Black Bear & Imogene
By Ken Womack

This first full day of 4-wheeling started with breakfast at Maggie’s Kitchen (inexpensive and tasty outdoor eatin’ place) and topping off the gas tank. A 12 mile trip up The Million Dollar Highway to the summit of Red Mtn. Pass takes you the the Black Bear trailhead. A brown sign saying BLACK BEAR 4-WHEEL designates this to be a 4-wheel drive road. A smaller vehicle is better on these roads because the trail has tight switchbacks and very narrow sections(more on this later). J.J. had driven up Black Bear Road last year during the Telluride Rotary Club 4X4 Tour ( the ONLY time you can do this), and wanted to drive down it too. So J.J. took the driver’s seat, while I rode spectator.

It was mostly cloudy that morning and very cool, so nice compared to the scorching Houston days and balmy nights. We went up and up climbing past waterfalls and snow banks. The trails had just been opened up a week and a half earlier, and they were wet, and the creeks full of rushing water. We met up with a Jeep Tour near the summit and found out the temp. was 46 degrees. Shortly we made it the the top of Black Bear Pass at approx. 12,200 ft. Here the view is incredible. You can see for over a hundred miles in any direction (on a clear day), and we could see pretty blue lakes, mines dotting the sides of mtns. and our trail looked like a brown ribbon going down into the basins and valleys below. A truly awesome sight that must be seen to truly appreciate.

On our way down, we got to see a family of marmots, (also called “Whistle Pigs”, by the sound they make). They weren't shy and came close hoping we had some food for them. J.J. gave them some chips (not too much), and we got a good picture.

We continued on down past Ingram Lake and to our first awesome view of the valley floor, filled by the town called Telluride. Cool! After a few Kodak moments, we started down the first of the easier switchbacks. A short way past these, the trail gets very steep. We decided to take a short break and eat a snack next to Ingram Creek, which was flowing’ fast. Refreshed and ready, J.J. piloted us down the VERY STEEP trail with some 1’ stair steps. The trail is narrow here, and you have to hug the cliff side. After the stair steps you pass Ingram Falls and the ruins of the old Pandora Mill. Then comes the 1st, and the toughest switchback, a very tight turn that requires a 3-point turn ( in a Jeep) and a 4-6 point turn in anything bigger. This turn seemed to have been tamed somewhat, with about 1 1/2 ft. more surface area to make the turn, no doubt to accommodate the larger tour bus (Surburbans) Jeep Tour company. The other ones use Jeeps, but this one uses (UGH!) Surburbans! I guess greed has no real end. You can see the tire marks where these beasts have to back up the hillside just to make their 5-6 point turns.

J.J. made the 1st switchback look easy, and we were on our way down. We passed the Power House next to Bridal Veil Falls. This house had been renovated from the original power station generating alternating current (AC), co-developed by George Westinghouse. The trail down from there was very easy, and we stopped briefly at the falls, and got a little wet from the mist of the rushing waterfall.

When we got to Telluride, it was bustling with tourists from all over. This town has a festival flavor to it, and it is a very historical place. Butch Cassidy robbed one of his first banks here. Mining brought this town up, but winter skiing and summer tourism keeps it going. Telluride is home to some very famous actors and actresses, and the town is famous for it’s movie festival, Jazz and Bluegrass Festivals and the Telluride Rotary Club 4X4 Tour, which we were lucky enough to have done last year. But J.J. and I were in the mood for Pizza, and there was this little bakery that makes fine ones, so we stopped there to enjoy one and then do some shopping. Telluride is a pretty little town, with a lot of shops and probably has the best night life of the three little towns in the area (Ouray, Silverton and Telluride).

Full and ready to go, I drove this second leg out of Telluride and up the Tomboy Road (Imogene). This road climbs past some mines and mills and up to the Savage Basin, site of the Tomboy Mill and townsite. There was a population of about 5000 people here at one time. Little remains of Tomboy, due to the huge amounts of snowfall, although a few cabins still stand. Clouds were moving in fast as we climbed out of Tomboy, and we could see it storming in Telluride. We also went through the Teamsters Tunnel, where the road was blasted through solid rock to form a tunnel. Here the Teamsters (Mule and wagon train drivers), met to discuss weather and road conditions, as well as the progress of mining strikes and things in general.

From there the road gets steeper and goes up and up via switchbacks to the summit of Imogene Pass, at 13,154 ft. Here there is a power co. hut and some old wire. Also this is the site of Ft. Peabody. There was never a fort here, but Colorado Governor Peabody stationed some National Guard troops there to prevent striking and fired miners from crossing over from to Telluride to Ouray to work in their mines. Fort Peabody is really a sarcasm applied to the place and the situation. The view here is even better than the view from Black Bear, and is one of my all time favorite places. But the clouds were surrounding us, and we could not see more than 50 ft. On top there was a bit of a traffic jam, as us, a Tahoe, a Rav-4 (Heresy!), a small Blazer and a Explorer. The drivers in the Tahoe, Rav-4, and the Blazer had a look of “Oh my God! What do we do now?” We being the smallest rig, were best able to back up to make room for the confused drivers trying to make their way off the mtn.

Finally, with rain pouring down, the confused ones scrambled down the mtn. The Tahoe driver was getting yelled at by his wife. The couple in the Explorer went on down Imogene ahead of us, with the lady driving. She was doing a fine job. The thick clouds and steady rain made the trip interesting, a wrong move or too much brake could get you killed. Down the switchbacks, and off the talus road back into the trees again, and the rain let up again.

 

We stopped by the creak bed to take pictures and a break, and explored an old mine, Cool! We also stopped by an old miner’s cabin and enjoyed the area and meadows full of wildflowers. Tired and ready to get back to Ouray, we hit 2-wheel drive and headed for the mineral spring- heated pool. It was relaxing way to end a fine day of 4-wheeling.

Ken Womack...