After a frigid late afternoon in the sand dunes, the temperatures plummeted close to -20F overnight and the forecast called for more frigid temperatures and snow for the whole area a day later. In advance of the weather, I turned my sights to San Juan Range and the Million Dollar Highway before crossing the San Juan Range one more time a day later in a snow storm to return to New Mexico.
Gallery of my favorite photos
When I saw the freezing fog and frost on the trees in the morning, I knew I was not quite ready to part with San Luis Valley. I first drove out just east of Alamosa to take a few pictures a tree I had been shooting since my first trips to San Luis Valley (for example, here).
|Motel window view||Fence||Tractor and frost||San Luis Valley tree||Frosty tree in BW||Tumbleweed and a tree|
|Rogue and a tree||Frost everywhere|
As I turned back to head west, I passed through Alamosa one more time. I took a walk in Cole Park along the Rio Grande riverside, enjoying the river views and the frost covered trees.
|Rio Grande and Sangre de Cristos Range||Footbridge||Shadows on the bridge||Stripes of cold||Rio Grande|
|Park trail||Frosty trees||Sun between the branches|
As I approached Durango after crossing Wolf Creek Pass, it was clear the area got a dumping in the days before. I turned north on Highway 550, stopped at Pinkerton Hot Springs to take in the colorful hot springs, and continued up enjoying the mountain scenery on both sides of the road. The highway crosses Coal Bank Pass (10,640 ft), and Molas Pass (10,970 ft), where I watched a helicopter rescue of a snowmobiler before descending toward Silverton.
|San Luis Valley scenery||Wolf Creek Pass||Pinkerton Hot Springs||Engineer Mountain from 550||West Needle Mountain and Twilight Peaks|
|Twilight Peak||Highway 550||Molas Pass scenery||Silverton||Silverton|
Silverton is one of the ends of Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that I rode a few years earlier with my children. The town is surrounded by several 13,000 feet plus peaks and some of its architecture still reflects its mining heyday. The section of Highway 550 between Silverton and Ouray is often called the Million Dollar Highway. The origin of its name is disputed, but whether it relates to the cost of building it, or the gold ore buried in its foundations, it is definitely one of the most scenic mountain highways in Colorado. Between Silverton and Ouray, it crosses Red Mountain Pass (11,018 ft) with a lot of excellent backcountry skiing terrain, and on the way down to Ouray passes through a narrow rocky canyon where the road will sure keep your hands on the wheel.
|Santa Fe caboose||Silverton||Biking mountain man||Switchbacks near Red Mountain Pass||Old mine by Highway 550|
|Abrams Mountain||Uncompahgre Gorge||Lookout||Million Dollar Highway||Ouray valley|
Before reaching Montrose at the end of Highway 550, I took a short detour up to Dallas Divide and Last Dollar Road. The sun was setting, it was bitterly cold, and clouds rolled it obscuring Mt. Sneffels. My mostly clear day was ending and the clouds were a sign of the weather to come.
|CO Highway 62||Mt. Sneffels||Snow fence||Cloudy summit||Aspen View Ranch|
|Wintry aspens||Pink clouds|
When I woke up, my rental car was covered by snow. It was still snowing lightly as I left Montrose to complete my loop through the San Juan Range. Back on the Dallas Divide again, it was a whiteout that obscured the mountain views I enjoyed the evening before. Conditions were more subdued along San Miguel River on the way to Telluride and wintry scenery made for an enjoyable drive.
|Snowy morning||Ready to take a splash||Motel pool||Snow plow||Snowy ranch||Another snow plow|
|Fat tire truck||Island in San Miguel River||Road to Telluride|
I have never skied in Telluride and always wanted to do so. This could have been the day but a point of it was always to enjoy the views. With the clouds hanging low and more snow on the way, I passed on the skiing and just walked the streets of this scenic ski town.
|Road to town||Aspen lined road||Aspens||Skier on a bicycle||Colorado Avenue|
As I started driving south on Highway 145 toward Cortez, I realized the weather would not break for my drive over the mountains. Just south of Telluride, there are excellent views of Mt. Wilson and Sunshine Peak but I could not even spot their silhouette through the light snow and clouds. I stopped briefly on Lizard Head Pass, 10,246, and its namesake formation was again hidden by the weather. The snow followed me all the way to Cortez.
|Invisible panorama||Lizard Head Pass||Right turn||More curves|
|Aspen tree||Aspen trees in BW|