If you’ve ever tried to perfectly time the peak autumn colors in the Rocky Mountains, you know each year is a gamble. With luck on my side and perfect weather in the forecast on a mid-September weekend, I made a snap decision to travel south to the San Juan Mountains for a weekend of adventure. 

Why did it take me so long to make it to Lake City? 

This charming mountain town is not only home to the second largest natural lake in Colorado, it’s also the portal to the incomparable tundra landscape of the famous Alpine Loop. 

This high alpine road, accessible by ATV and hard core jeep enthusiasts, traverses steep mountain passes, glacial basins, ghost towns, the Continental Divide and Slumgullion Pass. 

Slumgullion Pass is named for the nearby Slumgullion Earthflow, a gigantic landslide whose yellowish soil reminded early settlers and miners of slumgullion stew. 

The flow began several hundred years ago when weak volcanic tuff and breccia rock slumped several miles down the steep mountainside. The slide was so large and cataclysmic that it blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and created Lake San Cristobal.

The road south of Lake City to Slumgullion Pass and over the Continental Divide lays claim the steepest grade of any fully paved and maintained road in Colorado. It’s one of grandeur and imposing views of many high peaks of the San Juans including the mighty Uncompahgre, Matterhorn and Wetterhorn.

This year, my timing could not have been more perfect. Mountain sides as far as the eye could see were awash in the brilliant gold and crimson colors of the turning aspens.

Pictured here is a view of Red Mountain (right) and surrounding peaks from the summit of Slumgullion Pass. Capturing the essence of such grandeur with a cloudless sky under the midday sun can be challenging. Fortunately my circular polarizer allowed me to produce the deep blue sky that perfectly captures the essence of the day while complimenting the autumn colors.