9-27-19: Driving the Alpine Loop

There was little color as I pulled out of Durango, Colorado, northbound on 550. Many of the aspen were bare, so I figured the leaves had dropped. But there were many (maybe most) that were still green. When I got a closer look at one of the bare aspen, it looked like the leaves were just shriveled. This is the same stretch of highway that was bathed in gold in 2015:

N 37 42.9394 W 107 45.2669

I had figured that since it was too early for the best color I should drive the Alpine Loop: the higher elevation would make mature color more likely (if there are any aspen at all, which I later learned there were not – much of the road is above the tree line), and I would get that part of my journey out of the way, so that when color does peak I will be able to give full attention to the places with the color.

The Alpine Loop consists of the roads thru Engineers Pass and Cinnamon Pass that roughly parallel each other and connect near Silverton on the west end and nearly connect at Lake City on the east. The roads are recommended for high-clearance 4wd vehicles only, and can be driven either direction.

Stopped at a store to get a map: the book I have was way too vague about how to get on the trail from Silverton. The route that started near Ouray has a very dangerous section, and I preferred the easier way. Talked to a woman at the store that gave me a copy of a crude map, then found a better version in a free tourist guide and gave it to me. I also paid for a better map.

A man at the store was telling everyone that he had just witnessed an ATV (all terrain vehicle) rollover accident at Stoney Pass: 2 adults and a young child. A tire had caught the edge, sending the ATV over a steep embankment, flipping and rolling 150′ down. The witness said he expected to see fatalities, but they all survived. I checked the online news for an update on their condition: https://durangoherald.com/articles/295836
One was transported via helicopter, the other two by ambulance. No word on anyone’s condition.

Aired down the tires for a softer ride and better traction on the rough road.

It was a thrilling ride to the pass!! I was behind a group of 4 Jeeps and in front of 2, so I hurried more than I should (so I would not slow down the ones behind me), but I did stop for a couple of photos, and shot some through the windshield.

The road was very narrow, but not nearly as difficult as the road to Crystal, CO, as described in the 9-25-19 Blog.

I broke away from the group not long after the pass, and was able to stop for a number of photos along the way.

Then took a detour onto North Henson road. Got the best photos of the trip so far.

Several times I had a good scene on the road, but the aspen were in the shade of the clouds. So I waited for a few minutes for the sun to light up the trees, and I was rewarded immensely! By the way, I thought it was the puffy (and some wispy) clouds that really made the photos.

There were no narrow ledges to drive on this road, but there were several very steep switchbacks that I was apprehensive about: it’s very easy to flip the truck on its side in places like this. But, I was able to keep it right-side up. “Rock Crawling” is a hobby for some that enjoy driving difficult 4-wheel drive trails for its own sake: I got that out of my system many years ago. Now, I do it only as necessary to get to where I want to take photos.
Was not being careful enough and hit a rock very hard once, early in the drive. Anxious to look underneath and see what may have been damaged. Checked later, and the divot was on a frame cross-member: nothing serious.

I have seen the remains of many dozens (hundreds?) of avalanches so far on this trip. (This one is very small compared to many I have seen.)

I’m no expert, but I understand that avalanches usually originate from the same places year after year, and follow the same path down the mountain. The clearings they create are obvious – trees never have the opportunity to grow large in the avalanche chutes. But what I’ve been seeing on this trip is swaths of large trees that were downed this past winter: evidence of avalanches that were much larger and/or took new paths down the mountain. Proof that they saw record snowfall amounts this past winter.

Was trying to decide whether to warm some leftovers from the fridge or look for something in Lake City: it was around 2:00 and I was very hungry. I had decided on the leftovers, then saw the Sportsman BBQ Station in Lake City. I stopped in and ordered a sandwich to go. Turns out the couple were from the Dallas area, and he is a retired firefighter. Ate the brisket sandwich while driving: very messy, but very good.

Then drove back to Silverton on the Cinnamon Pass road and got a few photos:
The trees really glow when backlit by the sun.

I was coming down from Cinnamon Pass when I began to lament that I had not seen the cabin and waterfall that I shot when we drove thru the pass in 1978: I wanted to shoot it again and could not understand how I missed it.

Then a few minutes later, it was there on the left side of the road!! Got the shot!
The trees have grown a lot in 41 years.

Had originally hoped to camp on the mountain: most likely near Cinnamon Pass. That did not work out, and now I was wanting a room with WiFi so that I could send a Photo of the Day. There was only one hotel in town with a vacancy: the Avon Hotel, and it had only one room available with private bath (all the rest were hostel rooms), and that would have been $200 + tax for tonight. I decided that $240 was entirely too much to spend for one night, especially when I had other options.

I headed north on 550, then stopped to check the campground app: there were 3 free campgrounds just a few miles away. – turned out to be on CR 585, the same road as the Mineral Creek Campground I went to yesterday and got shots of the waterfall. One of the three: Kendall campground has a bathroom. So, I pulled in @ 6:25 with some daylight left. There was no electricity, lights or water in the campground, but I was OK with that. I am sitting here in the Summit (pop-up camper shell) writing all of today’s journal, copied files from memory cards and to both drives.
Shot 876 photos today!

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