Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Dallas Divide, CO (6/5/2016)

Western Colorado has been experiencing a heat wave the past several days, and the forecast is for more of the same for another week.  Being distracted by furniture shopping, I realized there was a danger of missing some great photo ops.  If I didn't go into the mountains soon, much of the snow would be gone and I would surely regret it.  So, with most of the passes still closed by snow, I decided to visit Telluride via Last Dollar Road, which I knew to be open.

Between Ridgway and Telluride is a gentle mountain pass known as Dallas Divide, like Dallas Creek and Dallas Mountain, said to be named for a man who operated it as a toll road for mine supply wagons.  It cost a dollar to use the road, even if it was your last dollar.  The "divide" separates two watersheds, the Uncompahgre and the San Miguel.  A paved highway crosses the 9000 foot pass, while several unpaved roads lead into the mountains to the south.  Last Dollar Road is the only one of these that goes all the way over the mountains and down into the town of Telluride.  The first part of the road is fairly smooth and goes through scenic ranchland and occasional aspen groves.  About six miles in, a fork in the road allows one to stay on good gravel and drop down into the village of Sawpit, or take the longer, higher road over Last Dollar Mountain on a rougher, sometimes slicker trail.  While it is considered one of the easier trails in the area, there are some rocky spots and a few creek crossings, especially this time of year.  The trail can become virtually impassable if wet from recent rains.

Getting to Last Dollar Road means passing the northern edge of the San Juan Mountains, always demanding a few photo stops.

The scenery begins immediately after the turn onto Last Dollar Road.  Within the first mile, I saw five marmots, but they were always close to their hidey hole, so I never got a shot.

One reason this is such a beautiful drive is the presence of so many wildflowers.  This early in the season, the yellow flowers were the dominant variety.  Within a month, blues and whites will be joining them.

I always stop for a photo of the gate to Last Dollar Ranch.  At just under 400 acres, this working ranch is one of the smaller ones in the area.  However, it has been used for countless movie and commercial scenes, with many Marlboro and Budweiser commercials being filmed here.  It has the classic view of Mount Sneffels, the highest mountain in the San Juans at more than 14,000 feet.

Farther along the road, the view changes to the San Miguel Range, but I don't know the name of this mountain.  Maybe my knowledge of the area will improve over time.. 

Another view of the San Miguel Range, this time it's Mount Wilson, another fourteener.

This is part of the Heath Ranch.  Howard and Ruth Heath were honored a few years ago as one of three third generation ranchers in Montrose whose families had owned ranches for more than 100 years.  Their main ranch is near Black Canyon, on the east side of Montrose.  The ranch here on Last Dollar Road was described as their "good weather home", where they and friends enjoyed many activities, including ATV riding.  Unfortunately, Howard passed away in January at the age of 90.  The ruins you see are of the Coker Cabin, built in 1895.

Entering an aspen grove, I am reminded that I must return here in the fall to photograph the gold and yellow leaves.

This overlook is very interesting.  A side trail drops down and then up quite steeply, ending at this rocky precipice.  It makes you feel you could drive right over the jagged edge, but I stopped a few feet short. I stood right in front of the LRJ to take this photo.

Nearing the top of the pass, I encountered snow left behind by the snow plow.  I was too lazy to get out, so I took this through the windshield, causing the crazy beams of light you see.

Here we are starting down the mountain and can see more of the San Miguel Range.

There were five or six stream crossings like this one.

This view includes some of the luxury homes found on the mountains around Telluride.  At this overlook, I met a very nice couple, Dave and Julia, who live in Denver and were making their first visit to this area.

Nearing Telluride, the quality of the road improves considerably.  The good citizens here simply would not tolerate rough roads in their neighborhoods.

I happened upon an interesting scene where 900 sheep were being moved from Montrose to a summer pasture along Last Dollar Road.  It took three large trucks to carry this flock.

Thankfully, this stream had a bridge over it.

Last Dollar Road ends near the Telluride airport, where Oprah flies in with her private jet to visit her home on the ski slopes above Telluride.  She recently bought the 8700 square foot home to visit here while her new home is being built on the 60 acre lot she bought several years ago.  This temporary home cost $14 million.  You can use Google to find lots of photos of it.  Meanwhile, Tom Cruise wants to sell his home on 300 acres for a mere $59 million.
I took so many photos on this day trip, I have to break it up into several travelogues.  My time in Telluride will continue in the next edition.


  1. Many great photos here - my favorite is the Last Dollar Ranch gate framing the view of Mount Sneffels.

    1. Thanks, I like that one a lot, too. (I've taken the same shot numerous times, should eventually get it right.)