Colorado Backroads 2000 (Part 2)
by K
en Womack

The original plan for this run was to do Pearl Pass, Taylor Pass and Italian Creek Road as a loop in 2 days. But two things stood in the way, one was that Pearl Pass still had a snow bank on the backside of the pass, and the other was that we just could not carry enough gear in the Jeep without a Rubicon Rack. Three people, a dog and coolers pretty much filled us up. You just canít do all three roads in one day.

So we went with plan B, take the paved road to Taylor Lake, then the washboard dirt road to the Taylor Pass Trailhead (Road). This was a very long drive, especially the 10 miles or so on the terrible washboard surface from Taylor Lake. The turnoff for Taylor Pass is a couple of miles past Dorchester Campground, the place we would have stayed had we have started from Pearl Pass.  

We got to Taylor Pass Rd. about 10:45am, aired down and started our accent. This road is rated difficult in Charles Wells 4-wheel drive book. It is actually very rough and in some spots, very narrow. The difficult rating comes from the area around the creek. In heavy spring runoff, this spot would be tough, cause you run thru the creek for about 300 ft., then up a rock bank. A stock sport utility vehicle would have it tough here. The water wasnít that deep, so it wasnít a problem for us; we had the clearance and lockers.

Once again, under most conditions, a Jeep with 31 in. tires, sway bar disconnects, and a good limited-slip diff. would handle it. Later we would see a bone stock YJ with 5 people come up the Pass, but he admitted he bounced up the road, not drove it. The trail (road, they are ALL roads) was really scenic, with mountain vistas that were unforgettable. There were several spots that you had to drive carefully, picking your lines so as not to high-center. We climbed high into the mountains past the tree line into the Alpine Tundra and on to the summit of Taylor Pass.  

Here we ran into a pilot and his wife who ran a dirt bike and an ATV. He told us that he had just flown over the passes and there was hardly any snow left. This led me to believe that crossing Pearl Pass was possible and thatís what I really wanted to do. So we came on down the pass through pine forest then aspens into the valley below. The ghost town of Ashcroft awaited us, as well as our lunch.   We couldnít take Blaze with us to Ashcroft because itís also a haven for ground hogs. Dogs just want to dig 'em up which makes holes, so you just cant take your dog. We took our lunch fixins to the picnic area on Castle Creek and enjoyed our lunch while reading the pamphlet guide. Ashcroft was a mining town that boomed quickly and went bust after only 5 years. 

Ashcroft

Some people stayed on until the 1930ís, but they did little mining and lots of storytelling. In the 40ís, the US Army trained some ski soldiers there, but it was abandoned again until the late 40ís and 50ís when it was the set for the series: Sgt. Preston of the Mounties.

In the mid 70ís The Aspen Historical Society got a grant from the U.S. Forest Service to maintain and interpret the site. The cabins there were stabilized so that they wouldnít fall down, and The Blue Mirror Saloon was restored with some artifacts inside. They did a good job and didnít try to commercialize the place. The Hotel View was rebuilt in part. There were once 12 ďSoiled DovesĒ who stayed there to entertain men folk of the era. There are several cabins and the Post Office there. Itís worth the 3 bucks a head to see a part of history that isnít just crumbling remains, but a real glimpse into a frontier-mining town. The sprawling silver mill was all gone except for a stone block to mark the spot.

The Hotel View

We started up the road to Pearl Pass, but stopped to ask a guy about the road. He said it was still closed in one spot.  Just then two early Broncos came down. The wild-eyed driver said,   ďItís not for the faint of heart.Ē  He told of us a slide down a hundred foot snow bank. He said it could be done down hill, but not uphill without winching and that there were no winch points to hook to. Evelyn saw the look of fear on this manís face and said, ďNo Way!Ē  So we turned back for the return trip over Taylor Pass and Italian Creek Road.

The return trip was easier since we had run it once already and time was getting short. I knew Italian Creek Rd. was a long one, 20 miles to the 2-wheel-drive road of Cement Creek.  Italian Creek Road has absolutely everything you could ask in a trail. Its long, scenic, has a start and a stop and goes thru all the types of terrain, both up and down. Truly awesome.

We started out easy for the first couple miles. There are many free, remote camp sites here and would make an excellent place to camp. The road gradually got tougher and rougher as we climbed.  Again, this road was rated difficult, but only in certain spots. Overall, itís a solid 3 on the Southern High Rollers 5 scale. There is an optional road that takes the talus ledges that would make it a 4, but because it was so late, we chose to stay on the main road. We continued on up and over the Reno Divide. This road has awesome beauty and I recommend it highly as a must do thing in Colorado.

We came back down into the valley past pristine creeks, blue-green lakes and huge stands of pine trees.  The radicals are crazy. I saw pristine wilderness and crystal clear streams and lakes from my view on the ROAD. This road was built over a hundred years ago and is only maintained minimally from the Forest Service, yet I saw no environmental damage to the area. Just goes to show you that the Greens are lying to the people. The Gunnison Co. 4-wheel-drive Club also has adopted this road. It is beautiful and trash free.  A tribute the 4-wheel drive community and the people of Colorado.

We went up again, through a gate, shifted to 2-wheel drive and drove down thru pine and aspen forests into another valley below. Here I messed up. The sign pointed the return to Cement Creek Rd. as a right turn. I didnít check the book (which said turn left). We drove a long way in 2-wheel drive through parts I should have been in 4-wheel drive. I wanted to conserve gas as we had driven a long way that day. This was a mistake; I was tired and kept driving past where I should have turned around. I just could not imagine the sign being wrong. I finally shifted to 4-wheel drive when the road became steeper and steeper. We climbed on up into switchbacks. The clutch in the Jeep was heating up and slipping close to the summit. I was afraid to turn around before the top and not have enough clutch to turn around. Thinking there would be plenty of room on top was also a mistake. There the road abruptly stopped and I had to evacuate the Jeep and turn around side hill. Not a good situation. The clutch held out and we got turned around ok. Andy said the road turned into a goat path, thus the name Goat Mountain.

If someone turned the road sign around, it was a cruel joke. Truth is I was tired and stubborn and should have known the sign was wrong. The clutch cooled off and worked perfectly as we continued back down to the crossroads. I took a picture of the sign to prove I hadnít gone crazy!

The long road back to town had me thinking we would run out of gas. But, the advantage of a 4-cylinder engine is that they donít burn that much fuel. We still had 4 gallons left when we got to town. We returned to camp at 10:30 that night and swore we would do no 4-wheeling on Wednesday, but thatís another story.

-Ken Womack...