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OTR In The Rockies Summer Adventure - Ouray, Colorado

Submitted by Bob Boltner on Sun, 09/02/2018 - 05:21
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OTR In The Rockies Summer Adventure - Ouray, Colorado
OTR In The Rockies Summer Adventure August 4th – 12th in Ouray Colorado This was a great trip to the high alpine region of South Western Colorado. We had a fantastic turnout of 9 Families and 10 Vehicles, not a small feat considering the distance we had to travel to get to Ouray Colorado was 918 miles. Members Bob & Judy Boltner Mike & Laura Whittington Chris Whittington (By way of Denver) Rich & Corky Wholers Chad, Joanna, Nash and Scott Oellien Bob & Cathy Besch Mike and Lori Sullivan Jerome & Brenda Blunck Guests Tom & Pat Muzik (Former OTR members) Garth & Nikki Thomas. (Prospective members) The group mostly traveled separately to Ouray. The Sullivan’s and Boltner’s caravanned, stopping for the night on Saturday at the KOA in Cedar City Utah, with Jerome and Brenda right behind us staying at the Walmart. The Oellien’s and the Whittington’s came in from the south through Durango after spending a week exploring the Southwest. The Wholers came in from their annual family pilgrimage at Lake Powell via St George, UT. Bob & Cathy Besch and Garth &Nikki Thomas traveled together, and Tom and Pat Muzik and Chris Whittington came in from their residences in Colorado. We all made it to our basecamp at the Ouray RV park and Cabins by late evening Sunday. The last ones in were Judy & I due to a left rear inboard tire blowout on our RV just a few miles east of the Moab Crescent Junction exit on I70. It took us a few hours to get road service due to poor communication with our road service company Coach-Net. Once the tire was changed we were on our way and arrived in camp at just about 10:30 pm. A longer than expected day, but we made it. Monday; The wheeling started at 10am, due to my late arrival. Our route for Monday was along the Alpine Loop on the following trails. Mineral Creek Trail to the Engineer Pass trail to Lake City to the Cinnamon Pass trail, Back to the Mineral Creek Trail and on back to camp. This route and all the routes in the Ouray area are not the most difficult trails that OTR wheels by any means, but OMG the vistas and high alpine meadow views are AMAZING. Not to mention that at every turn there is flora and fauna to be viewed. The mining history is literally everywhere. Old mines, buildings, tram towers, piles of rock, relics of mining operations and stamp mills and long-gone communities that once were bustling with hundreds of miners and their family’s working in unimaginably harsh conditions with the hope of striking it rich. Most probably just barely making enough money to survive. You can just imagine in your mind what these once active mines could have been. It’s a lot of fun. It was a full day on the trail considering the later start time, with lots of trail miles to cover. I think Monday was about 54 miles on the trail. The only snag on this day was when we approached Cinnamon pass with about 800’ of vertical remaining to the summit, my Jeep just quit. As in OTR fashion, the entire group gathered around to troubleshoot the issue. No Check engine light, no active OBDII codes. The engine would start, then stumble, then quit. Seemed like a fuel issue. I filled my tank in the morning, but we added a few gallons with no luck. My fuel pressure gauge indicated low pressure. I was starting to think my pump was shot. I carry a spare and can change it on the trail. Never a fun job. Then Rich says maybe its low voltage! Humm, worth checking. I crawled under the tank and checked the tank electrical connector, it was tight, I wiggled and pushed and jiggled the wires. Tried it again and Bingo! Its fixed. Off we go and up to the summit. It was fine for the remainder of the trip. I love an easy fix. Tuesday; Tuesday was the famous Black Bear pass trail. This trail would take us to Telluride for lunch, then up Imogene Pass over the mountain, then down the other side back to Ouray. This is a trail that will get your attention. Do you hate really high places? Narrow shelf roads that drop off hundreds of feet? A trail that in places is just wide enough for your rig? If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, that’s Black Bear Pass. But the great part is that the views on this trail is spectacular! If you can look. Most will say it’s one of the scariest trails ever. It’s not hard, just keep your eyes and tires on the trail and your fine. Oh yea and pray your brakes don’t fail or if your Ric, that you don’t have a lower control arm bolt fall out of your suspension, then you break a front axle trying to make the scariest K-turn of your life (that was Ric in 2015). Black Bear Pass trail starts about 10 miles south of Ouray off the 550 highway (Million Dollar Highway) it climbs easily as you wind your way to the pass that tops out at 12,840’. From there you start the decent towards the fun part. In a couple of miles you get to the top of the really exciting section of the trail. The decent to the town of Telluride. It is a shelf road that winds back and forth down the face of a near vertical wall. The view from the top is just stunning. But Enough sight seeing, its time for the plunge over the edge. Just as you start the steep part of the trail you cross under a few tram cables that cross from a hill on your right to the left and there is even an old ore car still dangling from the cable, very cool. You round a bend to the right and the trail seems to fall off the mountain. And for a moment you think you are going to drive off as well. The trail narrows to a point just wide enough to pass with a drop off on the drivers side that really gets your attention. Steady as she goes and your fine. What’s that noise? Not your engine or transmission it’s most likely your knees knocking. Your keep your focus and your wheels on the trail and its actually easy. You make your first K-turn and you cross a flowing stream. Look to your left and there is a small water fall. Look straight ahead and perched on the cliff face in the distance is the Bridal Vail Falls power station or also known as the Smuggler-Union Hydro-electric power generation plant. Built in 1907 to power the Smuggler-Union Mine. It still provides power to the town of Telluride to this day. Amazing! What is also amazing is that everyone survived the trail and made it to Telluride for lunch. Telluride was a zoo. We must have hit the town at the peak of tourist season, as it seemed to me that the town was just busting at the seams with people. We all split up trying to find parking. We all parked and found someplace to eat lunch. I think we were in town for about an hour and a half before we regrouped at the trailhead for the Tomboy mine and Imogene Pass. Wish we could have spent more time in Telluride. The trailhead is actually off a side street in town and is hardly noticeable as it looks like someone’s driveway. Up and up we go towards the Tomboy mine. This is a cool trail, that in sections is literally a shelf road that was blasted from the shear rock face. Not for the faint of heart. Watch the trail ahead as this is a two way trail and in a few places there isn’t any room to pass. Be alert for opposite direction traffic. We reached the Tomboy mine site and its cool. The remnants of a giant stamp mill and other buildings. This site was once a not so small town with 900 residents as well as a YMCA and tennis courts. We spent some time exploring and trying to imagine how all this giant equipment worked and got here back at the turn of the century. From the mine we headed up the trail towards Imogene Pass. The trail doesn’t look hard, but its steeper than it looks. Combine that with 13,000’ of altitude and your vehicle is working hard and running lean. Every time we do this trail a few vehicles start to overheat, even though the temperature is only around 70 degrees or less. I had to pause for a few minutes to let my beast breath and Garth had a check engine light that indicated that his transmission was getting a bit hot and bothered. With a bit of patience, we made it to the top of Imogene Pass at 13,114’. Another photo op and a few minutes to take in the vistas and we began the final decent down towards Ouray and the land of beer and Appetizers. As we made our way down the group came across a guy on an adventure motorcycle that was having difficulty. He had dropped his bike, was exhausted and had lost track of a drone that he was flying as well. Good ol’ OTR to the rescue. The group helped him up and gathered his gear and assisted him in the recovery of his rather expensive drone. Just another good deed on the trail. You guys make us proud. We made the final run into town and it was time to relax. The Sullivan’s announced that they were hosting a wine social at their RV site that sat right near the bank of the Uncompahgre River. They had tables all setup on the bank overlooking the river. It was a glorious evening with great conversations with friends. The weather perfect and yes wine flowed! Wednesday; This was our mid week rest day. Everyone was free do as they pleased. Some visited the local museum. Some went on a mine tour. Others just relaxed. Yes this was a vacation for the ones in the group who are not retired. Wednesday evening was a group dinner at the BonTon Resturant in downtown Ouray. This was a great place that Laura Whittington found. She had a custom menu arranged with the chef, as well we had a private room. The food was really good and the service was top notch. In my humble opinion this had to be one of the best group dinners yet. Thank you Laura, you rock! Thursday; This day took us back to the Alpine loop area, but on a few different trails. Mineral Creek trail, to the Poughkeepsie Gulch Trail, to Hurricane Pass, to California Gulch, to Animas Forks. South along the Animas River to Silverton. We had a 0900 departure for the trailhead of Mineral Creek just south of Ouray along the 550 Highway. We hit the trail and started the climb up towards the Poughkeepsie Trail cutoff. About 15 minutes in I got a call from the back of the group that Jerome & Brenda had to turn back. It seems that Brenda’s new Puppy was having a heath issue that needed veterinary attention. We were sad to lose them, but we totally understood. We got a call from Jerome via 2 Meter that he cleared the trail. Love those Ham Radios. Were several miles away in a canyon. We pushed on and made the cutoff in short order. Now Poughkeepsie Gulch trail is really nice, not only is it scenic, but is has the best obstacle in the region. There are a few chances at some extra credit obstacles that are fun but not too challenging. Then as you approach the top of the trail you come to the fun part. A nice steep climb. It’s a bit technical and a challenge. But for the OTR gang we owned it. In 2015 it started to rain as we got to this obstacle and it was whole different story, we all had to winch as it was super slick. Not this year. Everyone made it up on their own. We even took a few extra minutes to guide some non OTR stragglers up the hill. We departed the obstacle and headed for the summit of Hurricane Pass. A few hundred yards up the trail I noticed a problem with my steering. Seems when turning the wheel, the steering was very unresponsive. I called halt and jumped out to investigate. It only took me a few seconds to spot the problem. My track bar bolt at the frame mount had sheared in half. Better here than yesterday on Black Bear! I grabbed my hardware bag and as luck would have it, I had a bolt that fit. 10 minutes later and were under way again. Up to the Pass we went. When we got to the top there was a bunch of vehicles sitting there so we passed on the group photo and dropped over the other side and into California Gulch to Animas forks. Animas Forks is a really cool old mining site. It’s the site of an old mining camp that once had the largest stamp mill in the region. There are still some preserved buildings that you can go into and get a feel for how the miners and their families lived year round in the high Rockies. At times in the winter they were snowbound for months. And avalanches were a constant danger. The mill was served by a railroad from Silverton. There is also remnants of a large building that appears to have been some sort of ore processing operation. The construction and the sheer size of the timbers that remain are just amazing to me. You can walk all through it and try to imagine how it worked in its heyday. Steam powered machinery turning giant pullies, turning leather belts. Just very cool. We departed Animas Forks for the run along the Animas Rivers into Silverton along what was once the rail line to Silverton. We arrived in Silverton for a late lunch. Luckily we also were there in time to see the Silverton – Durango steam train depart for Durango to the south. It’s just fun to watch this genuine coal powered train pull out much as it did at the turn of the century. We had planned on running one more trail, but the group decided to spend a bit more time in Silverton, then head back to Ouray for an evening of appetizers and adult beverages. Everyone headed back it twos and threes at their own pace. About 7pm we all met at the Whittington’s RV for an evening of spirited conversations, appetizers and beverages. Always a great time with great friends. Everyone eventually peeled off and retired after another epic day wheeling the Swiss Alps of Colorado. At least that’s how the local chamber of commerce sells itself. Before bed, don’t leave any trash or BBQ grills outside, as there had been bear sightings in camp. Friday; Judy and I decided that we were going to start our trip home. I had made arrangements with a tire shop in Montrose to order a new tire for us. We hit the road about 0900 to get our new tire installed. At about the same time the group was ready to roll under the leadership of Mike Whittington, who graciously accepted my request to lead the group on this last day of wheeling. His plan was to head south on the Million Dollar Highway (550) to the trailhead of the Red Mountain Mining District. This is another example of the vast historical mining history of this area. They wound their way through that area which took them back to the Poughkeepsie Gulch trail. This time they would run it in the opposite direction, going down the challenging obstacle. Not too hard going down is what I was told. Back to Mineral Creek and back to camp. No issues and another great day of sightseeing and wheeling with OTR. Saturday; Saturday was time for everyone to break camp and hit the road. Some stopped in Hurricane Utah. Some went as far as State Line (Primm) for their overnight rest. Both parties were hit with really violent thunderstorms just as they got to their camps. Luckily there was no significant hail, just lots of wind, rain and lightning. Sunday. Sunday saw the group safely home and another epic OTR summer Extravaganza was in the history books. Thank you all who attended, both guests and members alike. I have to say it is always so much fun with the OTR family. For those that couldn’t join us, we missed you all and hope that you can join us on the next big OTR adventure. As always Wheel Safe, care for each other and have fun. Bob Boltner