The Best Wrong Turn Ever
I was searching for a ghost town when I left Silverton, Colorado. According to my guide book, the old mining camp of Animas Forks was just a few miles outside of the small wild-west city. I expected a steep climb (the ghost town sits about 11,300 feet above sea level) and a bumpy road (4 wheel drive recommended). I hoped the journey would pay off with the San Juan Mountains spiking up around a few weathered, century-old shacks.
But I never found any of that.
Why? I took a wrong turn on Colorado Route 110. I didn't know it at the time, but it didn't matter. I gave up on finding the town of Animas Forks when I spotted a side road: a much narrower and bumpier trail that split off from the wide, smooth dirt road, near the old mining ruins of Gladstone. A sign pointed towards Hurricane Pass, and warned that a 4-wheel drive vehicle was a must..
The road quickly gained altitude. I was rapidly venturing into the heart of the San Juans -- arguably the roughest and most breathtaking range of the Colorado Rockies. Although I had to drive slowly, it didn't take long until I started seeing snow, and began to sense the thin air.
The road topped off at 12,407 feet, and the view provided an instant reward. Infinite mountains and valleys laid at my feet. Below me, the bluish-green waters of Lake Como, the rough passage of Poughkeepsie Gulch, and in the distance, one mountain after another. The rugged hills, the vast expanse -- this was far beyond any place I could have imagined. I completely forgot about Animas Forks.
I climbed back into my SUV and headed slowly down the other side of Hurricane Pass. Halfway down, the road split in several directions. One path led to the lake, and on into Poughkeepsie Gulch. The other climbed another hillside, to California Pass. I decided to take them both.
Steep doesn't even begin to describe the road to California Pass. At one point, a hairpin curve made me question my center of gravity. Certainly, I was just a few degrees away from flipping head over heels (and it didn't help that I had just passed a crumpled car, which was left on display as a warning to overconfident drivers). I took the chance, kept going, and it paid off. Not only did I notgo tumbling downhill, I made it to the top. At 12,930 feet, this pass was even higher than the first, and the view was equally spectacular. To the left, I could still see Poughkeepsie Gulch, and to the right, the gently curved walls of California Gulch. The two chasms couldn't be more different, one forming a sharp "V", the other a gentle "U".
After navigating that hairpin turn again on the way down, I continued on into Poughkeepsie Gulch. A sign warned this would be the roughest road of all, and it was telling the truth. At one point, only three of my four tires were touching the ground. I had to build my own road out of rocks, where the surface had washed away. I made it only as far as the edge of Lake Como, but that's as far as I needed to go.
As I backtracked uphill, on the return trip to Silverton, I took in one last look at the scenery, and snapped just a few more pictures. It was then that I realized how fortunate it was, that I had rented a 4 wheel drive.
I swore I would never worry too much, about taking the wrong road. This time, at least, a mistake had paid off, with the most memorable segment of my Colorado trip.
Once back at home, I studied a few topographical maps, and figured out that if I had continued into California Gulch, I would have eventually arrived at Animas Forks, the ghost town I originally hoped to find. It will have to wait until my next visit. After all, it's already been there for nearly 140 years. It's not going anywhere.
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