Colorado's San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado



Report by: Mike Scott

Edited by: Randy Wheeler

Joan and I , along with friends Vicki and Gary Allender, took a vacation trip to do some off-roading in the San Juan mountains of Southwest Colorado. During these three days, we traversed the Alpine Loop (Cinnamon Pass and Engineer Pass), Black Bear Pass, and finally Stoney Pass Road.


This trial begins just outside of Silverton. It starts by taking you about 23 miles, along a 2WD graded dirt road, to the ghost town of Animas Forks, a very interesting site full of history with the most beautiful scenery imaginable as a backdrop.

Cinnamon Pass Road takes you into the town of Lake City, where a brief respite was taken prior to continuing on with the remainder of the Alpine Loop on to Engineer Pass.


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Abandoned mining operation at Animas Forks. The Jeep in the center of the photograph is just starting the ascent on the road to Cinnamon Pass. Mike and Joan on top of Cinnamon Pass. Henry Thoreau cabin on the Engineer Pass Trail. Atop Engineer Pass 



C.W. McCall had a hit record in the 70s called "Convoy". Mr. McCall also wrote a song about this very road Black Bear and in it, he opined that "you dont have to be crazy to drive this road, but it helps!" After driving "The Bear", I understand what he meant!

The trailhead is located at Red Mountain Pass about 20 miles outside of Ouray. The trail isnt that bad at first in fact, it sort of lulls you into a false sense of security until you get to an area known as "The Steps". On the downhill side of the trail approaching Telluride, the steps are challenging because youve got a wheel off the ground at times, the trail itself is very steep, and in spots, it isnt much wider than the truck! Couple that with the knowledge that the only thing next to the drivers side of the trail is a sheer drop containing hundreds of feet of nothing but air, and you suddenly realize that the pucker factor has gone up exponentially.

Once you pass the steps, the remainder of the trail down into Telluride consists of a series of switchbacks which are severe to the point that even short wheelbase vehicles need to back up, realign, back up, realign, etc.

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View of Telluride from Black Bear Pass The first (easiest) switchback on Black Bear Road. The "steps" are about mile ahead of where this was taken. A different view of the switchback. Why is this man smiling? Because he successfully negotiated "The Bear"! 



Stoney Pass Road starts outside of Silverton, and traverses areas ranging from mountain ridges to lowlands containing trees, streams, and abundant wildlife. A fairly easy but absolutely beautiful trail to take for the views.

This trip was terrific looking forward to another visit to SW Colorado. They call it the "offroad capital of the U.S." based on this journey, I have no reason to doubt that claim!


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