Lotus Colorado and the Peak to Peak Miata club got together today to take a drive in the mountains to get a good look at the aspens. At least that was the excuse. It was a nearly perfect day for a drive in the mountains. Being a Wednesday, I wasn’t expecting very many cars to show up, but we started off with 22.
Traffic generally wasn’t bad, but all the overviews and pulloffs and roadside parking spaces were pretty full. I guess lots of people had the same idea as us.
Today’s route was notable for me because it’s my first time over Guanella Pass. It doesn’t cross the Divide, but it’s a high one: 11,669′. It’s narrow, has neither center stripe nor edge lines. It’s a nice road with a smooth surface.
We ended our group tour in Georgetown and were on our own for the return home. I-70 was stop and go starting in Idaho Springs. I followed Greg off I-70, through Central City, and up the Peak to Peak highway. I think the best aspens were around Central City. I parted ways with Greg at Coal Creek Canyon. I had almost no traffic, which surprised me.
I was also surprised when I exited the canyon onto Rocky Flats. The smoke over Boulder looked like a big haboob. I thought it must be from Cameron Peak, but evidently it’s from a different fire, up in Wyoming. I found the stark demarcation between smoke and clear (or relatively clear, anyway) interesting. I wouldn’t expect a smoke cloud that’s gone a hundred miles to have such a distinct edge.
I’ve run laps at La Junta one time before, two years ago with CECA. I really had a good time. I describe the track as “rinky dink” yet outstanding: it’s short and flat with six right turns and only one left turn. And yet it’s the only track I’ve been on with a turn that I can take at 100mph. On street tires.
I’ve been wanting to get back there. Last year I made a half-hearted attempt to get the LoCo track rats to do a day. Nothing came of it. This year I put in a bit more effort. After a series of emails with Ryan and Dave to come up with a few possible dates I reached out to Allan at La Junta Raceway to see what we could do. And so we had our first LoCo Track day at La Junta Raceway.
Saturday, October 12
Google Maps tells me La Junta Raceway is 192 miles from my house. The sensible thing to do would be to get a room, as I did last time. But I often get up before 5:00am when I’m hiking, so why should I treat this any different? So I packed the car last night and set my alarm for 4:40. I was out of the house at 5, at the gas station in La Junta a few minutes after 8, and at the track in plenty of time for the 8:30 drivers meeting.
Entry was $100, which is about what HPR charges for half a day. We were hoping we could get 5 Lotus out there. We did get 5 signed up, but Dave’s Elise is up for sale at FoD and his Porsche is leaking fluids, so he scratched. When I looked at the roster Thursday evening there were 9 cars. We had six show up and one of those wasn’t one of those 9.
We ran in two groups: LoCo at the top of the hour, the “mixed group” at half past. It wasn’t so much a mixed group as a German duo: a Porsche and an M series BMW. Allan provided pizza for lunch and coffee and donuts for the drivers meeting.
The meeting had all the usual stuff: talk about the flags, passing, entering and leaving the track. The unusual stuff took up most of the agenda.
My first visit here we ran the whole day counter-clockwise. This is the orientation the track was built for. Today we’d do the morning sessions clockwise and do the normal way in the afternoon. So that was a big topic in the meeting. There are non-trivial concerns when running the track the wrong way. One of the (concrete) corner bunkers is on the outside of the exit of a turn and there are no tires on this side of it. There’s a giant cottonwood tree on the outside of the end of the fastest turn on the track. And the end of the pit wall would be a bad thing to hit.
Oregon Raceway Park was designed to be run in both directions, and that’s what we did on my visit there. I found it disorienting and never had enough laps to get comfortable on it in either direction. La Junta is much smaller and simpler, and I was certainly comfortable running it the normal way. Our first session was only about fifteen minutes as we got a late start. But that’s okay. It was still fairly chilly. Nobody would be going very fast with cold tires on a cold track.
I ran with the top off, as usual. Under my driving suit I had my sweater and hoodie. I was bulky but warm. By the second session I shedded those layers as the weather turned ideal. Sunny, calm, mid-60’s or even low-70’s.
The track is adjacent to the airport. Back in WWII it was La Junta Army Airfield, a training base that accommodated a large number of twin engine aircraft on its three runways. Deactivated in 1946, it’s much calmer these days, and only two runways have been used since then. The track uses the southern end of the disused runway and taxiway. I may have missed one or two, but I saw four or five planes and a helicopter all day. The helicopter is that of the local medical transport outfit.
One of the pilots stopped by and visited with us. Interesting guy. Flew for the Marines for 26 years, recently started doing medical transport. Works seven days on, seven days off; twelve hours on, twelve hours off. He had lots of questions about the cars. I loved his language. The cars are ships, horsepower is thrust, speeds are in knots. Upgraded brakes and tires are “varsity” brakes and tires. I’m surprised he didn’t call us drivers “pilots”. I told him if he could borrow a helmet I’d give him a ride.
Got him strapped in, told him I wouldn’t be able to hear him once we were going, and headed out. He was very enthusiastic, giving me a big thumbs-up after each turn. Then I made a mistake. Exiting the fastest turn and onto the long straight, I miss the shift from fourth to fifth and instead did fourth to third. I caught it in an instant and got into a correct gear. Damn. But nothing happened. Well, it seemed nothing happened. Half a lap later when I entered a braking zone and lifted off the throttle the car made a bad rattling noise. I went back to the paddock.
It sounded and felt good on the throttle, only making the rattle off throttle. After a short trip around the paddock I didn’t drive it again. I did start it twice more for a few seconds each time. The consensus was a rattling exhaust or a broken motor mount. I didn’t say anything about my missed shift. We took the diffuser and access panel off and poked around. No problems with exhaust or motor mounts. Listening to the last few seconds I ran it, it was clear to me it was inside the motor. I’m screwed.
Finally somebody asked if I’d missed a shift.
I lied. I said “no.”
Why did I do that? Obviously, I should have led the investigation with the admission that I missed a shift. Would have saved everybody the trouble of looking for rattling exhaust or broken motor mounts. Why did I lie?
I’ve driven stick shift cars for thirty years, more than four hundred thousand miles, and about fifty track days. Only missed shifts I’ve ever made have been second to fifth instead of second to third. Never the money shift.
For a long time, I’ve taken pride in the notion that I’m kind to the equipment, getting more miles out of brakes and clutches and tires than most of my peers. But this notion is under assault: twice I’ve had suspension bolts fail on the track, had wheel lugs fail, broke a motor mount, and replaced the clutch at 80,000 miles. Now the money shift.
I also take some measure of pride in thinking of myself as an honest guy. I claim to value honesty, openness, and transparency. If I was open and transparent I’d have said I missed the shift first thing. If I was honest, I wouldn’t have denied it when asked.
We gave up looking at my car when the pizza arrived, and I tried to relax for the next few hours. When I could think of things other than the events of the morning the time seemed to pass faster. So when Kevin asked if I’d like to ride with him and maybe drive his car for a couple laps of instruction I agreed. I’m not an instructor. I often have to reflect on events after the fact to realize exactly what’s going on. My videos help a lot on this. Maybe I rely too much on the videos, and if I didn’t have them I’d be better at being in the moment.
In any event, I did my best to see what tips I could share with Kevin. This is only his second track day, so he’s a bit of a clean slate. I didn’t try to communicate anything to him until after we did a full lap, then I tried to correct his line in a few places. In general, he wasn’t getting the car close enough to the apexes, he tended to apex early, and often didn’t let the car run out to the edge of the track exiting the corners.
After five laps we swapped places and I drove. I drove three laps; an out lap, a hot lap, and an in lap and we switched back. He then drove another five laps. His times after seeing what I did improved by four or five seconds a lap, and were more consistent from lap to lap. He’s so new at this, I’d expect his times to steadily improve with practice without my input, but I think I helped him out quite a bit.
The guy in the BMW was there giving a ride to his grandfather who used to race cars back in the fifties. The grandfather, whom I’d never met before and who, to this point, I’ve exchanged maybe a dozen words with, said if he still had his trailer he’d get me and the car home. You meet some pretty nice folks at the race track. (Addendum: I wasn’t the only mechanical victim of the day. The BMW driver had a broken strut and when we left, his car was still out on the track.)
The obvious next issue was how to get the car home. The obvious answer was to ask Ryan what it would take to get him to drive his Exige home and put my car in his trailer. All it took was to ask. Ryan is a lifesaver.
Ryan drove his car and I drove the truck with trailer. I got out of the gas station before he did, so we were separated from the start. He’d programmed the GPS in the truck to navigate to his house so I didn’t bother with using my phone. This turned out to be a problem. The truck’s satnav didn’t know there’s a bridge out. I stopped and consulted my phone. It said I could go a few hundred yards ahead to take a county road east. I should have turned around right there, but instead I followed my phone’s directions.
I got to this first county road and it looked like somebody’s driveway. Phone says there’s another one up ahead. So I went to the next one. It was a nice gravel road, but it looked like it dead-ended. On I went. The next county road was a just a double track, like a single lane jeep road. No way I was going to pull this trailer down any of these roads.
So I had to turn around and go back. I got to sort of a wide spot and managed to flip a u-turn without sinking into the shoulder, having to back up, or jack-knifing the rig. The detour took me six miles east to cross the river, then six miles back to the road I was on. But I think it was still a better route than dealing with the construction on I-25.
Ryan was using his phone for nav, so he got routed across the river without incident and was now almost ten miles ahead of me.
Our first waypoint was Limon, where we could stop and grab a bite. But this is quite a bit up the road, so I had plenty of time to reflect on the day. I was pretty down about my driving error and tried not to think about how much it might cost to repair. I was also quite ashamed about lying about it.
I phoned Michael and confessed about the money shift. I was originally thinking we’d take the car home, but given our limited resources it was obvious the best plan was just to drop it off at FoD. The LoCo meeting was scheduled for the next day, so I’d be able to explain it all to Ryan and discuss the way forward. (Oh dear. I generally don’t use last names here, but we now have two Ryans in the story. I was going to use last initials, but they’re both Ryan C.)
We dropped the car at FoD at about 8:00pm. Ryan offered to give me a lift home, but that’s not an optimal choice. I took a Lyft instead.
Sunday, October 13
The meeting was scheduled for noon, so I got there about 11:30. Ryan was right there when I pulled up, and I gave him my tale of woe. It would be the first of many tellings, as we had a nice turnout. Before long, I realized I was a topic of conversation. Everybody knew the story pretty quickly. So it goes. I was a little surprised that so many people weren’t familiar with the term “money shift”.
I told Ryan to take his time getting to it. I’m sure he has a few cars in front of me. He’ll take a good look at it and let me know the diagnosis and we’ll discuss a treatment plan.
Here’s the video. A couple of laps to get a feel for the track when going the wrong way. Note the unprotected bunker (0:34), the tree (1:00), and the end of the pit wall (1:07). I had a couple of faster laps later in the session, but the forward facing camera died half way through. Evidently, I need to plug that camera into the charger after every session.
I’m a little behind in getting things recorded. That’s not a habit I want to form.
Sunday, September 8
This is the second track day hosted by Ferrari of Denver this year. I was happy to be able to do one, and even given what I experienced at HPR, I was quite happy to have another free track day.
This one was billed by LOCO as a “Club Social Track Day”. FoD puts it together for their Ferrari customers: a free day at the track with access to an instructor, feed everybody pizza, hang out with guys who have a Ferrari or three. We Lotus folks tag along, kick in for the corner workers, and pass every Ferrari that ventures out. So it wasn’t exactly free, but a $40 track day (including lunch) is tough to pass up.
We had a good Lotus turnout: Tat, Kevin, Eric, Will & Kat, and myself in Elises. Ryan in his Exige, Peter in his Evora, and William with the Cortina. (I hope I didn’t miss anybody; one of the perils of not writing these up promptly.)
The supercharged guys weren’t having the best treatment when it comes to point bys. I was only held up once all day; everybody gave me a prompt signal. Ryan posted a video (that I can no longer find) of him following Eric and being held up several times. I was just a bit behind them, and I guess after getting passed by bright orange cars they may have been more vigilant by the time I got there.
One guy in particular was slow. He was in a grey FF. I passed him twice in three laps. Think about that: the lap is 1.4 miles long. I went 4.2 miles in the time it took him to go 2.8.
They had a press car there from Lotus: an Evora GT. I almost didn’t drive it. I’ll never be in the market for an Evora, new or used. This particular example is an automatic and on suboptimal tires, so that wasn’t particularly enticing. But Tat said I should drive it; all the LOCO people would give short write-ups to William for the next issue of Remarque. So why not?
Given the vast difference in comforts the Evora holds over my car, I didn’t pay particular attention to the interior appointments. The cockpit of the Evora is hands down vastly superior to my go-kart. Ingress was much easier than the Elise, obviously. The seat was comfortable yet firm and supportive. Visibility is about what I expected: limited to the rear but otherwise good. I adjusted the seat and the mirrors, selected sport mode and drove. Given the car is an automatic and not on proper tires I was expecting a less than stellar experience.
I wasn’t allowed free reign in the Evora, but I wasn’t driving parade laps, either. I wasn’t allowed to wring its neck and they did a data dump after every driver. Full throttle was okay on the straights, but keep it cool. Six tenths, maybe.
Once I got out on track, the first thing I noticed was the down shifts. It took me by surprise going into the first corner. It was quicker than I expected for an automatic, and the sound was unexpected. And I didn’t expect it to go down two gears where I only go down one. I took it easy for a couple of laps, getting used to the car. The Evora is twelve or thirteen hundred pounds heavier than my Elise, but it didn’t feel heavy. I found the handling very neutral. I have CG locks in the Elise; just regular belts in the Evora yet I felt well planted and didn’t miss the CG lock.
The cabin is quieter than I expected; I could easily hold a conversation with my passenger. In the Elise it’s pretty much hand signals on the track.
Throttle response was immediate. I didn’t put the brakes to much of a test, but I did hurry a bit through the turns and the precise handling made me smile. The purist in me would want a manual transmission, but I was rather impressed with the auto.
It sure would be a fine car to take on a cross-country road trip for an HPDE day.
I haven’t made the time to put together a video yet. I didn’t improve my best lap time, so there’s not much point in just putting up a lap or two. I did go through the footage to make some notes. I was passed only by the orange Lotuses of Ryan and Eric, while I made twenty passes. They weren’t all Ferraris, but I did pass every Ferrari I saw on the track. Maybe I’ll put together a compilation of passes.
I’ve been negligent recently. I attended two car events the last two weeks without making any notes. So here I am, in catch-up mode.
Colorado Concours d’Elegance
The 36th annual meeting of the Concours was held at the Arapahoe Community College back on June 9. It has been five years since I last went, so I figured it was time to make another appearance. Last time, the day began with nice weather but in early afternoon we had a tornado warning and everybody had to go into the school for a short while.
This time, the day began quite chilly. I took a jacket and a hoodie and ended up wearing both for much of the morning. It looked like it might rain heavily, but aside from a few sprinkles early we stayed dry. And as the day wore on it warmed up considerably, with the clouds breaking up and bright sunshine (if not totally clear skies) by the end. We had so much sun, in fact, that I managed to get a bit of a sunburn on my face.
We had eight Lotus turn out: a Stalker (a Lotus 7 replica), a Europa, an Evora, an Elite, an Esprit, and three Elises. I thought I was the last to arrive, but another green Elise showed up a few minutes later. We were directed to opposite ends of the line, so our Lotus contingent was bookended by green Elises.
I almost never have the roof mounted on the car. It hangs on a bracket on the garage wall. I’ve pretty much decided the only time I’ll put it on the car is for car shows. I have vinyl outlines of all the tracks I’ve lapped displayed on it, but nobody ever gets to see them. So the car shows are a good excuse to put the roof on, and the track decals serve as an explanation of the somewhat rough condition of the car.
I made a lap of the field mid-morning to get a look at all the cars. Because it’s not my first rodeo, I pretty much knew what to expect. The show is put on by the same car clubs every year, so the bulk of the entrants are regulars. Although Lotus Colorado is one of the hosting clubs our turnout this year is fairly typical for us, which means we’re one of the smaller clubs to appear. The other clubs tend to have much larger appearances: Alfa, Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, Saab, Triumph, and a few others. A highlight for me was seeing a handful of really old cars: what I might tend to call horseless carriages, those cars that are now a hundred years old or older.
As a part of my recon lap I scoped out the food choices. There were a handful of food trucks there with a variety of menu choices. Towards one o’clock I wandered over to grab some grub and first picked on the Cajun truck. I decided I’d have the jambalaya. The line was fairly long; I found myself behind about a dozen people. After a short while, there were only about six folks in front of me. Then a gal came out of the truck with a sharpie and crossed off about a third of the menu, including the jambalaya. That was disappointing.
So I decided to switch to Plan B: toasted ravioli from the Italian truck. Again, I found myself at the end of a significant line. I turned to the guy behind me and said I hoped he wasn’t looking to have the ravioli. “Why? Do you think you’ll get the last order of it?” “No,” I answered, “Somebody in front of me will get the last order and neither of us will get it.” Sure enough, a few minutes later somebody came out and crossed off a number of menu items. Luckily, the ravioli wasn’t one of those deprecated.
I spent most of my time hanging around my car. Lots of people commented on or asked questions about the track decals. I challenged a number of people to name as many of them as they could. Some had some off-the-wall suggestions, including Brands Hatch and Sebring.
It was an enjoyable day, in spite of a couple issues at the end. I’d neglected to plug the car into the trickle charger in the preceeding days and when I went to leave it wouldn’t start. Wes and Toni gave me a jump and I was on the road. Dave G., however, locked his jacket in the boot. That’s not a big deal, except that his key was in his jacket pocket. We tried to get the boot open without success, so he had to Uber home to get his spare.
Lotus Only Car Show
The next Saturday, the 15th, we had a LoCo Meeting at Ferrari of Denver. It wasn’t just a club event, but it was mostly club people. The big event of the day was a weigh-in. Prizes were given for lightest Lotus, heaviest Lotus (an ironic prize, no doubt), lightest Elise, and lightest car overall (because, even though it was a “Lotus Only” event, there were other kinds of cars). Oh, and there was a food truck serving up fish and chips
The whole time I’ve owned the car, whenever anybody asked what it weighed, I’d tell them “the previous owner told me 1965 pounds”. This was my chance to see it weighed and get a number that wasn’t hearsay. I didn’t know whether that 1965 pounds was accurate, or which wheels were mounted, or if the hardtop was on, or how much fuel was in the car, or even if I remembered the number correctly.
We did the Elises first, and I was second on the scales. Dave G’s car was first and came in at 1964 lbs. He and I were joking before we were on the scales about who had less fuel in the car. My low fuel light came on on the way to the event, so I knew I was nearly empty. He said the same thing, so with his car at 1964 I figured he was lighter. As it turned out, mine came in at 1901 pounds, lightest Elise by 24 pounds. Knock me over with a feather. So I’m guessing that 1965 figure is with the lighter wheels and a full tank of gas. My prize was a gift certificate good at Ferrari of Denver.
When they were going over the results and giving away the prizes, there was talk of doing it again next year. They’ll have to come up with different competitions than this time, or chances are all the same cars would win. Ryan said maybe something along the lines of “the biggest loser”, seeing who could shed the most weight for next time.
After a ship gets a major overhaul or a crew change, it goes on a “shakedown cruise” to simulate working conditions and insure that all the ship’s systems are functional. Today I went with a small group of fellow LoCos on a pleasant little drive south and west of Denver to give the Elise a little shakedown.
The highlight of the drive was Tarryall Road. The club has driven this road several times recently but somehow I’ve never gone with them until now. Tarryall Road runs about thirty miles, from the little town of Jefferson on US 285 at the foot of Kenosha Pass to a junction with US 24 at Lake George. It’s a nice Lotus road – curvy rather than straight, featuring beautiful scenery and little traffic.
I very nearly described the town of Jefferson as “not much more than a wide spot in the road.” That would be incorrect. The word “town” is an overstatement. It’s one of those places on US 285 that is best described as “blink and you miss it.” It was founded in 1879 and in its heyday had a population of 55 and even had a hotel. Today, I conjecture that the only people who go to Jefferson on purpose, people who aren’t just blasting through on the highway, are hikers on the nearby Colorado Trail who come here to get provisions.
I understand the name “Tarryall” was coined by a group who discovered gold in the area. They thought there was enough for everyone and called their camp “Tarry-all”. I saw no sign of gold mining. In other streams around South Park there was extensive dredging in placer mines, but none here. And there were no tailings piles from hard rock mining. In the end it appears there wasn’t that much gold here after all.
Jefferson was founded by ranchers, and serves ranchers today. Driving the thirty miles of Tarryall Road we pass by dozens of ranches. Some are obviously thriving operations today, others are rustic to the point of near total decay.
Our lunch stop for the day was the Iron Tree Restaurant and Funky Town Brewery. The menu we ordered from was the brunch menu, featuring a number of variations on Eggs Benedict. I had their “Country” version: English muffin, sausage, poached egg, hollandaise sauce, with country potatoes. Quite tasty. None of us was daring enough to order beer with brunch.
Okay, so what about the shakedown?
This was my first real drive with the car after our extensive repairs. I’d taken it around the block a couple of times and down to Ferrari of Denver for Ryan to do an alignment. But that was all city driving and not typical of how I drive it.
In my trips around the block, my first impression of the new motor mounts was mostly negative. The shifting is much improved, but the vibration of the engine isn’t absorbed by the motor mounts at all. It all goes into the car. My first joke was that it wouldn’t be long before the fillings got vibrated out of my teeth. I was sure Genae would never want to ride in the car again.
The trip across town did show me that it’s not as bad as I first thought. Once you get it above about 3500 rpm it gets, well, not exactly civilized, but certainly much quieter. When I first bought the car I had to train myself to keep the revs up over 3000 as it doesn’t do well at low revs. Now I have incentive to keep the revs above 3500.
Below 3500, you see, the car plays a symphony of rattles and buzzes. Every part of the car vibrates, and everything within it. All engine speeds between idle and 3500 set various bits going; as you run the speed up some rattles go away and other vibrations start. Think of it like an orchestra. Before the symphony begins, all the players tune their instruments; an unpleasant cacophony. But when the orchestra is in full song, it’s marvelous. Above 3500 rpm, to be sure, the car isn’t quiet, but it’s in full song – the players have stopped tuning and the music starts. I can’t wait to get it onto the track.
The other major work was the clutch. I will admit that I was somewhat concerned that I’d end up with a much stiffer pedal. But my worries were baseless. The new clutch feels pretty much the same as the original equipment. I’m quite happy with it.
So I’d say the shakedown cruise was a success. The car works wonderfully (if a bit of a rattletrap at low rpms) and I had a pleasant drive on some beautiful Colorado roads and had a nice meal with friends.
Today will be our last day of the tour. We will separate from the group at Great Sand Dunes National Park, heading home. The rest will proceed on to Trinidad for another day of scenic byways.
Many times we’ve made the trip from Durango to Alamosa, so I’ll keep the notes short. In keeping with the motif of misinformation about bathrooms, we noted that where there used to be facilities at both the western and eastern feet of Wolf Creek Pass, there is now nothing. Also, we were expecting we’d stop at the scenic overlook on the west side, but that is temporarily closed, being used as a staging area for construction equipment.
Our route bypassed Alamosa, saving some miles. Just east of South Fork we abandoned US 285 in favor of County Road 5, a direct shot toward the park. Well, not exactly direct. At CO 17 we head north a few yards to County Road 6. These roads are no doubt sufficient for their usual purpose: low speed farm traffic. They’re a bit less than ideal for stiffly sprung sports cars. The ride wasn’t exactly quiet and comfortable. Last time I went to the Sand Dunes I was with Michael in the Chrysler. We went between CO 17 and the Dunes at well over 100mph, slowing only for the cattle guards. In the Elise, 65 was plenty fast.
The last few miles into Great Sand Dunes National Park are on CO 150. On that previous trip with Michael both sides of the road were lined with sunflowers. I’m guessing those weren’t there naturally, as they’re no longer there. It was a nice touch, adding a bit of color.
After a short stop in the visitor center, we headed to a picnic area close to the dunes. Mike found us a place with two large sets of tables and plenty of parking. We were the third car there, and right behind us a minivan arrived and started setting up at the other tables. We warned them that we’d have a big group here which seemed to scare them away. As our crew trickled in, they kept coming to the first table and just when it was about full a large family walked in and snagged the other table. No worries, as we early arrivals finished, we gave our seats to the latecomers.
Atop the first dune
The stream that usually flows off the mountain isn’t running right now. I’m not sure when it typically dries up, but I was expecting to have to wade across it to get onto the dunes. Some kids were playing with their toy construction equipment, digging holes, and we could see the sand was wet under the surface. But definitely no stream in sight.
Intrepid explorers Terry and Peter
We walked to the top of the first small dune and people watched for a while. Gordon struck off for the top of the largest dunes. I was thinking it would take a couple of hours, but he made really good progress to the point where I could no longer spot him. I learned later that he was successful. I suspect that made him the last to leave by a large margin.
Storm and sand panorama; south on the left side, northeast on the right.
While we were standing around on the sand, a rather nasty looking thunder storm was working its way toward us across the valley. We said our goodbyes and started our trek home. It looked like the group would miss the rain as there was a gap in the clouds above CO 150. But to the west it looked like we’d be running the gauntlet. Almost immediately after turning onto the country road we started getting rained on. But our timing was pretty good. A few miles down the road, the tarmac was covered with the remnants of a significant hail storm. Judging by the few tracks through the hail, it must have just finished a couple of minutes before we got there.
These thunder showers are typically pretty localized. Hailstones lined the road for less than a half mile. And we were out of the rain well before we regained CO 17. Showers were spread out across the valley, their drafts kicking up the dust before them as they scooted toward the Sangre de Cristos. We missed most of them, but it looked like we had another chance to get wet as we crossed Poncha Pass.
We missed the heaviest of the rain until just after the junction with US 50. We were in a little knot of traffic when the clouds burst. I had the wipers going as fast as they’d go, but it wasn’t much help. The windows started fogging up almost immediately. Genae worked the defrost controls, and we had the windows cracked. My left arm was getting soaked. The car in front of us gave up and pulled off the road. We continued at about 20mph. Genae got some napkins out and worked on wiping the inside of the windshield. Then it ended, almost as quickly as it began. Driving the straight lines of San Luis Valley I was complaining that I was falling asleep. This sure woke me up!
From there on home the trip was uneventful. We got back to town just in time for evening rush hour and exchanged the wide-open roads and mountain vistas for bumper-to-bumper traffic and suburban Denver.
Another great Colorado Good! A hearty “thanks” to all who participated, particularly to Mike who put it all together.
Today’s drive was from Montrose to Durango with an extended visit to Mesa Verde. The route was over Lizard Head pass and through Dolores and Cortez. As with most of the rest of this trip, it was a route we’ve taken before. It’s a beautiful route. Our only concern was the timing of potty stops. John has people in Ridgway and told us that there are bathrooms at the park there, so as we passed through town we dropped out of line and into the park. Sadly, John’s info was bad and there were no bathrooms to be found. So we were tail-end Charlie again.
We caught the group before long at a wide spot on the road just before Telluride. We weren’t going to Telluride, but making a right turn near there. This wide spot was an opportunity for a group photo. John’s next piece of info was that there were no bathrooms at the summit of Lizard Head pass, so we figured we needed to stop before then.
Obligatory group photo
At the right turn there’s a gas station, so we again dropped out of the queue. Just as we approached the summit of Lizard Head we caught up to a motor home. I was looking for a way around it when I caught a glimpse of orange in the parking lot. We weren’t expecting a stop here. It was the original target for the group photo, but as that was already taken care of we thought we’d be skipping it. Turns out John’s second piece of intel was incorrect, too. There are, in fact, bathrooms at the summit of Lizard Head pass. It was our error to doubt Mike.
The drive from Montrose to here at the summit of Lizard Head Pass is gorgeous. Mile after mile of fantastic views – snow-capped peaks and aspen groves – connected by roads that curve and swoop, rise and fall. There are many scenic drives in Colorado but this one certainly goes near the top of the list.
The Galloping Goose
Our next pit stop was in Dolores. Our chosen gas station here was next door to the an old train station that now houses the Galloping Goose Historical Society. In the 1930’s the Rio Grande Southern Railroad was facing financial difficulties. They came up with an interesting solution: the Galloping Goose. It’s a railcar operated by motor rather than steam, much lighter (and therefore reduced impact on the railroad), and has a front-end that looks like a bus. Seven of these were produced, and the one here in Dolores operates as a tourist attraction.
From Dolores we headed to Mesa Verde National Park. We weren’t sure if the restaurant in Mesa Verde was open yet, being early in the season. So we made a detour in Cortez to stop at the Subway for sandwiches. We left Dolores before the rest of the pack but still ended up at the visitor center after everyone else.
Genae, having lived a while in Durango, has visited Mesa Verde many times. I have been here a few times, last being in 2013 when I hiked to Petroglyph Point. I never really explored much of the park, having each time had a specific goal in mind. A few days prior to this trip, Genae had intended to go online and book some tour tickets. That never happened, and when we went to the ticket counter in the visitor center we found that (surprise, surprise), the day’s tours were already sold out.
So we were free to explore at will and see what there was to see. First task was to stop at the restaurant at the Far View area (which was, indeed, open) for beverages to go with our Subway sandwiches. We ran into Peter and Rebecca there. They said they’d never been to Wetherill Mesa before so that’s where they were headed. I’d never been there, either, so that sounded like a good place to go. Unfortunately, I immediately made a navigational error and we ended up on Chapin Mesa, which is where most people find themselves.
So we worked our way to the loop that takes us to Cliff House and Balcony House. Cliff House is closed for the season for reclamation work. There’s an overlook that gives a nice view of it, but we couldn’t visit it. And Balcony House is reachable by guided tour only, and sits in an alcove pretty much underneath the parking lot, so it’s invisible as well as unreachable. So that whole loop was disappointing.
Spruce Tree House
Next we headed to Spruce Tree House. This one is a self-guided tour, but the path to it is having some structural issues, so it’s closed as well. At least it’s visible. I was thinking the trail to Petroglyph Point takes hikers right in front of the ruins, but signs indicated we wouldn’t get a better view than where we stood, so we didn’t go any farther.
Yucca in bloom
So we got back in the car and headed to Wetherill Mesa. This turned out to be a nice little Lotus road. We encountered very little traffic, which added to the pleasure. The road is a bit on the rough side, but not terribly bad. It’s quite a drive to the end of the road where the ruins are. For future reference, count on the Long House tour taking half a day. The tour itself takes two hours, and if you drive the speed limit you can count on another forty minutes or so driving each way.
Not having tickets for the tour, our only activity was the self-guided tour of Step House. So, after spending a few hours wandering the park, we finally got to tour one of the ruins. In a way, this one is more like two ruins. One side of the alcove features the pit houses of the “Basketmakers” who occupied the place circa A.D. 600. The other side is a small multi-story pueblo built about six centuries later. It is estimated that about thirty people lived in each settlement.
Driving between the sites one can’t help but notice the frequency with which the area is subject to wildfires. The dead trees still standing in the 2002 burn area are still black. Signs along the roadside indicate other fires. Between 1989 and 2003, five fires burned over half the acreage in the park. Thunderstorms range over the area all summer long, and about 95% of fires here are started by lightning.
Overall, Mesa Verde was a bit disappointing due to our lack of proper planning (no reflection on Mike, of course, I’m talking of our own preparation) and that so many of the ruins are closed this year. That means, on the flip side, that there are still plenty of sights to see the next time we visit the place.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Back in Durango, the group went out to dinner. We elected to go our own way and instead dined with Grace. We requested a brew pub and she recommended we go to Brew Pub and Kitchen. (Break the usual cadence when you say it, though: it’s not “Brew Pub” and “Kitchen”, it’s “Brew” “Pub and Kitchen”.) It’s right next to the narrow gauge line. While waiting for our meals a train pulled into the station. It’s quite the conversation stopper.
They have an unusual naming convention for their beers. They have “Darlene”, a Belgian ale; “Kelley”, a stout; and “Jesus”, their “righteous yarrow double IPA”. I passed on those and instead had a couple pints of “Greg”, which their menu says is “an easy drinking Kolsch to inhibit your social graces”. Naturally, Grace had to call Greg to pass on this little tidbit.
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.
Painted Wall – at 2,250′ it is the tallest sheer cliff in Colorado. Can you spot Gordon?
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.
Pulpit Rock and another episode of “Can you spot Gordon?”
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.
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.
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.
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.