If heaven is in Colorado, it is somewhere far west in the San Juan Mountains, along the 63-mile Alpine Loop.
Heaven probably doesn’t have as many motors. But the traffic from Jeeps, ATVs and dirt bikes is more than bearable within these postcard images of the state’s rugged grandeur.
At one peak-ringed meadow, we exchanged pleasantries with a man who astutely observed: “It’s hard to complain out here.”
We entered the rough road from Lake City, the loop’s nearest portal to Colorado Springs, with outfitters ready to hook up high-altitude seekers with proper vehicles and maps. That’s the case also at the other gateways, Ouray and Silverton, during this snow-free season, which typically ends in September.
To take the four-wheeling tour is to also enter the state’s rugged history. We stopped at mining ghost towns and crumbled frames and shafts backdropped by verdant hills and rock monoliths.
Most striking were the waterfalls, the blue pools tucked in vast valleys, and the five 14,000-foot mountains that set their feet by the loop: Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn, Handies, Sunshine and Redcloud peaks.
The loop’s full go-round takes four to six hours, the Colorado Department of Transportation says. Our condensed trip started up Engineer Pass, a gnarly stretch, to the loop’s highest point above 12,800 feet. We came down before traversing more tundra on the ascent of Cinnamon Pass, which summits to more breathtaking wilds near 12,600 feet.
Cinnamon skirts the ridges back to Lake City. But we had to stop in American Basin, exploring the stream-fed greenery that at the start of August wasn’t without its signature wildflower burst.
But enough of our failed description. It’s best to let photos try to tell the tale of the Alpine Loop. Enjoy our photo gallery at gazette.com.