You know how it is, you try and try to get ready for a trip and life keeps getting in the way. You wanted to have everything ready a week early, then it was a day, and then it was the night before and you were scrambling... Truck maintenance, DONE. Water Tanks, FULL. Fuel, FULL. Tires and fluids, CHECKED. Maps in digital and paper form, LOADED. Batteries/clothing and immense amounts of other gear, PACKED. All we had to do was get the groceries that needed to stay cold from the fridge and put them into the truck fridge. Simple enough... right?? As we hit the I-17 our minds were still whirling with thoughts of work, home and the trip lists. These lists persist in your mind for the first hours and sometimes days of a trip. The only way you realize this is by occasionally taking a trip longer than the normal long weekend. It hits you 5 or 10 days in that you are finally relaxed. You finally feel like... YOURSELF. Odd and somewhat sad, although true, that we feel more comfortable in our skin days away from our daily lives. Or is it just me? We were a bit shell shocked from non-stop work over the last few weeks. It left no time for prep. Work on the house, work on the trucks, working to help family had taken up all of our time. That's okay, that's life. What I can tell you is that we both looked at each other while driving as if to say "We made it? Did we? It's real, right!? This doesn't feel real yet..." Thankfully we were on the road, Goose was running well and we were making time. Up the steep grades with a truck that I fear could have tipped the scales at almost 7,000 pounds. 34 Gallons of fuel, 13 Gallons of water, a couple six packs of beer, a small flask of good Tequila and a fifth of good bourbon. These things are essential, but weigh a lot. ;-) Up through Northern Arizona, I am reminded of how beautiful this country is. It's part of the largest Native American reservation in the US so it doesn't leave itself up to being explored easily, but along the highway it begs to be!
As the sun got low we entered "Colorful Colorado." There is something about these wood signs you find at the entrance to this great state that set a tone. A wooden sign with those words carved says something about an area. No pretenses, not trying to impress, just stating the obvious and welcoming you. We weren't in Scottsdale anymore, thank god.
Somewhere near Cortez, CO. we decided it was time to eat dinner and gas up before making our escape onto dirt. That's when she looked at me as I was filling the gas tank... "It's empty..." Haha, funny. I'm not falling for it! "No, really, there is no food, it's empty." I had to walk over and see it for myself to believe. I could tell by the look she felt horrible, but all I could do was laugh. At that moment the bottle of Kahlua slipped off the bed next to the fridge and hit the ground. It shattered all over the place. Noooooooooooooo. Now I was frowning. No food, fine, but delicious Kahlua coffee... no mas. A single tear fell down my face. Haha. Well, that's not strictly true, but it could have been. I decided we'd better stop this chain of events in it's tracks and FAST. Let's hit a super market, now. No self pity, no lolly gagging, let's just restock and do it quickly. We went to the grocery store and shockingly we were in, out, resupplied with almost the exact items we had packed into our home fridge about 500 miles away in under 15 minutes. Job well done. Now let's get onto dirt. After a few wrong turns and the previous blunders I was starting to feel like we may have lost "the touch." We'd always been the efficient team that is ready to go, ready to camp, ready to eat or do anything else the fastest and with the least effort and work. I was feeling like a clueless city person wandering my way in the dark. Alas, it all came back in line and we found a perfect campsite down a mostly obscured road in the most southern part of the San Juan Mountains. Balance restored. Let's do this.
We headed towards Rico and stopped for coffee along the Dolores river. Water is everywhere in these mountains. I can't actually think of a single road or trail that didn't at least have a babbling brook traveling next to it. Gotta love it.
Rico, a beautiful, but tiny town that's only partially been hit by the wealthy incoming hipsters and retiree's. Over the years I've seen some of these mountain towns turn from working towns into artist's or retiree havens. There is nothing wrong with that, but somehow I miss knowing that "real" people, people who need a paycheck to live, can make a living in such a picturesque spot. Still, seeing the countless millions poured into the historic homes and buildings of these towns to restore them, I can't help think that this is the way it's going and that's not all bad. Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. Get off my desertscape yard ya damn kids!
As you head up the highway to Telluride and Ophir the views are amazing. This is the view looking from the highway towards the tiny town of Ophir, CO. Let's just call it what it is, pornographic. It's hard to fathom in person. I love it.
Now, once again, we're on dirt. Time to drive Ophir Pass.
Heading up the grade and looking back at Ophir is no disappointment either.
The first time you drive a road like this, or the much sketchier ones in the area, your mind is filled with what could go wrong. The more you drive them, the more that is replaced with pure enjoyment. Over the years a strange calm comes over me the more I drive shelf roads, no matter where they may lead. I remind myself that I'd better never loose respect for them, or they could end me very quickly.
At the top.
One down and many more to go.
The amount of snow up here in July is amazing. Sure, we're at some high elevations, but we're wearing shorts, t-shirts and we're hot. The snow, which is now packed into a white dirt smudged ice block, seems to be holding on for dear life! It must really hate getting rafted on and pooped in by animals once it turns into a mountain river. (deep thoughts)
A little section of road to get to our next trail. Check out these avalanche/rockslide bridges over the road. Amazing engineering along what is known as the "Million Dollar Highway."
It was sad to see this old mine structure no longer standing, but I'm thankful I got to see it years ago in all it's glory. Although you don't see the massive amounts of Vandalism that plaques other historic spots in the US, the snow and extreme weather do their work to erode everything man-made right back into the ground from where it came.
It's fun to look for a manufacturing location or model number on pieces of equipment you see. There is something all the more amazing to find that an item, up here in these rugged mountains, was brought from Denver, New York or Chicago by train, then wagon, then mule to be used for mining.
And then it hits you as you turn around to walk back to the truck. WOW! I'm here. THIS is my view. It's all mine. All of the work, the planning, the prep, the cost and the time is worth it. Then you start to forget about work, at least a little bit.
I see a lot of trucks with a sticker for each and every "trail" or "pass" they've done. I'm not against it, they make me smile, just don't ever forget that there are no bad choices when on a trip. Get lost a bit, explore. Do the big named trails and then take a few less used ones. Find a few dead ends, because at the end of one of those trails you'll find a campsite you swear is "yours" and you'll never tell anyone about it because it's so amazing and off the map. Speaking of no bad choices. Let's go do the hard one.
Just driving up a river, nothing to see here.
So, here we go. 22 PSI or so (too much really), the ground is wet and I just watched a highly modified Jeep Cherokee spin his tires at full throttle to give the rocks a good polishing and coating of water/mud. I was surprised he didn't break something, but no one likes a stranger trying to give advice so I tried to keep as quiet as possible.
I drove up looking for a decent line and found it, but as soon as I was at this point all 4 tires would slip. Low range, locked front and rear and trying to crawl I was just getting no grip on the wet rock. I would slide sideways slowly and into the "bad" line with flowing water and mud that the last guy got stuck in :-(
A couple seconds after this shot I got a bit more vertical and actually bent my rear license plate horizontal. I think that's a sign. I'm not sure I've learned what it means, but it's a sign. Maybe I should treat Goose nicer than this, but it's what he was made for. At least I was not going whiskey throttle and damaging anything.
I pulled back about 15 feet to the lower shelf and took a new line. I wanted some "clean" surface to try. This line was sketchy because you go far right, but lean left to the crack I had just been caught in. If I slipped I could fairly easily roll the truck to the flat spot below me or even off of that to the lower flat area. Once I got some purchase on the rock I kept it moving along until I heard what I was expecting, but HOPING not to hear. Frame rails touching rock. I wasn't worried about the frame because it could handle it and a lot more. I was worried about my "breakover" angle being too much to surmount. If I was lightly touching the frame I could power the truck over the pivot point and over the top lip of this climb. If not, I'd just get myself wedged on it better! Thankfully, the former happened and I pulled up. Phew. Now, let's get away from this crowd and back to some nice and quiet trails!
One final note from the folks at the Poughkeepsie climb. They said that rangers were just ahead on the trail handing out $300 tickets to anyone who left the trail. I understand and appreciate that, but this part of the trail has so many lines that it's hard to know what the official trail is. I think these rangers were having a bad day and were in no mood to return a hello or howdie from us. We stuck to the obvious snow covered line and ignored the one 10 feet to the left with no snow. (It turns out that's the line they were ticketing) The end result?
This will be as far as we get up Poughkeepsie this year. Oh well.
Time to head back down the ledge and over Engineer Pass. It's not a bad thing. I could drive around up here for months.
I didn't take as many pics of the old mining era structures this trip. Check out my earlier Colorado trip reports to see more of them. Here are a few just from ascending Engineer Pass.
Polkadot landscape! This on is best viewed in full size. You can see the trail we took below.
Yah, I'll just live... right.... here. (Better make that my new Blog background... maybe the computer too!)
Time to buy another sticker for 2015! ;-)
Just over the pass you realize how much work the dozers had to open this pass. No wonder so many others were still in process.
It had been a long day. Neither of us regretted covering so much ground, but we were beyond tired. All of the lower and easier to access campsites were filled with trailers, RV's, Jeep Clubs and even some adventurous Subaru's so we crossed a fairly deep stream and went higher... and higher...
Found it! Camp at last!
It even came with end tables and wood.
The view from camp was amazing. From mountains
To a pond and old cabin to hike to
Bucks with velvet still intact.
I almost forgot to mention. We had our own white noise machine too. We cooked some dinner, made a s'more and I think we fell asleep before we hit the bed. It was a good night of sleep at over 11,000 feet.