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Published: August 25th 2007
The Alpine Loop travels through the high country of the San Juan Mountains between Ouray, Lake City and Silverton, Colorado. Accessible by 4-wheel-drive trails, the area offers endless views plus glimpses of mining history.
From Ouray, the usual access point to the Alpine Loop is up the boulder-strewn beginnings of Engineers Pass. Since we’ve traveled that section before in our jeep, Alan and I decide to spare the Toyota and take an easier access route from Silverton.
As pavement turns to gravel and dirt near Silverton, the road climbs passing remnants of mines clinging to hillsides. Soon we’re at the ghost town of Animas Forks. Since the drive up Engineers Pass to Lake City takes about two hours along with a two-hour return through Cinnamon Pass, we elect to bypass any exploration of the crumbing houses.
The Toyota sways a little as we climb up the rocky path. I hold on to the hand strap above my head, frequently relaxing my too-stiff grip. The jarring ride takes us above the tree line and into the tundra. Paths veer off in all directions and mountain peaks are our constant companion.
At the top of Engineers Pass, we take
a side road to a lookout. When we get out of the car, I react to the elevation with shaking knees. Alan sets up his tripod but the strong wind makes photography challenging. Peering over the side and down into a small valley, I see a wave of white dots in motion. We’ve found the sheep. When the wind subsides, the distant sound of ba-a-as confirms our find.
It’s too cold to stay for long, so we begin our drive through the pass and into Lake City where we stop for lunch at the Cannibal Grill. We sit on the deck and order from a menu that specializes in buffalo or elk burgers and brats and a slew of beer choices. Alan orders a hamburger and I choose the pulled-pork barbecue sandwich.
We watch as a dark cloud approaches and raindrops drip from the sky. Soon, we move underneath a covered patio to wait out the storm. The owner offers drinks on the house for everyone.
So, why a grill named Cannibal? A man named Alfred Packer guided a miner’s group from Ouray to Lake City in the late 1800’s. Legend and history says that the party
became lost in the high snow and that Packer killed the men and ate them.
When the storm finally subsides, we take the road to Cinnamon Pass that will complete the Alpine Loop. The drive travels near San Cristobal Lake and through beautiful high country forests. We keep note of areas that appeal to us for a future adventure. At a staging area where hikes lead off in several directions, we add another reminder to the list.
Cinnamon Pass is not as rugged as our journey up Engineers Pass but the drive is just as beautiful. Storm clouds hover near us but we make it back to Animas Forks and on to Silverton without suffering any downpours.
It’s after 6 pm by the time we return to Ouray and we’re too tired for dinner. Alan and I sit on the balcony of our room with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and crackers. Watching the mountains, we bask in the waning light and memories of our travels on the Alpine Loop.
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