Saturday, July 13, 2013

San Juan Mountains Camping

This is the fifth and final post covering my trip to the San Juan Mountains of June 11 - 16, 2013. This installment may not have the same excitement factor as some of my earlier posts, but I hope you at least enjoy the photos.

June 15, 2013

After my quick survey of Ophir I headed south on US-550 to check out the area around Trout Lake and Priest Lake to see what I might find of interest and what might be available for dispersed camping. (I only later learned there were some old "ghost town" type ruins around Ophir which I totally missed, so may have to get back to see those.)

I looked for the north end of Priest Lake Road, but it was apparently unmarked and hidden, so couldn't find it. I turned onto Trout Lake Road a bit farther south. Trout Lake is pretty good sized, surrounded by many summer homes, and the level was very low. It didn't seem like an attractive site for photographs. There was a cool old railroad water tower along the road, but again didn't strike me as attractive. Oh, I could have taken an image, then manipulated the surroundings to make it more appealing, but why bother. I later learned the tank was left from the days of steam powered rail travel in these parts.

Where the road crosses the creek that feeds the lake, there was an old rail trestle from that earlier era that was situated in a prettier area for photography.

This creek flows from Hope Lake to Trout Lake and then into the San Miguel River.
If you then turn around to look downstream from this point you will see the trestle.

Narrow Gauge Railroad Trestle
Here is another view from the ridge above which gives a better idea of its structure.

Narrow Gauge Railroad Trestle

I didn't explore farther up this road as it looked like it headed right back to US-550. Instead I turned around and drove a little ways back toward Trout Lake and took the turn-off called Hope Lake Road. The road does not go to Hope Lake, but to the trailhead of a hiking trail leading to the lake. The road climbed a ridge, then I passed a couple of dispersed campsites, one which was occupied. I knew the road ended at a locked gate, so when it got too rough, I turned around to check out the last campsite I'd spotted. (Again, folks from Colorado seemed to have no trouble driving their small passenger cars up the road I thought too rough. Guess I didn't have the right attitude!)

As it happens that was a very nice and level site in tall trees on a ridge overlooking a beautiful valley. There was a rock fire ring and a great place to set up my camp chair to admire the view. I decided to call this good and set up camp even though it was still early in the afternoon, besides I needed a little time to just sit and relax as I'd been going and doing all week long.

Campsite just off Hope Lake Road.

It was a nice level spot with a fantastic view.

When I first looked at the photos of the valley, below, that I took from my camp chair, I was seeing through the eyes of my memories as much as anything. Now, when I look at these photos I realize they don't convey a fraction of the magnificence of the view. The area containing the fire ring and my chair are on top of a grass and flower covered hill. The meadow with a small pond is several hundred feet below. The valley is wide and long. I was able to sit comfortably, contemplating the mountains around me: Sheep Mountain, San Miguel Peak and Vermillion Peak. I could gaze at the mountainsides with my binoculars taking note of the rock formations and vegetation, the evidence of avalanches and rock slides, and observe the age of the trees now growing in those scars. I watched runnels of melting snow cascade down narrow clefts and the play of the clouds in the sky. All around birds were singing, though they chose not to present themselves to my camera.

Here's the view from where I set up my chair to watch the weather.
I realize now it is hard to tell from the photo that this spot is on the top of a hill.

After sitting and admiring the view for a while, I got out my macro lens. There were lots of flowers around camp and down the hillside.

Jacob's Ladder (macro photograph)

 The spruce trees were pollinating like copiously - that's what the little yellow spheres are on these and the following flowers. When I would hear a wind gust come through, I'd look up to see large clouds of pollen fly from the trees. I thought it was dust, at first, until I figured it out. I was sneezing like crazy, but what was worse was when the pollen got under my contact lenses - ouch!

Wooly Cinquefoil. It took me a while to ID this plant as most varieties of the species have only 5 petals. (macro photograph)

Wild Strawberry (macro photograph)

Dwarf Chiming Bells that haven't yet opened, but I love the organic flow of the plant which formed itself into the shape Leonardo called the Golden Spiral. (macro photograph)

Teeny-tiny Whiplash Daisies (macro photograph)

Sublime White Pea Vine blossoms. (macro photograph)

It was getting toward evening, so I started a small campfire to keep me company as I drank in the view. Speaking of drinking, you might see in the photo my small mason jar of Jack Daniels and bottled water chaser... purely for medicinal purposes, you understand.

Sheep Mountain
Close to dark a small group of deer ventured out to graze in the meadow, but there was not enough light then for photos.

Sheep Mountain lit by the last rays of the day's sun.

Successful experiment in campfire photography, IMHO.

June 16, 2013

The next morning dawned clear with only a few puffy clouds.

Sheep Mountain in the morning sun.

I decided I'd declare the trip a big success and start back home later in the day. First, I wanted to walk around a bit and check out the meadow below.

A Western Wood-Peewee was fly catching from this branch of a fallen tree.

Marsh Marigold found, naturally, in a shaded, marshy area.

Dark-eyed Junco

A Pine Squirrel who insisted on keeping between me and the sun which made a challenge for photography.

I did make it down to the meadow, which turned out to be pretty marshy. I also followed a tiny stream up to some attractive mini-cascades, but for some reason didn't take any photos - maybe I was stuck in the flower/wildlife mode. I took a few short videos of the babbling brook, but those are too shaky to share, even after applying post-process stabilization.

After my walk, I packed up and negotiated back down the forest road. I did find the south end of Priest Lake Road and drove up to see what was there. I found several dispersed camping spots and the small lake. The north end of the road was not only unmarked, but came out next to someone's house which made it look like a private drive. Hmm, wonder if the people in the house took down the sign so there wouldn't be as much traffic by their yard - not accusing anyone of anything, but if I lived there, the thought would have occurred to me. I stopped to check out a couple of other places for possible future explorations, but didn't find anything worth reporting here. And then through Dolores, Durango and back to New Mexico.

Thanks for following along on my latest camping trip to Colorado. I hope you found a thing or two of interest. I haven't made any plans for my next trip, but will come back up to Colorado before too long, perhaps venturing a bit farther north. Also, the mountains in northern New Mexico have seen some rain the last couple of weeks and the authorities have begun opening some of the forests and public lands, again. So that is another possibility.


  1. Sure enjoyed your travels,Bill.
    Your wildlife/flower photos are terrific.
    Also enjoyed your B/W photo of # 480 old D.&R.G.W. RR locomotive.
    I think I rode that one on my trip from Drango to Silverton,back in 1981.
    I shot rolls of film of those locos there and at Chama.They are fun to watch,with their "inside frame wheels".
    Thanks,makes me want to get my ass in gear and get back to some Colorado camping.

  2. Love the San Juans and really enjoyed reading about your trip into that beautiful area. Your photographs of the dramatic landscapes and the flora and fauna were outstanding. The macro shots revealed a unique perspective of that mountain world.
    Well done.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it!