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Stony Pass

Stony Pass was one of the first connections between the remote alpine Silverton area and the outside world. It started as a long, rambling wilderness route and it still is. People from southern states have a long history in exploring Baker Park, as the Silverton area was called. Still today, jeep convoys, all with Texas license plates are a common sight in the summer. Stony Pass is much smoother than the name would lead to suspect. Unstony Pass would be a more descriptive name.

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01.(9300ft,mile00) START-END NORTH: downtown Silverton
02.(9680ft,mile05) Howardsville; route turns right
03.(12588ft,mile10) TOP: Stony Pass
04.(10940ft,mile14) junction with Deep Creek road, continue straight
05.(10550ft,mile17) Pole Creek crossing
06.(10790ft,mile18) START-END SOUTH ALTERNATE: Timber Hill
07.(9450ft,mile26) west end of Rio Grande reservoir
08.(9260ft,mile33) START-END SOUTH: River Hill campground


From East. The turnoff to Stony Park looks like any of the numerous gulches leading from the Animas Canyon to uncountable mine remnants, just a narrow dirt track disappearing into the forest below lava plated peaks. From the bottom there is no hint that this little road just keeps on climbing till it can climb no more.

Immediately after the turnoff a left fork leads to a spot, where tourists pay money to be shown mine ruins. The left fork eventually joins back with the right fork. But the right fork is the more gradual approach to the pass. At the point of reunion Stony Pass leaves Cunningham Gulch by steeply switching back up the left flank. After the junction with county road 3b a short, shallow downhill leads to an extremely steep section, where the road climbs the step above treeline. A few more switchbacks gain  little of the "as the crow flies" distance to the summit. The summit passes between two crowning rock formations. Only the north eastern one seems to be named, Canby Mountain (13478ft).

From West. (also described uphill) The description begins at Timber Hill, about 7 miles upstream from Rio Grande Reservoir, which is as far as I got so far. The path at this point is narrower and much rougher than further up the pass. A small descent leads past the turnoff to Kyte Lake, to a crossing of Pole Creek. Even in late July the creek carries enough water to make riding through it impossible. But a portage is no problem. From here the ascent leads straight up the valley, aiming squarely for the pass. The road is smooth and very rideable. Only a few curves traverse into the hillside, before again taking aim at the notch between the two 13000 foot castles ahead.

Dayride with this point as highest summit:


Stony Pass x2: . An out and back ride beginning in the Eureka area in Animas Canyon, crossing the pass and descending as far as Timber Hill, then returning the same way measured 33 miles with 5600 feet of climbing in 5.1 hours. (m3:06.07.23).
Notes: Stormy weather forced an early turn around


What is a remote wilderness route today, started in a similar environment as a Ute Indian trail. While searching for a way from Santa Fe to California, Escalante and Dominquez knew of its existence. First knowledge of the pass to the Anglican America world is usually credited to Charles Baker, a southerner looking for gold in the north. For a while the entire valley carried his name, Baker Park.

The Leadville Boom Period (<Red Mountain Pass|Hurricane Pass>). Stony Pass became a major route connecting the Silverton area with the outside world during the mining boom. It was the directest route to Santa Fe and other points south. Between 1871 and 1882 it was used for everything from fine china to industrial mining equipment. During the first year traders often had to switch from wagons to pack mules to cross the pass. In 1872 construction of a wagon road started, and between 1875 and 1882 you could send your belongings via regular freight service over the crest. But the pass was never in great shape. Instead it did have the advantage, that it did not cross Ute Indian lands, as Otto Mears route over Cerro Summit and Blue Mesa Summit did. In 1882 traffic across Stony Pass dried up, due to the next generation of transportation, the Denver Rio Grande railroad. It preferred to chug along much gentler grades of long canyons and valleys.

This is the last pass in this thread, that played an important role in developing the San Juan area during the boom days. There are however other, even steeper passes that served traffic to local mines, such as Hurricane Pass.

Hayden Survey: During the summer of 1874 the Hayden Survey was engaged in an elaborate search for a route suitable for heavy mining equipment to Silverton. In the process they had mapped areas below Engineer Pass, Red Mountain Pass and lastly Lizard Head Pass. During all this time Stony Pass was already well used. The Hayden Survey had finally found a route to their liking too, when they explored the already existing pack train trail up Stony Pass. The miners called it Rio Grande Pass, or Cunningham Pass after the promoter at Cunningham Gulch, which is really the name of a nearby alternate summit. Rhoda measured the altitude with a single reading of his barometer at 12090 feet. They examined the route down towards the supply town of Del Norte as far as Lost Trail Creek. After the work was done, they entertained themselves by climbing the classic Rio Grande Pyramid, 12 miles southeast of Stony Pass.

It was time for Stony Pass to return to anonymity. By the time the railroad arrived it was practically abandoned. In 1916 it was considered for a state highway. The decision was not adopted. The pass and the railroad that replaced it followed a similar destiny. Both made the transition from capitalistic enterprises to attractions. The Silverton railroad chugs in the valley below, and mountain bikers ( vastly ounumbered by motorized convoys with license plates from Charles Baker country ) chug over the pass. The pass also serves as Colorado Trail Detour around the Weemenuche Wilderness for MTB riders. Today's road was opened by the forest service in the 50s, and improved during the 60s and 70s. Some of the steeper stretches have been eliminated and the surface smoothed.