San Juan Mountains

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San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains seen from the San Juan Skyway.
Highest point
Peak Uncompahgre Peak
Elevation 14,309 ft (4,361 m)
Coordinates 38°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
Country United States
State Colorado
Parent range Rocky Mountains
san jauns mountain map
The San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado

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. Though 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
  • Note: This is only a partial list of important peaks in the San Juans, listing peaks by prominence only. There are dozens more summits over 12,000 feet.
The 28 peaks of the San Juan Mountains with at least 500 meters of prominence
Rank Mountain Peak Elevation Prominence Isolation
1 Uncompahgre Peak NGS 4365 m
14,321 ft
1304 m
4,277 ft
136.9 km
85.1 mi
2 Mount Wilson[2] 4344 m
14,252 ft
1227 m
4,024 ft
53.2 km
33.1 mi
3 Mount Sneffels NGS 4315 m
14,158 ft
930 m
3,050 ft
25.3 km
15.73 mi
4 Mount Eolus[2] 4294 m
14,089 ft
665 m
2,183 ft
40.5 km
25.2 mi
5 Handies Peak NGS 4285 m
14,058 ft
575 m
1,888 ft
18.00 km
11.18 mi
6 San Luis Peak NGS 4274 m
14,022 ft
949 m
3,113 ft
43.4 km
27.0 mi
7 Vermilion Peak[2] PB 4237 m
13,900 ft
642 m
2,105 ft
14.60 km
9.07 mi
8 Rio Grande Pyramid NGS PB 4214 m
13,827 ft
567 m
1,861 ft
17.31 km
10.76 mi
9 Mount Oso[2] 4173 m
13,690 ft
507 m
1,664 ft
8.81 km
5.47 mi
10 Tower Mountain[2] PB 4132 m
13,558 ft
504 m
1,652 ft
8.62 km
5.36 mi
11 Sultan Mountain[2] PB 4076 m
13,373 ft
569 m
1,868 ft
7.39 km
4.59 mi
12 Summit Peak NGS PB 4056 m
13,307 ft
841 m
2,760 ft
64.2 km
39.9 mi
13 Dolores Peak[2] PB 4053 m
13,296 ft
594 m
1,950 ft
8.02 km
4.98 mi
14 Lavender Peak[2] PB 4037 m
13,245 ft
872 m
2,860 ft
39.9 km
24.8 mi
15 Bennett Peak[2] PB 4026 m
13,209 ft
531 m
1,743 ft
27.5 km
17.10 mi
16 Conejos Peak NGS PB 4017 m
13,179 ft
583 m
1,912 ft
13.12 km
8.15 mi
17 Twilight Peak[2] 4012 m
13,163 ft
713 m
2,338 ft
7.86 km
4.88 mi
18 South River Peak[2] PB 4009 m
13,154 ft
746 m
2,448 ft
35.3 km
22.0 mi
19 Peak 13,010[2] PB 3967 m
13,016 ft
546 m
1,790 ft
15.39 km
9.56 mi
20 Lone Cone[2] PB 3846 m
12,618 ft
693 m
2,273 ft
14.97 km
9.30 mi
21 Graham Peak NGS PB 3821 m
12,536 ft
778 m
2,551 ft
16.78 km
10.43 mi
22 Elliott Mountain[2] PB 3763 m
12,346 ft
683 m
2,240 ft
8.26 km
5.13 mi
23 Cornwall Mountain[2] PB 3746 m
12,291 ft
532 m
1,744 ft
8.37 km
5.20 mi
24 Sawtooth Mountain NGS PB 3704 m
12,153 ft
587 m
1,927 ft
28.3 km
17.57 mi
25 Chalk Benchmark NGS PB 3669 m
12,038 ft
601 m
1,971 ft
11.68 km
7.26 mi
26 Little Cone NGS PB 3654 m
11,988 ft
561 m
1,841 ft
9.70 km
6.03 mi
27 Cochetopa Dome 3395 m
11,138 ft
537 m
1,762 ft
9.90 km
6.15 mi
28 Horse Mountain[2] PB 3033 m
9,952 ft
575 m
1,887 ft
22.5 km
13.96 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]

  • Bove, D. et al. (2001). Geochronology and geology of Late Oligocene through Miocene volcanism and mineralization in the western San Juan Mountains, Colorado [U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1642]. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Lippman, P.W. (2006). Geologic map of the central San Juan Caldera Cluster, southwestern Colorado [Geologic Investigations Series I-2799]. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.

External links[edit]