When I worked as a ranger in the San Juan Mountains back in the 1980s, one of my favorite places was Engineer Pass, a four-wheel drive pass between Lake City and Silverton. At 12,800’, it’s also one of the highest roads in America.
Above: After spending seven weeks in Lake City, I drove down to the Montrose area on August 1 and stayed at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for three weeks while I wrote 35 website updates. My fingers are still tired!
Each summer, I’d drive the two hours from Lake City to Engineer Pass every few weeks, mostly to work on sign there or on the trails nearby, or just to make sure the visitors were doing OK and not causing any problems. After a couple years, that Engineer Pass sign became like my baby. It was probably the most photographed BLM sign in the United States, so I spent a lot of time painting it, working on the masonry, and making sure there was a fresh BLM logo sticker on it every year. Incidentally, I heard that someone vandalized the sign about six years ago, so the BLM tore it down and put up a new one.
I hadn’t been to Engineer Pass since 1988 so I decided to go back up and check it out. There's so much traffic nowadays that I decided to leave early in the morning, so one Sunday at 7 a.m., I left Lake City and headed up the Henson Creek road. I didn’t pass a single car on the way up, which is a good thing considering that the four-wheel drive road to Engineer is pretty narrow in spots, and I think I was the first person to reach Engineer Pass that beautiful morning.
It was wonderful to be back here again after all these years. And sure enough, the BLM now had a different sign, but in my opinion not nearly as nice as the beautiful sign I’d worked on for so many summers. But then I'm probably biased.
I continued on over the pass to the Mineral Point overlook, which is one of the most stunning viewpoints in the San Juans. This area, on the west side of Engineer, had been my patrol area back in 1984 when I was the Silverton ranger and it was nice to see it again. But alas, it was now mid-morning and I was soon joined by a few, and then a dozen, and then throngs of other folks, each driving a loud ATV or what they call a “side-by-side,” which is like a large go-cart. Back when I was a ranger, there’d be just a few folks on the roads up here, and those who did come up in a group usually all piled together into a single jeep. Now everyone rides their own vehicle, so it made Engineer Pass seem like an L.A. freeway at rush hour. Oh well, you can’t go back to the past, but I was still a bit wistful wishing that I could.
Still, it was great to see Engineer Pass and Mineral Point again. And I’ll definitely come up here again sometime. Just not in July.
Engineer Pass, 28 Years Later
My Last Days in Lake City
By late July, I was getting ready to leave Lake City. I’d been here for almost seven weeks and I’d figured out all the “technical stuff” regarding my website. Now I just had to write the content, and I figured the library down in Montrose, a couple hours away, would be a great place to do that.
The day before I left Lake City, I headed back up to the Lake San Cristobal Overlook. Back in 1985, after I started working on the trail there, I took a picture of myself and my little blue BLM truck and I wanted a picture from the same place 31 years later. No mustache now and I wear contacts instead of glasses but, yep, I’m still the same great guy! Har, har...
Oh, before I leave Lake City, here's one last thing. During the previous seven weeks, I'd taken a number of 360-degree panorama photos around the Lake City area. Here's the list if you want to check them out:
- Windy Point
- Silver Creek Trailhead
- Cooper Creek Trailhead
- American Basin
- Calf Creek Plateau
- Lower Powderhorn Lake
- Engineer Pass
- Mineral Point Overlook
- Lake City
Saying Goodbye to Lake City