Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

After a restful sleep, we took our time getting packed up, cleaned up, and walking along the river. This was the first time on our trip we put our fancy new camping shower and with pop-up tent to use. Despite pouring a pot of boiling water into mix with the “room temperature” (ie. freezing cold) water we had with us, the water flowing out of the shower head was frighteningly cold, causing fits of giggles to laugh off the pain. It was probably one of the least enjoyable, yet most satisfying showers I have ever had. After camping for a number days it felt great to have a fresh start to the day.

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

We used this Green Elephant outdoor shower tent, the Nemo Helio outdoor shower, and this cute Nemo Helio green floor mat.

 

                                       

 

All products we link are the actual products we use and we would not recommend them if we didn't truly like them. We are participants in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program which is designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. 

 


Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Not far from our campsite was Animas Forks, a ghost town and relic of the heydays of mining in the San Juans. The first buildings were constructed in the 1870’s, and by the early 1880’s the town was home to 450 people, complete with a post office, general store, saloon and a telephone.

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Shop Bettina's Look

 

The great thing about exploring Animas Forks is that you can walk inside all of the buildings to get a real sense of how it might have been to live here back in the day. Some buildings still had preserved wallpaper or ornate woodwork, but most had substantially succumbed to the elements.

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

The crown jewel of the town is the grand, two-storey Duncan Residence, built in 1879 to withstand the long cold winters. Previously, most residents of Animas Forks spent the winters a bit further south in Silverton (which you can read about here). The Duncans were one of the first families to brave the full winter in Animas Forks where the snow would easily bury the first floor of the house!

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

We enjoyed exploring the town, though didn’t see any ghosts, and were soon headed towards our final, and highest offroad pass of the trip: Engineer Pass. We zig-zagged our way up the shelf roads with plenty of multi-point turns to get around the corners.

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop - View of Animas Forks

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

We own a Toyota Tacoma and were extremely happy with its performance throughout the trip. This post is not sponsored by Toyota but we can highly recommend them.

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

We came to a breathtaking viewpoint, “Oh Point”, with an almost 360 degree view of the mountains and valleys around us. We must have taken hundreds of pictures trying to capture the moment and the beauty of our surroundings.

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

After what felt like an eternity, we reached the 12,800 ft (3,901 m) summit of Engineer Pass and stopped for a ceremonial picture before quickly jumping back into the car to escape the wind and the cold and head down the other side.

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

No sooner had we started our decent and there were a few locals blocking the road and getting in our way!

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

It took us a couple of days and with a few detours, but we finally completed the famous Alpine Loop. This was something I had on my bucket list for a number of years and I was glad to have successfully completed the loop, taking in all the magnificent views along the way.

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

It wasn’t the end of our driving day though as we had a few hours of highway driving to reach our next campsite! However, compared to the last days of offroading, highway driving was a welcomed change. We arrived in the dark at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was a beautiful warm summer night and we enjoyed sitting in front of the stars and taking it all in.

Not knowing what to expect of the Canyon because we arrived in the dark, we set off the next day and enjoyed our coffee with some prime canyon views.

 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

 

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is famous for its dramatic views, as it is especially deep, narrow and steep compared to some of the more famous canyons around. Why is it called the Black Canyon you wonder? It's because some parts of the canyon are so narrow and deep they receive only 33 minutes of sunlight each day.

 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

 

 

As we were having coffee, we made friends with this little guy who was hoping for some breakfast.

 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

 

The Canyon was our last stop before going back to civilization and at this point, we were both looking forward to a real bed. We had camped for five days in a row which was certainly pushing our limits. (Did you read about our nights in the Sand Dunes, in Silverton, and Ouray?) I'm not sure I'll be able to convince Bettina to go on another camping trip anytime soon but the trip was a dream of mine for years and the entire adventure made it all worthwhile.

 

Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop

 

Have you completed your dream road trip yet? What was your longest camping trip?

 


 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

Ouray is a beautiful mountain town tucked away in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. We arrived at camp with plenty of time to set up our tent in full daylight which was a nice change.  Once again we were warned of bears in the area, but at least this time it was a proper campground with other people all around, for better or worse. Read about our bear scare during our first night here.

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

Sometimes our laziness gets the best of us and since we were so close to downtown Ouray we decided to head into town for dinner. The charming town really just has one main street, but it is bursting with places to eat and drink. We chose Ouray Brewing Company for the great rooftop patio views!

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

The food and beer also lived up to expectations and were delicious! With full stomachs we settled in for an excellent night’s sleep, but not before some stargazing! The wilderness of Colorado provides an amazing opportunity to see more stars than you have ever seen before! It has been quite some time since Bettina and I have seen the Milky Way, but it was back in force under a clear Colorado night.

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Milky Way

 

The next day we arose early as we had a full day of driving ahead of us with three main passes on the agenda. Bettina couldn't resist posing next to the 'Switzerland of America' sign!

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

First up was Corkscrew Pass, living up to its name by twisting uphill between the creatively named Red Mountain 1 and Red Mountain 2. The road was steep and surprisingly busy as we encountered a number of modified Jeeps and ATV’s, making our stock Toyota Tacoma from Illinois look slightly out of place.

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Red Mountain 1

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Red Mountain 1

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Red Mountain 1

 

At 12,257 ft (3,736 m) high, the top offered expansive views of the surrounding alpine area.  We didn’t hang around for long though as the wind negated all the warming effects of the sun. We continued on climbing slightly higher to Hurricane Pass at 12,730 ft (3,880 m) and then climbed further still across the laid-back California Pass at 12,963 ft (3,951 m).

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Hurricane Pass

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - California Pass

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

Unfortunately, even though the road was relatively flat, it was very rough with a lot of large rocks, so our progress was slow.

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

As we noted in our Silverton post (which you can read about here) this area experienced a mining boom in the late 1800s and you could see remnants of old mines scattered amongst the mountains, even at seemingly impossible locations.

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

We came across the impressively preserved Sound Democrat Mill which has been maintained and preserved as good as possible in a remote area like this.

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

The mill was built in 1905 to process the mineral-rich ore mined from the surrounding hills.  The ore was transported by a network of aerial trams and then processed through this gravity-fed mill to be crushed, stamped, and stripped of all the valuable minerals.

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

Shop Bettina's Travel Look

 

 

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

The mill ceased operations in 1914, having never turned a profit. Being able to walk inside the mill and climb to the various levels on rickety ladders was a humbling experience. Even though the massive old machinery has been sitting here for over 100 years, you definitely get a sense of the difficulty and hard-work involved to keep this mill operating.

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Sound Democrat Mill

 

Soon we were back on the road, or the vague imitation of a road, that was California Pass. It was incredibly rough, and we were driving at less than a walking pace. Luckily we didn’t have much further to go before setting up camp along the Animas River.

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado

 

There was a truck parked nearby with an older woman sitting in the cab the whole time we were setting up our tent and preparing dinner. Curious to hear her story, we walked over to talk to her as it was getting dark and she appeared to have no tent or other items with her. Chatting for a few minutes, we learned that she was waiting for her husband to arrive who was hiking to this point and had set off from Ouray that morning. We were confused – we left Ouray that morning as well and had spent over eight hours driving to get his far. Surely we misunderstood?

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Animas River

 

We went back to preparing and then eating our dinner. Another hour passed and there was still no sign of her husband. The sun was long gone, the sky was getting darker, and the air colder by the minute. Then off in the distance, there was a man walking along the road, with a stick in hand, making his way towards our group. Sure enough, it was her husband who she was very happy to see arriving with a smile and all in one piece.  Eager to get the full story, we went back to chat with them and confirmed that he had in fact left Ouray that morning just before sunrise and had hiked over a handful of almost 13,000 ft mountain passes to get to the same point it took us all day to drive to! The man was very cheerful and seemed to have enjoyed every minute of it – so much so that he was going to do it all over again the next day. Oh, and he was well over twice our age – definitely putting us to shame!

 

Ouray and California Dreaming in Colorado - Milky Way

 

Would you rather hike across a pass or offroad like we did? Let us know in the comments below!

 


 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

After a fairly rocky first night to our trip (which you can read about here), we were eager to get back into the rhythm of things and prove to ourselves that we could actually do this whole camping thing for days on end. After all, there is nothing more motivating than waking up with views of cheerful flowers for days.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Our next destination was near Silverton, Colorado, but to get there we first had to conquer Cinnamon Pass.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

The views heading up the pass were breathtaking as we got our first glimpse of the high alpine area of the San Juan Mountains.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Cinnamon Pass

 

Cinnamon Pass is on the southern portion of the famous Alpine Loop. This 65 mile (105km) “loop” is not to be taken lightly though as it is 4x4 only, far from civilization, and crosses two high mountain passes.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Cinnamon Pass

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Cinnamon Pass

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Cinnamon Pass

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Cinnamon Pass

 

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Earlier in the summer, these alpine basins are overflowing with alpine wildflowers, however, we were a few weeks too late to experience them.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Cinnamon Pass

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Cinnamon Pass

 

The road was rough and bumpy, but worth the drive when you can conquer the pass and are rewarded with views like this. At least it was worth it for me, Bettina may have other ideas. Our Toyota Tacoma performed extremely well again and we had no issues getting up the steep and rocky roads.

This post is not sponsored by Toyota in any way but we can highly recommend Toyota as we didn't have any problems with the truck throughout the trip.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Cinnamon Pass

 

Clearly, I'm overwhelmed with excitement that we managed to make it to the top.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Cinnamon Pass

 

We reached the top of Cinnamon Pass at 12,640 ft above sea level (3,853 metres) in the early evening, and so we had the whole place to ourselves! We couldn't resist stopping to take in the view and to make sure we remained hydrated. Voss was so kind as to provide us with their flavoured water for our trip, which are incredibly refreshing! My favorite flavour is Lime Mint but Bettina swears by their Lemon Cucumber water.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Voss Water

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Voss Water

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado - Voss Water

 

The road downhill on the other side was even rockier, but we were soon setting up camp again hoping for a better nights sleep. This was our second night camping remotely in an area with nobody else around (except for perhaps the odd deer and bear). Luckily we had a much better sleep that night, and with the sun warming up our campsite we packed up our tent and were headed into town.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Silverton is a town that appears to be stuck way back in the past, but in a good way. The town was founded back in the 1870’s as a center for the numerous silver mines that were operating in the area. Back in the day, this town was booming, with thousands of prospectors scouring the hills for gold, silver, and everything in between.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

The town has managed to preserve most of its architecture and feel from that era.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

We enjoyed walking the streets, feeling like we were on a film set, window-shopping, and also having a connection back to civilization.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

With buildings like these, you can just imagine what it would have been like to be here over a hundred years ago.

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

While the town is fairly small, it’s easy to fill a day exploring, and we both had a great time. (Can't get enough of Silverton? We also share a few glimpses of the town here.)

 

Stepping Back in Time in Silverton, Colorado

 

Have you been to an old mining town before?

 


 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

I have been wanting to visit Colorado for years and this desire for pristine wilderness, majestic peaks, and the great outdoors has only been further amplified by our life in the flattest state in the United States. We literally couldn’t be further away from the mountains that we both grew up with at our doorsteps.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

The simple way to solve this problem would be to jump on a plane and arrive in Colorado a few hours later.  However, we rarely do simple. My plan was to drive the nearly 2,400 km (1,500 miles) to our destination in the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado. My decision to drive was primarily driven by (get it?) our plan to camp, offroad, and explore the more remote regions of Colorado that would require our 4x4 Toyota Tacoma and camping supplies. I say "my decision" because I love to camp but had to convince Bettina to tag along.

We own a Toyota Tacoma and were extremely happy with its performance throughout the trip. This post is not sponsored by Toyota but we can highly recommend them.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park - Offroading in our Toyota Tacoma

 

We began our drive west early on Friday, beating rush hour out of Chicago and continuing on the 8 or so hours to Lawrence, Kansas where we spent the evening visiting friends.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park - Offroading in our Toyota Tacoma

 

The next day, we spent hours staring at the rolling hills of Kansas and the endless wind turbines as we made our way to the Colorado state border and eventually to Colorado Springs.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

The First Day of Offroading

 

We started our adventure at the Garden of the Gods park, which was so stunning, I could write an entire blog post about it. If you haven’t been, the park is very close to Colorado Springs and is a great place to walk and hike while exploring the interesting rock formations.

 

Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs

 

Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs

 

Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs

 

Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs

 

Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs

 

Heading south we had a short 45 minute drive before what we considered the true beginning of our offroading experience when we turned off the paved road. Our first offroading adventure would be to conquer Medano Pass as a test of our rusty 4x4 driving abilities and trial run for the days to come.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park - Offroading in our Toyota Tacoma

 

We aired down the tires and took in the fresh Colorado air before proceeding up the dusty forestry road. (For the less offroad experienced among you, airing down the tires reduces your risk of punctures to the tires as you drive over sharp rocks. It's crucial though to get the tires back to normal pressure once you get back on the pavement for proper handling and safety.)

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park - Offroading in our Toyota Tacoma

 

We came across a few obstacles that we had to stop and take a second look at before proceeding, but the trail was otherwise perfectly manageable and a lot of fun.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park - Offroading in our Toyota Tacoma

 

Towards the end of the trail, there were a number of creek crossings which could fill your truck with water if they are deep enough. We didn’t fully appreciate the depth of the water of one particular one until we were smack in the middle of the river with no turning back. The water reached the bottom of the doors of our truck!  This is what it looked like on the Jeep that went through just after us.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park - Offroading in our Toyota Tacoma

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Arriving at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Our destination goal for the day was the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is a special place where you can freely explore the 30 square miles (78 square km) of dunes and the tallest sand dune in North America, at 750 feet (229 metres).

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Nearing the end of the trail we could see glimpses of the sand dunes in the distance, and the road turned to sand as well, which was a fun challenge to drive on.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Shop Bettina's Look

 

We decided to hike up the sand dunes but almost didn't make it! Bettina and I weren’t yet used to the higher altitude and hadn't eaten much yet that day, which is mainly a way of saying that we're totally out of shape.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

The views from the top were absolutely breathtaking and definitely worth the effort.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

 

It was perfectly quiet out on the dunes, and the setting sun cast golden light across the area.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

We set up camp for the night in a primitive site nearby, with nobody around.

 

Tenting in Bear Country

 

Driving up to our site, we came across a few bear warning signs. Having camped in the Rocky Mountains, we are no beginners at camping in bear country and know to follow the bear rules. The most important of which is to lock all your food items and toiletries in the car and leave nothing at all outside that will attract bears. And yes, bears love toothpaste so make sure you lock it up as well.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Not all travels go exactly as planned. This was our first night camping in our tent in a while, and also one of the worst nights we had.

To start off, it was windy which causes the forest to make a lot of noises that your brain can’t always justify as ‘just the wind.’ Next, it rained a couple times throughout the night. While we stayed completely dry, the noise of the rain did wake us up each time.

 

Blown Away at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Lastly, we had a few visitors to our camp in the early morning. At around 4:00am we were both awake and could hear something moving around our campsite. It was still very dark outside and fairly quiet except for the noises we were hearing. We both held our breath and listened intently for quite some time. Tents provide a false sense of security against anything that may want to ruin your night. I mustered up the courage to see what was out there, and so we very slowly and very quietly prepared our headlamps and flashlights on our phones for a surprise attack on whatever was out there.

Unzipping the tent I quickly flashed the lights all around and found six eyes reflecting sharply back at me, about 20-30 feet away. Three deer were nonchalantly enjoying an early breakfast around our tent and didn’t seem to be bothered by us being there. After shooing them away, we got a bit more sleep but overall had a very restless and sleepless night. A great way to start off almost a week of camping…

Have you had a rough night camping in a tent before? What was your experience?