San Juan CR 9: Picayne Gulch and Placer Gulch

This cool road takes off just south of Animas Forks and curls around up to California Gulch Road. It’s probably best to start with the GPS track, as other photos are referenced to it.

gps track

The road is not too terribly long and is in good shape. It's steep in places, though. I would rate this road a beginner++. The road is in excellent shape, but in places very steep.

I learned of the road from an “Alpine Ranger,” a fellow in an official capacity sitting up above Animas Forks observing the rather heavy traffic yesterday (Friday). We chatted for quite awhile. I vaguely described a road that I thought cut up into the mountains and came out along California Gulch Road. He noted it was Picayne Gulch and told me it wasn’t far south of Animas Forks. So, I followed his instructions and found San Juan County Road 9, taking off rather steeply to the west from the main road between Animas Forks and Silverton. I found several photo opportunities, which I share here.

old barracks

Given the evenly-spaced windows and the structure's sheer size, I think this must have been a barracks. I went inside and took several more pictures. There are other ruins nearby. The location on the GPS map is marked "Old Ruins (see photos)." Be very careful entering these structures.


Here's a look inside the main room. The floor is in relatively good shape although much of the ceiling material has come down.

I found some stairs leading down to what looked like the toilets. The staircase has come completely detached and should not be entered.

dangerous steps

Do not even tread lightly here--stay out! These steps, now detached from the main building, lead down to what I suspect were the pit toilets.

This next photo shows a structure that was apparently intended to be a covered bridge to another building. It has fallen and twisted. I thought the interplay of the studs, floor, ceiling, and sunlight made for cool modern art.


Look but don't touch! Don't even think of putting any weight on that steeply-sloping floor. To me this photo looks like modern art.

There are several other buildings in the area. The next photo shows a mill. You can just see the rails going into the top—their support is long gone and the old iron droops across the void. The ore was shuttled to the top and gravity-fed into the mill. The mill was there to concentrate the ore.

old mill

This building was once an ore-concentrating mill. Ore went in the top. The rails are still there, but the support is long gone.

Okay, back on the road. The photo below shows the road up, and I do mean up, County Road 9.

view of road

This photo doesn't capture just how steep this road is. You can see it's in pretty good shape. It was, and was easy to travel.

I came around a corner and was amazed to see that someone has constructed a home up on what must be a horrendously windy point. Many mining claims are still in private hands. The Colorado Constitution says that if a person has 35 or more acres of land, they can build a home on it and no one can stop them. I’m not sure I’d like to live up here. The wind must be incessant and access is available in winter only after a long snowmobile drive, and vehicle access is pretty much a one-season thing.

private home

Someone built this hard-to-access home. Quite a view, but I bet the winds are bad.

Further riding gets one to the ridge separating Picayne Gulch from Placer Gulch. The following photo is a panorama taken from atop the summit looking north. In the distance you can see where CR 9 intersects California Gulch Road.

panorama of placer gulch

Panorama from the summit, looking north. This nearly 180-degree panorama captures the entire extent of Placer Gulch. Across the gulch you see both a high and a low road. The high road is the one you want.

The road continues to be easy to traverse. Just beyond the summit is an overlook, which looks south and into some wild country. The road then winds down between some more ruined mining structures and then on down to intersect with California Gulch Road. I opted to turn left and head up over California, Hurricane, and Corkscrew Passes, which I describe in another post.

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