Ophir Pass: A Shortcut Into the High Country

Exploring the mountainous regions of Southwest Colorado can seem like a daunting venture at first glance. Looking at a map reveals trail after trail after trail, each one offering a different perspective of the beautiful San Juan Mountains. You might find yourself asking: where do I start?

While you might not be able to explore every nook and cranny hidden within these mountains in one day, there are passes you can take that are not only incredibly exciting and beautiful, but also allow you to skip driving long distances on the highway. Once you’re on the trails, oftentimes you’re not too keen on leaving them.

Ophir Pass is one of these shortcuts, and it’s full of history.

Sitting 11,789 feet above sea level and located just up highway 145 from Telluride, CO, this high mountain pass is a 10-mile trail connecting the town of Ophir (as well as the Telluride area) to US-550, otherwise known as the Million Dollar Highway.

The trail was originally known as Howard Pass, named after the old prospector who lived in the area in the 1870’s, Lieutenant George Howard. However, it is believed that this route was first used by Navajo natives for traveling and hunting as they moved between the San Miguel Valley and the Animas Valley in New Mexico.

The name ‘Ophir’ originates from an Arabian city that was known for its riches, especially its gold. The name was coined for the town in Colorado shortly after it was discovered that Howard’s Fork was also rich with gold. Silverton, being the nearest town with smelters, became an essential part of the mining operations in Ophir as miners would routinely use burrow trains to transport their ore to Silverton to be refined.

The earliest version of Ophir Pass was created in 1881. It cost $15,000 to build, was a toll road, and was the main route used to transport goods between the early mountain town settlements of Silverton, Telluride, Rico and Ophir. However, within 10 years of the pass being created, the railroad system had found its way over Lizard Head Pass and down to the Ophir Loop that connected Telluride and Ophir. This drastically reduced traffic over Ophir Pass and it became a wagon road that people rarely traveled.

Ophir Pass, as we know it today, was first opened to Jeeps and other off-road vehicles in 1953.

Now, it serves as a convenient and beautiful shortcut for off-road enthusiasts needing to quickly bridge the gap between the Telluride area, the town of Silverton, and the notorious system of mountain passes known as Alpine Loop.

For adventure-seekers wanting to explore one of the most historic and beautiful regions in Colorado, renting a Jeep from Colorado145 is the best option available. Grab your friends and family, jump into a brand new Jeep and see for yourself the places it will take you!

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