While vacationing and visiting relatives in the Four Corners area of New Mexico , Vangie’s Uncle asked us if we would be interested in driving the Alpine loop. Only having been on one off road trip with the Land Rover Dealer we decided to give it a try. Well worth it… We got up early and drove to Silverton Co. from Farmington Nm.The Alpine Loop Scenic and Historic Byway leaves the pavement and people behind, crossing the remote, rugged, spectacular heart of the San Juan Mountains. It’s demanding: the two 12,000-foot passes (Engineer Pass (12,780 ft.) and Cinnamon Pass (12,620 ft.) ) require high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles.
There are six spectacular 4wd roads in the San Juans; Black Bear, Cinnamon, Corkscrew, Engineer, Imogene and Ophir. While not as difficult technically as Imogene or the dreaded Black Bear, Engineer demands more experience and skill than Corkscrew or Ophir. Engineer combines spectacular views at its summit, interesting mining locations and some challenging sections for the driver.
The rocky roads of the Alpine Loop were first used in the nineteenth century by miners who carted their mule-drawn wagons, laden with ore, to the mining towns of Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City. The Alpine Loop is 78 miles in length. The average driving time is five to eight hours. Special considerations for this trip: bring a full tank of gasoline, extra food, and water. These roads can be muddy. Roads are closed in the winter
Forming part of the Alpine Loop, Cinnamon Pass (12,620 ft.) takes you through many of Colorado s historic ghost towns and mining camps. We stopped at the tourist information building and got a map. in Silverton The road to Animas Forks is gravel and suitable for automobiles. Along the way you pass many mills and town sites: Mayflower, Howardsville, Middleton. These towns sprang up during the 1800’s when silver was discovered in the surrounding mountains. We made it to Lake City for lunch and then headed back on the second leg of our adventure.
Engineer Pass (12,780 ft.) road forms one half of the Alpine Loop, running from Lake City to Ouray to via Engineer . The Loop can be made in one long day in good conditions, but one day leaves little time for side trips or stopping for any length of time to enjoy the scenery. The trail climbs through a forest of pines and crosses the stream. The first nice place to stop is Whitmore Falls. It is a large waterfall that can’t be seen from the road and must be hiked down to. Remember the altitude and take breaks walking back up to the road. The very short and steep hike is well worth the effort to see the falls. There is never any really rough or rocky spots on the trail but 4 wheel is required because of the steepness and the high altitude. The last 1/4 or a mile or so of the road is fairly narrow on both sides. More narrow on the Ouray side, but nothing like black bear pass. Two vehicles could almost always pass each other. The summit offers great views in every direction The last two miles of the road are the most difficult to drive. Portions of the road are very rocky. Experienced 4-wheelers will not have much trouble. Beginners should proceed carefully. We ended our adventure where Engineer Pass Road meets US 550 3 miles south of Ouray. A large sign points the way to the Alpine Loop and headed back to Farmington excited and exhausted.
Our next stop on the trip was to Chaco Canyon, There are a few pictures