Thursday, July 11, 2013

Telluride Colorado Environs

This is the fourth of five posts covering my trip to the San Juan Mountains of June 11 - 16, 2013. I figured smaller chunks would be more digestible.

After completing the length of the Last Dollar Road, in the last installment, I wanted to spend a little time around the Telluride area. Plus, I wanted to scoot up the highway late that afternoon to take photos of the beautiful scenery around the Last Dollar Ranch with blue skys, so camping somewhere near Telluride made sense logistically.

June 14, 2013

This post is called "Telluride Coloroado Environs" because it will cover some of the areas around and near the town of Telluride, but not the town itself.

I wanted to take a look at the end of the box canyon where the town is situated. There was a tall waterfall that looked interesting and I had come to learn that the road from Black Bear Pass terminated there, too. So, I drove through town and up the road where I found an overlook to see those things and the Pandora Mine, as well.

Pandora Mine and the road from Black Bear Pass.
The Black Bear Pass trail is rated difficult and is one way downhill in the trickiest section on the west side.

The sun was all wrong to get a quality photograph, so this is the best I could do this morning. Taken from only a few feet away from the photo above. This whole area is private land.

Bridal Veil Falls
In the photo above, you can see a white building. I used the telephoto to get the next image.

House at the top of the falls

I asked about the building on top from a local mountain biker and got a story built of half-truths and hearsay. Even with a little Internet search I'm not exactly sure what is up there... a house that used to be a powerhouse for the town & a mine and the second oldest AC power generator in the US, is the best I can uncover. However, there is still apparently a hydro-electric power station up there that still supplies some electricity to Telluride.

The oldest AC generating plant in the U.S. is attributed to Telluride, and did indeed send power to the town, but was located at nearby Ophir. This first powerplant was built under the supervision of Nikola Tesla, himself, and paved the way for our modern AC power distribution system. (Thomas Edison promoted his own DC power system, but the success of AC power transmission won the day.)

From here I headed south on highway 145 to check out the Sunshine Campground I'd spotted on my previous trip to the area. I knew if I wanted to get back over to photograph the Last Dollar Road that evening I'd want to find a camp on this side, as it is all private land at the north end of LDR. The NFS campground is small, but situated both close to Telluride and in a spot with a terrific view of Sunshine Mountain. I talked to the host there and he invited me to have my picnic lunch at site #11.

Picnicking at Site #11, Sunshine Campground, Uncompahgre National Forest.

As you can see the view is amazing. As wasn't familiar with any other camping areas nearby, I paid my fee to reserve this very spot, insuring I'd have a place to camp that night if I was late returning from my photography. Clever host getting me hooked on the view.

I drove back north, then west, on highway 145 to check out that area. I drove up Fall Creek Canyon to Woods Lake where there is another NFS campground. The lake is fairly nice and the view was nice, but neither exceptional. There was one dispersed camp site on that road where I stopped for lunch and to relax for a few hours in the shade by the creek. I also drove down the San Miguel River for a few miles. That area is much drier and less wooded being at lower elevation; looks like a popular area for rafting.

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Late that afternoon I drove back to the Last Dollar Road and took lots of photos, a few which I included in my previous blog post, as I've mentioned more than once. I then drove back to the Sunshine Campground for a pleasant evening and night. As you can see from the photo above, my camp site was really just a wide spot in the road with a picnic table and fire ring. I was afraid I'd be disturbed by cars continually driving by, but only one drove past the entire evening, and the view was exceptional.

June 15, 2013

I hung around the camp enjoying the view and taking photos.

A panorama from the scenic trail by my campsite. Click here for a larger version.

Looking up the canyon (southeast) from the trail to show Sheep Mountain in more detail.

This was the view of this great twin Ponderosa from my camp site.

After breaking camp I explored the canyon just below the campground in which the south fork of the San Miguel River flows. There is also a dirt road that runs from highway 145 south of the campground to highway 145 west of Telluride, paralleling the river.

The upper and lower sections of the canyon are private land, but there is a stretch of national forest in the middle. An interesting thing I discovered was that the Galloping Goose trail runs though the canyon. This trail is the former path of the Galloping Goose narrow gauge train from years ago - a strange contraption half truck and half train. The trail is now popular with hikers and mountain bikers.

Here are a few photos from along the river.

I had stopped to check out the Galloping Goose trail where it crossed the river on a modern, steel footbridge when I looked down to spy this bird. Dippers feed underwater (yes, underwater) in fast moving streams and although they are not rare, they're not often seen. It quickly disappeared. I walked across the bridge and down to the river to see if I could see where it went. After a while I made the discovery that it had built a nest under the footbridge and was bringing bugs to its young in the nest. Cool!

American Dipper with a bug to take to the nest.

Tufted Evening Primrose - a very small plant.

No, not a chipmunk, but a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Scarlet Gilia, a.k.a., Skyrocket Gilia

After having lunch along the river, I drove back up the canyon, crossing highway 145 and toward the town of Ophir. Shortly after crossing the highway, I noticed quite a number of cars and trucks parked along the road. When I looked up at the canyon wall, I discovered there were rock climbers clinging to the sheer cliff. Seems this is a popular spot for the sport. Sorry no photos.

The historic, gold mining town of Ophir is a lovely little community in a beautiful valley. I doubt I'd really enjoy the snow in winter, but if I had half a million dollars laying around my bank account I'd love to get a nice little house with a big deck here and learn to cross-country ski!

Ophir, CO. Looking south.

Ophir, CO. Looking west.

Ophir, CO. Looking east, toward the pass.
Ophir Pass road. Photo shows the challenging section across the talus slope.

From here I drove south on highway 145 to further explore the area and to find a camp for that night. The adventure will be continued in the next installment.

Thanks for reading.


  1. A spectacular landscape that you're lucky enough to have access to Bill. Very different from here in Aus., and once again, wonderful to enjoy your travels vicariously.

    1. Thanks, Peter. There are large areas in the SW US, including New Mexico, that look a lot like some of your lands. But Aus. is such an ancient continent that your mountains have mostly worn to dust. The Rockies are relatively recent, geologically speaking, so still have those spectacular peaks and such. Yes, lucky this area is only a day's drive away.

  2. Great post Bill!! What a beautiful place!


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