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San Juan Mountains

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San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains seen from the San Juan Skyway.
Highest point
Peak Uncompahgre Peak
Elevation 14,309 ft (4,361 m)
Country United States
State Colorado
Parent range Rocky Mountains

The San Juan Mountains are a high and rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado, and is the largest mountain range in Colorado by area. The area is highly mineralized (the Colorado Mineral Belt) and figured in the gold and silver mining industry of early Colorado. Major towns, all old mining camps, include Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. Large scale mining has ended in the region, although independent prospectors still work claims throughout the range. The last large scale mines were the Sunnyside Mine near Silverton, which operated until late in the 20th century and the Idarado Mine on Red Mountain Pass that closed down in the 1970s. Famous old San Juan mines include the Camp Bird and Smuggler Union mines, both located between Telluride and Ouray.

The Summitville mine was the scene of a major environmental disaster in the 1990s when the liner of a cyanide-laced tailing pond began leaking heavily. Summitville is in the Summitville caldera, one of many extinct volcanoes making up the San Juan volcanic field. One, La Garita Caldera, is 35 miles (56 km) in diameter. Large beds of lava, some extending under the floor of the San Luis Valley, are characteristic of the eastern slope of the San Juans.

Tourism is now a major part of the regional economy, with the narrow gauge railway between Durango and Silverton being an attraction in the summer. Jeeping is popular on the old trails which linked the historic mining camps, including the notorious Black Bear Road. Visiting old ghost towns is popular, as is wilderness trekking and mountain climbing. Many of the old mining camps are now popular sites of summer homes. The San Juans are extremely steep and receive a lot of snow; only Telluride has made the transition to a major ski resort. Purgatory (now known as Durango Mountain Resort) is a small ski area north of Durango near the Tamarron Resort. There is also skiing on Wolf Creek Pass at the Wolf Creek ski area. Recently Silverton Mountain ski area has begun operation near Silverton.

The Rio Grande rises on the east side of the range. The other side of the San Juans, the western slope of the continental divide, is drained by tributaries of the San Miguel, Dolores and Gunnison rivers, which all flow into the Colorado River.

The San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests cover a large portion of the San Juan Mountains.

The San Juan Mountains also have the distinction of being the location of the highest airport with scheduled airline service in the U.S., being Telluride Airport at an elevation of 9,070 feet.[1]

Prominent peaks

San Juans in the fall of 2008, viewed from north of Durango
Trout Lake near Telluride
Uncompahgre Peak seen from Slumgullion Pass
Bridal Veil Falls near Telluride
  • Note: This is only a partial list of important peaks in the San Juans, listing peaks by prominence only. There are dozens more summits over 12,000 feet.
The 28 peaks of the San Juan Mountains with at least 500 meters of prominence
Rank Mountain Peak Elevation Prominence Isolation
1 Uncompahgre Peak NGS !B2147483647 4365 m
14,321 ft
!B2147483647 1304 m
4,277 ft
!B2147483647 137 km
85 mi
2 Mount Wilson[2] !B2147483647 4344 m
14,252 ft
!B2147483647 1227 m
4,024 ft
!B2147483647 53 km
33 mi
3 Mount Sneffels NGS !B2147483647 4315 m
14,158 ft
!B2147483647 930 m
3,050 ft
!B2147483647 25 km
16 mi
4 Mount Eolus[2] !B2147483647 4294 m
14,089 ft
!B2147483647 665 m
2,183 ft
!B2147483647 40 km
25 mi
5 Handies Peak NGS !B2147483647 4285 m
14,058 ft
!B2147483647 575 m
1,888 ft
!B2147483647 18 km
11 mi
6 San Luis Peak NGS !B2147483647 4274 m
14,022 ft
!B2147483647 949 m
3,113 ft
!B2147483647 43 km
27 mi
7 Vermilion Peak[2] PB !B2147483647 4237 m
13,900 ft
!B2147483647 642 m
2,105 ft
!B2147483647 15 km
9 mi
8 Rio Grande Pyramid NGS PB !B2147483647 4214 m
13,827 ft
!B2147483647 567 m
1,861 ft
!B2147483647 17 km
11 mi
9 Mount Oso[2] !B2147483647 4173 m
13,690 ft
!B2147483647 507 m
1,664 ft
!B2147483647 8.8 km
5.5 mi
10 Tower Mountain[2] PB !B2147483647 4132 m
13,558 ft
!B2147483647 504 m
1,652 ft
!B2147483647 8.6 km
5.4 mi
11 Sultan Mountain[2] PB !B2147483647 4076 m
13,373 ft
!B2147483647 569 m
1,868 ft
!B2147483647 7.4 km
4.6 mi
12 Summit Peak NGS PB !B2147483647 4056 m
13,307 ft
!B2147483647 841 m
2,760 ft
!B2147483647 64 km
40 mi
13 Dolores Peak[2] PB !B2147483647 4053 m
13,296 ft
!B2147483647 594 m
1,950 ft
!B2147483647 8.0 km
5.0 mi
14 Lavender Peak[2] PB !B2147483647 4037 m
13,245 ft
!B2147483647 872 m
2,860 ft
!B2147483647 40 km
25 mi
15 Bennett Peak[2] PB !B2147483647 4026 m
13,209 ft
!B2147483647 531 m
1,743 ft
!B2147483647 28 km
17 mi
16 Conejos Peak NGS PB !B2147483647 4017 m
13,179 ft
!B2147483647 583 m
1,912 ft
!B2147483647 13 km
8 mi
17 Twilight Peak[2] !B2147483647 4012 m
13,163 ft
!B2147483647 713 m
2,338 ft
!B2147483647 7.9 km
4.9 mi
18 South River Peak[2] PB !B2147483647 4009 m
13,154 ft
!B2147483647 746 m
2,448 ft
!B2147483647 35 km
22 mi
19 Peak 13,010[2] PB !B2147483647 3967 m
13,016 ft
!B2147483647 546 m
1,790 ft
!B2147483647 15 km
10 mi
20 Lone Cone[2] PB !B2147483647 3846 m
12,618 ft
!B2147483647 693 m
2,273 ft
!B2147483647 15 km
9 mi
21 Graham Peak NGS PB !B2147483647 3821 m
12,536 ft
!B2147483647 778 m
2,551 ft
!B2147483647 17 km
10 mi
22 Elliott Mountain[2] PB !B2147483647 3763 m
12,346 ft
!B2147483647 683 m
2,240 ft
!B2147483647 8.3 km
5.1 mi
23 Cornwall Mountain[2] PB !B2147483647 3746 m
12,291 ft
!B2147483647 532 m
1,744 ft
!B2147483647 8.4 km
5.2 mi
24 Sawtooth Mountain NGS PB !B2147483647 3704 m
12,153 ft
!B2147483647 587 m
1,927 ft
!B2147483647 28 km
18 mi
25 Chalk Benchmark NGS PB !B2147483647 3669 m
12,038 ft
!B2147483647 601 m
1,971 ft
!B2147483647 12 km
7 mi
26 Little Cone NGS PB !B2147483647 3654 m
11,988 ft
!B2147483647 561 m
1,841 ft
!B2147483647 9.7 km
6.0 mi
27 Cochetopa Dome !B2147483647 3395 m
11,138 ft
!B2147483647 537 m
1,762 ft
!B2147483647 9.9 km
6.2 mi
28 Horse Mountain[2] PB !B2147483647 3033 m
9,952 ft
!B2147483647 575 m
1,887 ft
!B2147483647 22 km
14 mi

History of the area

Hayden Geological Survey, 1870s
Ore wagons, San Juan Mountains, circa 1900?

Mining operators in the San Juan mountain area formed the San Juan District Mining Association (SJDMA) in 1903, as a direct result of a Western Federation of Miners proposal to the Telluride Mining Association for the eight hour day, which had been approved in a referendum by 72 percent of Colorado voters.[3] The new association consolidated the power of thirty-six mining properties in San Miguel, Ouray, and San Juan counties.[4] The SJDMA refused to consider any reduction in hours or increase in wages, helping to provoke a bitter strike.


360° panorama of the southwestern San Juans, photographed from the Gold Hill Ridge of the Telluride Ski Resort. Ridgeline annotation indicates the names and elevations of 43 visible peaks
Panorama of the San Juan Mountains' Sneffels Range looking south.

Acceleration of snowmelt by dust

Dust blown in from adjoining deserts sometimes accelerates snowmelt in the San Juans.[5]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p The elevation of this summit has been converted from the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) to the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88). National Geodetic Survey
  3. ^ Roughneck—The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, page 65.
  4. ^ The Corpse On Boomerang Road, Telluride's War On Labor 1899-1908, MaryJoy Martin, 2004, page 201.
  5. ^ "Dust Accelerates Snow Melt in San Juan Mountains". Earth Observatory NASA. July 4, 2009. Retrieved June 4, 2012. 

Further reading

  • Bove, D. et al. (2001). Geochronology and geology of Late Oligocene through Miocene volcanism and mineralization in the western San Juan Mountains, Colorado [U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1642]. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Lippman, P.W. (2006). Geologic map of the central San Juan Caldera Cluster, southwestern Colorado [Geologic Investigations Series I-2799]. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.

External links

  • Rocky Mountains @ Peakbagger
    • Southern Rocky Mountains @ Peakbagger
      • San Juan Mountains @ Peakbagger
  • Photos from the San Juan Mountains

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