Backroads 2000 (Part 1)
by Ken Womack
was a trip that we had planned nearly a year in advance, ever since we heard the
SWFWDA Summer Meeting and Run would be there. I was really ready to go again
since it had been since 1997 that I had been there, 1996 for Evelyn and Andy.
Although several SHR members had planned to go to Moab and Ouray, we wanted to
try some different places, since we had been to Ouray 3 times prior. From
reading 4WD magazines, I knew there were 4WD Roads near Crested Butte and
Gunnison as well as Buena Vista and Salida (the site of the SWFWDA Run). I
ordered Charles Wells Guide to Colorado Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails
from 4x4 Books.com. This book is great! It was informative and easy to use,
never failed us, (if I read it correctly, that is!)
Saturday July 15, we headed for Colorado with an overnight stop in Amarillo and
again in Gunnison. On Mon. the 17, we set up camp at Lake Irwin at elevation
10,300 ft. This campground is beautiful! Lake Irwin is a high mountain lake that
is glass smooth and stream fed. Lake Irwin campground is primitive, no showers
or flush toilets, but its clean and well kept. We enjoyed our stay very much.
Chilly at night, to the 40s, we had a fire (in a fire pit), every night and
every morning, just to stay warm. Such a pleasant change from the steamy hot
mugginess of Houston!
Irwin is 10 miles outside of Crested Butte up Kebler Pass Rd. and excellent if
youíre on a budget, as we were. Crested Butte is a fairly neat little Fru-Fru
Village, but it is very expensive to spend any time at all there. Whatís more,
their local City Guide refers to all the 4x4 Roads as hike and bike trails!
Evidently the Greens have infiltrated city government. To deny the existence of
Jeep Roads then have the audacity to call them footpaths is ludicrous! Because
of this, I decided to spend as little money as possible here, except for
absolutely necessary items, such as ice and gas. (The most expensive in
Colorado, $1.99 a gallon for mid-grade 87octane.) We bought our food in
Gunnison. Gunnison is a cool town that isnít Fru-Fru and even has a 4x4 Shop
and Jeep Rental. The prices are lower and still isnít that far from the
trailheads. Stay there, or at Almont, not Crested Butte.
From Lake Irwin we ran Gunsight Pass, Schofield
Pass, Taylor Pass
back and forth, Italian Creek Road, Goat Mtn. (not on map), Splains Gulch and
Daisy Pass. From Buena Vista we ran
Iron Chest, Hancock Pass and Tincup Pass. We also went white-water
rafting for a half-day. From Salida, we ran with Southwest: Chinaman's Gulch and
the Holy Cross City Road ( the best was last!) It was a fine 2-week trip. We
were blessed with good weather and good luck. Our only mechanical problems were
occasional dying of engine due to altitude (which was momentary), a starter,
which began dragging, and locking up (which I replaced one morning ), and a
broken valve stem on a rear tire. Not bad considering the many miles of wheelin
and the hard-core trails of Iron Chest, Chinamanís Gulch and Holy Cross.
Actually I was very lucky.
is no way I can write about all these trails in one newsletter, so I will split
em up in probably 3 or 4. I hope You All enjoy them! Ken...
Monday the 17th, we had just set up camp at Lake Irwin and Evelyn wanted to take
a nap, so Andy and I headed off to do a short trail called Gunsight Pass. We saw
another Jeep with 3 guys from Texas. We asked them to join us, and off we went.
We went up the Slate Road 6 miles to the signed turnoff, aired down then crossed
the river next to the old bridge (not safe).
Up and up we climbed via switchbacks. The scenery was awesome as the road
climbed steeper and steeper. The road was easy, but rough, and the switchbacks
were sharp. I cussed my front locker as it hindered Jeep Thrills turning radius.
Lockers just get in the way on these kinds of switchbacks. I yearned for a front
ARB or even (shudder the thought) an open front diff.!?! It was 5 miles to the
remains of the Daisy Mine and the view was breathtaking!
Daisy Pass Mine
were high in the Alpine Tundra, way above the treeline. From here we could see
over some of the other mountains to snow-capped 14íers. It was windy and cool,
and I thanked God that I made it again to Colorado! Andy was exploring mines,
and I just took in the scenery, unable to climb up to the mines. The air was
thin, and I certainly wasnít used to it yet. Andy took some great pics.
This was a run I had heard about in 4-Wheeler magazine several years ago
in an article called Ghost Towns of the West. It intrigued me ever since. It
told of the trip from Schofield Pass down the Devils Punchbowl and into the
ghost towns of Crystal and Marble. I just had to go someday, and this was the
was our first full day run in Colorado, and I was more than ready.
We traveled up Slate Rd. (easy dirt road, 2wd) out of Crested Butte and
up to The Paradise Basin. This place was marvelous!
A nice little high mountain lake greeted us as we paused for a short
break. We continued down into a valley and then back up again. The scenery was
breathtaking. Back down into another valley we went through a nice tree lined
road and up again to Schofield Pass at 10,000 ft. Here we turned towards the
Marble sign and down into Crystal Canyon.
went down again til we were at parking lot for hikers; several sport utility
vehicles were parked there. We went
on down next to Crystal River thru some holes that were pretty dry. Then we came
to a crossing with a Toyota Rav-4 parked there. The couple was thinking about
crossing Crystal River. They asked
me if I thought they could make it. I told them that I had never run it, but my
book said it was a serious trail. The water was nearly 2 feet deep and would be
bumper deep on
Jeep Thrills. I told them that the rocks were very sharp and that if he cut a
tire, then another (a real possibility with the street tires he had on), that no
one would have a spare tire that small on the trail. I also told him he had no
low range gears and that he would need them, as well as some ground clearance.
that would be enough warning for most people, but he was a hard head. He asked,
but do you think I can still make it? I
suggested that he read the trail description in my book, but his wife said,
thatís ok, we better not try. Wise woman. We crossed the creek with water over
the hubs and dropped down into a rocky road with a couple of cabins there. On
down the road was the warning sign that read:
Narrow Steep Road recommended only for very experienced drivers &
small high clearance 4WD.
was the entrance for the infamous Devils Punchbowl. The road started very rough
and dropped into a steep downward canyon with the roaring Crystal River deep
below. I had told Evelyn and Andy that this was a little scary, but they were
still shocked at the narrowness of the road, with the VERY long drop into the
canyon. The next 1/4-mile was very intense. There was as little as 6 inches to
the edge of the road in some places (and thatís with Pizza Cutters Folks!) and
tire placement was critical! I would hate to have to back up on this stretch!
rock outcropping had you picking lines, too, with not much choice, due to the
narrowness of the road. And it was steep! Pucker Factor was high on this one!
We even drug on one spot. After easing down the road, we had to cross a
100 year-old narrow iron bridge that crossed the fast-running river.
Wow! After crossing this
bridge and parking the Jeep, we got out for video and pictures. The twin falls
here were roaring and so pretty. One of the most beautiful and exciting trails I
had ever run!
& Evelyn @ Twin Falls
is, you could do this road with a Jeep or other small rig with 31in. tires and a
limited-slip or locker, but you can be scared easily, itís that kind of trail.
Very intense, indeed, but the sheer thrill and beauty of the trail makes it
worth it. This was only the beginning of the trail; there were several miles to
go. We went thru some more narrow sections. One particularly narrow spot had a
late model sport-utility vehicle at the bottom of the canyon, wrecked. It had
fallen off the road. I hope they survived.
drove several miles thru nice, cool forests with the awesome river to our left.
We passed the Lead King Mine Road and I knew we were close to the town of
Crystal. Crystal is a ghost town where some descendents of the settlers had
moved in and fixed up the cabins to live there. We passed The Crystal Club, an
all-male club where only ladies of the shady type were allowed many years ago,
an old General Store still in great shape, and then on to the Crystal
Powerhouse, a well-preserved electric generating station built right into the
stone on the side of the river canyon, awesome! This is said to be the most
photographed spot in Colorado. We took several pictures and some video while
taking a break.
The Crystal Club
The Crystal Powerhouse
here we passed into Marble, where marble was mined and
transported all over the country, some to make the Tomb of the
There were large chunks of marble left over here. I wish we could have
explored further, but we decided to eat lunch at Beaver Lake and then take the
paved road back to the Kebler Pass and back to camp.
The original plan was to take the Lead King Mine Road
back to The Devils Punchbowl (Fruitbowl as Evelyn called it), but Evelyn said
she was NOT going over that way again uphill! I reluctantly agreed. It was
scary, and would have taken quite a while, and it was just the 1st