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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Hike To Upper Cascade Falls and Chief Ouray Mine

I've always found Upper Cascade Falls difficult to photograph, primarily due to the precipitous, and at times, vertical landscape that encircles this natural wonder. I think a drone mounted camera would be the best tool to photograph Cascade and other falls. Maybe I should give Mike of Ouray By Flight a call.

But last week I was determined to try again... to capture the airy feeling of vertigo that washes over me when standing near Upper Cascade's 150 foot drop.

With legs already shaking from pushing up 2500 feet of elevation, I decided to play it safe and laid down on my belly right next to Cascade Creeks big tumble and inched my way out to the edge. I was worried about dropping my iPhone, which helped take my mind off the precipice. I got a couple shots then inched back away from the edge, thinking "That wasn't so bad." A few seconds later I was overcome with what I can only describe as a severe case of delayed onset vertigo. I need a drone, damn it. 

We hiked from home with Ruthie, using the Perimeter Trail to access the Chief Ouray Mine Trail...a steep south facing 13 switchback grind that can seem endless on warm days. A sweat I did break.

As I neared Cascade Falls and Chief Ouray Mine, the trail leveled out and meandered alongside a colorful rock bluff with intermittent views of Lovely Ouray and its snowcapped mountain surround. Beautiful rocks lay scattered at the bottom of the cliffs, victims of gravity and time. Sunlit, they hemorrhaged a blend of crimson reds, rusty oranges, rich umbers, and yellow ochre. Abundant splotches of green moss and lichen complemented the geologic wash of colors. I think I stared at the rock as much or more than the cross valley views. 

A random hiker-gal standing on the rock I belly-crawled out on in order to get waterfall shots. Intent to get a photo of the water and snow, she took a step back without looking...prompting a "HEY!" from me.

Above Upper Cascade Falls is a somewhat less dramatic water fall...perhaps "Upper-Upper Cascade Falls."

In order to get to Chief Ouray Mine, we had to cross the creek and get our feet wet. Once on the other side I scrambled down a steep hillside...holding on to aspen saplings...and got the photo below. It gives a better idea of the two-stage drop.

Then on to an old mine-shack. It leans considerably, to the point of teetering on the edge of an abyss.

Graffiti, written with chunks of coal left over from cookstoves

What goes up, unfortunately, must come down...a long pain-in-the-knees/ass slog back home.

Peace out, people. 
Mark, Bobbie, and Ruthie...


  1. Wow, Mark this is my all time favorite hike, it's got everything and the Falls put it over the top for me. Hey and those views in every direction Wow again, sweet Jesus I am *issed that we never got to do that hike, would love to have a few rocks from that one in the old back yard.

    Do that one again on a cloudy day, would ya :)

    Stay Thirsty My Friends
    D & A

  2. It’s hard to get a photo of a waterfall from the top, but looking down one sure gives a thrill. I’m amazed at all the hiking you are doing close to Ouray. The weather and the trail conditions look wonderful. Keep doing the right thing in those mountains! Chris

  3. Love the drone videos too, more of a 3D experience.

  4. What spectacular scenery! Love your description of the rocks. I wonder how they got the camp stove up there...as with so many things they got into those mountains of yours.

    1. The stove likely disassembled into smaller pieces, so I imagine pack mules brought it up...along with considerable coal that still remains scattered about. The trail is not as narrow and precipitous as Bear Creek. :)

  5. I made it to the falls a few years ago. A large snowbank right before the creek crossing stopped me. I still felt that just the trail was quite an accomplishment for an old man from Mississippi. Thanks for the memory...jc


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