Our first Jeep ride: Colorado’s Alpine Loop

In my last post, I explained how hubby and I took a big leap and purchased a Jeep that would fit our lifestyle/passion for exploring back country roads and scouting out the perfect campsite. Hubby was so excited about our new wheels, but I was still on the fence. While I like adventure and finding outdoor places that few can get to, I was questioning if I craved adventure that much to be dragged onto 4WD-exclusive roads that would likely have me white-knuckling the passenger side door handles.

One of the only reasons I was in support of getting the Jeep was because I really wanted to revisit a place in Colorado that hubby and I had been to early in our relationship in 2011 that required a 4WD vehicle with high clearance – Engineer Pass.

Engineer Pass was part of the very first Colorado trip that hubby took me on while we were living in New Mexico. At the time, hubby owned a humongous truck that was capable of doing this technical backcountry road. I was soooo in love with the Colorado peaks and infinite landscapes dotted with huge, cow pattern-like patches of late-July snow that set the backdrop for our entire drive; the milky, mineral waterfalls that cascaded down the mountain streams at every bend in the trail; the roadside, plowed snow that was nearly as tall as my 6-foot-2 tall swoony driver; and the whimsical, surprise snow storms that would come and go at a moment’s notice on the mountain tops.

A picturesque scene on the Alpine Loop (July 2011).
Roxie, in her young years, admiring the views from hubby’s red truck.
A tall, plowed snow bank along Engineering Pass.
A snowy stop on the top of Engineer Pass.

It’s no surprise that the first trip we took in the Jeep was to Engineer Pass, which unbeknownst to me, was part of an ever-popular backcountry route called the Alpine Loop. We didn’t expect to take our Jeep back to Engineer Pass so quickly, but in our excitement for our new adventure wheels, we couldn’t wait and went the very next weekend on June 12th.

The Alpine Loop is sometimes not accessible until early July, depending on the amount of snowfall received during the season and the rate of snow melt, but we didn’t care; we were going to attempt the route anyway! Bonus points if we ran into snow walls that were as jaw-droppingly tall as the ones we witnessed back in July 2011!

There are several options for how the Alpine Loop can be run, depending on which direction you are coming from and which additional side roads you may want to try. Our plan was to start in Lake City on Friday, doing Engineer Pass from east to west; taking Animas Forks to Silverton to camp two nights; chasing waterfalls and driving a couple of 4WD trails near Silverton on Saturday; then returning from Silverton to Lake City via Cinnamon Pass from west to east on Sunday.

The Alpine Loop was every bit as incredible as I had vaguely remembered it being, while also being just as scary as I more vividly remembered. While the beginning and end sections of the road are pretty tame and flat (but no less bumpy), the sections closest to the summit are not for the faint of heart. I am so perplexed with how these roads were ever built over jagged mountains and through tough terrain to begin with, so I suppose it would be asking too much if I wished the roads were smoother, had guardrails, and were wide enough for two vehicles. Thankfully, we were in good hands with hubby driving the entire weekend because the prospect of having to back up for an approaching vehicle on a narrow, one lane road didn’t seem to faze him; neither did the rocky obstacles or shelf roads where one small slip of the steering wheel and we would be tumbling down a hillside.

We finished the weekend with many photos and memories to replace the faded ones from nine years prior. And the indescribable beauty of the San Juan Mountains made it impossible to not only appreciate the scenery, but also the accessibility to view miles and miles of this kind of landscape from the [relative] comfort of a vehicle.

“Get in loser! We’re going Jeeping!” The dachshunds have their own booster car seat with seatbelt harnesses, so they are able to see all the same scenery we do and be safe at the same time!
Start of Engineer Pass, which is actually pretty tame dirt road for several miles.
Astonishing avalanche chutes like this can be see at just about every turn in the mountains. They are a result of the extreme amount of snowfall that Colorado received during the 2018-2019 winter season.
Get ready to be blasted with waterfalls because our weekend included plenty! Whitmore Falls off Engineer Pass was one of the first of many! The hike down to it is short, but very steep. It’s one of the most powerful waterfalls we have witnessed in Colorado.
Roadside waterfall cascading through unmelted snow. Some of this snow could still be left over from the 2018-2019 winter season. I made hubby stop the vehicle for every waterfall and don’t regret the inconvenience it might have caused. Luckily, Engineer Pass wasn’t as busy when we visited mid-June, so we weren’t inconveniencing vehicles behind us with our frequent stops.
Jaw-dropping beauty of the San Juan Mountains. I remember when hubby took me to Colorado for my first visit 2011, I was so amazed that the snow stuck around in the mountains until late summer. It’s easy to take it for granted now because it feels like such a normal sight.
We had to take a photo at the top of Engineer Pass, just as we had nine years prior. This time, no shorts and no surprise snow shower.
The descent from the Engineer Pass summit headed toward Animas Forks. I found this side of the trail a little more scary to drive than the other side, and the scenery wasn’t nearly as varied with waterfalls and streams; but it was still gorgeous with endless views of snow-spattered mountain tops.
One of the things I was wild with excitement to encounter were tall snow walls. This was the tallest one.
Animas Forks contains several rustic, abandoned mining homes. Imagine having that view in your front yard?
Our camping spot for two nights. It was rainy the afternoon of the second day and we weren’t complaining! We enjoyed the wonderful sound of rain and thunder and the sights of the beautiful fog that rolled in when the storm passed.
Our campsite for the weekend had a stunning waterfall in the background. Fun story: back in 2011 when hubby took me to this camping area for the first time, I was so amazed by the waterfalls pouring down from the mountainsides above us that I INSISTED we hike up and get a closer-up view. That waterfall in the background is the very waterfall that we hiked up to and immediately regretted the quest of. Even the slightest incline at elevation this high is exhausting on foot. One can imagine how taxing it was to reach the short, steep distance to the base of that waterfall. But it was a short, sweet adventure that we always refer back to and laugh about when we see tempting trailside waterfalls.
Fog sets the scene for a moody mountain landscape after a quick afternoon storm.
Hubby’s dad joined us on the second night of camping since he lives only a few hours away from Silverton. We appreciate his adventurous spirit (which is where hubby must have gotten his from) and spending time with him.
One reason I love southern Colorado is because the waterfalls here are always so impressive. There was definitely no shortage of waterfalls during our trip.
We stumbled upon this memorial plaque while chasing waterfalls. The sign reads: “In memory of Hampton Kent Snell. Died here July 7, 1964 saving wife and son.” The terrain near these waterfalls was sketchy to say the least, so it was easy to see how someone could have met a tragic ending here. Although this tragedy occurred more than 50 years ago, I was curious if there was a story about this sad incident. After looking around on the interwebs a bit, it turns out there is actually quite a moving and interesting life story written by the son of this father, who was six at the time of the incident. It’s a long story, but very deep and more than worth the entire read.
I have wanted to find these waterfalls for a couple of years, so it was magical finally finding them, but it sure wasn’t easy!
More double-tiered waterfalls. Swoon.
The power and beauty of this double waterfall had me *literally* dropping my jaw.
A new waterfall revealed on a trail that we have visited several times and didn’t know existed until a fierce avalanche ripped through the area.
On the second day of our weekend, we took a side adventure to do a medium-difficulty 4WD road outside Silverton. This road looks innocent and the distant landscapes distracting, but some of the shelf road sections were scary as heck (for me at least).
We were were bamboozled by snow covering the trail halfway up the 4WD road, so we walked the last mile. We were so thankful that we were able to at least drive up the first steep part of the trail because even the last, flatter mile of the trail was a bit exhausting. We were almost stopped in our tracks at the first sight of a remarkable waterfall flowing off a cliff and into the snow piles below it at the end of the trail.
One of the most unusual and stunning waterfall scenes we have ever seen!
I like to call this “can in hand hiking”. We took another small, side adventure in the Jeep to visit an alpine lake with hubby’s dad. We were again bamboozled by snow, so we hiked the last mile of the trail and made the most of it by enjoying a libation on the way.
Yet another stunning waterfall on the hike up to the alpine lake.
A snow bank covering the side of the alpine lake.
A roadside waterfall surround by avalanche debris on the way to Cinnamon Pass on our final day back to Denver.
Summit of Cinnamon Pass. We had a very scary incident happen here when we stopped to take a quick photo. I had just let Banana out of the vehicle and was working on untying Roxie from her seatbelt harness when I heard the distinct “chirping” sound of a marmot nearby that was hiding underneath one of the large rocks pictured here. I knew instantly that curious-Banana would try to hunt down the marmot, but in the literal split second it took me to react and try to grab her, she had already bolted off in pursuit of the taunting, chirping pest. Despite my quick reaction, I still could not grab her away in time before the marmot decided to enact a quick plan of defense. Banana let out the largest yelp I had ever heard from her. I pulled her away from the rock and her nose was gushing blood and it almost seemed as if she couldn’t breathe because blood was bubbling up in her nostrils at every breath. We had no idea whether the marmot scratched her or bit her, but we were panicked, nonetheless. We held pressure on her nose to stop the bleeding, but this proved to be a difficult task because it was also preventing her from breathing. Luckily, the bleeding soon slowed and she seemed okay. She got to ride in our laps the whole way home. Once in Denver, a vet gave her a clean bill of health and said that marmots don’t typically carry diseases that would be of concern.
Views of Cinnamon Pass coming down from the summit on the Lake City side.

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