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American Flats Peaks

Darley Mountain & Dolly Varden Mountain
Friday – Saturday, September 8-9, 2017

Hiking along the ridge to the summit of Darley Mountain in the Uncompahgre Wilderness.

This weekend I wanted to climb a peak or two in the mountains since it would probably be my last opportunity this summer before I would begin spending most of my free time back in the desert of the Colorado Plateau. However, since I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately I didn’t want to travel too far from home either. After a little thought I decided to head back down to the San Juan Mountains near Engineer Pass so I could climb Darley Mountain and Dolly Varden Mountain within the Uncompahgre Wilderness. It wasn’t too long ago that I was in the area climbing a couple other peaks and it was nice to be headed back there again.

As usual, I left after work on Friday afternoon and stopped for dinner in Montrose before continuing on to Ouray. I then followed the Uncompahgre River up the Mineral Creek Road to Engineer Pass. I must say that over the last few years it seems that the road along Mineral Creek keeps getting rougher and rougher. I used to be able to get through this road pretty quickly in my Jeep but now I have to take it much slower. I think it would probably be quicker to drive all the way to Silverton and then follow the Animas Forks Road up to Engineer Pass these days. I made it up to Engineer Pass shortly before sunset and then hung around Oh! Point to watch the light show and take a few photos during sunset. When the light was gone I drove down the other side of the pass and found a spot to camp along Henson Creek for the night.

As I was driving up to the pass I caught these sun rays coming out of the clouds.

San Juan Rays

A touch of light on Wetterhorn Peak (14,015).

Wetterhorn Peak

My Jeep parked at Oh! Point during a colorful sunset.

Oh! Point Jeep

An evening view over the upper Bear Creek drainage to Darley Mountain.

Bear Creek Evening

I didn’t need to get an alpine start on Saturday morning, so I slept in until a little bit before sunrise which gave me just enough time to drive back up to Oh! Point so I could watch the sunrise from there. When the sun was up I returned to Engineer Pass and started hiking to the summit of Darley Mountain (13,260). I have actually wanted to climb Darley Mountain for a long time since it’s a prominent sight when driving up to Engineer Pass. I have had plans to climb it on more than one occasion before, but it always got bumped for something else or the weather didn’t cooperate, so I made sure to make it a priority and do it first this time. From the pass I followed an old closed road around to the east side of the mountain and then climbed a grassy slope up to a saddle where I followed the ridge to the summit. It was an easy hike and offered great views of the surrounding area. It helped that there were some nice clouds and light this morning, too.

The Sneffels Range at sunrise from Oh! Point with Abrams Mountain (12,801) in the shadows to the left.

Sneffels Sunrise

Just my Jeep again…

Oh! Point Sunrise

Driving back to Engineer Pass and Darley Mountain.

To Darley

Morning light on Engineer Mountain (13,218), which I hiked a few years back with Diane.

Engineer Mountain

As I hiked around to the east side of Darley Mountain I was treated to an amazing view of the Uncompahgre Wilderness over American Flats and could hear the flock of sheep below.

American Flats Sheep

Morning light across the Uncompahgre Wilderness…

Uncompahgre Wilderness Morning

Looking down into the depths of Henson Creek.

The Depths

A closer look…

Palmetto Gulch

Bear Creek below and a little spotlighting on the Sneffels Range.

Bear Creek Below

Following the ridge to the summit of Darley Mountain.

Darley Mountain Summit

The sun came out and lit up the ridge during my descent.

Ridge View

Darley Mountain Ridge

Following the ridge back down to the saddle, you can see my Jeep parked at Engineer Pass in the distance.

Darley Ridge

One last view toward the Sneffels Range.

Filtered Light

When I started the day I knew that I wanted to climb at least one other peak, but I wasn’t sure which other one to do and I was going to decide on the fly based on the weather. As I came down from Darley Mountain the sky was clearing out and weather looked good (even though the forecast had predicted early thunderstorms when I last checked on Friday evening), so I decided to hike the Ridge Stock Driveway Trail out to American Lake and then to the summit of Dolly Varden Mountain (12,932).

Coming down Darley Mountain I could see Courthouse Mountain (12,152) and Chimney Rock in the smoke past Wildhorse Peak (13,266).

Smokey Courthouse

Hiking below the summit of Darley Mountain.

Below Darley Mountain

Looking back at Darley Mountain.

Darley Mountain

The junction of the Horsethief Trail and Ridge Stock Driveway.

Horsethief Trail Junction

American Lake & Wildhorse Peak.

American Lake & Wildhorse Peak

View from the summit of Dolly Varden Mountain overlooking North Henson Creek to Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak (14,309).

North Fork Henson Creek

Overlooking Cow Creek to Coxcomb Peak.

Dolly Varden Mountain Summit

On my way back down I hiked around the shore of American Lake. That rocky ridge poking up just left of center is known as The Dragon’s Back.

American Lake

Wildhorse Peak reflected in the rippled water of American Lake.

Wildhorse Rippled Reflection

American Lake Shore

Looking back at the gentle northern slopes of Dolly Varden Mountain from American Flats.

Dolly Varden Mountain

A view down Bear Creek towards Ouray as I returned to Engineer Pass.

Upper Bear Creek

After returning to my Jeep I was pretty hungry, so I drove down to Silverton and had an early dinner at Handlebars. Then I drove over Red Mountain Pass back to Ouray and saw a few early fall colors along the way.

A touch of yellow along Mill Creek.

Mill Creek

Stormy weather overlooking Ironton.

Ironton Overlook

The colors were definitely beginning to change near Crystal Lake.


After returning to Ridgway I decided to go for an evening drive up Cow Creek Road since it is one of the few roads in the area I had never driven and I’ve been thinking about hiking the Cow Creek Trail.

The Stormy Cimarrons

Stormy Cimarrons

Driving along Cow Creek.

Cow Creek

Looking up the Cow Creek Road shortly before sunset.

Cow Creek Road


>> American Flats Peaks Photo Gallery


  1. Larry D Cannon
    Larry D Cannon August 6, 2022

    trying to find the best way to get to the American Flats

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat August 6, 2022

      If you have a 4×4 vehicle, then the easiest access is from Engineer Pass.

      • Larry D Cannon
        Larry D Cannon August 7, 2022

        Randy, thank you for replying, where does the trailhead start? I also read where you good go up from the North Henson,but it looks like it would be easier from Engineer pass. I’ve seen some of your pictures, I just want the quickest and easiest route there. Thanks for your help! Larry

        • Randy Langstraat
          Randy Langstraat August 7, 2022

          Just park below the pass on the east side. There is a trail that takes off from there and heads to American Flats below Darley Mountain.

          • Larry D Cannon
            Larry D Cannon August 8, 2022

            Are talking about Horse thief trail?

          • Larry D Cannon
            Larry D Cannon August 8, 2022

            Randy, Thanks, We can start there then. I would think that would be much easier than the North Henson creek way.

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