Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Red Mountain Pass, Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado

Southern Colorado high country is one of the main tourist destinations for the 'Well traveled Internationals'. The language spoken is often Scandinavian, French, German, Italian, and other mainly European, including any other adventure seeking people of the World. Of course USA even allows it's own citizens to visit Colorado for the outstanding mountain panoramas, high peaks, beautiful valleys, and of course the fantastic Engineering Marvels that allow everyone access, The gravity defying mountain highways called 'The Passes'.

After our last trip to Durango Colorado (we travel here often), we just had to return again due to the endless sights including prolific Deer, Elk and other wildlife.


  • This trip in the Motor home with Jeep in tow, included a 3 night stay at the Alpen Rose RV park
  • a few minutes drive North of Durango, just past the 'glider park' but on the left (west) side of the highway. The site is in a green grassy valley and we parked under the large trees near the well staffed office. The people that run this RV park are some of the nicest that we have encountered on our travels. Steve on his golf cart, directed us into our site. The Durango Rio Grande railroad runs nearby several times daily on it's way to Silverton.

    Alpen Rose RV park even called us back (very rare) to ask if we were going to stay with them after I asked about amenities during the last trip to the area a couple of weeks ago. Breakfast, 'all you care to eat' for 7 dollars (2007), was served at 8 AM until 10 AM. My wife mentioned that they may have more breakfast guests if they started at 7am. Kids enjoy this setting, due to the horses to feed after a day in the swimming pool along side the well maintained grassy playgrounds. Steve endlessly moved the watering system to keep it that way, he puts many miles on his golf cart each day.

    The 'Bar D Wranglers' with their old cowboy music and excellent Bar B Q supper are not to be missed. The 'Riders In the Sky' western group performs with the Wranglers at times, so call for reservations. Cy Scarborough started the Bar D over 25 years ago and still performs nightly.

    Comedy and lots of 'Pickin and Singin' are the fare including some fine and fast served chuck wagon food. Nice family entertainment to pass away the evening in the Animas River valley north of Durango about 10 minutes drive. Bar D was almost lost to the mountain forest fires. Only the dedication of countless fire fighters saved this historic facility.

    Rafting, Kayaking, and watersports are always actions to be enjoyed along the river through Durango, as well as others in Colorado. Call for sceduled 'Water Weeks', 'Bicycle Weeks' and many other 'special event' weeks alloted throughout the seasons. Don't forget winter, it's one big 'Snowfest' with world class skiing.

    The numerous downtown Durango restaurants are each unique and the Brews at the 'Barley Exchange' downstairs on main street are countless. Don't miss the 1800's ambiance in the 'Diamond Belle' at the Strater Hotel. Don't miss their 'Melodrama'. The General Palmer Hotel with it's antique elevator and furnished rooms are 'must see'. All of this attractive ambience is enjoyed often by the countless hundreds of Motorcycle riders seen on every trip.


  • 'Victory' Motorcycles, made here in the USA/Canada, using every modern high technology innovation available, to provide excellent reliability, even the 6 quart oil capacity that lubricates the transmission as well as the '100 inch' displacement 'V' twin engine, while providing excellent oil cooling. Unlike the 'left heavy' Harley Davidson, the Victory is neutral balanced with its silent running toothed flat drive belt system on the right.

    Recognizable is the heavy Purr, '180 degree' crank sound, similar to the big 'rice burners'. 100 horsepower at the rear wheel and a weight of less than 600 pounds makes this a very fast, great handling 'Ride' starting at $15,000 dollars US. Victory had their latest rally here in Durango, lots of leather clad riders seeking the mountain riding excitement and good times together.

    Silverton, another old mining town is 50 miles North of Durango over 'Molas Pass' and 'Coal Bank' pass, the very fit bicycle riders actually beat the train. A great ride, sometimes along side the Narrow gauge Steam powered 'Rio Grande' Rail system. Tourists enjoy the scenic trip, but both ways on the rails are a long day, as Mom mentioned years ago. She preferred the bus one way when available, like the Chama NM Narrow gauge Steam train rail system, which she also enjoyed.

    Leaving Silverton toward Ouray, the next 23 miles of driving fun starts as you progress up the beginning North bound ramp of many switchbacks to get over the famous 'Red Mountain Pass' (over 11,000 feet altitude). This highway has no sissy guard rails to prevent you from driving over the edge into the canyons far below.

    Just a 5 inch white painted line between your right wheels and several hundred yard drops over the edges on a gravity powered wild ride. I watched the cable winched retrieval of one unrecognizable car that took the 'dive'. Ice and winter/spring is 'Special' with unpredictable Avalanches adding to the fun.

    Keep your drivers eyes on the road while the passengers describe the fantastic mountains and valleys in every direction. Speeding in Colorado, especially the passes, is often monitored by high flying aircraft. Teams of Colorado Highway Patrol are waiting further down the highway for the descriptions of the cars. Fines are expensive. Got to pay for that airplane and it's hours.

    This highway has to be endlessly maintained by dumping thousands of tons of ballast rock over the edge and down the steep slope to hold the pavement on the side of the mountain. Some years even that fails, and they lose a portion of highway, only to rebuild for the next season. During repairs, the lane gets really narrow and very scary with the passenger leaning out the window and watching the wheels to make sure the driver stays at least 5 inches from the edge while clearing the oncoming traffic side mirrors.

    Million Dollar Highway

  • The so called 'Million Dollar Highway', referred to the cost per mile, to build in the 1920's. Today the brochures also mention the value of the 'Ore' used as ballast rock and the dynamited Cut Away rock to allow passage around the shear vertical face of a high gorge.

    A memorial is placed commemorating several victims of 'The Riverside Slide' (CW McCall), Snow Plow Drivers
  • sacrificed over the years, including a Preacher with his two young daughters (Oct 1963). They were killed by one of the frequent snow Avalanches to hit these areas. Buried under hundreds of tons of ice and snow, they find them only in the spring melt. A concrete snow shed and the ski patrols firing a Howitzer cannon up into the high elevation snowpack to knock it loose, helps drivers to survive in these spots. Left over winter snow is still plentiful in the high country year around.


  • Ouray Colorado is referred to as the 'Switzerland of America' due to it's scenic location among the many high peaks. The streets in this old mining town are sloped to aid in the runoff of the 'gully washer' type rains that throw rocks, debris and trees over the high canyon waterfalls above the town. Box Canyon waterfall is a great short side tour with a nice hiking trail. Watch for the fat chipmunks.

    Our lunch was a Pita and Lamb wrap at one of the many little interesting shops that provide a time of relaxation with contemplation. A natural hot spring feeds the huge local swimming pool north of town near one RV park. Jeep rentals keep a family that likes to get 'up close and personal' with the high altitude old mining areas nestled up among the mountain peaks, very busy. A drive to the 'Camp Bird' mine is unforgettable, especially during a storm. Black Bear Pass is farther up the mountain.

    Telluride is a few minutes by air but many hours by 4X4 trail ride away over the famous (C.W. McCall song) Black Bear Pass 'Road?
  • We tried it with a standard 4X4 Jeep Wrangler and it was not a success 15 years ago, probably worse now.

    75 miles back to Durango over the 'Red Mountain', then Silverton, 'Molas', 'Coal Bank' passes brought us back to Durango. Retire to our RV park for the night after an excellent Beer Battered 'fish and chips' dinner at the Barley Exchange in downtown Durango, ended a fine side trip.

    Up to the East from Durango to Lemon reservoir and the earthen Dam that holds it precariously in the high canyon, were Sheep herders with their old 4 wheeled, hand built, round topped, 'camp wagon' pulled by their very old truck. Today they are a rare sight. 2,000 sheep grazing and traveling the five to ten miles per day in search of high mountain grass to sustain them. Three men and a dog repeat the entire process all season in this rough mountain environment.

    Valecita reservoir is nearby and a popular mountain cabin area for boating, fishing and relaxing away from city life. The big mountain forest fires of five years ago really covered a vast area that is now starting to 'regreen itself'. This series of huge fires ranged for many dozens of miles in every direction due to fuel overload caused by environmentally preferred 'suspended' logging and grazing.

    The forest actually looks better, more pasture (Deer and Elk love it) and less densely loaded with combustible material after nature's 'Cleanup call'. Overload of fuel with no open pasture fire 'breaks', is definetly the cause of this past runaway conflagration. Aspen trees are starting again, which will be followed by pine some day, and the endless cycles will continue into the distant future.

    The next area visited was Pagosa (Natural hot) Springs Colorado, East of Durango, where we parked the Motor home for two nights at an 'Ex' KOA campground. Great folks from Texas were the hard working managers. It included a fishing stream running past the sites, and peddle powered water craft to tour the pond. 'Boss Hog's' Bar B Q, west of town near Fairfield Pagosa, has a great lunch and evening menu. Early the next morning it was the drive over another famous (in song by C.W. McCall) Chicken Truck
  • driver excitement, on 'Wolfcreek Pass'.

    Wolf Creek Pass

  • The truck brake failure escape routes with their deep 'Kitty Litter' are very often used. The smell of burning brakes hangs heavy in the air due to drivers failing to use geared down engine braking. We often see large vehicles being towed into Pagosa Springs for repairs due to massive brake failure. Eight miles up and eight miles down the 7% grade over 10,000 feet altitude, takes a while at 20 to 40 Miles per hour with lots of first gear 5000 rpm, so We left the 28,000 pound Motor home rig back at Pagosa Springs this time to help extend it's useful life.

    This days destination was to scout out the highly recommended 'Fun Valley' RV and cabin Park on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass. Super place to take the adventuresome granddaughters on a future trip. Hiking, Horseback riding, fishing, paddle boats, bicycle rides, nightly entertainment, snack shops, restaurant meals, hundreds of sites to park near the river and of course the endless scenery of southern Colorado's San Juan Mountains to keep every one interested.

    Great fishing is the adult attraction most favored through this area around South Fork Colorado. Crede Colorado is north up the Rio Grande River through a beautiful mountain valley from South Fork. Try the canyon road in Creede, past the historic mines if your 'ride' is up to it. Northwest past Creede, is the highway over yet another scenic high mountain pass to the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. Check out the seasonal waterfall on the turnout near the top of the high mesa.

    The last day was a very familiar scenic drive towards home back in Albuquerque NM, South down through Chama NM (start of the narrow guage RR, north to San Antonio Colorado), past three reservoirs with public recreational amenities, past historic Santa Fe 60 miles north of ABQ NM.

    The entire five day trip was five hundred miles with two hundred dollars ('07 prices) in motor home fuel. The Jeep racked up another few hundred miles. Money well spent for some of the very best, close to home adventure. Next time you get the urge to travel, visit the weak dollar USA. We have it all, even a piece of 'Switzerland'. Enjoy the Great USA, One Nation Under God, with Freedom for All.. We fight for it..

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