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Four Wheeling & Flowers in the San Juans

I mentioned in a previous post that Ouray bills itself as the “Switzerland of America” but it is also known as the Jeep Capital of America. And, unlike in Moab UT where all the Jeep and ATV folks appeared to be hardcore off-road enthusiasts, here in Ouray even a hack like me could rent a top of the line Jeep Rubicon to get into the high country.

Now it’s not a cheap undertaking, but I decided to break the budget and rent a Rubicon for a few days and go exploring the old mining towns, climb over a few mountain passes, and get into the alpine basins to photograph the wildflowers.

Fortunately, this mining era I wrote about in a previous post, left behind a means for enjoying the interior sections of the mountains – mining roads.

These old mining roads, now technically county roads, however, in no way make it possible to explore in the comfort of my RV or even the “toad” but rather it can only be done in 4×4 vehicles jeeps or other 4 wheel drive ATV’s. Really ended up thoroughly enjoying my jeep days

The dirt, rocky and pot-holed roads make it, at times, a bone jarring, roller coaster ride but it simply adds to the excitement of exploring in the heart of a true wilderness.

Man & Jeep versus the Mountain –

Facing the elements on their terms.

I thought – “Bring it on!” Sound like fun? It was incredible.

I was particularly motivated by reports that the wildflowers – typically a late July event – were coming up early due to the early melt of below average snow pack.


I needed a jeep to get into the alpine basins to photograph the incredible variety of wildflowers that make this area world famous for flower folks – Yankee Boy Basin, American Basin, and others.

In fact, simply mention the three words – Yankee Boy Basin – and you’ll hear wildflower enthusiasts and photographers – and now yours truly too – go on and on about this incredible place. This location is arguably the basin that defines the wildflower bloom in the San Juan Mountains.

The close proximity to extremely rugged and jagged peaks serve as a magnificent backdrop for Nature’s color palette. Yankee Boy is nestled at 11,000 feet – quite the journey to get there – and is surrounded by breathtaking peaks like Potosi Peak, Teakettle Mountain, Cirque Mountain, Stony Mountain, and Gilpin Mountain. Most are 13,500 or higher, and rise high above the valley and the surrounding fields are typically filled with some of the most amazing flowers.


Even in an “off year”, and I had been told this would be an “off year”, this place was pretty remarkable. The basin is also home to several waterfalls of varying sizes, the most obvious of them being the famous Twin Falls (made notable, in part, by being part of the Coors beer logo family) running right near the main road into the basin. (Sorry no pic – a torrential rain struck when I stopped to photograph it!) Bottom-line, there’s definitely no lack of photographic subjects here!

On another outing I headed for American Basin – a basin I nearly didn’t get to – some of that torrential rain in the area had washed out parts of the Pass – Cinnamon Pass – to the basin, and it took a couple of days to make repairs.

I was very glad to hear the Pass was open!

American Basin is perhaps the second most famous wildflower location in the state. And, actually a fairly easy drive – as long as the road isn’t washed out – hang a right at the ghost town of Animas Forks and head over Cinnamon Pass at 13,000 feet.

The basin sits below the shoulder of one of Colorado’s fourteeners – Handies Peak – and lies in a fairly deep, narrow valley with a creek and waterfall providing an additional backdrop to a string of peaks that make up the basin’s headwall – unnamed 13er’s – but very nice indeed.

I actually enjoyed my day there more that my stop at Yankee Boy – a very popular spot for very good reason!

Well, if this is an “off year” I cannot wait to return in a great year…

Take care…See you down the road…

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken Johnson #

    Splendid!!! I’m so glad you got to the wild flowers. Some real beauties.

    July 16, 2012
    • Stephen #

      Ken
      glad you liked the post and pics – they say it was an “off year” but I found plenty of subjects to shoot – really a wonderful place

      July 16, 2012

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