Flickr album link: Bouillon King Road
Highway 550 is the main touring route through the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado and mid summer is when the 4x4 trails open up in the higher elevations. Several popular 4x4 trails intersect with this highway and most are connected to the Alpine Loop, which is a famous bunch of old mining roads that meander throughout this region. The level of difficulty can vary greatly from one dirt road to the next due to the nature of the Rocky Mountain Range terrain, so it is best to do some research prior to arrival. The town of Silverton is the headquarters for 4x4 adventures in this area and plenty of trail riding information can be found there. ATV and Jeep rentals are available in this town, so it is easy to join in on the fun. The ATV shops provide information pertaining to current dirt road conditions, avalanche closures and the type of vehicle needed for the more challenging trails, which all comes in handy when planning a tour.
Previous articles feature some of the easier Alpine Loop trails and a few other dirt side roads along Highway 550. For those who seek an easy going all day adventure, the trails through the Red Mountain Mining District are a nice choice. For those who seek a more challenging experience, Bouillon King Road is located just a short distance south of the old mining district. Bouillon King Road is rated as moderately difficult and there are a few dangerous sections. Since this dirt road starts well over 10,000 feet above sea level, the reward for taking on this challenge will be alpine views of mountain peaks that stretch out to the horizon and the picturesque Bouillon King Lake awaits at the end of the trail.
Timing is everything when planning a 4x4 venture in the high elevations. If one arrives too early in summer, the roads will be impassible due to melting snow and deep mud. Such was the case during my own Bouillon King Road 4x4 adventure late in the month of June a couple years ago. The first few miles going uphill were relatively easy going and the scenic views just kept getting better, then I had to call it quits where the road was still covered with an impassible snow bank. If snow is encountered at 10,000 feet up, the conditions will likely not get any better further uphill, so calling it quits was the right thing to do.
To make a long story short, I planned to return and make a second attempt on Bouillon King Road closer to August, but a change of plans came about when I moved out of my apartment nearby in Durango. At some point around this time period, Bouillon King Road was closed by the National Forest Service and public lands agencies due to a major reclamation project at the Bouillon King Mine. Heavy metals and other toxins from this old abandoned mine had been polluting the water resources for hundreds of miles around, so a cleanup was long overdue. Bouillon King Road remains closed to this day, but it is well worth driving uphill through the first section just to experience the spectacular views!
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