Switzerland of America – Ouray, Colorado

After traveling from Oklahoma, we stayed for 4 nights in Ouray, Colorado, self-proclaimed as the “Switzerland of America” and Barb has to agree with them, it did remind her of her time in Switzerland in high school.  With white-capped mountains in view from the historic downtown area, just a short drive away are snow melt-fed waterfalls and beautiful vistas.

From Highway 550 south of Ouray overlooking “Switzerland of America”

We were at the Ouray Riverside Resort / Ouray Riverside Inn along the river north of Ouray.  While you cannot actually see the river from your site, you can hear the river over the flood control berm at the back of your site.  There is a beautiful waterfall a few hundred feet above the campground cascading down the east cliff wall face and to the south you can see the San Juan Mountains.  The campground also has a cafe that serves made-to-order breakfast 7 days a week and on the weekend dinner as well.   We learned fuel management is key as there are only two gas stations in Ouray, with hiked-up gas prices, and neither of those stations you would want to try to fuel up the motorhome.  North of Ouray 45 minutes is Montrose, Colorado, and there you will find everything that you need.  There are restaurants and tourist shops in Ouray, but no major services like a “modern” grocery store or “big box” store.

Our “riverfront” site was on the other side of a berm, no way could you see the river from it. The views were pretty spectacular to the South though. A waterfall cascades on the Eastern gorge wall face. All of the campground is gravel, with no grass at any of the sites. The sites were on top of each other, we had people sitting in their lawn chairs under our slides.

 

The morning sunrise beginning to stream down the face of the wall of the western side of the gorge.

 

Ouray served as our base camp for a number of Jeep Badge of Honor trails that we wanted to earn.  However, even though it was mid-June only two of them were actually open due to snow conditions at the peaks.  We learned that “county roads” in Colorado are not something you ever want to take a motorhome on because these “off-road” trails were county road systems.  Most of the county roads are the mountain passes in the area.  We purchased the Ouray area Fun Treks OHV trail guides and found those to be pretty useful books to have in the Jeep, especially when you lose cell signal along the way.  We felt that the trails are rated more difficult than we actually experienced, but that may be because the authors were gearing it to stock equipment.

The San Juan Mountains from the North of Ouray on Highway 550 overlooking the town at sunset

 

We did earn our badges for Ophir and Engineer’s passes as part of the Alpine Loop.  While both were pretty easy to do, they both had some freak-out hold-on moments along with some shelf road segments.  If heights are not your thing you may not want to do these trails.  Otherwise, the trails were not overly technical.  Our Jeep “Rubi” did an amazing job with the few technical obstacles that were encountered. We did Ophir pass in half the time expected and it took twice as long for Engineer’s pass.

 

 

Ophir Pass

At 11,789 feet there was still snow on June 13 at the Ophir pass. The pass had just been plowed open the week prior to us being there. The trail bed changed drastically on the western slope compared to the eastern side. The eastern side was mostly compact shale-like material and the eastern side was flat-washed rock which was much more difficult to navigate.

Ophir Pass seemed like a great way to get our feet wet in Colorado with Rubi our 2017 Jeep Rubicon.  This will be our first time “out west” with Rubi and we wanted a “tame” trail to test out all of the pieces to ensure she was solid.  Rubi made quick work of this 10-mile trail, where we could complete it in about 1 hour.

All Trails Link
Our Gai GPS Recorded Track Link

 

 

The Paradise Basin, Ophir Pass, Colorado, on the eastern side of the Ophir Pass.

 

On the western side of the pass, overlooking the “town” of Ophir in the valley.

 

Engineers Pass

At the trailhead to Engineer Pass we met up with Jon from Alabama and his three kids. Our total trip time was a little over 5 hours as we went from Ouray to Lake City. We stopped at Engineer to enjoy lunch and grab this group shot. We look forward to catching up someday when we get to the Northern Alabama area again!

 

Engineer pass and the Mineral Creek trail took us a little over 5 hours to run and then another 2 hours to loop back from Lake City to Ouray.  While this trail was not overly technical, it did have some heights to it that caused some uncomfortable moments along-shelf wall roads.  The first few hundred feet of the trail on the western side by Ouray seemed more like an ATV trail than a “county road” or a Jeep trail.  While checking it out another Jeep pulled in with Alabama license plates and we struck up a conversation. The western side of the pass is steeper than the eastern side of it, but both sides have majestic views the entire way.

Ultimately we spent the next 5 hours with Jon and his family, which made the trail much more enjoyable and an experience to remember.  We stopped out at the numerous interpretive signs that have been placed along the road and enjoyed lunch at the pass itself (where we took the above picture together) enjoying the views.  There are a couple of stop-out rest areas with pit toilets and picnic areas along this trail too.

We chose to return via the highway counterclockwise from Lake City to Montrose and back into Ouray.  Highway 50 between Lake city and Montrose was closed for several hours for road construction. We had a choice of waiting for it to open or we could take the detour.  Fortunately, the detour ran the northern rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and we got some more amazing views without having to actually “visit” the park.

All Trails Link
Our Gai GPS Recorded Track Link

 

 

 

Trail from Ouray to Lake City over Engineer Pass (June 14, 2021)

 

There are numerous decaying remains of mining communities throughout the West. We stopped for a stretch overlooking Houghton Mountain Peak from the Engineer Pass trail at 37.962714, -107.592142

 

We are following behind Jon’s Jeep going up the shelf road over Mineral Creek above the timberline to Engineer’s Pass.

 

Engineer Pass is above the timberline and is pretty baren. Snow clearing by the county had just been completed the week prior to our running the trail.

 

On the eastern side, the Ute-Ulay Mine laid up on the mountain alongside Henson Creek. The mine’s impressive dam is now disused and a hole is blown through the bottom of it. The remains of the town can still be explored. There are interpretive kiosks throughout explaining the sordid history of the silver mine.

 

In our next post, we will head north into Moab where we will bake in the desert sun while earning our next set of Jeep Badge of Honors.

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