trip every now and then.

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Outlaw Room at the Main Street Inn

After checking in, we headed out to town which was still very much alive at 9 p.m. A Mexican restaurant called Buen Tiempo was still open so we sat down and enjoyed the festive atmosphere while eating chips and salsa and delicious quesadillas!

Resting in the room later that night we looked up the never-ending trail we had been on and found out it was the Mineral Creek Trail. This trail is known as the harder path to Animas Fork compared to the trail from Silverton. We didn’t anticipate the trail to Ouray being that daunting, but we made it to Ouray and now it’s an excellent memory from our trip!

 

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