After a restful night at The Wyman Hotel in Silverton, we found the mountains around town still shrouded in clouds… an ominous sign for the trek we'd make over Cinnamon Pass on our way to Lake City. Clouds in the morning are almost always a signal of heavy rains and lightning storms in the afternoon, especially during the "monsoon" season of late July and early August.
The ghost town at Animas Forks makes you wonder just how a community could thrive and prosper in such a harsh, high elevation environment. The town had everything from a boarding house to a saloon… even a jail. But as the silver, gold, and other minerals played out, the reason for the town’s being quickly disappeared, and these buildings were left to stand as ghosts along the mountainside.
The effects of mining in the region are visible in other ways… discolored tailings from mines accentuate many slopes. One cannot help but respect the resourcefulness and ingenuity it took to conduct industrial mining operations here.
By the same token, we must to reconcile the effects of mining with the long term environmental health of the region… and factor in how any future mining might be done with little or no impact on these fragile watersheds. The intent of Trout Unlimited is to keep the region locked in place, as is (and that would include existing claims). Additional work to mitigate tailings and other impacts are a bonus.
The Alpine Loop is one of the most scenic 4×4 roadways in the United States, and certainly worth making plans to visit by any serious off-highway aficionado.
Rule number one in tackling these high elevation “goat trail” roads… take your time. Communicate with other drivers and yield the right of way when you are in a better position to do so. If you’re in a hurry, this is the wrong road to be on. Besides, you’ll want to soak in the view.
All-terrain vehicles are especially nimble and easy to ride over the roads in the Alpine Loop. It’s important to remember, however, that the high tundra landscape is extremely fragile. For that reason, it is critical that ATV riders stay on established roads and designated trails.
Passing other vehicles on a skinny road with a steep cliff drop, can be, well, a little unnerving from time to time. Remember that the uphill vehicle (which doesn’t have gravity momentum working in its favor) actually has the right of way. But as a rule of thumb, the driver with the best spot to pull aside should yield the road.
It’s also a good idea to wait for a break in the action before making long ascents. Despite the remote terrain, the amount of traffic that drives over these passes can get fairly busy, particularly on weekends in the peak months of summer.
At the crest of Cinnamon Pass on our way to Lake City, Trout Unlimited’s Ty Churchwell gives me and TU intern Dylan Looze a lay of the land.
American Basin is one of many side diversions you can visit as you drive around the Alpine Loop. This is some of the best wildflower scenery in Colorado, especially when the Columbines are in full bloom in midsummer.
When we finally made Lake City, the rains caught up to us. So we decided to have a barbecue lunch, and make plans for fishing the Lake Fork of the Gunnison, downstream from town.
Andy Bryant and I forge upstream in the Lake Fork. Despite the rain showers, I was surprised to find the water gin clear. But that didn’t seem to dissuade the brown trout from eating dry flies all afternoon.
We found most of the brown trout hugging the banks and behind thick piles of deadfall in the river. They were all feisty fighters.
Here, Andy Bryant shows off a decent brown trout. Fairly typical for this stretch of the river, he explained. And fairly typical that the trout in the Lake Fork of the Gunnison eat dry flies in the late afternoons and evenings.

Editor-at-Large Kirk Deeter and photographer Kevin Cooley spent three days with Trout Unlimited exploring the Alpine Triangle, a rugged expanse of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, so named because the region is loosely contained within the shape made by connecting the towns of Ouray, Lake City, and Silverton. TU wants Congress to declare the place a National Conservation area to protect its streams from mining expansion and new road development. Here’s what they found.