Mountains with elevations over 13,000 feet surrounded us: Snowdon Peak, West Needles Mountain, Molas Pass, and Kendall Mountain were names Darlene and I had heard when we rode the Durango & Silverton narrow-gauge steam train along the Animas River. But the old mining train couldn't plow through the deep snows of winter, and Colorado State Highway 550 was Silverton's link to the outside world.
We drove to the Silverton Visitor Center to check road conditions before continuing on to Animas Forks. Kerry, the visitor center's worker, didn't know if the road was clear. "The road from Silverton to Eureka is usually plowed, but the road from Eureka to Animas Forks isn't cleared until spring. Don't try it unless it's been plowed." The older man's voice became serious and fatherly as he leaned across the counter at the Silverton Visitor Center and said, "I'm going to repeat myself. If the road hasn't been plowed, don't try to drive up to Animas Forks!"
We wanted to see the ghost town of Animas Forks during the winter and had driven from Durango, Colorado, to Silverton on State Highway 550 that morning. Colorado's San Juan Mountains are always spectacular, but as we gained altitude and the snow depth increased, the scenery became even more dramatic.
I promised not to be stupid and told Kerry I'd return with the road conditions before quitting time. "If we're not back by 4 p.m., send the dogs after us," I said. I was joking, but I could tell he'd taken me seriously.
Highway 110 from Silverton is paved for the first few miles and then becomes a two-lane gravel road. Snow was piled up on both sides, but the well-maintained road was merely wet. We photographed abandoned mines and mining equipment near Howardsville and noticed that the number of houses was decreasing. At an intersection, a wooden arrow pointed us toward Animas Forks, still eight miles ahead.