A Colorado Journey

CHAPTER 4:

Today is an action packed day, and one I will not soon forget.

We woke up in Telluride, and the first trail of the day would be Ophir pass. Ophir pass is a convenient way to get from Telluride to Silverton, another old mining town. The trail is 13 miles long, as opposed to nearly 70 miles of road driving. So, once again, we packed our gear, refilled our gas and water, and away we go.

The trail starts off as a mildly rocky road, but nothing of note. Most of the trails start out like this.

After just a short drive, you begin to gradually climb

My wife saw a grader at the bottom of the trail and seemed to be very excited, since a grader’s job is to scrape the road into a nice smooth surface….little did she know, that before the actual trail, there is a small town, and the grader is basically keeping the town’s main road in adequate condition. 😀

Here you can see the tiny town of Ophir. It is mostly houses, with a few businesses scattered about, but I would say it is 95% residential.  Beautiful place, but not the most convenient location if you are a city slicker.

Once you pass through the town, the actual trail head is really right before you enter the dense forest canopy, complete with enough flies to keep Mr. Miyagi busy for days.

The Aspens are beautiful, too bad we didn’t catch the fall colors

These rocks are much sharper than they come across in the photos.

Luckily I was spared the annoyance of a flat tire

Once you get above the tree line, the road once again, gets rocky, tippy, and narrow. Passing becomes an issue, but we encountered very little traffic on this one.

The views were getting even more screensaver-ey.

Once you get above the vegetation line, the surface becomes very rocky and nothing but loose rock like this.  We actually saw a pickup truck with a few work guys picking and sorting through the rock and loading their beds with it.  I can only guess that using stone for construction is cheap in colorado, as it is plentiful, and based on what I saw, seems to be absolutely free.

After a final push of 1100 feet, we reached the summit.

The views of the valley were breathtaking.

It’s kind of weird looking out, and seeing mountains BELOW you…

After a very pleasant and uneventful drive, we finally arrived at Silverton.  Silverton has a long and interesting history.  It was the home hunting ground of the Ute Indians until around 1873, when the Brunot Treaty opened the San Juan mountains for settlement.  The first various settlers from around the continent made their way over here with their iconic covered wagons for a variety of reasons, but gold and silver mining was definitely the biggest.  At the time, this area was also undeveloped, which included the rule of law (aka the wild west.)  As a result, this settler migration also attracted those with a less than stellar past, those wanting to escape problems elsewhere, or those that simply wanted to turn over a new leaf. Early Silverton was a dangerous place.  Lack of any safety standards at mines meant deaths were as common as snow in December.  There was also a great amount of gambling, prostitution, alcohol abuse, and violence.  A few local vigilantes were basically responsible for keeping as much peace and stability as possible. One of those hired lawmen you may have heard of, and his name was Bat Masterson, one of the most feared lawmen in the region. Another famous lawman that protected the frontier of Silverton was a man that went by the name of Wyatt Earp.   The town of Silverton also suffered a great flu epidemic in 1918, and 150 people lost their lives, which was roughly 10% of the population at the time.  The falling metal prices of 1921 shut down nearly all the mines, and most of the population dwindled away.  A few remained open as late as 1991.  In recent history, Hollywood has used Silverton as the backdrop for a number of films, including Ticket to Tomahawk, Great Day in the Morning, Run for Cover, Night Passage, Across the Wide Missouri and Maverick Queen.  Today, Silverton is a beautiful tourist attraction with a great history and and some real western charm.

After a long drive, we decided to grab a bite to eat a local saloon

It is also a very Jeep friendly town…I wonder if they allow any other type of vehicle to park on the streets?

Love a place with a sense of humor

 

As we left Silverton, we saw more artifacts from all the various mining operations.

Old ore gondola

For the 47th time, I wish I had my S2000 with me, as I was simply dumbfounded by these incredible roads…truly world class, but not nearly as pleasant in a Jeep loaded with gear.

Perfect terrain, views for miles, challenging bends, sweeping curves, it’s got it all.

This poor guy almost got a taste of steel bumper at 50mph

It was time to head out for the next adventures of the day, Hurricane Pass to California Pass, to the old mining town of Animas Forks.  Now, I have been using a trail guidebook, along with GPS to make sure I stay on course, but I wasn’t prepared for what was coming up soon.  Hurricane Pass is supposed to be (rated) a fairly mild trail. We climbed most of it without even needing 4WD.

As we got higher up the mountain we came to a V intersection. Checking my guidebook there was no mention of such V and the GPS showed that both sides of the V are actually trails. So, without actually knowing where the path leads off I go….LEFT. This was a serious mistake that I will never make again. Driving on the path for about 15 minutes things were going ok. It was getting a tad rockier, but nothing of concern (although the terrain would be rated moderate by the guidebook, I should have sensed something was wrong.) After another 10 minutes, it began to get narrow, and very rocky…now Im starting to get slightly concerned. I stop, check the GPS, and indeed I am still “on a trail.” So foolishly I keep going. After another mile of rocky terrain, I arrive at a very peaky summit. Literally 1 foot forward, the jeep tips forward. 1 foot back, the jeep tips back…it was as if I was resting on the top of a pyramid. So, glad that I wasn’t climbing anymore, I continued onwards. After 1/4 mile of even rockier terrain, I reach something that really gave me a bad feeling, but again, checking the GPS, I was on a trail, so this entire time, I am thinking I am on a correct path. I start to descend this route, and I tell the wife to get out and film me. Now, we are all tough e-warriors when it comes to the internet, but this actually had me nervous. The real reason I wanted her out of the Jeep is so that she doesn’t see me nervous and doesn’t panic herself. I didn’t panic, but I was nervous.

So, down I go….the slope is probably 35 degrees, if not more, on some of the the most loose terrain I have ever driven on. I could feel the rear end sliding around, but it wasn’t the rear end, it was the ground underneath the rear end! Nervously, but in control, I start to descend….until I get around a slight bend which opens up a view…..of a switchback. If you watch the video carefully, at the around the 1:03 mark, just as I have to make a K-turn on a cliffside switchback, you can hear the wife go “holy sh!t.

 

Now I am really nervous. 500 foot drop offs, Im in a long 4 door Jeep, and I have to do Black Bear Pass style turns on some of the worst terrain I have come across. I make it past that first switchback, sweating, only to realize that I have 7 more to conquer. Great. I kept the wife out of the truck this entire time. She could barely walk on this slope and this terrain, and I was amazed I made it down. Big props to the Jeep for this one. Finally, after a heart pumping drive down, I make it off this hell on a mountain. The wife jumps back into the Jeep, and onwards…..or so I thought. We drove for about 1/4 mile on very rocky terrain again, and see a trail in the distance…

I figured, ok, we’re on the right track, until I turn the next corner…which brought to straight to the edge of a cliff, and at that point I realized the real mistake I made. This was just a sideroad and not the main trail. This is a dead end. So, you guessed it, I now have to go back UP and over the hell-on-a-mountain corkscrew. Keeping my cool not letting my wife see me sweat, I kept making jokes like “I got this I got this” but the situation was not a joke. Lesson #1, if you have people around you that are depending on you, do not show them that you are nervous, it will make them even more nervous. Keep your cool, and logically as well as systematically get out of the situation. I threw her in 4LO, 1st gear, and up I went. Steady, constant pace, slight drifts around the switchbacks so that I wouldn’t have to back up, and steadily, I made it all the way up. The wife was pale white, as she was genuinely scared, as was I, but I didn’t show it. Lesson #2, never go anywhere unless you are sure of where it leads, and lesson #3, never go anywhere unless you are positive you can get back out. I would say that if the slope was about 10 degrees steeper (maybe even 5) a vehicle wouldn’t be able to drive over that loose rock, and would just dig itself in. Buttpuckering? You bet. Hell of a rush when you’re safe? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Not a chance.

So, after a heart-pumping, butt-clinching, jaw-dropping climb back out of this hellhole, I made it back to the V, ready to head back the way I came, crawl back to my hotel and assume the fetal position. Luckily just as I made it back to the V, a few buggies were coming down the other side of the V, and after verifying with them that going RIGHT is the correct path, we plowed onwards, and after only 15 minutes of driving, we arrived at the summit of Hurricane Pass.

Coming down Hurricane Pass headed towards California Pass, we were greeted with the sight of lake Como. At this point both the wife and I calmed down, and were again enjoying ourselves.

After another 40 minutes or so of driving, we arrived at the peak of California Pass

We were now very close to Animas Forks, which is a genuine ghost town. Back in the 1870s, the town of Animas was a bustling mining town, with over 30 residential cabins, a hotel, and a general store.  It was one of the largest mines in the world at the time.  As profits began to drop, the immense cost of running a mine in such a difficult location no longer made financial sense, and even though it made a rebound a few years later, it was just a dead cat bounce and finally shut down.  Today the entire area is run and managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Photo of Animas Forks 1878, courtesy of Wikipedia

This building once houses one of the largest wash-plants in the world.

Some of the homes are still “standing”

Parked where over 100 years ago, men and visitors would park their covered wagons…and today, my wife and I are here in our very own, modern interpretation of a covered wagon

Some houses were larger than others, I suspect some were management, some were laborers.

I guess commuting to work on horseback every morning was not practical, so they all lived right by the mine.

Time to check out inside the cabins….a room with a view

The park workers do a great job of upkeeping the place just enough to allow it to keep standing but not enough to change the feel or make it feel like they are restoring it.

Looks like this was the stable

After the wife and I relaxed on the front porch of these 150 year old cabins, we headed back to Telluride, to grab dinner and turn in for the night.  It was an incredible adventure, one that we still talk about to this day.

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