Last Update: 6/27/2002 - Jens Moller
Let me start by telling you that I'm not an off-road warrior. I don't really ever plan to become one. I'm fascinated by the history of the Colorado Gold and Silver boom towns, and even more impressed by the people that rushed to this wilderness in the 1860s thru 1890's and carved out a place for themselves. These people were definitely not environmentalists - they were opporitunists. They radically changed the environments in some places and left quite mess as well as a lot to look at. Millions of dollars worth of minerals came out of the ground and when it stopped being profitable, people left just as fast as they came.
You may have different reasons to go see these places. Getting there and back safely should be one of your goals. There are a few things that I think you should be aware of, and probably will want to think about and plan for. Before we get into any trips, please read the following topics, then lets get ready to leave the pavement.
|Many of the abandoned Gold/Silver boom cabins were burned by the US Forest Service back in the late 1960s, mostly because Hippies, and other modern day homesteaders had moved in, and the Forest Service found this to be one way of eliminating the problem. The side effect is that once these places are gone, they are gone forever. For the most part, this happened mostly in areas close to existing cities. There are still quite a few ruins around to visit.||
I take pictures of a site - I don't take anything from the buildings or equipment that is scattered about. I often poke thru the tailings dumps at abandoned mine sites looking for attractive rocks, or easy to get ore samples that were left because they were low grade (ie. the value to process them was less than the value of the minerals in them). I have a number of these rocks outside of my house in Colorado Springs. My walkway is surrounded by Silver and Gold, with quite a bit of Pyrite (fools Gold) thrown in, because it looks interesting. Please stay out of sites that are posted 'No Trespassing', and never ever enter an abandoned mine. Why stay out of an abandoned mine?
There are many such mines and out-buildings surrounding the mines in the high country. Often there are small ghost towns nearby and the remains of an ore processing plant. Please stay out of old buildings - you might fall thru a rotten wooden floor, or timbers may collapse down onto you. Also keep in mind that 200 to 400 inches of snow falls upon these ruins a year (thats 16 to 32 feet of snow), and nature slowly reclaims these over time - you may happen upon a building that is just about to collapse - play it safe, stay outside. Take plenty of pictures.
First off. You should never go on a road that your vehicle can't handle. Ground Clearance is an interesting topic when you get around 4WD enthusiasts - for some, they measure the highest point on the body to the ground and tell me that they have 2 feet of Ground Clearance - I don't agree with them. I measure the things hanging down the lowest and figure that this is my true Ground Clearance - more like 9 to 12 inches if you have big tires. Does this mean that you can't go anywhere there are some fair sized rocks laying about? No, it just means that you have to know where these low hanging protrusions are and when you drive, you make sure that you keep these well above any rocks, timbers or other objects that may smack into your vehicle as you drive over it.
Second, the side-walls of your tires can't take all too much abuse. Tires were designed with the idea that the tread portion would be able to handle moderate road problems and not be damaged. You need to drive on the tread and never risk damaging the side-walls. The way that you do this is to see the rocks in advance and drive the tire over them, riding on the tread of the tire. This makes for a more bumpy ride, but it does 2 things:
When you are driving on a road and there is not always enough room for 2 vehicles to pass, the one coming downhill gives way - often backing up until they find a place that is wide enough for both vehicles to pass. If you can see a vehicle coming your way, and a turn out (ie. a spot where the road is wide enough for 2 vehicles) is nearby, be a good off-road driver and pull over there to let the other person pass. This is just common sense, and you'll find that the other drivers want to enjoy the trip as much as you do. Help each other.
When your vehicle needs oil, it needs it. These only cost a dollar or 2 - have one handy at all times. I usually carry at least 2 quarts in the trunk, just to be safe.
The CB Rig is so that I have some form of communication with the outside world in case of an emergency. I actually carry 2 and give one to the person I travel with if we decide to wander around an abandoned mine site or ghost town. My wife twisted her ankle once and it was nice for her to be able to contact me and let me know what happened (we went home as a result and she ended up wearing an inflatable foot cast for a few weeks - it could have been much worse).
The shovel allows you to dig yourself out of things. Use it and a tire jack to lift up part of the vehicle to pile rocks under a tire that needs something to get traction on (especially if you didn't quite make it thru some snow). Its a handy tool to dig around the rocks to get them out of the ground with - when you need it, you'll be happy that you brought it along.
You'll be out in the middle of no-where, so bringing something to drink and eat should be a no-brainer, but you often forget about it until you realize that you are an hour from any sort of civilization. I like non-carbonated drinks, like sports drinks. They seem to hit the spot better than a soft drink.
Duct tape allows you to be very creative in case something breaks, or you want to hold down something that is flopping all over the place,
Don't even think of going off-road without a map. You might not come out the same way that you came in, and it would be very handy to know just where that is. These are only 3 or 4 dollars each from the Forest Service. You can buy topographical map collections of Colorado all over the state for around $10.00. This can be a life saver. It's especially handy when all you see is an arrow and a number - this is how many 4WD trails are marked, you might like to know which of these trails you are turning onto.
Lastly, when nature calls, you need to be prepared. There are many potty stops along the way that afford you a composting outhouse, or restaurants and service stations that have facilities - use them when you can, but when you can't, at least you'll have a roll of toilet paper (this is another good use for a small shovel - you can bury the results).
Any place you see 'Regular Car'listed, I mean pretty much any car, van or mini-van in good operating condition with at least 6 inches of Ground clearance. Sports type cars with front spoilers might have some problems, but most any standard car, van or mini-van (from a Toyota to a Cadallac) should have few problems. I will note any additional access roads and areas that are nearby, and warn you if the roads require extra care (the access roads sometimes do).
If I mark it '4WD', then it will require the ability to go into 4WD mode and will require that you drive carefully. I have seen old air-cooled VW Bugs and VW Vans at the tops of these passes. These older designs have exceptional Ground Clearance and the VW Busses have a very low (ie. lots of power and traction) 1st gear. I used to take my 1976 VW Bus over some of these roads and did quite well. It is possible that a 2WD car or truck could make these trips, as long as they have high ground clearance, but I strongly suggest having 4WD mode available. You can use a Suzuki, Toyota Rav4, or other entry level 4WD on these roads, you won't need a high end rig. Remember, we want to have fun, not do $1,000.00 worth of damage to the drive train. A low range may be necessary for some of the passes. I don't drive any cars with automatic transmissions, so I can't reccomend anything here.
The passes will be anywhere from 11,000 to 13,000 feet above sea level - there is not a whole lot of air up at this altitude for you car - expect it to have substantially less power than it did before you turned off the pavement. You don't travel over the passes much above 5 mph, and often only 1 or 2 mph. Take your time and enjoy the trip.
I'm going to group the towns into areas. These areas can be visited all together, or be combined with other areas to make a larger trip. These list a starting and ending point. You can mix and match them as you please, provided you have the right vehicle for the trip.
Regular Car Route: Nathrop, Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, Iron City Campground, St. Elmo, Romley, Hancock and the Eastern portal of the Alpine Tunnel - This follows an old railroad grade and there are no steep sections.
NOTE: The last 3 miles of the road to the Western Portal of the Alpine Tunnel is often impassable until the middle of July - this section of the road, once open, is quite an easy drive in most any car, but do not attempt to drive it if is covered in ice and snow! There are shear cliffs along the side of road on many parts of this drive.
Comments? Questions? contact Jens Moller
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