June 2023 – After a great stay at Grand Canyon’s South Rim, we suddenly had an urge for a Rocky Mountain High!
We were eager to feel the cold crisp mountain air on our faces, be surrounded by tall pines, hear the spirited burble of streams rushing past, and see snow-capped mountain peaks punctuating every view.
So, we jumped on the San Juan Skyway (CO-145) in Dolores and headed high into the Rockies, thrilled to immerse ourselves in the alpine beauty of Colorado!
Buddy loves to run ahead of the RZR, and when he saw the first snow-capped mountain, he turned back to look at us, as if to say, “You won’t believe what’s around the next bend!”
I couldn’t believe it either when we got up there. What a fantastic “Rocky Mountain High” moment that was, especially after scurrying across the arid orange and red badlands and mesas of the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Suddenly, we were surrounded by rich shades of blue, green and snowy white!
Over the next week or so we went on a flurry of daily back country rides in our RZR side-by-side. The wonderful Springtime results of a very snowy winter surrounded us: fast flowing rivers…
Vibrant green meadows filled with large puddles…
Spontaneous waterfalls and streams gushing out of the earth…
And beautiful lakes and ponds backed by snowy mountain peaks…
Spring was in the air, and the world was full of life everywhere. Mark spotted a lovely butterfly in the flowers.
Then his sharp eyes caught a Western Tanager perched on a railing.
We drove one Forest Road after another, going all through the woods, up and down mountainsides, and across undulating meadows.
We just took whatever road looked appealing, not paying too much attention to maps but instead following our instincts when we’d get an inkling that there might be something exciting around the next turn.
Squiggly roads with lots of turns—and possibilities—were our favorites. Forest Roads 535 and 578 off of CO-145 north of Rico in San Juan National Forest were especially scenic. These roads can be driven by passenger cars, and we saw quite a few out exploring Colorado’s alpine beauty!
Buddy’s inner puppy came out in spades.
We came across an old hunting cabin deep in the woods by a stream, and he ran between the cabin and the stream over and over, leaping across the snowy patches by the river with glee while flashing us the biggest smile.
He finally settled down in a meadow filled with flowers in front of an idyllic pine tree studded mountain backdrop. Perfect!
We never knew where these rides would lead. Often, we wound up at remote trailheads or old bridges over fast flowing streams.
One day we emerged from a short hike in the woods to come face to face with a Class C RV from Germany. We were miles from nowhere! Buddy ran up to the door, put his muddy front paws on the stairs, and looked at us, asking if he could go in!
It turned out the owners were indeed home, although Buddy’s muddy paws remained firmly planted outside! We discovered they had shipped their RV from Stuttgart, Germany, to Baltimore, and they were on a seven month tour of America! She was a photographer, and right now they were on the hunt for ladyslipper flowers deep in the woods!!
These were happy, fun-filled days, and Buddy was ever the Trail Scout.
One day, we were driving on the highway when our heads whipped around as we saw the most exquisite lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains out the window. Talk about alpine beauty in Colorado! It was gone in a flash, but we later met a Forest Ranger who told us it was Trout Lake and that there was a rails-to-trails dirt road that went all the way around it.
So, we returned with the RZR and took a very leisurely drive around the lake.
Trout Lake is much loved by locals and visitors alike, and we saw people out on the water in kayaks and stand-up paddle boards and standing along the shoreline fishing.
An ancient log cabin had a wonderful, rickety old porch out front where the owners had no doubt enjoyed the dazzling view over many a morning or evening brew, back when the porch was strong and solid.
The narrow guage Rio Grande Southern Railroad used to go around the north end of the lake. The steam powered trains hauled silver ore and supplies, and there’s an old water tank sitting up on stilts that filled the boilers back in the day.
The vast network of Rio Grande Southern Railroad trains meandering throughout Colorado’s mining areas on narrow gauge tracks ran between 1891 and the early 1950s. The 65 mile long “Middle Division,” of which this area around Trout Lake was a part, was considered the railroad’s most difficult stretch.
The road isn’t long, and it winds gently beyond the lake into the woods.
We turned a corner and saw an old trestle bridge over the river. It was not only built quite high in the air, but it curved as it crossed over the river. What a complicated structure to build, especially back in 1891!
It is hard to imagine a train loaded with ore passing over this bridge. This is the kind of bridge that always gets blown up in old western movies, making for a very dramatic train crash as the whole train takes a nose dive into the river.
The engineering behind the trestle is either very complex or very haphazard, I’m not sure which. Every plank was notched so it wouldn’t slip, but nails were pounded in at crazy angles, and we wondered if the planks were cut to specific measurements or if they were just fit into place at whatever angles seemed best at that particular spot.
The train’s whistle had been silenced long ago, but this trestle still stands as a reminder of a time when this very quiet part of the world was actually a hub of activity. The road today where the train tracks ran is utterly peaceful and silent. Not one car or person passed us the whole time we explored the area.
As the road looped back towards the lake, we came across a huge field of dandelions. They’re so common, it’s easy to forget they are actually beautiful flowers. The vibrant yellow carpet beneath the blue sky and snowy mountain peaks was breathtaking.
Buddy decided a little bed of dandelions looked like the perfect place to lie down for a while.
We thoroughly enjoyed this glorious welcome to the alpine beauty in Colorado. We had purchased the RZR for just these kinds of adventures quite a few years ago, and even though we’ve done a lot of great rides since then, the back country roads around Trout Lake and in the San Juan National Forest gave us a Rocky Mountain High we’ll never forget!
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More info about this area:
- Rio Grande Southern Railway Water Tank at Trout Lake – The railway and trestle bridge
- History of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad – It was a massive network!
- Where we were – Google Maps
- Cayton Campground – Remote USFS dry & partial hookup camping with long sites for bigger rigs near the Rico forest roads
- Matterhorn Campground – Popular dry camping with sites for bigger rigs 1.5 miles from Trout Lake
- More RV camping options in the area – RV Life campgrounds list
More blog posts from our travels in Colorado:
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO – Steep and Deep!
- Brilliant Fall Foliage + Snow in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado
- Buena Vista Colorado – What a Place for an RV Breakdown!
- Burro Days! Burro Races, Llamas & Outhouses in Fairplay CO
- Colorado GOLD – A Fall Foliage Photography Workshop
- Colorado National Monument & Fruita CO – Red Rocks, Cycling & Wine!
- Colorado’s San Juan Skyway – An RV Trip in Dazzling Fall Color!
- Colorado’s Stunning Scenic Drives…by Porsche!
- Cowboy Poetry Gatherings in Durango, Colorado, and Alpine, Texas!
- Creede, CO – Mining History & Championships + 4th of July!
- Crested Butte – Wildflower Capital of Colorado!
- Hartman Rocks – A Different View of Colorado near Gunnison
- Lake Granby Colorado RV Trip – A Summer Beach Vacation!
- Lakes and Light in Wyoming and Colorado
- Mesa Verde National Park, CO – Life on the Edge with the Ancients
- Ouray – Finding the COLOR in Colorado on an RV Trip!
- Remote RV Camping: Antero Reservoir & Blue River Colorado
- Ridgway, CO – Peak fall foliage on the Dallas Divide – WOW!!
- Rocky Mountain National Park & Trail Ridge Road: RV? Dog??
- Romance at Maroon Bells Colorado!
- RV Trip on Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway – Ouray to Silverton
- San Juan Mountains Colorado – And then it Snowed!
- Silver Thread Scenic Byway in Colorado – Fire in the Sky!
- Telluride Gondola Ride in Colorado – FREE and Dog Friendly!
- Where All News is Good News – At the Saguache Crescent in CO
Other fabulous back country rides + RZR and toy hauler info!
- Black Hills Back Country Byway – Spring Flowers in Arizona!
- Capitol Reef NP – Cathedral Valley – A Stunning Backcountry Drive in Utah!
- Castle Hot Springs and Other AZ Treasures near Lake Pleasant
- Casto Canyon Trail – A Delightful ATV / UTV Ride!
- Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler – Why We Chose It!
- Point Sublime – A Wild Ride to a Stunning Overlook in Grand Canyon!
- Polaris RZR 900 XC – A New Ride and A New Chapter in our Travels!
- RV Camping in the Arizona Woods – Coconino National Forest
- Saddle Mountain Overlook – A Different View of the Grand Canyon!
- Sand Hollow Side-by-Side UTV/ATV Adventure Rally – Test Drives in the Dunes!
- SE Utah – A Mars Colony, Wide-Angle Photography & Snowy Mountains!
- Timp Point – A Private View of Grand Canyon’s Majesty
- Triple Tow or Toy Hauler? How to RV Full-time with a RZR?
Our most recent posts:
- 50 RV Gift Ideas for Your Beloved RVer (or RV!) 11/24/23
- Shelter Island – The Heart of San Diego…on the Waterfront! 11/17/23
- Hartman Rocks – A Different View of Colorado near Gunnison 10/13/23
- Lost & Found – An Unexpected Guest Visits Us in our RV! 10/06/23
- News & Tidbits from the Roads Less Traveled 09/29/23