After 3 previously aborted trips the Elk Mountain adventure finally launched. The trip had to be shortened to 4 nights, which made things pretty tight timewise. We stopped at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison for a few hours on the way up:
Eventually we made it up to the Elk Mountains and ran Schofield Pass, which was an uncomfortably narrow rock crawling road through some horrible drop-offs. Maybe I'm loosing my nerve, but this was more than I expected. WTF must have been uttered at least 15 times. Once on the other side it turns into a graded dirt road... well deserved relief.
Starting up the pass:
Passing the Crystal Mill:
A section of the Punchbowl calm enough for me to get a picture:
Cresting the top:
Then we moved over to Pearl Pass, 12800ft. The last report on Bushducks said it was open as of a couple days earlier. Let me just say that turned out to be a load of horseshit, it was absolutely unpassable at the very top by a 5' snowbank. Still a nice drive to the top.
Plenty of narrow, rocky shelf road on this too:
Crooked, but cool:
I suppose it goes without saying, but the amount of water gushing from these mountains is nothing short of amazing. Creeks, rivers, cascades, waterfalls, several dozen water crossings with some hitting the hood. Wow. Next up was the easy Paradise Basin:
There is a tremendous amount of Aspen in the Elk Mountains (the town of Aspen in on the north side of the range). This, and the fact that it's often called the "wildflower capital of Colorado" make it extremely popular with photographers.
Then we did Gunsight Pass. Well, 3/4 of it because it was blocked by snow as well. Not very difficult, but dozens of tight hairpin switchbacks.
By now I was starting to get a decent squeaking/grinding sound, probably from a u-joint, but I had no extra vibration or wobble yet. We decided to run the easy Cinnamon Pass through the San Juans on our way back down to AZ.
Of course the trip came with mines, ghosttowns, moose, 10,000'+ camping with glorious campfires, funky high mountain towns, and all the other cool things that come along with 4x4 exploration.
Comparing the Elks to the San Juans... While the San Juans are harsh, massive, and majestic, the Elks more gentle contours make it a little "softer" and quite pretty. It obvious there is less 4x4 in the Elks, as the high passes tend to be a bit rougher around the edges, not snowplowed, and see less traffic. That's good and bad. I am glad to have finally reached the Elks, but they are so far, and it's hard to justify the extra distance a second time when the mighty San Juans are closer. If I ever go back, not anytime soon, it'll be in the fall to see the amazing colors the Elks are often noted for.