Return to the Alpine Scenic Loop

Added on by taylor reilly.

After, leaving my friends at Cascade Canyon, I headed North on 550 the "Million Dollar Highway", towards Ouray, CO.  I had contemplated hiking the Imogene Pass trail from Ouray to Telluride and back.  I knew about the Imogene Pass Run that is held every summer on the hiking trail route from Ouray to Telluride.  I wanted to hike the race route superlight just to check out the route and I’ve heard the trail had beautiful views.  Also, I had not been to Telluride before and I didn’t want to drive around the mountains to get there, so I figured hiking in to town would be a very cool way to get there.

As I approached Silverton, I also had the Alpine Scenic Loop on my mind, as always.  The loop is a 65-mile Jeep rated trail in the Northern San Juan Mountains that is visited by 100,000s of visitors every year.  It requires a high clearance 4x4 vehicle to make the higher passes and should be made slow paced, because it provides some of the most beautiful views in Colorado.  I had driven part of this route in my old Jeep Grand Cherokee with a buddy almost 10 years prior when we hike Uncompahgre Peak.  The route we took was Silverton to Ouray, then Ouray to Lake City via Engineer pass.  I remembered the route from Animas Forks to Ouray was a messy creek road that had several switchbacks and occasionally I had needed my buddy to spot me. I knew my Tacoma could handle that part of the trail based on what it accomplished in Moab, UT a few weeks earlier. Though, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attempt it with out a partner to spot me on the switchbacks.  So, after photographing the famous statue of Jesus with his arms spread standing above Silverton, I went down to Main Street and found an outdoor gear store and checked their maps to see about taking an alternate route on the Alpine Loop.  If I was going to drive the loop I figured I would go ahead and take it back east towards Lake City to start my drive back towards Denver.  I knew about the Cinnamon Pass Route to Lake City, so I checked it out on the maps at the store. 

I then saw it on the map.  The “American Basin” was staring right at me to the east and down hill from Cinnamon Pass, off the Alpine Loop.  I knew immediately that’s where I wanted to go.  I had read and seen photos of the American Basin over the years, and I knew of the basin’s reputation for displaying millions of wildflowers during the spring/summer season. And being one of the most photographed places in the San Juan Mountains. I then noticed, Handies Peak, 14er, trailhead was in the basin. That’s when I was certain that the American Basin was where I wanted to go. I could check out the basin and hike a 14er.  I love finding a new place on a map that I had no plans on going to, and making it a destination. I would operate like that all of the time if I could. 

After, getting some tasty yogurt at the Great Divide Cafe, and chatting with friendly owner, Weston, for a while, I left Silverton and headed straight North on the Alpine Loop towards Animas Forks. The Animas Forks, is where the two main forks of the Animas River come together to form the Animas River that runs through lower, Silverton and Durango.  Animas Forks, was where I would turn East and head uphill towards Cinnamon Pass at 12,656 ft.  "Animas Forks" was also an old mining town, settled in 1873 and was booming until a decline in the mining industry in the area, and intense weather and living conditions drove it to a ghost town by the 1920’s.  There are still historic buildings covering the landscape, and the ghost town always makes a picture perfect scene showing the past history of the San Juan Mountains.

From, Animas Forks I drove up and over Cinnamon Pass.  As I ascended, I became aware that Ouray and Telluride were going to have to wait for another time, because I would head back to Denver from Lake City on the other side of the pass.  Oh well I thought, I knew going to the American Basin was worth changing my plans. Cinnamon Pass at 12,656 ft is such a serene and beautiful place to be able to drive to high above tree line, and I had it entirely to myself that day. After shooting tons of photos and taking in the views, I descended the Loop road from the pass to the American Basin.  As soon as I turned off the Alpine Loop and started to head up the basin road, I knew I had made the right choice going there, and I could not wait to get out of the truck at the basin and Handies Peak trailhead. I had past views of the Alpine Loop stuck in my head for years and was thrilled that I had returned to relive them, on a different section of the Loop, and all on my own. The American Basin is where I was suppose to be.