The Colorado Grand is an annual charity tour over the highways and byways of Colorado. The Colorado Good is a Lotus Colorado tour that has almost nothing in common with it. They drive 1960 and older sports cars and cars of distinction. Our cars are almost never that old, but are often distinctly colored. They attract entrants from around the world, ours come mostly from the Front Range. They get help from the State Patrol, we generally try to avoid the State Patrol. They have a storied history of charitable giving, we tell a lot of uncharitable stories.
As has been the case for the last several years, Mike was again the organizer. He did another great job, with this edition taking us through some of Colorado’s finest scenery with overnight stays in Montrose, Durango, and Trinidad, and visits to three outstanding National Parks. I think this is the club’s twelfth Colorado Good, but I may have lost count. It is the seventh that Genae and I have taken part of. This one was a big trip – a bit too big for us so we cut it short, skipping the final day. But I jump ahead. Please allow me to begin at the beginning.
Saturday May 19
As I said, most of the participants come from the Front Range. We can break the Front Range folks into two groups: those from Denver or thereabouts and those from Colorado Springs and environs. But that’s not particularly important. The drive officially begins at a Shell gas station in Johnson Village, a wide spot in the road a few miles south of Buena Vista. Typically, those of us from Denver make a token effort to gather together for the drive down US 285. Mike left us to our own devices to arrange a caravan, and those devices weren’t working. That is, we all made our own ways to the assembly point.
Had the group met at our usual jump-off spot, the parking lot at The Fort restaurant, we’d have done little more than wave hello as we passed. Our intention was to stop at the Wendy’s in Conifer for breakfast and bathroom. Genae checked their website and learned they open at 7am. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case and would prove to be a foreshadowing of a minor motif of the trip for us: misinformation regarding potty stops.
We were thinking we were likely ahead of many of the Denver folks and thus under the delusion that we’d be one of the first cars at the rally point. We’re typically one of the last cars to arrive. We remained true to form and found ourselves to be one of the last cars there.
Two of the cars on this trip started on the Western Slope: an Elise from Gunnison and a Europa from Dolores. John made the drive here from Gunnison but we wouldn’t be meeting Barry and Anne and their Europa until later. Nevertheless, I’ll provide the full census of cars here: we were six Elises, three Europas, an Evora, an Elan +2, an M100 Elan, a Westfield 7, a Mini, a Jaguar XKR, a Porsche Boxster, and a BMW.
In the final moments before we departed, Gordon asked me for a little mechanical assistance. I told him a little was about all I was qualified to give. All he needed to do was reattach the panel under his engine, the one you remove to change the oil. It wasn’t on quite right and it needed to be adjusted. We made the adjustment and tightened down the large bolts. All he needed to do was attach the thirteen or so small bolts and he’d be ready to go. I’m not sure how long it takes to do this, but I am sure we were all out of the gas station before he had any chance of completing the task. So we essentially pulled a “Top Gear” on Gordon, leaving him to deal with his stricken car all by himself.
I felt pretty bad about this so I assumed the position of “tail-end Charlie”. I lagged a little, checking the mirrors and hoping to see him catching up. But I knew he was quite a bit behind us. I asked Genae if we should wait at the navigation point in Saguache for him to catch up, but she said he’d be okay. I’m guessing that the Top Gear guys have plenty of time to catch up to their associates, as everybody is probably spending as much time making a film as they are actually going anywhere. We, on the other hand, don’t lollygag around, and are lucky if we can keep to within single digits above the posted speed limit. We may not see Gordon for some time.
In my reports of these drives I’ve been known to spend a lot of time describing our route. But because we’ve done quite a few of these it’s a challenge to come up with roads we haven’t been on before. That is very much the case today. So while Gordon is pedaling furiously to catch up to the group I will go off on a bit of a tangent, now having the opportunity to describe a new road.
Heading south on US 285 in the northern end of the San Luis Valley we find ourselves in the little town of Saguache. It is perhaps one of the most mispronounced place names in the state. The proper pronunciation, or at least the way the locals pronounce it, is along the lines of “sa-watch”. It’s a Ute word that refers to the range of colors that includes both green and blue. Some modern Ute speakers say it refers to green vegetation while others maintain it refers to some bluish stones. In any event, Saguache is where we leave US 285 and head north on CO 114 and begin a 67 mile stretch of road I’ve never been on before.
The literal high point of this stretch of road is Cochetopa Pass. Actually the road goes over what the sign says is North Cochetopa Pass. But no matter. “Cochetopa” is another Ute word, this one for buffalo. (And when I say “buffalo”, I of course mean bison.) This pass was the original ancient all-weather Ute and buffalo trail linking the San Luis Valley to Gunnison country. It also figured in the first penetration of the Rocky Mountains by Europeans. Governor Juan Bautista de Anza crossed it in late summer of 1779 when he was chasing a group of Comanches led by chief Cuerno Verde. I don’t know of any places in Colorado named for de Anza, but just east of the Sangre de Cristo mountains you’ll find Greenhorn Mountain. Cuerno Verde means “green horn”.
The Rio Grande River flows through the southern part of the San Luis Valley, so it would be natural to think that the streams that flow from the mountains on the northern end of the valley are Rio Grande tributaries. De Anza learned that this isn’t true. These streams, like the ones that pour off the western flanks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains above the Sand Dunes, just disappear.
We had a much easier passage to the Gunnison drainage than de Anza had 239 years ago, as the northern end of CO 114 is a nice Lotus road. Our greatest difficulty was finding places to pass the cattle trucks and lumber trucks we came upon. It was while attempting to dispatch one of these cattle trucks that I noticed a green Elise coming up behind me on the double. Gordon had caught up to us. (“How did you catch us so quickly?” I later asked. “I spent a lot of time over [redacted]. It was fun!”)
After we ate lunch at Legion Park in Gunnison we headed to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Here you’ll find some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rocks in North America. Over a period of about two million years, the Gunnison river cut a deep gorge through 1.7 billion year old gneiss and schist. The river drops an average of 96 feet per mile in the park, falling more in 48 miles than the Mississippi River does in 1500 miles.
Arriving at the park’s entrance station we asked for an interagency pass as we’d be visiting three parks on the trip. The ranger, though, was all out of them. So he let us in for free. “Make sure you buy your pass at the next park you visit.” We will do exactly that.
After a brief stop in the visitor center, the group broke up. Our next group activity was dinner in Montrose and we had a few hours to spend in the park so we headed to the western end of South Rim Road. There are a number of vantage points along the road with names like Dragon Point, Pulpit Rock, and Cross Fissures View. It seemed to me to be a good idea to start at that end and work our way back, but it turns out all the parking spots are on the rim side of the road. So our retrograde path meant we’d be parallel parking facing the wrong way every time. You can’t take me anywhere.
This is fairly arid country, made somewhat worse by the extreme drought we find ourselves in at the moment. One of the rangers there told us that the river is flowing at only about fifty percent of it’s normal for this time of year. In spite of that, most of the shrubs along the rim are in abundant bloom and this is perhaps the prettiest time of year to visit.
Having stopped at almost every vista along the road we exhausted our allotted time. We made our way out of the park and into Montrose a few miles down the road. We got checked in to the hotel, then headed to dinner at a restaurant called Camp Robber. They sat us outside. It was a bit cool, with a breeze and we got sprinkled on once or twice. We didn’t know we were going to sit outside, so we weren’t prepared. I had my jacket in the car and gave it to Genae. I was pretty cold by the end of the meal.
I had a salad – Parmesan encrusted chicken on spinach, with strawberries and pineapples, tomatoes, onion, and strawberry vinaigrette dressing. The soup was hatch green chili potato soup, tasty with a bit of heat. I enjoyed the meal in spite of the chilly conditions.