The San Juan Mountains are undoubtedly the most colorful mountains in Colorado. Mineral deposits have created slopes that are red, orange, yellow, purple, silver, brown or black. These colors combine with the blue skies, white snow and the various shades of green that grow on the mountains to produce a dazzling kaleidoscope. Red seems to be a recurring theme. In fact, many mountains have simply been named "Red Mountain". At least three such mountains aggregate near the "Red Mountain Pass" (11018 ft) on U.S. Route 550 that connects the towns of Montrose and Durango via Ouray and Silverton. The three mountains have been unceremoniously named Red Mountain #1 (12592 ft)
, Red Mountain #2 (12219 ft) and Red Mountain #3 (12890 ft) all of which are visible from the road (north of the pass). My favorite is #3 which rises directly to the east of the pass. With its gentle slopes it appears as a beautiful and friendly giant overlooking the pass.
A Jeep Road starts near Red Mountain Pass on Route 550 and goes to the summit of Red Mountain #3. This road is probably private property and may belong to San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours in Ouray, CO (970-739-1852). I contacted San Juan National Forest but they were unable to tell me if the mountain was private property. I stayed away from the road and hiked up the thinly forested slopes to near the saddle with McMillan Peak to the south. From there, I followed the ridgetop to the summit of Red Mountain #3.
From Ouray drive 11 miles south (or 12 miles north from Silverton) on Route 550 to Red Mountain Pass. About 1/4 miles south of the pass you will find a 4WD road on the east side of the highway. (On the west side, the 4WD road to Black Bear Pass begins). Turn east on this road and then make an almost immediate right turn. Follow the road for about half a mile until you see a gated spur road on the left with a No Trespassing sign. You are not allowed beyond this point without permission.
Geology and History
This section by mpbro
Red Mountain's vivid colors attracted considerable mining attention, and this is no coincidence. In tectonically-active regions, where compressional and extensional forces open cracks and fissures in the subsurface, streams of superheated water from deep in the earth sometimes make their way toward the surface. These streams tend to be enriched in metallic minerals (hence the bright colors), including gold and silver. Some of the abandoned mines in areas like this also provide excellent prospecting for other minerals.
Here is a short history from the Montrose Daily Press Online:
"The Red Mountain District above Ouray was a hub of activity during the late
1800s. The towns of Red Mountain, Ironton and Guston all sprang up within a few
miles of each other and remained extremely competitive for riches as well as
population. Both the district and town were named for the three scarlet-hued
mountain peaks that surround this high mountain park.
Otto Mears' Silverton Railroad, which had the reputation of being one of the
steepest (5 percent) and most crooked (30-degree curves) in Colorado, linked the
towns and mines in this district with Silverton ... while a stage/toll road, also built by
Mears, provided a vital transportation route between the Red Mountain District and
When To Climb
Call San Juan National Forest (970) 884-2512.
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