LoCo Spring Drive – Day 3

June 4

For a three day vacation, there wasn’t much sleeping in. We breakfasted and checked out of the hotel and were on the road by 8am. We started off eastbound on I-80 for about twenty miles until we reached WY 130. Going south on WY 130 you cross the top of the T in a T-intersection. To continue on 130 we needed to make a left turn. Continuing straight puts you on WY 230.

We missed the turn. We were in the middle of the pack and assumed nobody else saw it as nobody slowed down or put on a turn signal. I didn’t see it until we were right on top of it, but Genae had no doubt we missed the turn for Snowy Pass. We discussed options, really wanting to turn around. I dithered, wanting to stay with the group. Before long, though, Mike found a spot where we could turn our string of cars around and after a short detour we were back on our proper way. I probably jinxed us yesterday by joking that we hadn’t made any wrong turns.

Medicine Bow Peak and the Snowy Range

The Snowy Range was the highlight of today’s drive. Mike led us to a scenic overlook that was empty, and we lined up the cars in front of the gorgeous backdrop of the Snowy Range. We lined up with the Hyundai and Subaru at the end, and very quickly a Honda Fit pulled into formation with us; an automotive photobomb. They made good by taking our group picture with Peter’s camera; he didn’t have a tripod, so with their help he got to be in the picture.

Photo courtesy Peter Monson

At the eastern foot of the pass we exited pine forest onto the high plains and through the town of Centennial. From there the road goes to Laramie, where we had a pit stop and a picnic in the park. At the gas station, one of the gals working there came out and ogled the cars. “I like that one best”, she said, pointing to the Elan +2, the oldest car in the group. “I like the old ones. I used to have Jaguar E-Type.” She was quite the enthusiast. She told us all sorts of clubs stop here; even the monster trucks came through.

From Laramie we headed south on WY 230. If you’ve been paying attention you may be wondering how we find ourselves on the road that we made a wrong turn on to on the other side of the Snowy Range. This is a fair question. You’ll have to ask somebody at the Wyoming transportation department. It appears that one can enter Colorado in two different places by driving south on WY 230.

In any event, we climb back above the grassy plains and into pine forest, and into Colorado where the route changes designation to CO 127. After a few short miles we exit the forest again and emerge in North Park where we junction with CO 125. (If you stay on CO 127 rather than making a left onto 127 you’ll cross into Wyoming and find yourself heading north on WY 230.)

I’ve lived in Colorado forty years and I’ve never been to North Park before. It was obvious to me where we were; it’s quite similar to South Park but on a smaller scale. A flat, wide, treeless, high altitude valley ringed by snow-capped mountains. We turned east on CO 14 and ascended Cameron pass. I made a point to try to identify what side roads I could, as I plan on coming here for a hike in a few weeks. But without knowing what I was looking for, a road name or route number, I could do little other than to get a sense of the terrain.

We didn’t have to go far down the Poudre canyon to start hitting traffic. We were trying to go only a few mph over the limit. The first couple of cars we caught up to kindly pulled over for us. Then we came upon a truck towing a 30’ trailer. He was oblivious; had a string of cars behind him about a mile long, was going between 10 and 20 mph under the limit, and passed at least three dozen signs advising slow traffic to use the pullouts. He led us all the way to US 287.

When we got out of the canyon, my phone chimed with a text. It was Victor, saying my car was ready. I had Genae reply, telling him I’d call him in a few minutes.

Our next (and last) rally point was the Conoco station at the corner of Wilcox and College. I immediately got on the phone with Victor. He really wanted to get the car to me so he had played around with it some more. He disconnected, cleaned, and reconnected the suspected bad sensor and it worked. I told him I’d stop by his shop after we had dinner with my brother.

I drove the rest of the way home in the Elise, but that’s the end of the next blog entry. I’m finally ready to tell the ordeal of the cam.

LoCo Spring Drive – Day 2

June 3

We wanted to get an early start today. Our first stop is the Dinosaur Quarry Visitor Center. It’s a short drive from there to the Quarry Exhibit Hall, and by 9:00 we’d have to take the shuttle bus. So we had breakfast and checked out of the hotel by 7:30.

Fossils in the quarry wall

They built a building over a “wall” of fossils; hundreds in a very small place. There are the bones of Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, and several other behemoths plainly visible, free to be touched (as long as you don’t climb on the wall). The exhibit hall also includes murals and castings and signs detailing the fossils and the history of the quarry.

Quarry Exhibit Hall

The layers of the Earth are nearly vertical here. One of the layers had a faintly blue tint, which reminded me of the John Day fossil bed that I visited on my Oregon trip a few years ago. I asked about the similarity back at the visitors center but the ranger I talked to had only recently started work there and didn’t have an answer.

Swelter Shelter

We took a quick side trip about a half mile up the road to Swelter Shelter. This is a small site with enough parking for maybe half a dozen cars. Just a couple hundred feet from the road you get to see both petroglyphs and pictographs. A petroglyph is an image chipped or carved into the rock while a pictograph is something that is painted on the rock. The pictographs are somewhat more rare, as they’re more easily weathered. Unfortunately, many modern visitors have left their own marks here as well.


Extinct and large

After Dinosaur, back to Vernal then north on US 191. After a few miles the road rises steeply, navigating ten switchbacks taking us from high desert to more mountainous terrain – aspen and pine. The Simplot phosphate mine is visible in places on both sides of the highway. There are a couple of scenic overlooks but we dallied longer than expected at Dinosaur and didn’t stop to take in the views.



Extant and small

For several miles along this route we pass through a number of geological layers; we’re traveling through time. I didn’t have any idea which way we were going, from older to younger or vice-versa. For each layer we traversed there was an accompanying sign by the side of the road: “Morrison formation – where Stegosaurus roamed”. Some referenced “bizarre sharks” or fossilized sand dunes.

Passing through geologic history, we climbed and the terrain changed from high desert to mountain forests of pine and aspen. Flaming Gorge dam was next on our itinerary. US 191 makes a right turn at the junction with UT 44. We continued on 191 to the dam. Here we made notes of what we might see when we come back with the luxury of more time. They give a walking tour of the dam, where you can go deep inside and see the inner workings.

Flaming Gorge dam

On the east side of the dam there’s a road down to a boat ramp on the river. Near the top of this road is a small pullout with a nice view of the face of the dam. We asked some other members of our group if they wanted to go with us but had no takers. By the time we returned to the parking lot half a dozen others changed their minds. That’s okay, though, as there was very little parking.

We headed back down US 191 toward UT 44. Genae was keeping an eye out for a place to pull over so we could get a picture of an interesting bridge we crossed to get to the dam. It’s very much like the bridge at Roosevelt dam near Phoenix. Mike was way ahead of us, though, and had already picked out a spot for a group photo.

Which of these is not like the others?

Next we made another side trip, to Red Canyon overlook this time. There were a number of warning signs: “Steep cliffs. Guard your children!” The view was spectacular. Although we couldn’t hear the boats below us, we could see them clearly. We watched a water skier wipe out. By now it was noon and lunch wasn’t scheduled until we got to Green River. So it was decided we’d change plans and have lunch here. But no food was available; we had ours with us in a cooler (advantage of having cargo space) and a few others had stopped at a Subway in Vernal, but some didn’t have food. So a few cars went ahead of us.

After lunch we took a side trip down the Sheep Rock Geologic Loop for another group photo. We understood the loop was closed and turned around but found out later that some who didn’t have lunch went this way and the loop was open and “spectacular”. While we were stopped for this photo, I saw Ken messing around at the front of our car. He had a magnetic roundel, and temporarily made our car an honorary Lotus.

The terrain changes dramatically as we cross from Utah to Wyoming, from pine and aspen forest to high desert. Along the way we encountered some of the same signs as we saw in the morning, describing each of the geologic layers we traversed.

We stopped for fuel in Green River, WY. This was our originally scheduled lunch stop. It’s a good thing we adjusted our plan, as it was late afternoon by now.

About this time, I exchanged text messages with Victor. He confirmed that the car was ready. But shortly thereafter he called. He was sorry, but the car wouldn’t be ready until Monday at the earliest. He test drove it, but the fan never came on. Evidently the engine head coolant temperature sensor was bad and the fan wasn’t coming on. They can’t get a replacement part until Monday. I was disappointed, to say the least.

The final leg of the day was a blast eastbound on I-80 to Rawlins. We were gassed up and ready to go, so we hit the road first. It didn’t take long for the modern cars to pass us by, but we had a big enough head start that the older cars were still behind us.

After getting checked in at the hotel we had time for a brief rest before heading to dinner at Aspen House. We can be a bit picky when it comes to dining out. We wanted to go over the menu first, thinking we may head off on our own. They don’t have a menu on their website but the Yelp reviews were pretty good so we said “what the heck” and went anyway. This was a good decision. The restaurant operates in an interesting old Victorian house and the food and service were both good.

LoCo Spring Drive – Day 1

It’s time for another edition of Lotus Colorado’s “Colorado Good.” This time we’re making a loop that covers three states, with stays in Vernal, UT and Rawlings, WY and visits to Dinosaur National Monument and Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

This year the entry list included thirty people in fifteen cars, including nine Lotus. Ours, unfortunately, was not one of them as the Elise is still in the shop. We always have a variety of cars; it’s not really about the cars. But I have to admit that it felt a little off driving the Hyundai. In some subtle ways we were outsiders. Not among the group, of course. But when we drove through towns we were invisible in the Hyundai.

Friday, June 2

Mike’s directions had us rendezvousing at the rest stop in Edwards. The Denver contingent made plans to meet just outside Morrison but we headed off on our own. We’d be in a group for the better part of three days so we took advantage of having a little time on our own.

We left the house at 8:30. We weren’t rushed getting out of the house and it was plenty early. I figured we might have the better part of a half hour to loiter at the rest stop. The weather was quite pleasant – sunny and mostly clear, and calm. Another beautiful day in Colorado.

When I travel I always ask myself, “What did I forget?” I’ve been pretty good lately. I managed to not forget anything on my last several business trips. We were nearly to the assembly point when I realized I’d forgotten the SLR. So it would be cell phone pictures instead. Luckily, cell phones these days do a decent enough job to tell the story. (True, I didn’t take any pictures today, so you’ll have to judge that tomorrow and Sunday.)

As I expected, we were the first to arrive. It’s a nice little rest stop, services both eastbound and westbound traffic and sits a bit off the highway, so it’s fairly quiet. I couldn’t help but notice a “No Loitering” sign on the building. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rest stop where loitering was specifically prohibited.

By the appointed time we had assembled most of the gang. From here until a few miles outside of Vernal it would be new roads for us. Although we were headed north, we started to the south. We skipped a few miles of interstate this way on our trip to Wolcott where we picked up CO 131 and the drive started in earnest.

I won’t bother with a navigational blow-by-blow. I will say that the highlight of the day was the twenty or so miles we spent on County Road 27 from Oak Creek to the junction with US 40. It’s quite a nice Lotus road, with a smooth surface featuring lots of twists and elevation changes. I’ll admit that it’s not as much fun in the Hyundai; low power and high center of gravity is not as good as high power and a low center of gravity. I look forward to making another pass on it someday in the fun car.

Somewhere around here Victor phoned to tell me my car would be ready tomorrow. I normally don’t care much if we have cell coverage, but I was happy we did at that moment. I’ve been a bit stressed out that I might not get the car back in time for my Austin trip next weekend. So this was a phone call I was happy to get. I reminded Victor that we were on the LoCo drive and we’d be in Ft. Collins on Sunday afternoon. We agreed I’d pick it up then. Excellent news!

We stopped for fuel in Craig, followed by a picnic in the local park. Usually we have to check the route carefully and have a plan for getting food. Will it be Subway again, or do we have multiple choice? The one advantage of not being in the Lotus is having plenty of cargo space. We had not one but two coolers with us, provisioned with ample supplies of cold cuts, cheese, condiments, beverages, and fruit. This gave us a few extra minutes of relaxation.

US 40 goes directly from Craig to Vernal. I drove that section ages ago, on my first trip to California. There’s nothing, really, to see on that road. Mike routed us through Meeker utilizing a couple of state highways. A few more miles, but less traffic and more appealing scenery. We connected back up with US 40 at the village of Dinosaur. Rather than go directly to Vernal and the hotel, we made a quick side trip to the visitor center for Dinosaur National Monument. We arrived there about 4:15.

This entrance to the park gives access to a 31 mile drive to a scenic overlook near the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers. It’s about forty-five minutes each way, so taking it this time was out of the question. Someday we’ll spend more time in the neighborhood; we’ll get to it sooner or later.

Our short break over, we resumed US 40 westbound to Vernal. Just after passing through the village of Dinosaur there is a large area adjacent to the road that recently burned. The highway makes a straight southern bound to this area, which was six or seven miles long and perhaps a couple hundred yards to the north. It looked to be quite recent, still smelled freshly charred. Writing this now, I looked it up and discovered that it just happened a few days ago. A 25 mile stretch of US 40 was briefly closed to fight the fire that burned 920 acres of cheat grass and brush on May 30th.

After we got settled in to the hotel we all made our way to the Vernal Brewing Company for dinner. I’m sure it’s hard to seat a table for thirty, so I try to be forgiving. We were offered a limited menu, with the choice of rib eye, salmon, or chicken. I didn’t see anybody with the chicken but did see ribs. Both Genae and I selected the rib eye. Service was good, given the circumstances, but my steak was on the cold side. In addition, it was about the thinnest rib eye I’ve seen. It seemed a bit on the tough side, but that sensation may have been enhanced by the dull cutlery. Not exactly satisfying for $75.

We were back to the hotel a bit after 9pm. It was a long day of driving. We covered more than the usual number of miles. We turned in, looking forward to more sightseeing tomorrow.

Santa Fe, Day 1

Saturday, May 21

It’s time for another long weekend trip with LoCo. We used to call these trips The Colorado Good, a riff on The Colorado Grand. This one’s entirely in New Mexico, except for the to and from. The participant list detailed twenty cars and thirty-five people. Mike organized the whole affair and sent out a nice Tour Guide with turn-by-turn directions and snippets of history for many of the places we’d be seeing.

On the way down, the first official way point was in Johnson Village. The Denver folks would meet up with the Springs people there. The Denver contingent planned to gather at The Fort and caravan to the rendezvous. However, we elected to proceed solo and were headed up the canyon on US 285 when the rest were scheduled to start their engines. We were allowing for a potty stop; we’d have been separated from the group anyway.

Going up Kenosha Pass I was collected by a short line of traffic. When I finally got a chance to pass them, a glance in the mirror revealed a string of skittles rolling down into South Park – the other Denver cars. Mike’s notes indicated we wouldn’t be going more than five to seven miles an hour over the limit. In South Park this is fiction. The first few cars in line flew past us at a great rate of speed.

Pete stopped at the junction with US 24 and we all stopped with him. Several people got out and inspected the bottom of his car. With things well in hand, we elected to continue to the rendezvous. Moments after we left, the Colorado Springs cars arrived at the junction. We couldn’t have gotten the timing any better if we’d tried. (Later, we learned Pete’s issue was a loose diffuser.)

Approaching the summit of Trout Creek Pass a prairie dog darted out in front of me. He never had a chance; I don’t think my tires ever made contact with him, but no matter. In the hundreds of thousands of miles I’ve driven in cars and trucks before the Elise I’ve never killed any animals. I hit a deer in my Arrow but didn’t even knock her off her feet. But in the Elise I’ve now gotten four birds and a prairie dog. How does that work, exactly? When we stopped, I checked out the car. No blood, not even hair, and no damage to the car.

When we finally hit the road as a full group, departing Johnson Village, we were four Elises, two Exiges, two Evoras, two M100s, a Europa, a Birkin, a Focus ST, a TR-6, a Boxster, and a Miata. (In Santa Fe we added another Elise and a Z06 Corvette.)

We had a picnic lunch in Alamosa. The road through the San Luis Valley to Alamosa is one of the straightest roads I’ve ever driven on. Not exactly a Lotus road, but it gets a pass because I never get tired of looking at the Sangre de Christo mountains. We didn’t have a picnic lunch so we made a detour to Arby’s. Afterwards we refueled. Genae bought a candy bar. The cashier told her they were two for one so we decided to split one and save the other for tomorrow.

The drive from Alamosa to Antonito lacks the drama of the northern end of the valley. Ranch land instead of scrub, but centered in the wide valley and without a view. Unremarkable, except for the parallel railroad track. It’s a single line and for ten or twelve miles it’s an almost unbroken string of idle rolling stock. At the northern end it was all brand new tank cars. After the new cars it alternated stretches of hoppers, covered hoppers, and tank cars. An almost unbroken string, I say: gaps only at side roads and driveways. How many rail cars fit in ten miles? How many millions of dollars of capital equipment is that?

Leaving Antonito we finally embark on a road that is new to me. Rather than turn left to stay on US 285 in the Rio Grande valley we continue straight, the road now designated CO 17, following the Conejos River. This road takes us over La Manga (Spanish for “sleeve”) and Cumbres (“crests”) passes. The Cumbres crosses the divide of the Chama and Los Pinos rivers, both tributaries of the Rio Grande.

More than a century ago, Ernest Ingersoll described part of Cumbres Pass thus:

In the most secluded nook of the mountains we come upon Phantom Curve, with its company of isolated rocks, tall, grotesque, sunburned. They fill the eye, and in their fantastic resemblance to human shapes, seem to us crumbled images of the days when there were giants, and men of Titanic mold set up mementoes of their brawny heroes.

Much of the path parallels the Cubres-Toltec narrow gauge railroad. The road crosses the rails near the top; on the descent the rails are often visible, curling along the hillside below. The railroad turns are surprisingly tight. We didn’t see any trains running, but in Chama there were a number of sidings holding quite a few cars.

After we gassed up in Chama we were leading the group. I thought I might collect another bird when we came upon a murder of crows feasting on dead deer in middle of road. The birds were reluctant to leave their meal, not taking flight until after staring me down for a moment, making me slow down.

Our position in the lead didn’t last long. Lacking electronic counter measures we stuck to the 5-7mph rule. A few miles after the crows some faster cars passed us and we picked up the pace. The first car to pass did so just as an antelope was crossing the road ahead. There was only one; I don’t think the passing driver saw it. This section of road between US 84/US 64 junction and Tres Piedras is very nice. It features long sweeping turns on hillsides of piñon forest. There was one particularly nice view of granite mountain that resembled Half Dome.

We were near the front of the pack and our group of cars separated from the rest. We didn’t see some of the folks until well after we had checked in at hotel. This was when we learned of Jeremy’s problem: a blown oil line. He shut the motor down immediately and was fortunate to have a handy place to pull off the road. This is by far the worst mechanical issue we’ve had on any of these trips.

Happy hour was scheduled at six, which gave us time to get provisioned for tomorrow’s picnic. We made a quick run to the grocery store and picked up sandwich fixings and some fruit.

We had adult beverages and chips and dip, cheese, and shrimp; a much better spread than we were anticipating. It was a long day’s drive, and many of us were happy to move the conversation to the next room and eat at the hotel restaurant.

Red Rocks Ramble

Red Rocks Ramble was the sixth edition of LoCo’s Colorado Good. This time we explored Moab. Saturday drive to Moab, Sunday a morning loop, a free afternoon followed by happy hour at the motel, Monday tour Colorado National Monument before the final blast down I-70 to home.

Saturday, May 31

We met the Denver contingent at the Fort for an 8:30 departure. We were told that photographer Mike Rodgers (Driven Imagery) would get some shots of us from an overpass at Parmalee Gulch. Turns out he went as far as the summit of Monarch Pass. I’m pretty sure I saw him shooting us in South Park, too.

RedRocksRamble01Most of the drive would follow our tracks from last spring: meet folks from Breckenridge in Fairplay, Springs folks near Buena Vista, lunch in Gunnison where we picked up our last participant. But after Ridgway we went straight instead of turning left to Telluride. This took us up the Norwood grade, through the town of Bedrock and Paradox Valley. There was absolutely no traffic all the way to the junction with US 191, a high-speed blast punctuated by occasional cattle guards.

RedRocksRamble02We weren’t so lucky on 191 all the way to Moab – lots of trucks and RVs. We arrived at the motels – we were in two motels, across the street from each other – in plenty of time to check in and get cleaned up before dinner with the group at the diner next to the motel.

One sad note for the day – Jeff broke the suspension on his Birkin near our fuel stop in Montrose and had to drop out.

Sunday, June 1

We woke to a beautiful morning and after breakfast assembled for a drive on the La Sal Loop Road. As it was hot the whole weekend, we kept the top on most of the time but we slathered on the SPF and went al fresco.

We made the run clockwise, going north from Moab and along the Colorado River through a dramatic red rock canyon. The river is calm through here, no whitewater. But the water looked very high. Quite a lot of traffic through here, as one would expect. We soon found our turn and headed south into the La Sal Mountains.

I’m sure it was a beautiful road, however many decades ago it was last paved. But it was very scenic and I think everybody enjoyed it. We pulled over for a break and a group picture. Some of the folks were wishing they’d brought a light jacket, which was a pleasant break from the heat we had the rest of the trip.

We broke into smaller groups for lunch and went off to explore on our own for the afternoon. A lot of folks headed to Arches, but we’d been there before so the choice was Dead Horse Point or Canyonlands. I suggested we do Canyonlands and hit Dead Horse Point on the way back if there’s time. There wasn’t.

Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome

I’d looked at the map of the park before leaving the house. I hoped maybe there’d be a short hike we could take, not much more than a mile. Upheaval Dome fit the bill, so that’s where we headed first. Round trip is a mile, characterized by the pamphlet as a “steep” 200 foot climb.

IMG_0698_stitch_smallAfter that, we pretty much stopped at every major scenic point on the road. We didn’t see anybody else from LoCo and in fact it seemed like most park visitors were foreigners. I chatted with a guy from Germany (“I see a lot of Lotuses in Germany!”), heard Chinese and Japanese, French and Spanish spoken.

IMG_0702_stitch_smallBack at the motel, we had happy hour – margaritas, snacks and conversation. Then out to Eddie McStiff’s for dinner with the group.

The day wasn’t without glitches. One of the M100’s suffered not only a nasty rock impact and broken windshield but had a mechanical problem as well. And an Elise had to make a run to Grand Junction for tires.

Monday, June 2

The first few miles of the day were a repeat of yesterday. We stopped beneath the canyon walls for a group picture. Ross’s general rule is not to put the same color cars next to each other, but that is especially true for yellow. I think Mike parked next to him just to needle him a bit. Sometime I’d like to try lining them up like a rainbow.

IMG_0717sAt our morning pit stop in Fruita I managed to catch an impromptu group shot at the Loco station. Gotta get a shot of LoCo at Loco, right?

2014-06-02 09.55.52sGassed up and refreshed, we headed into Colorado National Monument. I’ve been by here a handful of times but never stopped for a visit so it’s about time. It is a pretty interesting place. The geography is similar in many ways to Canyonlands, but smaller and more intimate. I ran the camera for this part of the drive and will post a second video if I manage to put together anything interesting.

IMG_0722_stitch_smallLunch in Grand Junction at the Kannah Creek Brewing Company for the official end of the gathering. Several of us stuck together for a few miles of twisty roads along I-70. We took County Road 45.5 into DeBeque, then side roads up and down the side of the valley to minimize our time on the super-slab.

For the run from Rifle to Frisco, we were down to four – an Evora, two Elises, and a Miata. We find the trip through Glenwood Canyon always interesting – the highway is quite the engineering marvel, even if it is just a highway. But this time, the river was running higher than either of us recall seeing it. The bike path was flooded for long stretches, and the water looked to be within a foot or two of the railroad tracks.

Once through the canyon, we put the hammer down for a high speed run over Vail pass. A Volkswagen stayed on our tail until we got to the foot of the pass. There we passed a Pantera, who made an attempt to keep up with us. After a few minutes neither he nor the VW was in our mirrors.

We had to gas up in Frisco. At the next pump was a guy filling his Harley. I was thinking he looked familiar when he said, “You were in Moab.” We had met the day before. He arrived in Frisco along an entirely different route and was headed for Trail Ridge Road next. He had ridden 1600 miles in three days, starting in Texas.

The rest of the trip was leisurely and mostly uneventful. We were held up for a few minutes while they did some blasting at the tunnel construction east of Idaho Springs. And there was construction on one of the overpasses. They ground the asphalt off but didn’t make a little ramp as normal. I hit that edge hard at about sixty and both my turn signal assemblies popped out of their mounts and flopped around until I could get pulled over. Lost one of the grommets. It’s an $8 part, but $20 for shipping.

I can’t speak for everybody, but we had a grand time.

Colorado Good 5

Sorry this post is a bit late, I’ve been otherwise occupied.

Saturday, September 21

LoCo’s three day fall drive included a night in Gunnison and a night in Crested Butte. The route looked interesting, but we just have too much to do to join them. Day one, though, featured Independence Pass. I haven’t been over it in the last thirty years or so and Genae has never been over it. So we figured we’d join the group for the drive to lunch in Carbondale.

We met at a gas station near Golden and headed west on I-70. The trip up I-70 to Frisco is pretty scenic as far as interstate highways go, but not exactly a “Lotus road”. We weren’t a big group yet, missing a couple of Denver folks and not yet met with the Springs group. Even so, I was second to last in the string and lost sight of the Henrys behind me. I last saw them before Georgetown and they didn’t catch up until we exited the interstate at the junction with Colorado 91. By now we had two additional cars, both orange Elises.

Fremont Pass isn’t much twistier than I-70. On the northwest side of the highway there are a couple of large tailing ponds where there once was a mountain. And near the summit you can see another mountain being erased. At its peak, the Climax mine was the largest molybdenum mine in the world, producing three-quarters of the world’s output. It was idled in 1995 but put back into production last year, yielding over twenty million pounds per year.

We made a quick stop in Leadville before continuing on to Twin Lakes to meet the Colorado Springs contingent. There we found a patrol car parked on the side of the road with a mannequin in the drivers seat. After a short break we headed up the pass.


Rinker Peak (13,783′)

One of the objects of the drive is to see the turning of the aspen. We were a bit early, but still quite scenic.

Independence Pass tops out at 12,095′ above sea level. Twin Lakes, on the eastern end, is at 9,200′ and Aspen on the west is more like 8,000. It has a reputation for being hair-raising, and I’d say that would have been how I’d described it the first time I crossed it when I was maybe ten. At the foot of the pass, Genae said she’d compare it to Red Mountain Pass. My feeling, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. I didn’t find it particularly thrilling. For Genae, Red Mountain is still the standard setter.

Summit Pano

I did enjoy the narrow parts on the western side. I’d forgotten all about those. There are three or four sections where the road isn’t wide enough for two way traffic. Cars on one side or the other have to wait for oncoming cars. I bet it’s loads of fun in a motor home.

We blasted through Aspen pretty much without stopping. Hit one red light, perhaps. The road snakes through town, right, left, right, left. At one turn, three or four kids had their phones out, getting us on video. Once through town, onto the superslab – not interstate, but damn close, down to Carbondale for lunch.

I didn’t plan the day very well. I considered making a side trip to Maroon Bells. It would mean going back to Aspen, which meant back over Independence to go home. Quite a long afternoon. Instead, we decided to come back to the area and spend a night or two, have a nice dinner in Aspen, take a short hike at Maroon Bells. Perhaps next spring.

So we headed up to Glenwood Springs and I-70 for the return to Denver. A lot more interstate driving than is ideal, but a pleasant day nonetheless. Glenwood Canyon is always interesting. It was recently repaired and all lanes are open both directions.

The Colorado Grand was finishing up in Vale. When we got there, we saw some transporters along the frontage road being loaded up with some of the cars. After Vail is the quick run up Vail Pass. I don’t remember what this one was like before the interstate went through. In any event, most cars make it up at 70 mph. Not exactly a Lotus road.

We stopped to fuel up in Silverthorne for the final blast back through the tunnel, and the run down to Denver. I’m curious what sort of fuel economy we were getting. It’s about 70 miles, which would normally be about two gallons. But the gauge still indicated nearly full. If I burned a gallon and a half, I’d be surprised. Which would mean something like 45 or 50 mpg. (And also means I probably only got 20 or 25 going the other way.)

I had the camera running from Twin Lakes to Aspen, but it’s bad. Within a few minutes of heading out, the lens fogged up. I’ve never had that happen before. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

The Passes

Fremont Pass (11,318′) CD

Named for 1856 Republican presidential nominee John Charles Fremont although he never crossed it. Two narrow gauge railroads were built over the pass in the 1880’s, the Denver and Rio Grande and the Denver and South Park. The most dramatic scenery here is the mine. Entire mountains have been erased, with one undergoing the process.

Independence Pass (12,095′) CD

The town of Independence was named for the ghost town of Independence, founded July 4, 1879. Before that, it was known as Hunters Pass. It’s the highest paved crossing of the Divide but it’s only open in summers.

Vail Pass (10.663′) CD

This pass had no particular use prior to US 6 being put there in the 1940’s. Appropriately, it’s named for Charles D. Vail, chief engineer of the Colorado Department of Highways. Now it’s I-70, pretty much just another stretch of interstate highway.

Eisenhower Tunnel (11,158′) CD

Okay, this is cheating. The tunnel is not a pass. When the project was started it was called the Straight Creek Tunnel. This is two bores, one named for Eisenhower and the other for Edwin C. Johnson, a governor and senator who advocated for the interstate to cross Colorado.

I had a plane ride seated next to the guy who built much of the tunnel’s duct work. He was about ninety and missing a couple of fingertips. Quite an interesting character.