Poughkeepsie Gulch Picture of the Week

Even though we had to wing it, I think that the day in the mountains Fred and I had was a very successful adventure. We both got a lot out of it. Fred was able to put his—new to him—Toyota FJ through its paces, we saw some beautiful rugged country, we took a lot of pictures, and we came back in one piece. When we got back to base camp, our wives—Deb and Queen Anne—knew we had a good time from the big bug-stained grins on our faces, and the incessant chattering about our day.

We visited four of the two dozen high passes in the San Juan Mountains, and those were the day’s high points (pun intended) of our trip. Coincidentally, that’s enough material for a typical month’s worth of blog posts. But September has five Sundays this year, so I get to show you another picture that I took; of the twenty-two keepers, this one is my favorite.

I don’t usually work this way. When I’m out alone with my camera, I try to work a scene. I’ll shoot several angles, zoom in and out, add or remove elements in the composition, or maybe wait for better light. When I’m back at my desk, I’ll review the raw files and pick out the best. I don’t bother processing most of my shots. In Colorado, we covered a lot of area in one afternoon, and I was just along for the ride, so I snapped pictures when I could before moving on. For most of the day, the light wasn’t to my liking, but the mountains were strong enough to stand up in less than ideal conditions. As dinner time approached, the sun’s color began to warm, and the scattered clouds cast shadows on the peaks.

Poughkeepsie Peak - The late afternoon sun shines on the top of Tuttle Mountain, which overlooks Poughkeepsie Gulch.
Poughkeepsie Peak – The late afternoon sun shines on the top of Tuttle Mountain, which overlooks Poughkeepsie Gulch.

We were almost done for the day, and as we approached Hurricane Pass, I saw this scene on the road overlooking Como Lake. I consider it the best of the day. It’s the fish you pull from the creel after the guys have finished laughing at the other minnows from your basket. It’s called Poughkeepsie Gulch. In this image, the warm afternoon sun is shining through a hole in the clouds on Tuttle Mountain’s top, which is otherwise covered in cloud shadows. The 13,203’ peak overlooks Poughkeepsie Gulch and down there, you can see the road the rangers warned us was too advanced for amateurs like us.

You can see a larger version of Poughkeepsie Gulch on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing it. Be sure to come back next week when we feature the scenery from another Arizona back road.

Until next time — jw

Sun Showers Picture of the Week

The day was getting late, and before Fred and I could go back, we needed to find one final pass to cross and return to Silverton—and eventually Durango. When we stopped to enjoy Lake Como—last week’s photo—it turns out that we were already near Hurricane Pass. Unlike the other passes, we didn’t have to crawl down one mountainside and up another. Instead, the road followed the ridgeline for a half-mile, and voila.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Pass wasn’t as photogenic as the others that day. The road simply turned east for a bit before disappearing down a crack. Of course, the crack opened into a gulch, then a river valley as we descended 5,000 feet into civilization. It was an anticlimactic way to end the day. The trail was soon gravel followed quickly by asphalt; with guardrails, of all things.

Sun Showers - Although small clouds filled the sky, the only rain we got was a sun-shower.
Sun Showers – Although small clouds filled the sky, the only rain we got was a sun-shower.

But don’t worry, I come bearing gifts. All during our outing, puffy little clouds filled the sky. They seemed to bump into one another like the balls on a billiard table. Then they would part again leaving large patches of blue sky. On our way down the hill, it started to rain—while the sun was shining. As we rounded a bend in the road, the sun appeared in one of those patches and backlit the mountainside. It’s one of those moments where the grass becomes iridescent and glows. I’ve seen this before in New Zealand. I failed to capture it there, but I think this week’s image is close. I call it Sun Showers. The mountain that we’re looking up as maybe Hurricane Peak, but I’m not sure. In case you’re wondering—yes, those are the Sun’s rays at the top. Did I tell you about the steep angles we experienced during this trip?

You can see a larger version of Sun Showers on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when I’ll show you my favorite image from our adventure exploring Colorado’s San Juan Mountains in Fred’s Toyota—oh, sorry—Fred’s Jeep.

Until next time — jw

Lake Como Picture of the Week

Lake Como as seen from the top of Calaifornia Pass.Lake Como – A little alpine lake from California Pass in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

Something is intoxicating about standing on a mountaintop. You get a sense of accomplishment—an incredible buzz—while taking in the view. As you spot familiar landmarks, the map you carry around in your mind gets updated. I can understand the addition mountain climbers have to the highest peaks. I’m just too lazy to be one of them, and you won’t catch me on the climbing wall at the local gym—or inside the gym in the first place. Spending a day with Fred driving his FJ up-high passes in the San Juan Mountains was good enough for me.

When we decided not to spend all day driving Colorado’s Alpine Loop but drove up two of its passes, we wanted another challenge. The first ascent was scary, while the second was not so much. I felt like a kid on a swing urging his parents to push harder. “Again,” I shouted. So, we stood on Engineer Pass with the map spread over the hood, looking for another route back to Silverton. After all, we didn’t want to go back down the way we came. That was along the Animas River and was flat and dull. We agreed on a route that would take us over two more passes before dropping back to Silverton via Cement Creek, and that meant that we’d have first to drive back down to Animas Forks.

From the ghost town, we headed west up California Gulch. Going in this direction, the road ran straight ahead for several miles and appeared to end midway up California Mountain. Several times, I’ve traveled roads without a clue what’s ahead. For example, Interstate 15 is heading north out of Mesquite, Nevada. As it leads for the Beaver Mountains, you can’t pick out where the freeway climbs over them. I always involuntarily back out of the gas in case the road suddenly ends—like against the mountainside. At the very last moment, the Virgin River Gorge opens and swallows the highway. I was getting that feeling now.

It wasn’t until the perceived end of the road that it turned on itself and climbed behind a side ridge that hid the route from below, and as we drove around the bend, the trail went vertical. I questioned our decision to go this way because this was undoubtedly the beginning of the roller coaster from hell. Fred managed to keep all four wheels on the ground while his truck grunted its way up the grade. When we reached the top, as with the other passes, there was a spot to park and look around. When I got out, I decided a box of Depends would be a handy accouterment on these trips.

But the view! The light was coming in, and there were great shots back at California Gulch, and in front was this pretty little alpine lake—Lake Como—on the other side. I have seen pictures of places like these in magazines, but I’ve never been to one. It was breathtaking—well, 13,000 feet is stunning enough, but you know what I mean. I snapped several variations of this photo, and we eventually drove down to the lake where Fred tried to park over an open mine shaft, but that’s another story. This week’s featured image is the version I liked best because of its composition and color details. I call it Lake Como. I hope you like it.

Don’t let your eyes miss out—feast them on an even grander version of Lake Como right here (Jim’s Page)! Buckle up because we’re diving back into Colorado’s enigmatic San Juan Mountains aboard Fred’s Toyota next week. Trust me, you won’t want to miss this!

Until next time — jw

Engineer Pass Picture of the Week

When my friend Fred planned our off-road excursions through the San Juan Mountains, his initial itinerary was to complete the Alpine Loop, which includes two passes, circling Red Cloud Peak, Sunshine Peak (which are two of Colorado’s 14,000 foot mountains, but aren’t even in the top 10), and a stop in Lake City. Now that I’ve had time to recover and look at my maps, I think that would be a fabulous trip, especially if we did it later this month when the aspens turn color. But, when we stopped at the Silverton information center, he was told that it’s a seven-hour trip, and it was already afternoon, so we decided to sample some of the passes around Animas Forks instead.

Last week’s image was from Cinnamon Pass, and this week’s picture is from Engineer Pass—our second stop. Both of these places are along the Alpine Loop. If you do Cinnamon first, the route will be counter-clockwise and the opposite direction if you first go over Engineering Pass. The two passes are only miles apart, and most of the Alpine Loop is east of them. Although they’re relatively close, as the crow flies, driving the road requires descending 3,000 feet to the ghost town then 3,000 feet back up the other way. If I thought going up the mountain was exciting, going down was harrowing. I almost got out and walked.

Mountain Man Fred
Mountain Man Fred – It’s not an illusion that Fred’s hanging on to that wire. The sign is well over the slope, and the footing is unsure because of the loose shale.

As we rounded a corner, we saw a knoll where several vehicles were parked, and a crowd snapping selfies and taking in the view. We assumed this was it. It wasn’t. It was Odom Point, and we joined the others for the view and document our visit. As we returned to the road, a sign that said that our pass was further down the road, so we drove another couple hundred yards.

Engineer Pass
Engineer Pass – Looking north from the saddle, you can see two mule trails blazed by prospectors. One leads down into the valley while the other zig-zags up the unnamed peak.

This week’s image that I call Engineer Pass was taken from the 12,800-foot high mountain saddle looking north, and it shows an unnamed peak that’s another hundred feet higher. Also visible are two mule trails, one that descends into the valley and the other that cuts across the talus slope past the red streaks before a switchback as it zig-zags to the summit. I declined to try either of the trails.

While we were taking in the view, I turned around and was stunned to spot over a dozen cyclists peddling up the grade from Palmetto Gulch. No way! We were driving a jeep, and I was out of breath, while these guys were racing mountain bikes on the same road. It’s no wonder that Stephan Pastis ridicules bicyclists in his syndicated cartoon Pearls Before Swine. They’re insane.

You can see a larger version Engineer Pass on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we’ll continue exploring Colorado’s San Juan Mountains in Fred’s Toyota.

Until next time — jw

Cinnamon Pass Picture of the Week

So, I cheated on September’s subject. By that I mean that Archie and I didn’t drive on these roads, they weren’t just casual side roads—you had to want to go on them, and they weren’t even in Arizona. Let me explain, and I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

August is the time for our annual retreat from the heat. By then we’re in the middle of the muggy monsoon, and we have to find respite in a cooler place—even if it’s Utah. This time we decided to spend a couple of weeks with our friends, the Poteets. Fred and Deb have been working as camp hosts in Colorado and Minnesota for several years, so we dragged The Ritz to cool off in the 6500’ mountain air of Durango.

When we got there, the first thing Fred wanted to do was “… hop in my FJ and drive over some of Colorado’s famous mountain passes.” I thought he meant driving some highway over the Continental divide, but nooo. He was talking about driving the prospector roads in the San Juan Mountains. He bought the Toyota earlier this year and hadn’t yet put it through its paces. He swears the FJ badge on it stands for Fred’s Jeep, and he wanted someone to go and test it on what barely passes for roads. Now I know what Deb meant when she pulled me aside on arrival and said, “Tag, you’re it.”

Our adventure centered on the ghost town of Animas Forks, which is a dozen miles northeast of Silverton and at over 11,000’. We spent an entire afternoon driving over mountain passes that would look down on Mount Humphries—the highest mountain peak in Arizona. The so-called roads were one-lane gravel mule trails cut into the mountainsides. They had impossible grades, and often, the windshield view was just clouded sky. Many times the gravel was replaced with bedrock and the truck would tip precariously—always to my side, and I’d be looking in horror over the edge, and I’d quote something that Queen Anne has said many times to me, “<imagine a woman’s voice screaming>.” Then there were the switchbacks. “We’ll have to turn around,” I’d suggest in a high squeaky voice. Fred would answer with, “Here, let me put it in low range,” then he’d push some lever, and the FJ would claw its way further up the hill.

In all, we spent four or five hours above 12,000 feet and crossing four passes. When you’re at that altitude, a 13,000-foot mountain isn’t so much, so we’d get out and climb on foot to its summit for a pee. I’m glad that Fred remembered to set the brake because, with my luck, we’d be standing on a mountain top watching his truck roll backward into the valley three thousand feet below.

After we got back into Silverton, we stopped so Fred could put air back into the tires. “20 pounds is the minimum to keep the tire from separating from the wheel, but the ride is better.” He then asked if I’d like to do more mountain four-wheelin’. After thinking for a moment, and being the manly man that I am, I told him, “Only if I can bring a box of Depends along so I can change my shorts.”

Cinnamon Pass
Cinnamon Pass crosses over the mountain of the same name at 12,640 ft. That’s well above the timberline in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

This week’s featured image was taken at the first of the four passes that we visited—Cinnamon Pass. When we got there, we got out, kicked at the dirt, and looked around with our hands in our pockets—it was cold up there. After shooting a couple of shots, I told Fred that I was going to climb up a roadside knoll to see if there was a better shot. On top, I found out there was because I saw the little alpine lake hidden from the road. As I hiked back down to the truck, I told Fred what I had found so he could see the pretty little lake.

You can see a larger version Cinnamon Pass on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we’ll show another photo from Fred and Jim’s exciting mountain outing.

Until next time — jw