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Coal Bank Pass: Spud Lake Trail & Pass Trail

Wednesday & Thursday, July 26-27, 2023

While spending the latter part of this week attending the annual GIS Colorado Summer Meetup at the Chris Park Campground near Durango, I was able to get out on a couple of short hikes near Coal Bank Pass since I was in the area. On Wednesday afternoon I left work, grabbed a quick dinner in Delta and then headed down through the San Juan Mountains to the campground via the San Juan Skyway. After crossing over Red Mountain Pass and getting stopped by construction for a little while, I continued over Molas Pass and Coal Bank Pass and then turned off onto the old Lime Creek Road so I could go on a short hike to Potato Lake via the Spud Lake Trail.

Shortly before reaching the trailhead I passed by this lake covered with lily pads. As you might be able to tell from the clouds, after a long dry July the monsoon has finally arrived!

Lily Pads

The views were limited as I followed the Spud Lake Trail through the trees.

Spud Lake Trail

Shortly before reaching Potato Lake, the trail passed by this smaller tarn that had a nice view of the Twilight Peaks in the West Needle Mountains.

Spud Lake Trail Tarn

Potato Hill also towered above the small tarn.

Potato Hill

It wasn’t much further along the trail until I reached the shore of Potato Lake, which is also known as Spud Lake to some.

Spud Lake Afternoon

I had the place to myself and went for a leisurely stroll around most of the lake.

West Needle Mountains

Potato Lake

Potato Lake

After enjoying the lake for a while, I returned to the trailhead and drove back down Lime Creek Road to the highway and then continued down to the campground which was only about fifteen minutes away.

Old Lime Creek Road

On Thursday morning the group went on a field trip to the Ophir Fen, which is an iron fen located just below Ophir Pass. Here we learned a little bit about the ecology and restoration of this area and then helped with a little data collection using a drone.

Ophir Fen

After returning to camp and having a late lunch I was hoping to get out for another hike, but then the afternoon thunderstorms started up and it looked like this. The monsoon season has certainly arrived with a vengeance!

Later in the afternoon after taking shelter from a couple more waves of thunderstorms I decided to take my chances with the weather and drove back up to Coal Bank Pass so I could hike the Pass Trail up to the foot of Engineer Mountain. Although it started to rain again when I first started hiking and then again right at the end, I was able to avoid most of the weather and enjoyed a lovely late afternoon hike.

Following the Pass Trail into the trees.

Pass Trail

I passed by this little pond along the way and stopped to check it out.

Little Pond

The first part of the hike was in the trees with limited views, but once I neared treeline I was able to start seeing more of the peaks surrounding me.

Pass Trail View

Hey Deer!


Shortly before reaching the junction with the Engineer Mountain Trail, the trail broke free of the trees and I was looking up at Engineer Mountain.

Engineer Mountain

Jura Knob was looking pretty nice in the late afternoon light.

Jura Knob

There were quite a few wildflowers at the base of Engineer Mountain, so I made sure to take a few photos of them.

San Juan Wildflowers

Wildflowers & Engineer Mountain

Wildflowers & Engineer Mountain

It was getting late and I didn’t want to be late for dinner at camp, so it was time to start heading back down the trail.

Back Down the Trail

Here’s a different view of Potato Hill from near the trailhead.

Potato Hill View

>> Spud Lake & Pass Trail Photo Gallery

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