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Comet Watching from Bolam Pass

The Headwaters of the Dolores River & Colorado Trail Segment 26
Saturday & Sunday, July 18-19, 2020

This weekend Diane and I headed into the San Juan Mountains to escape the heat of the Grand Valley and spend a relaxing weekend along the Colorado Trail near Bolam Pass. It has been over ten years since the last time I drove over Bolam Pass and I was looking forward to getting back into the area for a little camping and hiking. Plus, with the New Moon this weekend I was hoping for dark skies so I could finally see Comet NEOWISE which has been visible in the sky for the past couple weeks now, but I had been unable to see so far.

We left home later on Saturday morning and drove south over Red Mountain Pass, Molas Pass and Coal Bank Pass to the Purgatory Resort where we got off the highway and headed up through Hermosa Park to Bolam Pass. Lower along the road we had passed by a lot of occupied campsites, so I was surprised when we crossed over the pass and found an amazing campsite above Tin Cup Basin and the headwaters of the Dolores River with a spectacular view of the San Miguel Mountains that was empty! This would be a great place to view the comet after dark, so we staked our claim and quickly set up camp here. I was hoping we would be able to get a little hiking in along the Colorado Trail or to a nearby peak this afternoon, but the weather had other plans with thunderstorms, rain and graupel. So instead, we just napped and read in camp for much of the evening. It’s not something we do very much, but it’s nice to have a relaxing weekend every once in a while.

This was the amazing view of the San Miguel Mountains from our campsite.

View From Camp

I always love a good view of Lizard Head Peak (13,114).

Lizard Head Peak

Mount Wilson (14,246) is the highest peak in the San Miguel Mountains and the second highest in all of the San Juans, after Uncompahgre Peak (14,309).

Mount Wilson

Nice light on Lake Point (13,506), which is the square knob to the left of the red-colored peak.

Lake Point

Gladstone Peak (13,913) to the right of Mount Wilson.

Gladstone Peak

What else can I say? It was a pretty spectacular campsite!

Bolam Pass Campsite

We stayed up late on Saturday night and finally got to see Comet NEOWISE. It was truly a sight to behold! We also saw plenty of shooting stars and the Milky Way was clear and bright from our campsite located at just over 11,300 feet.

Comet NEOWISE

Here is a view of Comet NEOWISE taken with my 400mm lens.

Comet NEOWISE Zoom
 
Although we stayed up much later than I am used to, I’m glad we did since this was a very nice and unique experience and I really don’t think we could have picked a better place to watch the comet from!

Even though it was a late night, I poked my head out of the tent before sunrise on Sunday morning and things look promising, so I put on my shoes and jacket and got out to take a few photos. Unfortunately, all the nice clouds I saw in the sky dissipated before the sun came up.

A morning view of Mount Wilson, Gladstone Peak and Wilson Peak (14,019).

San Miguel Morning

At least there was nice warm light on Mount Wilson.

Mount Wilson Morning

Crepuscular Rays above Sliderock Ridge shortly before the sun made an appearance.

Crepuscular Rays

One last morning view of the San Miguel Mountains before we started packing up camp and headed out for a little hike along Segment 26 of the Colorado Trail.

San Miguel Mountains

We drove over to the end of the road below Hermosa Peak and started following the Colorado Trail to the southwest. There were distant views of Lone Cone and Groundhog Mountain above the trees.

Lone Cone View

The La Plata Mountains were also visible to the south.

La Platas

Since we were just going on a short and easy hike today, I stopped to take a few photos of wildflowers along the trail.

Green

Cow Parsnip

Cow Parsnip

Colorado’s State Flower near the summit of Section Point.

State Flower

Near the top of the first little pass we climbed up to, we left the trail and followed the ridge to the summit of Section Point (11,940) where we had a great view of Blackhawk Mountain (12,681).

Section Point Summit View

Then we returned to the Colorado Trail for a short distance before leaving again to visit R2.

Colorado Trail Sign

Following the ridge to the summit of R2 (11,898)

Gentle Ridge

From here I had hoped to continue along the trail to Blackhawk Pass and then climb to the summit of Blackhawk Mountain before returning the way we had come, but I was moving slow and the clouds were already building, so I didn’t think I would have enough time to reach the summit before the weather moved in. I will have to return another time for that summit.

A view of the San Miguels from the trail.

San Miguels

A distant view over Corral Creek during our hike back to the trailhead.

Distant View

Looking the other way over Barlow Creek with Lizard head poking up above Flattop Mountain (12,098).

Barlow Creek View

Richardsons Geranium in the shade right next to the trail.

Richardsons Geranium

Clouds building above the Colorado Trail.

Colorado Trail Clouds

Darker clouds as we hiked next to Hermosa Peak.

Dark Clouds

Underneath Hermosa Peak (12,579) right before we reached the trailhead again.

Underneath Hermosa Peak

Shortly after reaching the trailhead there were some rumbles of thunder, so I think we made the right call to turn around when we did. Instead of driving home the way we had come the day before, we headed west down Barlow Creek from Bolam Pass and returned to the San Juan Skyway near Rico. Then we headed back home past Telluride and over the Dallas Divide. It was a nice relaxing way to cool off in the San Juan Mountains, and we saw an awesome comet, too!

>> Bolam Pass Photo Gallery

5 Comments

  1. Dan Norris
    Dan Norris August 6, 2020

    Beautiful images, Randy. Thanks for sharing another of your adventures and excellent photography,

  2. Charles
    Charles August 7, 2020

    How bumpy is the west side of this drive down into the Rico area? Ive read that the east side of this is pretty smooth. I have the vehicle to handle high clearance 4×4 roads but sometimes i dont feel like getting knocked around for a few hours if you know what i mean.

    Lovely pictures btw.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat August 7, 2020

      Although the lower portion of the east side is smoother, I think the upper portion of the east side was rougher in a couple places than the west side. The west side was a bit bumpy, but it took us less than an hour to drive down from the pass to the highway, so it wasn’t a long ride.

  3. Charles
    Charles August 7, 2020

    Great, appreciate the detail. That doesnt sound too bad at all.

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