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"Obstacles are like wild animals. They are cowards but they will bluff you if they  
can. If they see you are afraid of them . . . they are liable to spring upon you;   
but if you look them squarely in the eye, they will slink out of sight."
~ Orison Swett Marden, founder of Success magazine
(Continued from last page)

Our friend Roy does not know what an obstacle is; he loves to solve problems. He does his best to outwit the curveballs (and boulders) life throws his way and he usually succeeds.

Jim and I are wired a lot like that, too, so we had great fun on today's Jeep trip with Roy, his wife Laura, and their friends Bob and Lalani as we continued exploring Cunningham Canyon.

I'll get to the "obstacle" part in a little bit.


When we were done eating lunch we continued farther back the road through the gulch. Nearby is the site Hardrock uses for the Cunningham AS.

Several RVs are camped there now. I took this picture on our way back out of the canyon:

After another quarter mile we came to a waterfall, an old mine site, and a parking area that is currently buried under snow.

This is where the road becomes more difficult for a 2WD vehicle. Last year we parked the truck there and just walked up the road about half a mile to access the trail we hiked through the Weminuche Wilderness to reach the Continental Divide. 


Today, however, Roy and Bob kept on driving their sturdy little Jeeps up this more narrow, steep, and rocky 4WD section of FSR 589. In about a mile we passed a parking area and a little road to the trailhead up to Highland Mary Lakes. That's as far as Jim and I have ever driven up this road when we had a 4WD truck.

We continued to an overlook at about 11,500 feet elevation with scenic views all around:

The road ahead

Right after this overlook the road crosses Mountaineer Creek and continues up, up, up until it finally ends somewhere in a high basin beneath 13,400+ foot peaks.

We haven't seen the creek up here before but I'm guessing it's flowing higher and faster than usual for late June because of the copious amounts of snow that fell during the winter. There is still some snow on the banks here at about 11,700 feet:

While I was taking pictures the guys got out to inspect the creek crossing, our first real road obstacle of the day:

I think Roy was happy to have finally found a challenge!

These rocks don't look all that big but Roy and Bob knew their vehicles didn't have high enough clearance to ride over them without high-centering. Nor did they want to drive to the right because there is another waterfall on that side of the road and it'd be easy to slide over it, considering how fast the water was flowing.

The guys decided to move the rock Roy's standing on in the picture above. They wanted a space large enough in the middle of the road to drive the Jeeps between the rocks.

After tugging on the rock they quickly ascertained that they couldn't move it with brute force.

Like most adventurous Jeep (and truck) owners, Roy carries a steel cable or tow rope for such occasions. The guys got to work fixing a loop around the rock they wanted to move:



After securing the ends of the cable to the front of his Jeep, Roy asked Laura to slowly back up the Jeep:

It took a couple tries because the cable slipped off the rock the first time. Roy secured it a little differently the second time and Laura was able to pull it far enough away from the rocks on the left to drive the Jeep between them:

Astute readers will note that Jim and I were not in the Jeep when Roy drove it through the creek.

Keep in mind that we are not Jeepers. The creek may look pretty tame in these photos but it was moving very fast, the rocks were slick, and we didn't want to go down that waterfall on the right! Roy can be a bit of a daredevil and we were skeptical of his ability to get that thing safely to the other side of the creek.

We underestimated him.

We watched as Roy carefully maneuvered through the rocks and slowly climbed the steep little embankment on the other side. Good job! Then we walked through the water and got in the Jeep for further adventures farther up the road.

After seeing how hard it was for Roy to maneuver his vehicle through the water Bob and Lalani decided to remain on the other side and waited for us to come back down. (See, we weren't the only skeptics.)

We weren't two hundred yards up the road when we ran into the next problem -- more rocks:

Those were easier. Roy, Jim, and I were able to move several of them by hand far enough to safely drive by on the right without going over the cliff. I was on that side and just looked the other way as Roy moved ahead with two tires close to the edge on those loose rocks.

By then I was wondering if Jeeping is always this much work . . . I mean fun.

We continued upward past a relic of an old mine sitting 'way up high on the mountainside:


The next switchback was full of snow. Roy got through it with some difficulty and was bouyed by his success. With each obstacle conquered, he was more determined to keep going up the mountain as far as possible.

With his perseverance I think he would have made a good ultra runner when he was younger!

Unfortunately, the next snowdrift was too deep to surmount except on foot or perhaps a little ATV. Roy made repeated attempts to get up and over it, but even in the Jeep it was too steep and risky.

This road isn't cleared like it usually is by late June, either by Mother Nature or the Forest Service. The Forest Service does plow drifts sometimes on roads in the San Juan National Forest but I don't know if they ever clear this road.

Roy had to turn around at about 12,000 feet and go back down, but not before teasing me by driving right to the edge of the gravel road, front end hovering over a cliff, and honking to get Bob's and Lalani's attention 'way below!

I was in the front seat and all I could see was sky out the windows. From the back sear Jim and Laura couldn't see how close we were to the edge. Roy was laughing his head off.

I am sooooo glad Jim never pulls stunts like this! Poor Laura.


Here's a good perspective of the terrain between the creek and the upper road where we had to turn around. I took this picture in early July last year while we were hiking up to the Continental Divide on a mountain to the north:

Overview of our location, taken July 2010 from another perspective.

#1 is where the fellas moved the rock out of the Mountaineer Creek crossing. #2 is farther up the road where we started running into problems with snow (part of the road is out of sight to the right). #3 is farther up toward the basin where we had to turn around.

Someday when there is less snow on the ground I want to drive or hike up to that basin.

While Roy, Laura, Jim, and I were gone up the road, Bob and Lalani tried to pull another smaller rock out of our way with their tow rope so it was easier for Roy to cross the creek when we got back:

They weren't able to move it by hand, however. In the picture above, Lalani is holding the tow rope while Bob gets the Jeep to help move the rock. Roy said he could get through OK so they gave it up.


When we got down a little farther I asked Roy to go back a quarter mile or less to the trailhead to Highland Mary Lakes.

We had to cross Mountaineer Creek going in and out. The creek was more narrow here so the water was considerably higher in the middle -- and still running fast. We couldn't see the stones on the bottom of the creek in the center to accurately gauge the depth. Roy guessed the water was about two feet deep at most.

He thought it might come into the floor of the Jeep but he plowed through it anyway; no water got inside but that added to some excitement today.

Jim and I stayed in the Jeep both those times because there weren't any waterfalls to go over! I took this picture coming back out:

Bob and Lalani followed with some trepidation. They know the risks Roy is willing to take.

All six of us got out of the vehicles again at the trailhead to wander around and take more pictures. We read the Weminuche Wilderness sign and Roy got some snow to keep the drinks in his cooler chilled.

Start of the trail up to Highland Mary Lakes

View from the trailhead back down the canyon

I’d like to hike up to Highland Mary Lakes while we're here this time; they are a popular hiking destination and someplace new for me to explore.

We drove back out across the creek and still didn't get wet although the water was lapping at our doors.

Farther down into the canyon both the road and creek drop 300-400 feet in elevation to the old mine at the end of the good part of Cunningham Road (FSR 589). I love the series of waterfalls and cascades along this section:

At some point Mountaineer and other streams coming down from the Continental Divide merge into Cunningham Creek, which you can see in this scenic overview of the valley below us:

The large white spot in the lower left is mine tailings. In the center of the picture you can see white specks that are RVs parked at the site of the Cunningham AS.

The road continues in the background toward the Old Hundred Mine.

I took this photo going mostly north toward the mine:

Years ago Roy and Laura climbed up a narrow rocky trail to an old boarding house used by the miners. It's at about 12,000 feet elevation on the mountainside on the right but this photo is too small to see it. I'm not very afraid of heights (when I'm in control and not at the mercy of someone else!) so I think I'd enjoy hiking up to this historic building. There just isn't always time to do everything I want to do when we're here.

I'm always amazed by and respectful of the hard-rockers (the original ones) who not only worked in such precarious surroundings but also helped haul materials high up these mountains to install mining equipment and build structures.

That was long before the days of OSHA, of course. Imagine all the regulations and lawsuits there would be today! Many men died trying to make their fortunes in mines across the West.

Roy drove the "high road" past the Old Hundred mine on the way back to town. He and Laura have taken the tour previously; Jim and I haven't done it yet. There's a lot of interesting history from this mine, one of many that flourished in the 19th Century.

A group gets ready to enter the mine on a tour.


We went through a deep creek twice, up and over rocks, and through a bunch of mud and snow. We saw new scenery that we can't access with our 2WD Dodge truck.

Great fun, we thought. Now how can we manage to travel with a Jeep??? 

That won't happen anytime soon, I'm afraid. We'd need a motor home to pull it. Our truck isn't strong enough to tow the Cameo and a "toad" behind it, nor would that be safe or practical because of the length of three vehicles. If we need another Jeep fix we'll either have to bum a ride with friends who have one or shell out the bucks to rent one.

There are many little dirt 4WD roads and tracks through the San Juans. The ones we were on today are rather tame in comparison to some we drove several years ago when we had our 4WD F-250. Sometimes we had to back up on tight switchbacks and get halfway off the road when we met other vehicles. There were times we had difficulty gaining enough traction on loose rock or snow to get up steep grades.

Some of these roads and tracks are definitely easier in a Jeep.

Above and below: not the boarding house, but another
structure high above the Old Hundred mine.

One of the roads I'd love to ride up again is FSR 737, an offshoot from the road through Cunningham Gulch that we were on today.

It branches off to the north after the Old Hundred mine and begins a steady climb to Stony Pass at the Continental Divide (about 12,000 feet). I'd like to use it to get to the trailheads for Colorado Trail Segments 23 and 24 so I don't have to hike up from the end of Cunningham Gulch, but I'm not likely to go up there in the next two weeks unless a bunch of snow melts by then.

FSR 737 to Stony Pass is rough, has tight switchbacks, and is probably impassable even in a Jeep right now unless the Forest Service has plowed it. Even if it was cleared I wouldn't try it in a 2WD vehicle unless you're in a rental! It'd be great fun in a Jeep. It continues in better shape along the Rio Grande over to Creede as FSR 520.

If you ever visit the San Juan Mountains in the summer, do go for one or more rides in a Jeep. It's a lot more fun than we thought it would be. Thanks, Roy and Laura!


When we got back to the campground in the mid-afternoon I took a nap (very unusual for me) and Jim read his new book, SEAL Team Six, for a couple hours. He often falls asleep while reading but he was so engrossed in this book that he was still wide awake after reading more in the evening.

Must be a good book! I'll read it when he's done.

Perky spring flowers near the Highland Mary Lakes trailhead

We went to the Stellar Bakery and Pizza restaurant for supper, arriving about 5:45 PM to an empty dining room. We thought it would be more crowded. It took a while to get our Mediterranean pizza, however, because of a large take-out order (six pizzas) before ours.

We ordered a 16” pizza for a pricey $20; there are enough leftovers for a second meal. We should have gotten a $10 eight-inch pizza. The pizza was good but not as good as the pizzas we get at High Mountain Pies in Leadville.

A local woman started up a conversation with us while she was waiting for a pizza to go. She lives near Carolyn and Eric Erdman so we talked mostly about them and the race. She told us about a “senior group” that is hiking the Hardrock course over a period of several days after the race. Too bad we won't be here long enough to participate in that.

Next entry: beautiful scenery on my hike to Clear Lake

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