This tongue-in-cheek email from James announced our next outings:
I'm pleased to announce the availability of some exciting tours with J & J Four Wheel Adventures.
1) Stoney Pass. Enjoy the spectacular scenery as you climb from the Animas Valley to Stoney Pass at 12,588 ft. There are spectacular fields of wildflowers and a wonderful view of the surrounding 13,000 ft peaks. Departure is at 5:30.
You can combine this with a visit to the Old Hundred Gold Mine right on the way. The last tour starts at 4:00, lasts for about 50 minutes, and includes a train ride into the mine. Departure is at 3:15, and cost is approximately $18 payable to the Old Hundred Gold Mine.
2) Clear Lake. Enjoy the spectacular scenery as you climb from the South Mineral Creek Valley to Clear Lake set in a cirque at 12,050 ft. There are spectacular fields of wildflowers around the lake. The area is best in the morning for overall photography, but the evening is just as good for flower photography. Morning departure can be any time after 7:45 am, and an evening departure at 6:00 is available.
Please make your reservations at least one hour before departure time for the afternoon departures and 12 hours before the morning departure time.
(In his professional life, James actually does conduct photo safaris in Africa.)
That afternoon found Andrea and me bumping along in James's Jeep, climbing the long, winding road to Stony Pass.
Not surprisingly, given the town name "Silverton," this area was once a hotbed of mining activity. Gold, silver, copper, lead and tin were the most profitable minerals during the heyday of Colorado mining, and the state is dotted with mining ghost towns, as well as towns like Silverton that have successfully made the switch from digging for wealth in the earth to seeking it in tourists' pockets.
Almost everywhere we've gone, we've seen abandoned mines and mining apparatus. Ore buckets still hang from cables strung across Cunningham Gulch, and decrepit pitheads and mine buildings dot the hillsides. As we've traveled the back roads, we've come upon many smaller abandoned mines. Most are small holes, barely big enough to stand up in, where hopeful miners once toiled until the veins played out. With the need to haul heavy machinery over extremely rugged terrain and the severe winter climate at 10,000 feet (yes, they worked some of these mines year round!), these men faced hardships that, frankly, I have trouble imagining.
We stopped at one of these mines on our way up to Stony Pass. Because of the graffiti, it seemed reasonable to call it the "Honeymoon Mine," although I'm sure that's not its real name. (I had to wonder... what kind of person takes a can of white spray paint along with them on their honeymoon, in order to desecrate the landscape?)
Higher up, we encountered an arresting sight in the drab landscape: a large patch of moss that was so green, it appeared luminous. If the color in this photo appears faked, I assure you it's not. It was really that brilliant.
The moss sat atop a water source; we could see droplets continuously welling up and trickling down the surface, keeping the moss well hydrated.
James set up his tripod to photograph it, while Andrea and I just drank in the sight of so much green, punctuated by wildflowers... looking almost like a miniature fairyland.
My favorite shot of the day, however, happened on our way back down. This tiny chipmunk, scarcely bigger than a mouse, sat on a stone by the roadside, busily eating seeds, while I photographed it through the open car window.
By the way, we did tour the Old Hundred mine a few days later, and it was quite interesting. But I didn't take pictures—I've learned from experience that flash photos taken in mines look lousy, and available light just doesn't work unless you carry a tripod... and that isn't practical on a guided tour.
On the other hand, we did drive up to Clear Lake with Jan & James, and I took lots of pictures there. But that's a subject for another page.