I almost didn’t share these photos. This little adventure on the Hayden Trail didn’t seem all that “worth” posting. It wasn’t grand, it didn’t go for miles and miles (I think we did three miles round trip?) but it was a joyful hiking adventure after work with my buddy.
The views of the peaks over in the Sneffels range in the dramatic raincloud influenced light didn’t disappoint. (Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever been “disappointed” with a San Juan hike.)
Earlier this summer, my friend Molly asked if I would pilot her Jeep up Yankee Boy basin while her mom was visiting. Molly drives a JK with a pretty good size lift but wasn’t really comfortable driving it off-road herself. A girl needs to know how to drive her own Jeep so we decided to take a little adventure so she could get that experience.
Cruising around the San Juans is always such a delight:
I’ve been complaining about this on Twitter but it’s a real problem: getting an alpine start when you work until 11pm and then you’re wired and can’t sleep is next to impossible. I’d had some ideas about bigger peaks in the Sneffles range and elsewhere along Red Mountain Pass but ultimately settled on a pair of 12ers above Brooklyn Road because I could leave the house at 7:30 and have plenty of time.
Things went according to plan until I wound up behind a herd of sheep being driven up onto a chunk of private land around Red Mountain 3. I sat stopped for a bit while the herders seemed to be taking a mid morning break. Since none of them signaled to me or said anything, I put Ruth in 4-low and just started creeping through the herd. It seemed to work.
Finally, reaching US Basin, I started a pretty direct ascent up the western slopes of McMillan Peak. Sprocket was delighted to find some snow on its flanks and before long we’d reached the 12,804′ peak.
I ran down the slopes of McMillan while Sprocket frolicked his way along.
It wasn’t long before we reached the Ohio Peak-McMillan Saddle where some old mining remains were.
It was sunny and gorgeous and the mountains were making me smile so we took a little break to lay down in the alpine grass.
Or I did, anyway. Sprocket seemed to want to move on. We made out way to the summit of Ohio Peak, 12,673′, where I briefly considered continuing on to another 12er, Anvil Peak but decided against it worrying about the endurance of the SP. We made our way back to US Basin along the ridge and then descended through the most beautiful wildflower bloom I’ve ever seen back to the road.
Despite working until 11pm the night before, I agreed to a 5:15 hiking meet up with my friend Dave. We had a bit of a miscommunication about where to meet up so we didn’t quite start hiking until a little bit later.
We headed up toward Richmond Pass gaining elevation rapidly in the trees.
Being above treeline never hurts so despite being rather tired and undertrained I had zero complaints.
When we got back from Oklahoma City, it was time to do some hiking! Sprocket and I parked at the Old Horsethief Trail near the Hot Springs Pool and headed up-up-up. Unfortunately the day was really windy so we only got up to the junction of Old Horsethief and Horsethief Trail. Instead we contented ourselves with just being happy in the mountains. It wasn’t hard.
Sorry not sorry for the obnoxious string of selfies.
It was the last week of school and I might have bought a bottle of wine. My roommate might have “stolen” a couple of glasses from me which lead to a second bottle being opened. This might have hatched a plan for evening hiking the next day.
We might have tackled a 10+ mile hike after work. These might be the photos from a site that might be on the Uncompaghre Plateau.
Aw, we’re always hiking alone so Sprocket and I never have great summit photos!
There’s no might about it, that’s my little town in the valley:
While Sprocket and I were out hiking Ouray’s Perimeter Trail last weekend, I noticed a wildflower. It was only the first weekend of April so I was totally surprised that there were already flowers popping up through the snow! As it turns out, when I did, muddy snowmelt areas are precisely where you’d expect to find the pasqueflower.
These flowers are such pale purple they’re almost white. Their little petals are really delicate and the stems are almost fuzzy. They’re scattered all over the hillside where I found them!
Just a few days later, I also found them on the Thunder Trails near Norwood! They were everywhere!
I have been meaning to learn more about native plants in the San Juans and the Colorado Plateau for YEARS. In order to help me learn, I’m shooting for a weekly plant of sorts like I used to do with the Cactus of The Week feature. Writing the Cactus of the Week really helped to me learn those cacti and I’m hoping for the same to happen here!
After reading Ouray my interest in learning more about local history was piqued and I dove right into Otto Mears and the San Juans by E. F. Tucker. I knew that Otto Mears was involved in the Rio Grande Southern and in the building of a lot of toll roads including one up and over Red Mountain Pass. Outside of that I’d heard that he was a little bit eccentric and that was all.
Otto Mears was into everything. Mears was born in Latvia (then part of Russia) before he was sent to live with family members in England and then to another family member in New York. When they sent him to San Francisco to live with yet another family member at age 11, he arrived to find that the relative had departed for Australia. From then on, Mears was on his own.
Mears eventually became an American citizen and served in the Union army during the Civil War. He was discharged in Northern New Mexico and used his money to enter business as a merchant. Mears slowly migrated north towards the Saguache area where he continued to operate businesses and became more and more involved with local politics.
As I’d learned in Ouray, Mears also got involved in Native American policy by both by accepting government contracts for supplies but later in helping negotiate treaties with the Ute Nation. As with most actions of whites towards Native Americans Mears actions when seen through a modern lens are really problematic. E. F. Tucker makes a good argument that while Mears was involved in the final expulsion of the Uncompaghre and Weeminuche bands from Colorado that he pushed for them to move directly to the reservation in Utah rather than settling near what is now Grand Junction because he believed that they’d be asked to move yet again.
Mears briefly served in the Colorado legislature but didn’t stay long, opting to operate behind the scenes and start building his famous toll roads first over Poncha Pass and most famously over Red Mountain Pass, now the route of the “Million Dollar Highway” US 550. Later, he progressed to railroads including the Rio Grande Southern and a handful of smaller railroads servicing mines in the Silverton area.
Mears worked most of his life and only slowed down a little bit towards the end of his life. In his later years, as his wife Mary suffered from ill health, he traveled back and forth from Silverton to California. Aside from a couple of short stints in Louisiana and Washington, D.C. Mears spent most of his adult life in Colorado.
I loved reading about Otto Mears. I drive Red Mountain Pass regularly to access recreation and have come to love and appreciate the ridiculousness of its precarious position above the Uncompahgre Gorge. While Mears never stopped looking out for his own business ambitions, he was instrumental in the development of the San Juans.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Any money I make via Amazon goes to buy more books about the West so I can read them and tell you all. All opinions are my own.
I have always loved learning about the area where I live. Growing up, I looked forward to the fourth grade study of Washington history very intently and continued to build my knowledge of the area into high school. I was initially drawn to Idaho’s Silver Valley by its history (mostly through reading Tim Egan’s The Big Burn) and then purchasing the cabin drove my research into the specifics of mine development in the upper valley. I have been pretty slow to develop my understanding of the history of the San Juan Mountain region. Lately, I’ve been doing better at delving into books, some of which I’ve talked about here recently.
One of the more enlightening things that I’ve read lately is Ouray: Chief of the Utes by P. David Smith. Inspired partly by the ongoing renovation of the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, I picked this up at the library. I wanted to have some background knowledge before visiting the museum when it reopens this spring. (Recent political events have also inspired me to read more about not white men… I violated this by reading about Otto Mears so I guess I’m going to have to put Isabella Bird next…or perhaps Chipeta?)
The San Juans were settled relatively late, with the initial gold placer gold finds happening in the Eureka area (near Silverton) in 1860. Ouray spends some time discussing Chief Ouray’s early life but Smith wisely spends most the book discussing Ouray’s time as one of the leaders of the various Ute bands during the multiple treaty negotiations for the San Juan Mountain region and the Uncompaghre Valley.
As might be expected, the discovery of riches on lands granted to the Ute tribe (a loose confederation of approximately seven bands) lead to the US government continually renegotiating treaties with the tribe and shrinking their holdings. I am curious to see how the Ute Indian Museum presents the story of the tribe (the redesign of the museum features input from the Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Tribe, and the Northern Ute Tribe) because Smith’s interpretation of Ouray is extremely favorable.
The portrait painted by Smith is of a man that fought hard for his people while grasping the futility of the situation. While the story clearly shows a man that was able to coordinate diverse interests within the larger Ute Nation the picture seems entirely too cut and dried to me. Ouray himself was promised a salary for the remainder of his life while the reservation became smaller and smaller and predicated some negotations with the government on their willingness to search for his son who had been abducted by the Sioux. His actions (and the actions of his wife Chipeta) during and after the Meeker Massacre were certainly admirable―they welcomed the surviving women from the Indian Agency into their home while the recovered from the ordeal. Certainly, Ouray was a man of his time that did the best that he could with what he knew.
This book served as a great introduction to Ouray’s life. I was fascinated to learn that the hot springs that are now Orvis Hot Springs were considered holy to the Utes which lead to them attempting to hold onto the land that is now Ridgway for a long time. I’m sure that forming a complete picture of the man is difficult given the circumstances but I’m looking forward to reading more about his life.
Not having internet at home has been excellent for diving into some deeper reading material. I recently dived into The Western San Juan Mountains: Their Geology, Ecology, and Human History. Edited by a professor of geology at Colorado’s Fort Lewis College, The Western San Juan Mountains has three sections exploring each of the topics mentioned in its subitites. Each section is divided into chapters written by experts in their fields (most authors hold doctorates).
While the book isn’t necessarily written for an academic audience, it is detailed and uses a significant amount of technical language (particularly noticeable in the geological section). The chapters all conclude with a reference section. These reference sections pose an immense threat to my book buying ban but that’s a personal issue of mine. I found it more than readable but for some readers it might be a sort of dense slog.
The geological section was probably the most condensed broad sweeping geological overview of the San Juans (or at least their western portion) that I’ve read so far. I definitely want to do more to make this all fit into an organized schema in my mind but knowing more about the deep history of my home mountains makes me really happy.
The biological section was detailed (and contains one chapter that will probably make an appearance as a reading in my biology class next fall) and as someone inimately aquainted—ahem, scratched to bits—with the “mid” elevation horrors of Gambel oak (more commonly known as “scrub oak”), I found it interesting if not particularly groundbreaking. The human history section was more adequately covered by Exploring The San Juan Triangle, recently reviewed on this blog.
The Western San Juan Mountains, published by University Press of Colorado, is probably only of interest to big old nerds like me. Since this is my blog, I’m assuming that at least some of you fall in my camp and, in that case, you might really enjoy this book before a visit to the region. Each of the sections could be read separately which means that it can be fit into a busy life before a trip. Theoretically, each chapter stands alone but I think they made a lot more sense when grouped with the other chapters in their section.