Wheelin' in the high passes of the San Juan Mountains

September 11-15, 1996

4-wheelin' trip report from the San Juan mountains of Colorado:


  • Bob and Robby Peterson in "Willy"
  • John Waack and his friend Skip in "Over Easy" a.k.a. "Blue"
  • John Hill in "The River...."

    Thursday September 12

  • Rendevous in Cortez
  • Drove over Bolam Pass between Rico and Silverton
  • Drove over Cinnamon Pass between Silverton and Lake City

    Friday September 13

  • Drove over Engineer Pass between Lake City and Animas Forks
  • Drove California Pass into Poughkeepsie Gulch between Animas Forks and Ouray
  • Drove Imogene Pass between Ouray and Telluride
  • Drove Ophir Pass between Telluride and Silverton

    Yes, that's six mountain passes over 12000 feet in only two days, plus a couple 11000 foot passes on the paved highway! We had snow at the top of many of the passes, but the colored aspen leaves were quite nice down below. The aspens near Rico and Telluride won't peak for another week, but the colors were already quite bright near Lake City and Silverton. Someday we'll get to see Engineer Pass when it isn't snowing.


  • Best serious four-wheelin': Poughkeepsie Gulch with mud and rocks
  • Highest pass: Imogene Pass at 13113 feet (2nd highest in North America)
  • Fastest pass: Ophir Pass road in only 50 minutes
  • Highest wildlife: marmot living above 12000 feet in California Pass
  • Best leaves: road from Lake City to Engineer Pass

    OK, there wasn't very much mud on the rocks in Poughkeepsie Gulch, but we are from Arizona.

    Saturday September 14
    As a break from driving we rode the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railway. The scenery was nice, but a bit of a let down compared to the previous day. Three of us in an open gondola car nearly froze in the cold rain and wind. All the peaks above 11500 feet were covered with snow by Sunday morning thanks to an extra shot of moisture from ex-hurricane Fausto.

    No vehicle damage on the whole trip beyond a blown fuse. Stay tuned for next year!

    September 6 - 12, 1997

    Sunday September 7
    From Cortez to Ophir Pass, Poughkeepsie Gulch uphill, Hurricane Pass, Corkscrew Gulch downhill, to Montrose.

    Monday September 8
    From Crystal, Schofield Pass (very narrow!), Paradise Divide, Daisy Pass to Almont.

    Tuesday September 9
    Slumgullion Pass (on the highway), Stoney Pass and Buffalo Boy Mine, Naturita, Ophir Pass.

    Wednesday September 10
    Eye of the Whale trail in Arches National Park
    Cache Canyon, Dry Mesa

    Thursday September 11
    Pritchett Canyon (not the whole way through)
    Kane Creek Road

    Friday September 12
    Salt Creek Canyon in Needles

    September 3 - 7, 1999

    A bunch of us drove up to the San Juans for Labor Day weekend. We spent Friday night in or near Cortez, and most of the group did a loop on the west fork of the Dolores River on the way to Telluride on Saturday morning. In Telluride we had accumulated seven vehicles to run Imogene Pass to Ouray. The biggest excitement of the trip was that afternoon in Yankee Boy Basin. We wound up using 3 trucks and 2 winches to rescue a Jeep Cherokee that had slid into a precarious position on the side of the road. Immediately after that, we used our combined repair skills and tool boxes to repair a Grand Cherokee that had stopped running. (The trick was that the automatic collision sensing circuit closes a relay and blows the engine control fuse. The circuit had accidentally fired after hitting a rock and killed by the fuel pump and the ignition.) This truck wasn't one of our group, so we made some new friends.

    On Sunday, we ran Poughkeepsie Gulch uphill and then down California Gulch. The muddy steps in Poughkeepsie were the only real wheelin' obstacles and they graphically illustrated which trucks had lockers and which didn't. In the afternoon we went over Engineer Pass to Lake City. The weather was crystal clear, so we actually got to see Engineer Pass for the first time. The bad part was that traffic was very heavy, so you had to stop alot to wait for on-coming vehicles.

    On Monday, three hearty vehicles ran Cinnamon Pass, Ophir Pass and Bolam Pass on the way back to Durango. We didn't do any vehicle damage except one small dent in a door in Poughkeepsie Gulch. Saw lots of wildlife and wild flowers. The aspens were only just beginning to turn color.

    This web page maintained by
    John M. Hill <jhill@as.arizona.edu>
    Steward 4x4 page

    Last modified: Tue Oct 19 18:02:47 1999