Scenes Along Colorado 4 Wheel Drive Roads in the Ouray, Silverton and Telluride Areas of Colorado, Part 2

As the title implies, this is a continuation of the previous post.  The photos in this post are a combination of iPhone and DSLR photos and were taken while traversing these 4 wheel drive roads:  Imogene Pass, Engineer Pass, California Pass and maybe others. (I neglected to take notes of where we were each day and I can’t positively identify the location of some of the photos that I acquired and I am not using a GPS device on my current camera.  This is an issue that I must address in the future).

A typical view that one sees along these roads in the higher elevations is as shown here:

A typical mountain view from a high mountain pass road (iPhone)

We traveled Imogene Pass Road from the Ouray side, accessing it from US 550, splitting off from the road that goes to Yankee Boy Basin (covered in a previous post).  Imogen Pass is the second highest mountain pass in Colorado at 13, 114 feet.  It is rated as moderate, which means that only suitably equipped 4 wheel drive vehicles should attempt this road.  There are Jeep rentals in the local area and we saw many of the rental vehicles on this road, as well as some specialized tour vehicles with seating for passengers in a flat bed area.  Those tour vehicles looked a bit large for these type roads, but apparently their drivers are experienced in driving these roads.  The seating in the tour vehicles appeared to all be in the open, meaning one might get wet and cold, when caught in one of the frequent mountain showers, if not properly prepared for the weather.  Views along the road can be spectacular.  These two photos show the view looking back down the road that we traveled up to the pass:

A view from Imogene Pass Summit (Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24mm, handheld)
A view from Imogene Pass summit (Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24mm, handheld) (More zoomed in than the previous photo).

A view in the opposite direction, in which we would continue is shown in this photo:

Imogene Pass Summit view (Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24mm, handheld)

As along most of these roads, there are numerous abandoned mine sites.  The Imogene Pass road goes through the large Tomboy mine site, which was a really large operation, before it was abandoned in 1928.  The remains of the buildings cover a rather large area and one could spend quite a bit of time wandering around the site.  However, these abandoned mining areas can be dangerous and nearly all are on private property with warning signs not to enter old mines or buildings.  Tomboy is one of the highest ghost towns in the US.  There was a store, school, living quarters for miners and even a YMCA.

A few of the many ruins at the Tomboy Mine townsite (Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24mm, handheld)

One can often see views of other mountain roads from these high mountain roadways.  One of the famously difficult 4 wheel drive roads is Black Bear, which has numerous sharp switchbacks, that typically require at least two point turns, even for short wheel base vehicles.  We got a glimpse of Black Bear as we neared Telluride on the way down from Imogene Pass.

A view of the sharp switch backs on the difficult Black Bear 4 wheel drive (Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24mm, handheld)

This is not a great photo, a big zoom would have worked better for showing the details of the switchbacks, but I only had a wide angle with me.  Look closely in the green area just below the peak about one third across the photo from the left and you can see the trace of the roadway down the steep mountainside.  There is also a long waterfall almost in the center of the photo in the cliff face.  One has to look very closely to see the waterfall in this photo.

To drive Engineer Pass, we began just off of US 550 between Ouray and Silverton.  This road is rated as moderate and I think most of the difficult part is near the starting point off of US 550.  After passing through that portion, much of the road is fairly easy (easy for me, since I was not driving).  We did not continue the road down into Lake City, electing to go to the ghost town of Animas Forks and continuing along other roads from Animas Forks, over California Pass, down Corkscrew Gulch and arriving back at US 550.

An abandoned mine site as seen from Engineer Pass road (iPhone)
Odom Point along the Engineer Pass road route (iPhone)
Engineer Pass Road (iPhone)
An old mine line shack on the road between Engineer Pass and Animas Forks (iPhone)
Animas Forks Ghost Town near Silverton, Colorado (iPhone)

Animas Forks is a mining ghost town near Silverton, Colorado.  It can be accessed by a passenger vehicle in the summer months along County Road 2 from Silverton or via a number of other 4 wheel drive roads.  There are a number of fairly well preserved building at this site and, as you will see in these photos, is a popular site to visit.

A few of the four wheel drive vehicles in the parking area at Animas Forks ghost town (Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24mm, handheld)
Old mine building foundation at Animas Forks ghost town (Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24mm, handheld)
One of the better preserved buildings in Animas Forks ghost town (Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24mm, handheld)

From Animas Forks, we proceeded along another 4 wheel drive road to California Pass.

A view from California Pass Summit (iPhone)
California Pass Summit (iPhone)
The Jeep at California Pass Summit (iPhone) (Note the GoPro on the driver side front fender).
Long winding 4 wheel drive roads just below California Pass summit (iPhone)

We continued along the road that passes to the left of the lake in the above photo.  The road to the right of the lake goes to another much more difficult 4 wheel drive road.

A lake just below California Pass summit (iPhone) (A closer view of the lake seen in the previous photo)
An abandoned mine sluice along the California Pass Road (iPhone)
Clouds gathering over the aptly named Red Mountains, California Pass Road (iPhone)

We continued back to US 550 on Corkscrew 4 wheel drive, but I did not get any interesting photos along that route.

This marks the end of my July trip to Colorado.  The following photos are a few iPhone shots that I took on the route back home.

The Sportsmobile at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, Texas (iPhone)
A panorama of a portion of Lake Meredith (iPhone)
A warning sign at a Texas Panhandle Rest Stop (iPhone)






Scenes Along 4 Wheel Drive Roads in the Ouray, Silverton and Telluride Areas of Colorado, Part 1

In late July, 2018 my oldest son and I traveled a number of four wheel drive roads over high mountain passes in Colorado near the towns of Ouray, Silverton and Telluride.  My son did the driving, I just hung on for dear life.

All of the photos in this post (part 1) were shot with an iPhone with some editing in Lightroom.

My son used a GoPro attached to the driver’s side front fender of his Jeep to capture video along some of the drives.  Edited versions of those videos are posted on U-Tube:

Ophir Pass, Imogene Pass, California Pass/Hurricane Pass/Corkscrew Gulch and Engineer Pass.

The videos may make the rides look fairly smooth and fast.  Trust me the roads could not be traversed very quickly and the ride was very bouncy.

In a previous post I shared photos taken in Yankee Boy Basin.  Continuing up the 4 wheel road past those photo areas, the road leads to a lake and a trail head popular with hardy, mountain hikers.

A small lake at the end of the Yankee Boy Basin 4 wheel drive road near Ouray, Colorado (iPhone photo)
A portion of the lake at the end of the Yankee Boy Basin 4 wheel drive road and a mountain peak in the background. (iPhone photo)

Many, maybe all, of the 4 wheel drive roads over these mountain passes were made by miners, during the exploration phase and production phase of mining operations.  There are remains of many abandoned mines visible from these roadways and there are some active mines, as well.

An abandoned mine along the Yankee Boy Basin 4 wheel drive road (iPhone photo)

One may encounter much wildlife along these roadways and almost anywhere in this area.  We saw numerous deer and many marmots.  Marmots are usually rather shy and run away as anyone approaches them either on foot or in a vehicle.  But one little marmot only gave up its ground hesitantly, moving only a short distance away several times as I intruded into its space, while trying to get a shot of a really long water fall.

A not so shy marmot.  The depth of field in this shot is very shallow.  The rock just above the marmot is actually across a deep ravine, through which a stream flows down the mountainside. (iPhone photo)

The marmot was lounging near a very scenic waterfall and cascade with a great view across a valley and mountain tops.  Maybe that is why it was so reluctant to move away as I approached.

Low water flow in this really long waterfall and cascade along which the marmot was lounging. (iPhone photo)
The marmot’s view into the valley and across the mountain peaks (iPhone photo)

There are many small lakes in the mountains that are popular with fishermen and popular places to camp, although the mosquitoes can be quite a bother.

Clear Lake and Fishermen at the end of Clear Lake 4 wheel drive road near Silverton, Colorado (iPhone photo)

The mountains at these elevations are rugged and continually eroding.

Rugged, eroding mountainside above Clear Lake (iPhone)

Wildflowers were past their peak, but there were still quite a few scattered around.

Wildflowers in the meadow around Clear Lake (iPhone)
Wildflower and a busy bumble bee near Clear Lake (iPhone)
A few of the remaining wild flowers near Clear Lake (iPhone)

(To be continued in Part 2).


Yankee Boy Basin

Yankee Boy Basin, located in the Colorado Rocky Mountains near Ouray, Colorado, is accessible via a 4 wheel drive road.  My oldest son, who provided the 4×4 Jeep, and I spent several early morning and evenings in the basin, since it was a relatively easy place for us to get to and there were multiple photography opportunities in the area.

Yankee Boy Basin

It is best to have a high clearance vehicle with skid plates and good off road tires before attempting to travel this road.  If the road is not wet, it might be possible for a high clearance vehicle equipped with only stock tires and an experienced driver to make it up the road.  On one of our outings there, a thunderstorm came up at our destination, so we went back down to a safer place to wait out the storm.   We encountered a young man in a Subaru Outback, who was planning to make the trip up the 4×4 road.  His vehicle had stock tires and no skid plates.  My son, who has some 4 wheel drive road experience and has been up this road a number of times, advised him not to try the road with his vehicle;  however, he told him that he could follow us, if he liked, and at least he would have someone nearby in case he had difficulty.   He tried to follow us up the road, but very soon got to a point where his tires could not get sufficient traction on the wet rocks and he turned around.

We ended up aborting one of our planned evening shoots due to a continuing storm.  We had hoped to get gorgeous views with clouds and mountainsides illuminated with the late evening light as often happens after a storm; but the storm and sky showed no signs of clearing, so we retreated to our campsites, where we were treated to sky, clouds and a double rainbow; but I only had time to shoot a few iPhone photos before these all faded away.

A view from Ridgeway State Park, Colorado, after an early evening rain.
This is the kind of sky we had hoped to see during our aborted Yankee Boy Basin evening photo shoot.

Yankee Boy Basin is a picturesque setting and can be covered with wildflowers in the early summer months.  There were some wildflowers remaining during our visit in late July, but they were mostly past their peak bloom.

Early morning view in Yankee Boy Basin

The 4 wheel drive road follows a stream much of the way and there are a number of waterfalls and lovely cascades along the way.

Early morning light above Sneffles Creek
Early morning in Yankee Boy Basin
Sneffels Creek Waterfall
Early morning light in Yankee Boy Basin along Sneffels Creek
Yankee Boy Basin Waterfall
Yankee Boy Basin Waterfall
Early morning in Yankee Boy Basin
Sneffels Creek Cascade
Sneffels Creek Waterfall/Cascade
Close up view of a portion of a waterfall on Sneffels Creek
Close up view of one of the Yankee Boy Basin waterfalls

At the end of the 4 wheel drive road is a small lake surrounded by mountain peaks.  A popular hiking trail begins at the end of the 4 wheel road that takes one to Mount Sneffels, 14,158 feet high mountain, which many hikers like to bag.

The elevation everywhere in this area is high enough that one not used to it might have some difficulty with the thin air.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noted that higher elevations are more of a problem, but so far I’ve not had altitude sickness.  I can move around quite well at altitude, as long as I am not carrying a load; but as soon as I pick up a loaded day pack and camera gear, the effort to walk up an incline becomes noticeable, requiring frequent stops to catch my breath.  I’m sure that my normal sea level life adds to the altitude effect.

One of the fun things about such outings as this is meeting other people with similar interest.  On our first morning in the basin, we chatted with the only other person there, who was also into photography and from the same metropolitan area as me.

I hope that you enjoy this post and I welcome your comments and suggestions.


Is King of Wings overrated as a photo destination?

King of Wings (KOW) is a large wing like hoodoo near Nageezi, New Mexico.  There are some amazing photos of this feature that can be found via an online search.  During my recent visit to Bisti Badlands, my oldest son and I visited King of Wings one afternoon.  He had been there once before, knew how to get to the remote parking location, knew how to follow the trails through the desert and had GPS coordinates for the site.  We were able to depart the trail and strike out overland using his memory and the GPS coordinates to get to KOW.

It was a hot July afternoon in the desert as we trekked across the barren landscape, up and over low hills.  Arriving at our destination, from below it is apparent that KOW is impressive; but smaller than I had imagined from the numerous online photos that I have seen over the years.  One has to scramble up a steep incline to get up to KOW.

There it is, in case it is not obvious! (Photo courtesy of Sean Kemp).

Going there in midday, harsh, bright light, we did not take our DSLR gear and it would have been much more difficult to hike across the hot desert carrying the additional gear.  However, we both had our phone cameras and both of us shot several photos with those.  I did not shoot from the best vantage points, shooting from above, rather than from below.  My son got a better shot from a point of view somewhat below the wing.

KOW and smaller Hoodoos in the background. (Photo courtesy of Sean Kemp)

One advantage the wing offered, was a small shade beneath it.  It was a mostly still day, with only an occasional breeze, so that shade, being the only around was welcome.  There was room for only one person to sit in the shade beneath the wing, which my son quickly took advantage of.  He seemed more bothered by the heat at that time, than I was.  However, that changed on our hike out, which  to me was more strenuous and hot than the hike in, since it seemed mostly up hill, with a few short steep portions at small hills, then long sections of gentle uphill slopes.  I had to stop a number of times to catch my breath, calm my heartbeat and consume water from my Camelbak.  The water was quite warm and not very refreshing by that time.

The only shade around. This photo of my son sitting in the shade of KOW, shows the barrenness of the desert we hiked through to get to KOW.

Other than KOW, I did not see much of real photographic interest, that is not more easily accessible in other places.  There were a few other hoodoos in the area, but many more are much more easily accessible in Bisti.  I am glad that I finally got see KOW, but for me, I do not think it worthwhile to ever again expend the time and effort it takes to get to it, especially in the hot summer.  Maybe had I been there at a better time for photography, I might have appreciated it more; but still, I think the limited photo oportunities it and the general area offers are not worth more than one visit.

King of Wings at about eye level.

Post Script:  In my last post, I mentioned that a post on my trip to Colorado would be next; but I realized that I should at least mention our foray to King of Wings, before getting to that.  The next post will be about time spent in and around, Ouray, Ridgeway, Silverton and Telluride.

Bisti Badlands

My oldest son and I recently spent a couple of days in Bisti Badlands, New Mexico and the local area.  The rock formations and landscape here are other worldly.  There are no trails to follow, one must either explore randomly or find GPS coordinates or generalized directions for particular areas of interest.  I have now visited Bisti on two occasions, the first a few years ago and I have not yet seen everything of interest in Bisti, so I will plan to visit again at some future date, hopefully not in the summer, since  the summers here are hot during the day, but the evenings and early mornings are fairly comfortable, especially during and after thunderstorms, which we were lucky to have in the evenings, when we were there.  In fact one of the storms presented us with a tremendous lightning display, some of which my son captured via a GoPro camera.  After the storm passed over us, I put the penthouse top of the Sportsmobile up and enjoyed the distant lightning display and cool breeze as I lay there waiting for sleep to over take me.

We were fortunate to have the area essentially to ourselves most of the time.  We did see a few others come and go, but never encountered anyone while photographing and exploring the area.

As we saw storms on two sides of us and one heading towards us, during our last evening of photography in the wilderness, we decided to beat a hasty retreat to the parking area and the safety of our camping vehicle.  Upon arriving at the parking area, we found another vehicle parked next to ours, but no one around.  So we assumed the vehicle owner(s) were out in the wilderness area.  As the storm got closer and darkness began to fall, we saw lights in the distance coming from the wilderness.  We left our vehicle interior lights on as a beacon for the hikers, since otherwise it can be difficult to find ones way back to the parking area in the dark.  We watched the progress of the lights approaching the parking area, eventually seeing a young couple arriving just before the serious rain began. They had planned to camp in the wilderness, but they realized that it was unsafe to be out there during a severe thunderstorm.  The young man made a point to come over and thank us for our lights, which he said were a great help to them in finding their way back to the parking area.  They hung around for awhile, then left, leaving the parking area totally to us for the rest of the night.

Even though, there was a hard, blowing rain for awhile during the thunderstorm, the hot desert area was mostly dry the next morning. We photographed during the early morning sunrise, then moved on to our next destination in Colorado, which will be the subject of my next post.  So stay tuned for more…

Some (eventually maybe all) of the photos posted here will also be uploaded to my Flickr page, where they might be viewed more easily.

Sign Post along Bisti Highway
Alone in Bisti
Bisti/De-Na-Zin BLM Sign Post
Geographic Map of Bisti/De-Na-Zin
Sunrays and Hoodoos in Bisti Badlands
Starship Hoodoo
Bird like Bisti hoodoo
Various Bisti Hoodoos under a cloudy sky
Bisti Hoodoos
Sombrero Rock
Bisti rocks
Another starship?
Bisti Rocks
Bisti Landscape
Stripped Hoodoos 2
Stripped hoodoos
Golden hour at Bisti
Bisti early morning light
Interesting hoodoo
Starship Hoodoo

More on McKinney Falls State Park, Austin, TX

McKinney Falls State Park near Austin, TX is a picturesque place in the fall, when fall colors are prevalent, and in the spring, when wildflowers are blooming.  The photos in this post are from a fall visit, during a drought, so the water flow over the falls was minimal.  After heavy rains there can be a tremendous amount of water flowing in the stream and over the falls.  At low flow, one can walk in the stream and over the falls, using care not to slip on the rock, as a fall could result in an injury or worse.

There are numerous camping areas in the park for both RV and tent campers with electric and water hookups.

It can be quite hot here in the summer, so fall and spring are probably the most comfortable times for camping.  However, an RV, with A/C and a furnace will be fine for the summer and winter camping.

More information can be obtained at McKinney Falls.

Fall in McKinney Falls State Park, Austin, TX
Lower Falls, eye level view
Lower Falls, Eye Level View 2
Diamond Back Water Snake

Joshua Tree National Park

My oldest son and I spent a few days in Joshua Tree National Park in southern California the last week of March, 2018.  While exploring one of the less visited areas, we spotted a dead tree that we immediately knew presented numerous photo opportunities.  We returned to this tree on two evenings to photograph it, capture stars and star trails with the tree as fore ground.

My son referred to the tree as the “ghost tree”.  I thought it looked more like the “grim reaper tree”.

In addition to the star trails, numerous air plane paths are also apparent.

Sportsmobile acceptance camping

Sportsmobile with the penthouse top extended
Sportsmobile back with doors open before bug screen is closed.
First beer in the Sportsmobile
Sportsmobile interior view from the rear bench seat
Sportsmobile side view with the bug screen in place.

After picking up the new Mercedes Sprinter Sportsmobile in Austin, TX, I stayed overnight in McKinney Falls State Park to check out the basic vehicle.

As one can see, this is the short wheel base Sprinter, which I think will be best for accessing places off of the main roads.  This is a four wheel drive version with both hi and lo range.  The wheels and tires are upgrades to allow travel on more primitive roadways.

A roof rack and a new rear bumper with tire carrier and storage box will be added in a few weeks.