Our first west trip – Colorado 2009
After several years of marriage, home ownership, and general financial stability, we were finally able to make our first trip out west. This trip started a long term trend of us making a yearly trek to some western state to see Gods beauty first hand.
Now some folks seem to think that you need quite a bit of cash and a fancy vehicle to see all the beauty in the mountains. We were able to disprove that thought process as we made the trip there and back in a 1992 Cherokee that cost all of $2,000 bucks.
The following is a copy from our post on the SIJA forum and was written as we were experiencing it. I’ve gone through and fixed some of the context errors, but I’m sure there is more in there. Enjoy!
The wife and I are currently playing out in CO (CO Springs area right now) but Tink was kind enough to point us in the right (I hope) direction for some easy wheeling in my DD so we’ll be branching out some..
Yes, the $2k XJ made it all the way out to CO without incident. (other than its usual knocking and lifter ticking) Which means It’ll probably strand us on a dang mountain 😯 Only issue so far is that the A/C is overcooling (blowing below 20*f going by thermometer I have which causes the outside of the HVAC box inside the cab to frost up). That incident led my wife to wake up with wet feet while going through KS!
A couple asked for me to share my photos as I go. I’ve got (slow) internet off and on, so I’ll upload when I can. So far, nothing too exciting but here it goes…
Day break brought the MO side of Kansas City:
After many hours in KS, we stumbled across the great Kansas windmills…
After an eternity we passed the happy sign that said we were now in CO. Few more hours and we starting seeing these more clearly:
And that’s about it really for the first day. I’ve got a nifty view from our Hotel Parking lot Colorado Springs:
After spending the night In Colorado Springs we started heading up to Twin Lakes/Leadville area on Monday.
We didn’t die on the side of a mountain today, so it was a good day 😉
Started out the day at the Garden of the Gods which is a pretty nifty park if you’re ever in the area, its worth a go through. Do it early though as it tends to get busy in a hurry. We even got the special privilege of hearing a rock falling off one of the rock formations.
After that we headed up to Mt Baldy (Forest Service Road 379). It was a decent drive for the stocker XJ with both sway bars still attached! I did have to air down to 25 psi though to smooth out the ride a bit. It took about an hour to get up the trail once we made it to the trail head. The drive to the Trail head was very pleasant as well (all dirt/gravel roads).
Few shots going up Old Stage Road:
We then made our way up the trail..
Trip log (still digging this PN-20):
The lake at the top of the trail was quite a sight:
Pretzel bag ready to blow at ~12k feet!
Over all, a nice little drive up, it rained like a son of a buck on the way down the mountain. Which made it a little interesting.
The next day we headed up Mosquito Pass. We started out by heading toward St Elmo via 24 to 285. This was a very nice piece of 2 lane. A little crazy though as bikers (Person Powered) also Like to share this highway. Which strikes me as flat out retarded since there are several blind, high speed, corners. To each their own I suppose.
Few shots from the drive to St. Elmo:
There’s really not much to see in St. Elmo, but it is the trail head for ‘Tin Cup’. Unfortunately, I backed out of running that one, which was probably a good thing as it looked busier than all get out.
Along the road to St. Elmo, there is this nice little waterfall to look at:
After that fun, we headed up to Leadville, which is where Mosquito pass starts out. That was a fun little trail in a Stock XJ, there for the most part it consisted of fairly rocky roads that lead to some switch backs. Which then brought you to the top of the summit. After that its all down hill from there. And when I say down hill, I mean I was really cursing the Chrysler engineers that skimped on the brakes for the XJ’s, there was more than one spot that had me a little concerned, but we made it out just fine 😉
The fun part of the trail lasted about 2 hours and we went about 6.5 miles. You could probably do it faster, but I didn’t want to beat on my junk any harder than I have already (My rear springs hate me quite a bit right now).
And going down the other side:
Like I said, neat little trail to run down. Once we got to Alma (on the other side of the summit) we boogied on through Breckenridge and kept on rolling up to our hotel. If you want a little bit of a scary ride, cruise the road from Alma to Breckenridge. While it’s a highway (read 60 mph posted speed limit) there are several switchbacks going down that road. Not your gentle switches either. I’m talking, slow the heck down, because you have to crank the wheel to the lock type of switchbacks. It was an interesting trip to say the least!
That evening, we stayed in Silverthorne, and then kept heading north. View from the Room:
The next day I got to fully understand the hatred of I-70 in the mountains. Up until this morning, I haven’t really had any complaints with the lack of power from the XJ. Usually its been a third gear everywhere I go, and it’ll run 55 without any issue.
That changed this morning.
Cruising up I-70 to the Ike tunnel sucked! Second gear to the wood, and just barely turning 40 mph! And how is it you can go up in elevation while going down hill? That one blows my mind a bit.
So we left our hotel and headed out to George Town where the Saxon Trail is. Right before we got to the Ike tunnel, it started icing/sleeting on us which made for a bit of nervous work.
Fortunately, once through the tunnel, it was nice and clear on the other side.
After taking on a bit more fuel we jumped on the Saxon trail. This is primarily a shelf road that isn’t too bad. Though the corners in the switch backs made it a bit of a challenge with the dual sway bars of wonder.
Quick pit stop to show how far we’d gone:
There were several tight spots due to the falling rock. There was even one spot where I had to stack a few rocks to get over the fallen rocks. (This would be that spot):
Once at the top, there is a spectacular view.
After that, we cruised back part of the Spring Gulch trail to Idaho Springs. A few shots from that:
After a quick lunch, we went up ‘Oh My God’ road, which was a nice gravel road that went by several abandoned and active mines.
And on from there, we traveled the ‘Peak to Peak’ Highway. Which offered some great views. I apparently didn’t photograph most of them…
There were quite a few wildfires burning during this trip, in this photo you can somewhat see the smoke from the fires…
And then we made it to our room at Estes Park. Shots from our room:
And that pretty much wraps up the wheeling portion of our vacation, which is probably good as the XJ is starting to complain a little bit. Its been a very memorable trip to say the least though in that regards!
The next day we spent the better part of the day in Estes Park (Rocky Mountain National Park). Pictures don’t do it justice, as its just retarded beautiful out here. Something everyone should experience if given the opportunity.
We started out our day by swinging by Spring Lake:
Then continued on up the road to where Emerald Lake trail is. It isn’t that long of a trail, but it climbs about 4,000 feet, which was more than enough to give us a good workout! This trail leads you by several lakes as you wind your way up the side of the mountain.
Some shots of Bear Lake (First lake you come to):
Then you wander up a path like this:
After going by that lake, you’re rewarded with several more spectacular views:
Then you bump into Dream Lake:
And a little further down is Emerald Lake:
Again, Photos really don’t do this any justice.
After wearing ourselves out with that fun, we headed up Old Fall River Road. This is one of the parks first roads. It consists of a gravel road that winds its way up the mountain over about 9 miles. At the top of the road is the Alpine Visitor Center. From there, you can coast down 34 one way or the other.
Travel (Old Falling Springs is on the top, Visitor Center on the LHS peak, and 34 is the rest):
Some shots from going up the Old Falling River:
View near the top of the road: (Just started sleeting as we got up there)
View at the Alpine Visitor Center:
Then some shots going down 34:
Met this guy, he seemed to be having a decent go at it. Nothing like doing a double pull up the side of a mountain! That poor PSD was screaming…
Our last in Estes Park we didn’t get to do nearly as much hiking as would have like to. This due to the wife and I being pretty darn sick. But hey, if you’re going to get sick on vacation, may as well be the last day right?
We started out with a quick little hike up to Copeland Falls. This area is located in the ‘Wild Basin’. The trail itself is only .3 miles long (or at least the portion we walked).
Sunrise on the way to the park:
Since we were both sick, we just weren’t up for the all the hiking we were planning. So the wife surprised me and said she’d like to hit another trail that was in the area. So we wandered out to ‘Pole Hill’. While it was rated as ‘Moderate’ trail, it was the hardest trail we’ve hit so far. But it was a hoot in the little XJ, and a bit of a challenge for me as I actually had to work to get up some of the rock climbs:
Unfortunately, my camera bleached out a lot of the photos. The area is really steep, and the photos don’t really show it.
If you look close, that’s the little XJ getting ready to come down this mess:
The wife even got a few action shots 😉
On the way back to the trail head we ran into two brand new LR’s. Not sure if it was a sales promo or what, but talk about $$
After that, we started making our way back home. In the end, I managed not to kill anything on the XJ save for the Rear sway bar. It finally had enough after we passed the “Notch”. But it needed to go anyway.
We made it back safe and sound last night. Pulled in about 11 ish. It was a trip well worth it IMHO and proved a few things (some ramblings below):
– You can buy a $2k XJ with marginal rubber, misc odd noises, and an A/C that likes to freeze up. And drive it all the way out to CO, wheel it responsibly, and come home in it. However, your wife will not be happy when the A/C freezes up and dumps ice cold water on her feet while she’s asleep in the passenger seat. And you will have to work a bit to make it go a few places with both sway bars still attached.
– Fixing the Cruise control before heading out on this road trip was the smartest thing I’ve done this year
– You can go see some beautiful places off the beaten path in a stock vehicle. There are plenty of trails that you could carefully navigate a bare bones vehicle. Keep in mind, there are lots of places you can’t take a stock vehicle either!
– The Forest Service ‘roads’ are marked in a fine matter out there. It makes it hard for even a numbskull like me to get lost in the woods.
– Charles A Wells did a great job on writing these books about the CO trails and back roads. I highly recommend buying/borrowing/stealing/renting them prior to heading out to that area.
– I-70 Only really sucks around the IKE tunnel, the rest of it isn’t too bad.
– Driving home really sucks when all you can eat is milk shakes due to your throat being severely swollen.
– Take a camera!