Colorado & Utah Trip June/July 2021

BruceA78

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My buddy, my 16 year old son and I got Wanda (my 2021 Snazzbery JLR) all loaded up on Thursday June 17th for what ended up being a 24 day 4000 mile trip from Kansas City through a lot of Colorado on our way to Blanding Utah (an hour south of Moab) and then back to KC.
We left early Friday morning and figured we would try to make it to Colorado Springs but were open to stopping before there if we found a nice place to stop or if we just got tired of driving - this ended up being a bit of a mistake but ended up being a fun adventure. All 3 of us have been back and forth between Denver and KC via I-70 many times so we decided to try US Highway 50 through Kansas as a change of pace.

It was every bit as boring as I-70 but at least it took us through slightly different scenery and towns that we had not been to before. The main issue we had was the 20+ mph headwind and crosswind (coming from the west / southwest). In combination of the Jeep being shaped like a brick, the wind, highway speeds (70-75mph) and having our camping equipment loaded on the roof we got HORRIBLE gas mileage (13-14mpg) and had to keep the steering wheel slightly turned into the wind to keep us going straight. This caused the stability control system on Wanda to freak out a few times and got alerts on the dash that there was an issue with stability control and we needed to get it serviced.

After stopping for gas in Dodge City, KS and having a bit of a stroll around the old town square to check things out we got back on the road, and luckily the wind had died down a bit and the warning light for the stability control went off and we had an uneventful journey through the rest of boring Kansas. After we crossed the Colorado border we decided we would try to make it to Colorado Springs or Pueblo so my buddy started looking through his phone for hotels in either of those places while I drove.

It turns out we should have planned a bit ahead because 99% of hotels were completely sold out, and the ones that were not sold out wanted anywhere from $385 - $685 per night. After calling a few hotels and being told they were sold out and then immediately hung up on we finally got to ask them what the heck was going on for all of the hotels to be sold out and were told "It's fathers day weekend" which I never considered a big travel holiday weekend.
We ended up finding a room in Ordway Colorado which is about 90 miles before Colorado Springs. Ordway is a pretty small town but we ended up having a great time hanging out at the Columbine Saloon drinking Coors Banquet (the only beer they had on tap) and a Jameson or two. I am a bit of a beer snob but I've spent plenty of time in Southeast Asia and have a policy that if there is no good beer available a bad beer can be tolerable if it is served ICE cold.

We took off early again the next day and went through Colorado Springs but decided to skip Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods since there were so many people around and tons of traffic going to these areas. We decided to head the long way to Alamosa Colorado where we would spend a few nights camping on a dude ranch but decided to start checking out some trails on the way. As a warm up for the trip we took a small trail called Tappan Mountain that was more of a decently maintained dirt road than a typical 4x4 trail but the scenery was nice and we found some dead trees for my son to use his throwing knives and hatchets on.

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BruceA78

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We got to our camp site about an hour before sunset to we hurried up and got our campsite setup before it got too dark and then joined the other campers and host around a big fire pit to listen to some music and hear some old cowboy tails.

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BruceA78

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The next day my son went on a horse riding adventure with the people at the ranch and my friend and I explored a few of the trails around the ranch and local area. After the horse riding adventure we decided to make the journey up to the Wheeler Geologic area which we were told is really scenic and parts of it look like it belongs on another planet. We followed the road up into the mountains only to find that there was still lots of snow up there and the main trail was closed to vehicles. We adventured around up in the woods for an hour or so before heading back to camp a little disappointed about not being able to complete the trail but it was very beautiful and scenic up there.

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BruceA78

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After another night of camping we headed to Breckenridge because for the next 4 days I would be working remotely before my official time off work would began. Luckily I work a noon-10pm shift since all of my clients are located in Australia so I was able to go out and explore some trails in the morning before beginning my workday.

The first trail we decided to tackle was Peak 10 of the breckenridge ski area. It is only open to vehicles during the summer and early Autum months because it weaves in and out of the ski areas on the way up the mountain. The first couple of miles were basically a gravel road with a few steep climbs but then eventually we came upon 2 Land Rovers that were turning around on the trail because things were starting to get a lot more rocky and technical and they were new offroaders on a guided tour in rental Land Rovers. I figured this would be a good place to stop and air down while they backed a bit down the trail to turn around.

This is where the trail become a lot more fun and would be the first time we needed to engage 4 wheel drive. On the way up to the top we passed a few hikers, one of them was a dude in his 20's who was hiking up to the top in shorts and a t-shirt with his snowboard strapped to his back! When we were almost to the top we got stopped by a guy jogging to ask us if we were lost, we laughed and said no and then he asked us where the heck we were headed. We told him "Peak 10" and he asked "where do you plan on going after that" so I repsonded "uhh, back down the trail?". He then mentioned something about not knowing that vehicles were allowed up there and thought it was just for service vehicles but we told him it's a public trail where highway legal vehicles can go up (no 4wheelers or SXS's allowed though). There were still a few snowy spots and a few climbs with a lot of loose rock but a very doable trail.

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BruceA78

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The next day we went to the main drag in Breckenridge and relaxed a bit while we had breakfast and had limited time before I had to work so we tackled a small trail called Crystal Lakes. It was a beautiful but non-technical trail that criss crossed a small stream being fed from the melting snow. There were two guys up near the top fishing in one of the lakes but other than a few hikers we had the entire trail to ourselves.

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BruceA78

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Finally after I was finished up with work for the week on Friday June 25th we decided to venture out a bit further from where we were staying to try the Swan River trail. The trail started off nice and calm for the first few miles and then quickly became a bit more challenging. We ended up making going the wrong way at a fork and had to turn around back to the fork and do a 100 point turn (not really but it felt like it) on a pretty narrow part of the trail to get back on track. There were lots of old mining camps and equipment on the way towards the top with some extremely narrow trails and some climbs with quite a bit of loose (but large) rocks.

On our way up had to pull off the trail to let a Gladiator go by who was on his way down the trail and then for the next 5 or 6 miles we didn't see anyone else. On the decent down the other side we passed another Jeep heading up and traded tips with him about the way we were going and the way he was going. There were also 3 teenagers on dirt bikes not too far down the trail that were headed up for an awesome day of riding I assumed. I am not sure if it was because a lot of the easier bypasses were still snow covered or if this trail has gotten a bit rougher than when originally rated a 3-4 but I would rate it just a bit harder. The rock sliders and differential skids did come in quite handy during the really rocky parts but I did ding up my wheels slightly on this trail.

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BruceA78

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After leaving Breckenridge we visited some family in Grand Junction and held off on too much off roading since my son was getting sick of sitting in the back of the Jeep and getting tossed around but we did get out and about in some 4x4 playground areas up in the high desert areas.

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BruceA78

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We headed out from there to stay at Arrowhead Mountain Lodge in Cimmaron Colorado (between Montrose and Gunnison) which is in an area my friend grew up while his dad built quite a few log cabins in the early 80s to mid 90s. Since US 50 Highway is closed most of the day for construction we went the backway and took a logging road/trail called Alpine Plateau to bypass the construction/road closed areas.

On our way we stopped by M.O.R.E. (Mountain Off Road Enterprises) in Delta Colorado because I have bought a few skid plates from them but am having issues with the drivers side engine mount bolts not being long enough to get the belly pan skid mounted. They showed us around their shop and told us they were waiting on some new bolts that should work and would give us a call if they came in soon while we were in the area.

We ran into some issues finding gas because it turns out that there were mud slides on I-70 through the Glennwood Canyon that happened the day after we passed through. This combined with the US 50 highway construction and a worker shortage made delivery gas very difficult. https://www.denverpost.com/2021/07/02/glenwood-canyon-mudslides-danger/.

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BruceA78

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After a day of rest we decided that we were going to tackle Ophir pass from Ouray/Silverton to Telluride, then take Imogene pass back over to Ouray and head back to Cimarron. Everything was going to plan until we passed the through the top of Ophir pass and came across 2 guys on adventure bikes that were struggling on pushing one of the bikes up the trail.

It turns out they were heading back to Pennsylvania from an across country bike adventure and the clutch went out on one of the bikes right there on that part of the trail. We stopped and offered to help them push but they noticed I had a winch and asked us if we would mind helping them winch the bike up since there were fairly decent sized rocks making pushing the bike extremely hard. We were about 250 yards from the top of the trail. It was a bit of an adventure between me backing up the trail around 85 feet at a time (since my winch line is 90 feet), winching the bike up as far as we could, reverse up 85 feet again and then rinse and repeat.

We had to also let people pass through the portion of the trail we were on a few times and ended up finally getting them to the top of the trail after 8 or 9 times of winching them in. The whole ordeal took us about 60-70 minutes but we were really glad we could help them out and also get to actually use the winch for the first time. They offered us some money but we told them to just buy another couple of fat bald guys a beer to "pass it forward".

I was manning the Jeep while my buddy was manning the winch and they asked him if we saw the Toyota Corolla that was ripping down the trail just a few minutes before we got to them, which I really wish I could have witnessed! Lucky for them they started from Telluride which is the much rockier/technical part of the trail and we were hopeful that they would be able to coast down the trail from the top of the pass to the bottom side near Ouray.

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BruceA78

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After lunch in Telluride we realized that we wouldn't have enough time to do Imogene because we had to get back to our lodge and US 50 would only be open from 5:30pm to 7:00pm. So unless we wanted to take a 2+ hour detour we'd have to make sure we got back during that 90 minute window.

Unfortunately we learned that there was a construction accident that day and one of the workers, who was staying at the same lodge as us and we had talked to a bit the night before, got crushed by a large boulder and died (https://www.thedenverchannel.com/ne...ker-killed-by-falling-rock-in-gunnison-county). So it was a bit of a somber evening that kind of put a dark cloud over the day.

There were some small offshoots of the Alpine Plateau trail near where we were staying so we took a day off of any major trail riding to just relax and explore the area. We hadn't quite made plans for where we would go after leaving the lodge but decided to spend 2 nights in Silverton Colorado so we could tackle a few more trails in the area.

We decided to head back down the Alpine Plateau trail and stop for lunch in Lake City before taking Engineer Pass / The Alpine Loop over to Silverton. It was a very scenic drive but not very challenging. I think most people go from Silverton to Lake City to we did run into a bit of traffic coming the other way but there were plenty of places to pull over and let people come through the other way.

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BruceA78

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After spending two nights in Silverton and giving my son a break of not having to be in the car. The plan was to head out early go over Black Bear pass into Telluride and then head back up to Montrose and try to avoid the crowds because it was the start of the 4th of July weekend (this was on Friday July 2nd).

When we got to the start of black bear pass we lucked out a bit since the tires were still aired down so we didn't have to stop along with the 20+ vehicles that were prepping at the bottom of the trail. We zipped up to the top of Black Bear without any issues and managed to stop and take a couple of pictures before heading down the Telluride side.

This is where we ran into some slow going. There was a group ahead of us that included a nice JLUR that was lifted but also with a 4runner and a Hummer 3, the latter 2 were novices and required a lot of hand holding going down some of the more technical parts. There were 2 younger guys (early 20s) in a Tacoma behind us that kept getting out during the traffic jams and would offer their help to the H3 and 4Runner since they were locals and have ran the trail quite a few times so we let them pass us by to help with the group in front of us and also so we could follow their line down the "steps".

Another group of people in JL's and JT's that were nicely modified pulled a bit off of the trail and "Karen" got out to express her displeasure about the pace and how the group with the H3 and 4Runner should have pulled over and let them go by. They mistakenly thought the guys on the Tacoma in front of us were with the slower group since they were spotting for them and offering assistance. Another slow mile or two down the trail the line of cars behind us got even longer and even some honking occurred.

This is the point of the trip where I realized just how good Rubicon's are straight from the factory. While I have my rock sliders, winch, diff skids, onboard air and some other upgrades I haven't touched the suspension at all. We witnessed the 4runner and H3 in front of us teeter-totter from left to right descending down a rocky decline and then their group had to stop and pile rocks for them to continue down.

My friend got out to spot me because it made us a little nervous after we witnessed their struggles but with the sway bar disconnected and being in 4 wheel low Wanda pretty much danced down the steps with all 4 wheels always on the ground and never even giving my an ounce of doubt about her ability to get down.
We were still following the Tacoma through the switch backs when we heard a loud CLUNK!

Turns out the sound was from the Tacoma in front of us and the passenger had to get out and pick up some large pieces of metal while the Tacoma tried to slowly move forward. CLUNK, CLUNK, CLUNK is all what we heard for the next 20 feet or so as the Tacoma got around the switchback they were on. The passenger who was picking up the pieces off of the trail came up to us and said their CV Axle went out and asked if it would be a huge problem if they could change it out on the trail because they had a spare. I told them for sure it was no problem with me and I would rather wait there for a bit than have them tear on their truck driving it down the trail like that. They were happy to hear that but then they were worried about having to break the news to "Karen".

Luckily everyone behind us were fine waiting a bit while they changed the CV Axle and mentioned that I should probably tether my winch onto the Tacoma to prevent any slipping since they had to jack it up and remove the front passenger tire. After securing the winch to them, putting on my hand brake, shifting into first gear, turning my tires away from the ledge (towards the rock wall) I shut my engine off to wait. One of the guys behind us came down to make sure I knew what I was doing and mentioned that reverse gear is the strongest gear to prevent rolling so I thanked him for the tip and shifted into reverse just in case.
I waited in the Jeep in case I needed to start Wanda up and apply the brakes while my friend hung out with the guys in the Tacoma offering his assistance with changing the CV Axle. They were well prepared with not only the spare CV Axle but an impact drill, torque wrench and everything else needed to work on their truck. Everyone kind of came together and offered each other water, snacks, tools and exchanged stories. Even Karen offered a minor apology to the guys in the Tacoma saying she thought they were with the slow group ahead of them and she's not a total b**** but just "hates stupid people".

While the fact that she did seem to calm down a bit was nice but as my friend told me people can get seriously injured or die when they are being pressured to go down a trail faster than they are comfortable with so people need to have patience and empathy with other people and embrace newcomers to trail riding.

After they got the CV Axle replaced (I think it took them only 20-25 minutes) the Tacoma guys had us winch them back a few inches since they put some blocks in front of their tires they needed to remove. Everyone thanked them for being so well prepared and we all whipped down the rest of the trail without any issues. We couldn't wait to get out of Telluride because it was PACKED! Street parking was even full more than a mile before getting into town.

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BruceA78

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After leaving Montrose and staying off of the trails for July 3rd and July 4th and headed out to visit an old friend of my buddy who runs some Eco lodges in Blanding Utah. Our original plan was to take the Rim rocker trail all of the way from Montrose to Utah and heading south to Blanding Utah but the day before we left I did a little research and most people recommended taking 2 days to do the whole thing.

We decided to just go from Montrose Colorado to Nucla Colorado and then take the highway from there to Blanding Utah. This portion of the trail was pretty much a gravel road that I could have done in a car but the scenery was still nice and made for a really easy quick route getting us into Blanding around 3 or 4pm.

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BruceA78

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We headed out the next morning expecting to go to Canyonlands and maybe try to tackle Elephant Hill in there we wisely decided to head to Moab instead. The reason I say it was wise to skip this for the day is because it was already just past noon and there was road construction going into Canyonlands that would have delayed us at least an hour. Also Elephant Hill is 15 miles which didn't seem too bad but it turns out these trails in Utah are VERY rocky and time consuming. After reading some reviews people mentioned Elephant Hill takes many many hours to fully complete and we had not eaten yet and there was no place within 20 miles to get any good.

We decided to head to Moab for lunch and then figure things out from there. I decided that Fins and Things would be a good trail to start on and then possibly running Poison Spider if we had time. Little did I know that it would take well over 3 hours to do Fins and Things as compared to most of the Colorado trails we did would take 1.5 hours, maybe 2 hours max.
When we got to the trail we were airing down and 2 Jeeps waved at us as they passed by to the start the trail. We caught up to them within the first mile of the trail and had our GMRS radio on scan mode. Funny enough we found the channel they were on. It turns out the lead Jeep was a local guide and the Jeep following them was a family of 4 - not sure if it was a rental or if they just hired the guide. We followed them for the next couple of miles listening into the guide on picking the best lines, etc.

When we arrived at one of the steep downhill decents we heard the guide radio the trailing Jeep saying that they would let us go ahead and pass because they didn't want to hold us up so they pulled over to the side and let us pass. We chose to take all of the harder routes skipping the easy bypasses and didn't have much trouble with anything on the trail - just had to take it super slow and have my friend spot me a few times. Towards the 6 or 7 mile mark we came upon 6 SXS's that were in a tour group with a guide, they were going down a very steep decline and taking pictures of each SXS as they went down.

We waited our turn and the guide hopped in his SXS to go down the decline and join the rest of the group. We asked him if he thought we'd be able to do the decent as well (it was only a 15-20 foot decent, but again very steep). He told us "Well, I think you could probably make it, just take it slow, but this is the steep side so you can go back around the other way if you want". I said F it and decided to take the decent. In first gear and 4 wheel low I barely started creeping down it and we more or less were starting straight down into the ground holding ourselves back in our seats. Ended up scraping the very bottom of the front bumper and then started leveling out. I kept inching forward trying not to scrape the back but right as we flattened out heard a bit of a crunch from the back end which I figured was just the tow hitch scraping the bottom.

When we got down everyone in the group of 6 SXS's (probably 18 or so people total) started cheering for us and telling us that we were awesome. I felt like a rock star for a brief moment and was glad that I made it without embarrassing Wanda or myself! It does turn out that the little crunch at the end was from my tail pipe getting a little crunched on the rocks - so in addition to the few dings on the wheels from the Swan River trail back in Colorado and the dented tail pipe we escaped all of these trails with almost no damage.

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