Copper Gray Gulch

About a week ago, July 2nd and 3rd, I found myself in one of the most beautiful places in the world. A place called Copper Gray Gulch, hidden deep in the wild San Juan Mountains of Colorado. I tried to get here about two years ago but since I’m not exactly a hardcore four-wheel-driver I decided on that trip to turn back due to the steepness of the road that I was trying to access this area with. This time I decided to overcome my bit of fear, throw it in four-low and just do it. And surprisingly enough I made it. The steep four-wheel-drive road starts in the mining area called Gladstone according to the Topo Map. After you drive up the road a couple of miles there is a branch, to the right the road ascends Hurricane Pass, and to the left there is a steep turn going up toward Corkscrew Gulch. A short ways up this steep narrow road there is another jeep trail that cuts off sharply to the right and this is the trail into Copper Gray Gulch.

A short ways up this trail it levels out and there is a small lake off to the right, of course right after that there is a very short but very steep climb. I was pretty intimidated by the uphill since I’m definitely not a hardcore four-wheel-driver, but none the less, with the truck locked in four-low I threw it into first gear and groaned up the hill no problem. From here I could see Copper Gray Gulch below me as the jeep trail descended down toward an old mine and on the left there were a number of small lakes and ponds reflecting the beauty of the red mountains surrounding the valley. This is what I was after, reflections of the Red Mountains.

A small pond reflects the beauty of Red Mountain in the distance.

Since it was mid afternoon I decided to park the truck and take a bit of tour around the valley to scout for future photo locations. My hike took me around several beautiful ponds and then down into the valley below. I was a bit disappointed that there didn’t seem to be many wildflowers, but I knew it was still a little early in the summer for flowers up this high. As I continued down into the valley I started to see more signs of life, in the way of a few sparse yellow and purple flowers, as well an abundance of old mine shafts and relics. Definitely an interesting place to tour.

I made it down to the bottom of the valley before a large thunderhead rolled in over the distant peaks and I decided it was probably time to head back to the truck in case the lightning came my way. And sure enough, about the time I made it back to my truck the hail and rain unleashed. It was just a quick downpour that only lasted about a half hour and then I was free to explore again.

About this time I was feeling pretty good about the capability of my Tacoma so I decided to continue down the jeep trail deeper into the valley, there were definitely a couple of steep parts but the Tacoma performed perfectly. About a quarter mile from the Vernon Hill Mine the road definitely got a lot rougher so I decided to park and walk the rest of the way. I was actually happy that I made the decision to walk because the road quickly deteriorated into an exercise in rock crawling and I was happy to be on my feet rather than behind the wheel of my truck.

This is the wilderness boundary on the way to the Vernon Hill Mine. Here the road was still passable.

As I dropped in elevation the wildflowers started to become more and more abundant. I was pleasantly surprised to find the field in front of the Vernon Hill Mine to be full of yellow, purple, red, and white wildflowers. And the storm clouds from yet another approaching storm gave drama to the scene with the Red Mountains towering watchfully over the whole beautiful valley.

I spent a short time looking at the mine relics before I decided to hightail back up the road toward my truck. Of course I got a little sidetracked by the beautiful vistas in front of me.

The approaching storm at the Vernon Hill Mine as I decided to head back to the truck.

I was distracted for a bit by the wildflowers and approaching storm clouds.

Once again I made it back to the truck just before all hell unleashed. I was nervous about making it back to the top of the Gulch on the rain soaked jeep trail, but once again the ol’ Tacoma didn’t fail me. This time the storm stayed for about two hours and I was getting worried that the storm was going to smother the sunset. The fact is it almost did but just before the last rays of the sun faded the storm broke and I got a few great shots of the reflecting storm clouds.

The clouds broke just in time for a beautiful sunset reflection at the top of Gray Copper Gulch.

The rest of the night was pretty uneventful, filled with a can of Beef Stew and some good sleep in the back of my truck.

And the next morning dawned beautifully. I was up early, but since I planned on shooting the ponds that were seated just next to my truck I really didn’t have too far to go. This presented me with the chance to shoot in the Blue Hour, that magic time before dawn where the soft pre-dawn light really saturates the alpine colors.

The Blue Hour just prior to the sun illuminating the clouds.

After the sun rose I decided to head back down to the mine and hike the Gray Copper Gulch Trail to Gray Copper Falls. Unfortunately due to the low snowpack in the mountains the falls were more of a trickle. But it was still a nice stroll through yesterday with all of the old mines and ruins around.

On my way back to the truck I stopped for a few more wildflower photos.

Wildflowers dot the valley in Gray Copper Gulch.

After that it was back to the truck and down the road toward Durango. Another successful and beautiful trip to the mountains. By now the wildflowers should really be blooming so get out there! I hope to see you there!


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