San Juan Mountains

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San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains seen from the San Juan Skyway.
Highest point
PeakUncompahgre Peak
Elevation14,309 ft (4,361 m)
Coordinates38°04′18″N 107°27′14″W / 38.07167°N 107.45389°W / 38.07167; -107.45389Coordinates: 38°04′18″N 107°27′14″W / 38.07167°N 107.45389°W / 38.07167; -107.45389
CountryUnited States
Parent rangeRocky Mountains
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San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains seen from the San Juan Skyway.
Highest point
PeakUncompahgre Peak
Elevation14,309 ft (4,361 m)
Coordinates38°04′18″N 107°27′14″W / 38.07167°N 107.45389°W / 38.07167; -107.45389Coordinates: 38°04′18″N 107°27′14″W / 38.07167°N 107.45389°W / 38.07167; -107.45389
CountryUnited States
Parent rangeRocky Mountains

The San Juan Mountains are a high and rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado, and is the largest mountain range in Colorado by area. The area is highly mineralized (the Colorado Mineral Belt) and figured in the gold and silver mining industry of early Colorado. Major towns, all old mining camps, include Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. Large scale mining has ended in the region, although independent prospectors still work claims throughout the range. The last large scale mines were the Sunnyside Mine near Silverton, which operated until late in the 20th century and the Idarado Mine on Red Mountain Pass that closed down in the 1970s. Famous old San Juan mines include the Camp Bird and Smuggler Union mines, both located between Telluride and Ouray.

The Summitville mine was the scene of a major environmental disaster in the 1990s when the liner of a cyanide-laced tailing pond began leaking heavily. Summitville is in the Summitville caldera, one of many extinct volcanoes making up the San Juan volcanic field. One, La Garita Caldera, is 35 miles (56 km) in diameter. Large beds of lava, some extending under the floor of the San Luis Valley, are characteristic of the eastern slope of the San Juans.

Tourism is now a major part of the regional economy, with the narrow gauge railway between Durango and Silverton being an attraction in the summer. Jeeping is popular on the old trails which linked the historic mining camps, including the notorious Black Bear Road. Visiting old ghost towns is popular, as is wilderness trekking and mountain climbing. Many of the old mining camps are now popular sites of summer homes. The San Juans are extremely steep and receive a lot of snow, so far only Telluride has made the transition to a major ski resort. Purgatory (now known as Durango Mountain Resort) is a small ski area north of Durango near the Tamarron Resort. There is also skiing on Wolf Creek Pass at the Wolf Creek ski area. Recently Silverton Mountain ski area has begun operation near Silverton.

The Rio Grande rises on the east side of the range. The other side of the San Juans, the western slope of the continental divide, is drained by tributaries of the San Miguel, Dolores and Gunnison rivers, which all flow into the Colorado River.

The San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests cover a large portion of the San Juan Mountains.

The San Juan Mountains also have the distinction of being the location of the highest airport with scheduled airline service in the U.S., being Telluride Airport at an elevation of 9,070 feet.[1]

Prominent peaks[edit]

San Juans in the fall of 2008, viewed from north of Durango
Trout Lake near Telluride
Uncompahgre Peak seen from Slumgullion Pass
Bridal Veil Falls near Telluride
The 28 peaks of the San Juan Mountains with at least 500 meters of prominence
RankMountain PeakElevationProminenceIsolation
1Uncompahgre Peak NGS!B9916186265317 4365 m
14,321 ft
!B9928270920401 1304 m
4,277 ft
!B9881730670374 137 km
85 mi
2Mount Wilson[2]!B9916234307223 4344 m
14,252 ft
!B9928880679064 1227 m
4,024 ft
!B9891179983724 53 km
33 mi
3Mount Sneffels NGS!B9916300547008 4315 m
14,158 ft
!B9931652025855 930 m
3,050 ft
!B9898606501237 25 km
16 mi
4Mount Eolus[2]!B9916349666381 4294 m
14,089 ft
!B9934996446997 665 m
2,183 ft
!B9893914366960 40 km
25 mi
5Handies Peak NGS!B9916371708445 4285 m
14,058 ft
!B9936448268035 575 m
1,888 ft
!B9902018729631 18 km
11 mi
6San Luis Peak NGS!B9916397413597 4274 m
14,022 ft
!B9931447577062 949 m
3,113 ft
!B9893215548917 43 km
27 mi
7Vermilion Peak[2] PB!B9916484555720 4237 m
13,900 ft
!B9935360287090 642 m
2,105 ft
!B9904112231923 15 km
9 mi
8Rio Grande Pyramid NGS PB!B9916537374884 4214 m
13,827 ft
!B9936592298459 567 m
1,861 ft
!B9902409603518 17 km
11 mi
9Mount Oso[2]!B9916636912385 4173 m
13,690 ft
!B9937711202281 507 m
1,664 ft
!B9909163572810 8.8 km
5.5 mi
10Tower Mountain[2] PB!B9916733752375 4132 m
13,558 ft
!B9937783567066 504 m
1,652 ft
!B9909381596363 8.6 km
5.4 mi
11Sultan Mountain[2] PB!B9916870758592 4076 m
13,373 ft
!B9936554765389 569 m
1,868 ft
!B9910921169860 7.4 km
4.6 mi
12Summit Peak NGS PB!B9916920356204 4056 m
13,307 ft
!B9932651134964 841 m
2,760 ft
!B9889297743297 64 km
40 mi
13Dolores Peak[2] PB!B9916928880446 4053 m
13,296 ft
!B9936125148036 594 m
1,950 ft
!B9910103062991 8.0 km
5.0 mi
14Lavender Peak[2] PB!B9916966938340 4037 m
13,245 ft
!B9932295225513 872 m
2,860 ft
!B9894056178019 40 km
25 mi
15Bennett Peak[2] PB!B9916994572359 4026 m
13,209 ft
!B9937247371625 531 m
1,743 ft
!B9897773317079 28 km
17 mi
16Conejos Peak NGS PB!B9917017093656 4017 m
13,179 ft
!B9936321936751 583 m
1,912 ft
!B9905181069375 13 km
8 mi
17Twilight Peak[2]!B9917029309229 4012 m
13,163 ft
!B9934310488744 713 m
2,338 ft
!B9910304581145 7.9 km
4.9 mi
18South River Peak[2] PB!B9917036056109 4009 m
13,154 ft
!B9933850733476 746 m
2,448 ft
!B9895272292541 35 km
22 mi
19Peak 13,010[2] PB!B9917141685367 3967 m
13,016 ft
!B9936981285563 546 m
1,790 ft
!B9903585267731 15 km
10 mi
20Lone Cone[2] PB!B9917451850731 3846 m
12,618 ft
!B9934592442086 693 m
2,273 ft
!B9903861965225 15 km
9 mi
21Graham Peak NGS PB!B9917517063817 3821 m
12,536 ft
!B9933438584798 778 m
2,551 ft
!B9902720570199 17 km
10 mi
22Elliott Mountain[2] PB!B9917670438885 3763 m
12,346 ft
!B9934738683103 683 m
2,240 ft
!B9909808201334 8.3 km
5.1 mi
23Cornwall Mountain[2] PB!B9917715072660 3746 m
12,291 ft
!B9937241632269 532 m
1,744 ft
!B9909675908365 8.4 km
5.2 mi
24Sawtooth Mountain NGS PB!B9917827774100 3704 m
12,153 ft
!B9936243791057 587 m
1,927 ft
!B9897500898799 28 km
18 mi
25Chalk Benchmark NGS PB!B9917922438128 3669 m
12,038 ft
!B9936018028151 601 m
1,971 ft
!B9906343667436 12 km
7 mi
26Little Cone NGS PB!B9917964222630 3654 m
11,988 ft
!B9936700349175 561 m
1,841 ft
!B9908201188355 9.7 km
6.0 mi
27Cochetopa Dome!B9918699886783 3395 m
11,138 ft
!B9937138939038 537 m
1,762 ft
!B9907997099638 9.9 km
6.2 mi
28Horse Mountain[2] PB!B9919825912775 3033 m
9,952 ft
!B9936453552143 575 m
1,887 ft
!B9899805087717 22 km
14 mi

History of the area[edit]

Hayden Geological Survey, 1870s
Ore wagons, San Juan Mountains, circa 1900?

Mining operators in the San Juan mountain area formed the San Juan District Mining Association (SJDMA) in 1903, as a direct result of a Western Federation of Miners proposal to the Telluride Mining Association for the eight hour day, which had been approved in a referendum by 72 percent of Colorado voters.[3] The new association consolidated the power of thirty-six mining properties in San Miguel, Ouray, and San Juan counties.[4] The SJDMA refused to consider any reduction in hours or increase in wages, helping to provoke a bitter strike.


360° panorama of the southwestern San Juans, photographed from the Gold Hill Ridge of the Telluride Ski Resort. Ridgeline annotation indicates the names and elevations of 43 visible peaks
Panorama of the San Juan Mountains' Sneffels Range looking south.

Acceleration of snowmelt by dust[edit]

Dust blown in from adjoining deserts sometimes accelerates snowmelt in the San Juans.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p The elevation of this summit has been converted from the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) to the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88). National Geodetic Survey
  3. ^ Roughneck—The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, page 65.
  4. ^ The Corpse On Boomerang Road, Telluride's War On Labor 1899-1908, MaryJoy Martin, 2004, page 201.
  5. ^ "Dust Accelerates Snow Melt in San Juan Mountains". Earth Observatory NASA. July 4, 2009. Retrieved June 4, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]