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"People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy."
~ Anton Chekhov

After seeing the HRH trail marking group off this morning, we went for our first Jeep ride in the San Juan Mountains east of Silverton.

Thatís fun!! Now we want a Jeep, too. 

No wonder so many "Jeepers" come to the San Juans to ride. It's a popular summer and fall destination for Jeep clubs and individual Jeep owners from around the country -- especially Texans looking to escape the summer heat within a day's drive. We see a lot of Texas license plates when we visit Silverton.

Much of the scenery in the San Juans is inaccessible except by foot, on horseback, or
via an ATV, Jeep, or 4WD truck. This partly-frozen waterfall is on FSR 588 to Maggie Gulch.

For folks who don't own a Jeep there are businesses in Silverton, Ouray, Lake City, Telluride, Durango, and other nearby towns that rent them out for self-tours or guided tours. So far we've been too frugal to rent one of the things.

Today we got an opportunity to join two of the couples we know in our campground who tow Jeeps behind their motor homes. They needed an excuse to go play in the mountains and we helped give them one.

We rode with Roy and Laura, our ham radio friends, in their vehicle. Their friends, Bob and Lalani, followed us in theirs. Both couples are members of the Hemet Jeep Club in their California hometown.

Our friends' Jeeps at Cunningham Gulch

Roy and Laura have been vacationing with a Jeep in the San Juans for fifteen years but itís Bob's and Lalani's first time here. Roy is happy to play tour guide for them -- and others they meet -- while they're in the area.

There are hundreds of miles of little forest service roads like this to explore and they prefer doing it with friends instead of alone. Sometimes we'll see groups of ten or twelve Jeeps in caravans on a beautiful summer day like this.

View up into Maggie Gulch

Jimís and my main goal today was to see what the road through Maggie Gulch looks like, in case we work the radio and/or timing at that aid station during the Hardrock race. We've never driven up there.

After seeing the road today we donít think we want to take our 2WD truck there, mainly because FSR 588 is so darn narrow most of the 3+ miles through the gulch. It was hard enough to squeeze by other vehicles we met in the little Jeep; our truck is significantly bigger.

Skinny section of the road to Maggie Gulch between a rock wall and a cliff.

Some of the road surface is pretty rough, too. Even rocks like those in the photo above were enough to jolt the Jeep around.

Farther up we ran into some mud and snow:

Weíll have to talk with Shauna, communications director for HRH, before we know for sure if weíll be working out there during the race.

If that's where she wants us, we'll probably ride out with someone else.

Canby Mtn. (elev. 13,478') is in the background; the Hardrock course is up there somewhere.

Marsh marigolds start blooming in late spring/early summer as soon as the snow melts.

We parked at the end of the road through the gulch for about 15 minutes to enjoy the scenery and look at relics from an old mine:

L-R:  Roy, Jim, and Bob inspect some old mining equipment. There are relics 
like this all over the San Juans (mining equipment, not retired RVers!!).

I think where we parked is the location of the Maggie Gulch aid station during the race. The elevation is 11,800+ feet, higher than the Cunningham Gulch aid station where we've worked several times previously.

After seeing the location of the Maggie Gulch aid station Jim and I are less interested in working there than at Cunningham. Maggie is pretty exposed (i.e., doggone cold overnight during the race) there above tree line and we wouldn't be able to take Cody with us if we're riding with someone else.

We'd also miss seeing our friends who are crewing for runners; they are discouraged from driving up to Maggie Gulch during the race. Every crew will be at Cunningham because it's easier to access and it's the first aid station in this year's counterclockwise direction. If we work Cunningham we can see a lot more people.

Nice view looking back (NW) where we came up through Maggie Gulch.

On the way out of the gulch Roy drove up a little side road to see the remains of another old mine.

We had a good view back toward the high end of the gulch (to the SE) where we'd just been -- opposite direction from the picture above:

We could see another series of waterfalls coming down from Galena Mountain:


Although there is still some ice and snow over that stream the water is flowing beneath it.

We scared off about twenty marmots in the rocky area where we turned around at this location. We saw lots of marmots today. This furry fella was along the road in Cunningham Gulch; it's unusual to be able to get this close to one:

Ready to escape into his drainage pipe when necessary

I love seeing marmots. Folks who've returned to their vehicles at trailheads and discovered chewed brake lines, etc. aren't so fond of them, though.

Here are two more photos I took on the way back down out of Maggie Gulch to CO 110:


When we got back down to CO 110 (AKA Alpine Loop, the road that goes northeast to Eureka and beyond, or southwest to Silverton) we checked out a dispersed camping area across the road:

Several RVs are parked between CO 110 and the Animas River; Dome  Mtn.
looms overhead. Folks have camped on this side of the road, too. See the campfire?

Roy thinks this is BLM land that doesnít get as crowded as the dispersed camping area farther up the road at Eureka, where lots of folks camp with their noisy ATVs. There are some private in-holdings along this road, however, and it's difficult to tell what's public land and what isn't.

Weíre interested in alternatives if the Forest Service tells us to leave South Mineral Creek after two weeks.

Roy arrived a day earlier than we did. He's gotten notes on his RV in previous years when he's been there a couple of months but heís never actually been run out or gotten a citation. Word is that the rangers are more hard-nosed this year.


After checking out the dispersed camping area we drove back west on CO 110 to FSR 589, which runs several miles south through Cunningham Gulch.

Near the beginning of the road at the former mining town of Howardsville the road splits and rejoins about a mile later. The upper road leads to the famous Old Hundred mine; Roy took the lower road along Cunningham Creek into the gulch and returned on the higher road.

High road left, low road right

Jim and I know these roads very well because we've driven them numerous times.

Both the high and low roads are OK for 2WD vehicles to the location of the Cunningham Gulch aid station (about three miles). Crews are used to driving back this road to the AS during the race. It's rough enough that we've never wanted to take our camper back there, however. Plenty of other people do, though.

I took the next three pictures out the windshield as Roy drove toward the aid station site:



About 2Ĺ miles back the road we stopped to eat lunch at the horse corrals right before the Cunningham AS location.

A truck camper was parked just downstream in a great place to camp for free; most of this is National Forest land back here:



I spent more time taking pictures than eating. The waterfalls on either side of the road are spectacular this week! Note all the dandelions, too. <smile>

The Hardrock course is to the right of these falls on Little Giant Mtn.

This long series of falls is on the other side of the road, coming off Green Mtn.

That's enough photos for this page . . .

Hit "next" for pictures from the high end of the canyon and verbiage about the obstacles we encountered on our way up into the mountains. Even Jeeps can't go everywhere!

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil