Saturday, August 31, 2019

Silverton/Telluride Loop, CO; Part 2 - August 2019

Part 2 of 2; continued from Part 1

Part 2: Telluride Area

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For spherical panoramas: click to activate (if necessary), click and drag mouse to change orientation, click the full-screen icon at upper right for the best experience.

Wednesday, August 14th (continued)


I drove through the town of Telluride. Traffic in this tourist destination was heavy, but moving. On a previous trip I'd stopped at the parking area past the Pandora mine at the head of the box canyon and photographed Bridal Veil Falls from there with my long lens. My pre-trip research lead me to believe I could drive up a number of the switchbacks to get closer to not only Bridal Veil, but also Ingram Falls where I could get aerial photos and videos. At some point near the top, the road is supposedly one-way to the west from Black Bear Pass, I didn't know if I would come across a Do Not Enter sign, but I didn't.

The switchbacks were steep and rocky. There were lots of vehicles of all strips driving up and down. There were also lots of hikers on the road. I slowly climbed the road trying to match my memory of the satellite view I saw at home with what I was seeing now.

I stopped at one switchback and took to the air. I was quite a ways below the main Ingram Falls at the top of the canyon, but was able to see another switchback with cars parked about half-way up, so headed for there to get photos and video.

Looking back toward Telluride.

Three aerial photos, rising up the mountain side, of Ingram Falls:

I'm a bit foggy on the sequence of things now, I think I drove up the road to the next switchback on the other side where there was a great view of Bridal Veil Falls. This also had a reasonably sized parking area and level spot to fly from. I took lots of video and some photos of the falls and a perspective of the power house not many folks can see.

On the way down I stopped and parked at the switchback close to the bottom of Bridal Veil Falls. This was the destination for most of the hikers (and there was a portable toilet, too.) The cool mists billowing off the bottom of the falls provided welcome cooling on a very warm day.

Foot of the falls.

I returned to the valley floor, made my way through town, and headed south on CO-145.

Trout Lake Area

On Trout Lake Road, past the lake, there is a trestle across the stream that feeds the lake. This was used by the Galloping Goose Railcars that served mountain towns in the area. I'd photographed it previously, but hoped an aerial view would be more interesting. Official USFS Trestle website

Trout Lake Trestle used by the Galloping Goose.

Water tank from back when there were steam locomotives.

I had hoped to camp at a dispersed site up Hope Lake Trail Road, FS-627, just past the lake where I'd camped previously - it had a fabulous view of the surrounding mountains. As fate would have it that site was occupied, there were a number of other dispersed sites up that road, but only a swampy few were untaken.

I drove back down and looked at the dispersed camping area near Priest Lake, but didn't find any to my satisfaction. I spoke with a fellow there who suggested I return to Trout Lake Road. There are sites along the south side past the trestle he said.

Since I was close to the highway I elected to take the pavement to the southern terminus of FS-626. There is a large meadow with dispersed camping at that junction. Nice views, but too many neighbors for my taste. I headed east on the gravel road. There were a few sites with views, taken. I tried an unoccupied site on the south side of the road, but it was full of mosquitos.

I continued down the road, passing a few campers parked on the grassy verge with tents or small trailers. I left the lake environs for the deep forest, then spotted a dirt spur leading up into the trees. It was a very nice spot at the end of a small loop - far enough from the road to be private (though not one vehicle came by that night) and relatively free from flying bugs. There wasn't a view from the level spot where I set up camp, but I was able to carry my chair about 20' down the loop for a small view of some mountain tops.

My campsite about 75 feet off FS-626.

It was a pleasant evening and I was exhausted.

Thursday, August 15th

I kicked myself Thursday morning when I realized I'd missed a chance to photograph the mountains east of the lake in the previous evenings rosy glow. I love that mountain range. I'd just been too tired the night before and it never occurred to me. So I decided that I would hang around the general area and drive over Dunton Road to the West Dolores River. I'd then return to Trout Lake for some evening light on the mountain range.

Sunshine Mountain Overlook

I headed back toward Telluride intending to go only as far as the Sunshine Mountain Overlook. When I'd driven by that view the day before the sun was behind the mountains. It should be in a position to illuminate the view in the morning.

On the way I stopped at a pull-out to get a photo of the valley of the San Miguel River South Fork.

Looking down into the valley of the South Fork of the San Miguel River.

I then drove to the official highway overlook. There I took to the air for photos and video.

Aerial view from above the overlook.

Informational sign at the overlook.

South Fork Preserve

From the overlook, I headed back south and took the Illium turnoff down South Fork Road, FS-625. It follows the South Fork of the San Miguel River. I'd driven down there on a previous trip and remembered it was very pretty. It was nice, though warm. I stopped at the Sheep Corrals day-use area and walked down to the South Fork of the San Miguel River. I hoped to find dragonflies, but didn't see any.

South Fork of the San Miguel River at the Sheep Corrals day-use area.

I continued down (north) along the road. I stopped at the Illium trailhead, crossed the footbridge and walked a short ways down the trail. It was too warm to go far, but I did take a few photos.

View looking toward the north.

Mary E Campground

Just before you get to where the road is paved I found a small campground that I didn't know was there. This is a no-fee, first-come, primitive campground run by the forest service. It was pretty dusty and hot, but might be a treasure for those who want free camping close to Telluride.

I turned around at the main highway and drove back up South Fork Road to where I had entered. From there I turned south.

Dunton Road

Several years ago I had explored up the West Dolores River, taking hikes and spending a couple of nights. I'd followed Dunton Road, FS-535, up and over the ridge and then down the switchbacks to CO-145. This time I'd go up those switchbacks, spend the afternoon wandering, then head back to Trout Lake for the evening.

The switchbacks were even narrower than I remembered and there were a surprising number of vehicles coming down on a Wednesday afternoon. The road is is in good condition and suitable for low slung passenger cars.

West Dolores River

I followed the road nearly all the way to Dunton, which is little more than a (not particularly) wide spot in the road - let me know if I'm wrong. There are a couple of very nice dispersed sites right next to the river just a short ways north of the junction with FS-611. They'd been occupied on my previous trip, but were empty now, perhaps due to the large mud puddles in the access road.

I turned around there and pulled into the USFS Burro Bridge Campground to check it out. It is next to the river and a very nice little campground with a super friendly "hostess with the mostest", as she herself pronounced.

I returned to the road, then pulled off at the modern Burro Bridge across the West Dolores for a photo opp.

West Dolores River at the new Burro Bridge.

Cool moth on flowers alongside the river.

Mount Wilson

I hoped to get photos of the southern flank of Mount Wilson as it is a dramatic vista seen across a wide, green meadow. The clouds that had come up in the afternoon were casting shadows that I didn't like, so I explored a short ways up Eagle Creek Road, FS-471. I didn't actually drive very far, but did pass several good dispersed sites only a short ways south of Dunton Road. A couple of those even had great mountain views. There's a vault toilet at the Calico National Recreation Trail head, in case anyone needs to stop.

My lunch site where I hung out and waited to get the photo below.

The clouds had dissipated a bit by then. I pulled off Dunton Road along the crest. Much of "The Meadows" is private land and posted, so I stayed on the right-of-way. I set my chair in the shade of my camper and had lunch. I hung my camera nearby and took an occasional photo, hoping to get a nice one. I think I did, you tell me.

"The Meadows" with Mount Wilson in the background.

I headed back on Dunton Road, pausing to get a photo of Flat Top Mountain before descending the switchbacks.

Flattop Mountain is across on the other side of the Dolores River.

Lizard Head

On my way back toward Trout Lake I happened to look over to my left and was amazed to see a granite tower up against the skyline. This was Lizard Head Peak and for all the times I'd driven this road I'd never noticed it before. Perhaps because the peak was in the sun and the forest in the foreground was shaded by clouds. I pulled into the parking area for the Cross Mountain Trail and took a number of photos and aerials.

Mount Wilson and Lizard Head peak.
This was from a few hundred feet in the air; don't expect this view from the parking area.

A closer look at Lizard Head (135mm lens equivalent.)
It's a very cool tower, but personally I don't see a lizard's head here. Perhaps it looks more like a lizard from another location.

Trout Lake Redux

I thought I'd take a chance and drive the couple miles up Hope Lake Trail Road to see if my favorite spot had opened up, but no joy. I decided to return to the campsite I'd had the night before and if it was unoccupied, I'd claim it. It wasn't, so I did. After relaxing a while and waiting for evening light to set it, I marked the site as "occupied" and drove over to Trout Lake. I parked at the picnic area at the northwest corner of the lake.

Fisherman, earlier in the day, near the picnic area. Sheep Mountain in the background.

Over the course of the evening I took a number of photos and made several sorties out above the lake for video and aerial photos of the dramatic mountain range to the east. It was a bit of a balancing act as I'd hoped for that rosy glow on the rocky mountains as the sun sank, but at the same time the shadows of Mount Wilson and neighboring peaks were creeping up the slopes behind the lake.

Here is a panorama created using three RAW files from the M2P, lightly processed in ACR and stitched by Photoshop. The secret for successful PS stitching is to make sure there is plenty of overlap in your images.

This link should allow you to see a full-size image - I recommend you then maximize your browser window.

This informational sign was located at the Lizard Head Interpretive Site, so the perspective is different from the photo above, but may give you some idea of the mountain names and certainly a description of their formation.

I returned to my campsite for the evening.

Friday, August 16th

I had achieved all my objectives for the trip so broke camp and headed south on the highway. I thought about maybe another night in the mountains before heading home, but for the first time this week week clouds were building in the morning and there were high clouds moving in. I decided I'll call the trip a success and head home before the weekend.


As I came into the old mining town of Rico, which has had something of a modern renaissance, I noticed an old mine structure. So I had to stop and get images and video.

Atlantic Cable Mine in Rico.

Informational sign at the mine.


The previous day I'd met a gentleman from Mancos, on a Goldwing Trike, at the Lizard Head Interpretive Site. He asked if I'd seen "the rock"? When I said not, he told me of two giant rocks that had broken off a cliff and rolled down onto the highway just this side of Dolores. One landed right on the highway. It was too large to move, so they had to dynamite it. The other was far enough off the highway that they simply build a railing to cordon it off when they repaired the highway.

The remaining of the two "rocks" that broke off the cliff and rolled down to the highway.

And home again.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. I hope to return to Colorado mining country again soon to acquire more footage to complete a historic mine video.

Silverton/Telluride Loop, CO; Part 1 - August 2019

August 12 - 16, 2019

I had to wait a couple of weeks for the weather forecast to turn favorable, so was happy to finally hit the highway on Monday morning. My intention was to return to some of my favorite SW Colorado mountains to get aerial photos and videos, especially those interesting old mine structures on Red Mountain. I will include the photos here, but the video will come later.

Part 1: Silverton Area

Remember you can click any image to see a larger version.
For spherical panoramas: click to activate (if necessary), click and drag mouse to change orientation, click the full-screen icon at upper right for the best experience.

Monday, August 12th.


A few miles outside of Durango, on the ridge west of the highway was evidence of the large forest fire that ravaged the area last year. I don't know how far it reached to the west, but they kept it away from the highway for the most part. Also, the fire was stopped before it reached Purgatory Ski Resort. I'm sure the wildfire was devastating for many locals, but very little issue for those of us just passing through.


I had researched the times the Durango Silverton Railroad would arrive/depart its northern terminus. I'd also spied a likely vantage on Google Maps where I could fly and get video. I got to the spot with only a few minutes to spare, so was a bit rushed to get the Mavic 2 Pro set up, in the air, and the microSD card formatted. I felt I got some great footage. [However, once home to review the video I discovered I had not properly started recording and thus missed the oncoming train. The only video I got was after I thought I'd stopped recording - the caboose disappearing and me landing. Sigh.]

I did get this aerial photo of town:

Silverton, Colorado and the Animas River

South Mineral Creek

This beautiful valley has gotten more and more crowded through the years, but I was hopeful that early on a Monday afternoon I'd be able to find a campsite. You are permitted to camp either at the National Forest campground at the end of the gravel road, or one of the designated camping areas, or at a wide spot in the road (not good for a camper like mine, but several allow access to gorgeous tent sites away from the dusty road.) Official USFS South Mineral website.

South Mineral Creek - looking downstream toward Silverton.

I found a nice site in the trees in the Golden Horn dispersed camping area which is about 2/3rds of the way to the end of the gravel road. There were already a couple large motorhomes, a good sized trailer, and a few tent campers set up. But on my last visit the camping area was filled to the gills.

There seemed to be lots of bugs at my chosen site, so walked around the area talking to a few other campers. I met an interesting couple who had been full-timing in a 1984 VW Westphalia. They were parked in a prime spot not far from the creek. We spoke for quite a while and their site didn't seem to have many flying bugs, so I asked if they'd mind if I moved down near their site - I'd only stay overnight. They happily agreed.

My campsite

Made a rude discovery once I set up camp. The water in my camper tank had gone funky. I'd checked the function of the water pump before leaving home and didn't detect anything wrong, but the water coming out now was stinky. This is the first time in the 7 seasons I've been camping to have this problem. I normally bring along separate gallon jugs of drinking water as the well water I have at home, and use in the tank, is not the sweetest. So this wasn't an emergency. This time I'd also brought a gallon of tap water "just in case". I guess this was the "in case." Silverton is only two miles from the highway junction, so I'd head to town tomorrow and buy some bleach to add to my camper tank.

Tuesday, August 13th

South Mineral Creek (continued)

Had coffee with my neighbors and enjoyed the morning views. Other campers were out walking along the river and stopping to say hello.

A realistic view of many of the campers in the Golden Horn camping area, and the gorgeous scenery.

Clear Lake

I wanted to take the jeep trail up to Clear Lake and get some aerial views up there. I had driven up once before when returning from my Solar Eclipse trip in 2017.

The views from the road as it climbs the mountain side are breath taking.

View from the road of the valley from which South Mineral Creek originates. 

I stopped at the waterfall where I'd gotten photos last time. There was noticeably more water flowing this season.

Nice little waterfall at a switchback before the steep climb

The road near the top seemed much rougher than my one previous visit. There were a couple switchbacks that still had snow banks in the middle of August! One was particularly challenging - I had to back around to get a favorable angle and even in 4 wheel low barely made it up with my wheels slipping.

Clear Creek near the top. (Not the same waterfall as the above photo.)

This is a small pond below Clear Lake (Clear Pond? LOL) and the road to the lake. See the snow?
This was actually taken on my way out, looking toward the valley.

I saw a marmot last time, too, along Clear Creek.

The view was worth it! And the road didn't seem to stop the many Jeeps and pickups that also made it up. I got some nice video and photos.

Aerial view of Clear Lake and surrounding peaks.

On the way back down I paused to photograph just a few of the many wildflowers that were blooming on the slopes beside the road.

South Mineral Creek Redux

After descending I stopped to fly along South Mineral Creek to capture the beautiful scenes. Clouds were starting to build.

Looking toward the west up South Mineral Creek.

Silverton Redux

I drove into and through Silverton. I stopped at the town park at the far end of town to get some aerial shots, then found the market.

Aerial view of Silverton from above the park at the eastern side of town.

I bought a bottle of laundry bleach and added about a cup to my water tank. I'd let that slosh around for the rest of the trip to disinfect the tank. [The funky smell was gone by the time I camped; instead a strong chlorine smell, not surprisingly. I have flushed the tank twice now I'm home and it's ready for the next trip.]

Before leaving town I checked my watch and noticed I had time to get to the location where I'd taken video of the scenic railroad train the day before. It was starting to sprinkle a little from a dark cloud overhead by the time the trail came by, so used my phone to get video instead of putting up the drone. I did get a good recording this time, though from a terrestrial perspective. Here is a screen shot for your pleasure.

Screen capture of iPhone video of Silverton-Durango train leaving Silverton.

I'd noticed an old mine building farther down the road when I was reconnoitering the best spot for train photos. I drove back there. The "rain" had stopped, so I flew around the old mine to get some aerials.

Champion Mine near the Animas River just west & south of Silverton.

Red Mountain

I headed back north on US-550. Before the ascent to the pass stands some sort of mine building in very good condition. It's apparently in the highway right-of-way and there is a No Trespassing sign citing it is "Property of the Colorado Department of Transportation." There is what could be mine detritus behind it. I got aerials of it and the surrounding scenery. Research once home indicates this area was the site of the Chattanooga mine and town.

Mine structure near the Chattanooga mining town site.

Aerial view of Mill Creek canyon as US-550 begins its ascent up to Red Mountain Pass.

From same location as above, a view back along the highway to Silverton.

In 2013 I'd explored the old mines on Red Mountain using the route in my Funtreks Colorado 4WD Trails book. Naturally I forgot to bring the book along on this trip.

I felt I mostly remembered how to get to the Red Mountain Mining District and navigate to the mines. I was mostly right ;-) I ended up in an area below the Yankee Girl mine, but that was OK as I can fly! I then wandered the dirt roads until I got up to the mine level.

From there I drove up to the Genessee Mine for more aerials.

The road that I was sure would lead to those mines farther south along the mountain was cordoned off with orange traffic cones. I'm guessing the road was closed due to a slide or some such. Oh well, I'd just head back to the highway where I'd entered. I was confident I could then find where the south end of the road joined US-550 as I'd come out that way previously. I would drive in from that junction and complete my mine tour.

Looking west from Genessee toward the working Idarado Mine and US-550

On the way out I took the road I should have on the way in and thus discovered the Cora Bell Mine.

At the highway I turned south (one of the many backtracks I'd take during this trip.) I found the correct junction and headed back into the mining district. As I'd remembered there was a well preserved mine not far off the highway. I stopped and got aerials of the Longfellow Mine.

Longfellow Mine.

If memory served, the next mine would be mostly tailings. I didn't remember seeing much in the way of buildings last time I was there. In fact looking back at my published photos I didn't even include that site. As I drove north along this backroad I kept my eye open for possible campsites. As long as I avoided the areas immediately next to the mines, most of the remaining land was national forest where it would be legal to camp.

After driving a few miles along this increasingly deteriorating road, I gave up finding the next mine and turned around to find a campsite instead. I found a very nice site off a spur. There were actually two sites there, a shady spot among the trees that wasn't very level and a level spot for the camper a bit higher and with a better view (and fewer mosquitos). I set up camp, then retired to my chair to enjoy that view.

Aerial view of my campsite. The mountains to the west were my view from the site, but the sun was not favorable for photos.

Wednesday, August 14th

Red Mountain (continued)

On the way out I stopped again at the Longfellow Mine to capture the scene in the beautiful morning light.

Longfellow Mine still has the hoist engine on site.

I had also decided to further backtrack to South Mineral Creek to see if I could get better photos as the afternoon light the day before hadn't been ideal and the clouds had shadowed some of the mountain sides.

South Mineral Creek Redux

Of course by the time I got there about 10:30 clouds were beginning to form. Still I was able to get images of the red-sided mountain I was most interested in free from shadows.

South Mineral Creek and the mountain with the red cliffs I like so much. I'm sure it has a name, but not that I've found on any maps even though the USGS too puts the peak at over 12,500 ft.

Same view from in the sky. Note also the Gold Bar dispersed camping area.


Once again north on US-550, but the scenery is so gorgeous I didn't mind seeing it multiple times. Every time I'd driven into Ouray I'd noticed the sign for the USFS Amphitheater Campground. This time I stopped to check it out.

It's a pretty, little campground with 35 sites mostly for small vehicles or tents. Reservations are available, but there are also some sites set aside for "first come." At noon this day, there were sites available.

After checking it out, I returned to the day-use picnic area just before the campground where I had lunch and took a few photos of the town and surrounding peaks.

Ouray and surrounding peaks as seen from the picnic area near the Amphitheater Campground.

I then drove through Ouray to Ridgway where I filled my gas tank. On the way to Telluride I took the road that leads to the Last Dollar Road. I didn't intend to drive through, but wanted more photos of the glorious fields of wildflowers with the mountain peaks in the background. Though there had been plenty of flowers blooming at higher elevations, they were all gone-by here. I returned to the highway and kept on truckin'.

Continued in Part 2