Since I post much less frequently than Holden or Athenae at all times, the fact that I haven’t posted anything for quite some time now may not have been noticed by many. I couldn’t do anything while I was on the road, coming up here to the mountains. After I got here, I just fell into the habit of continuing to do nothing online.
There’s a whole lot going on this time of year up here, and I had guests twice. Both times, I went nonstop.
I usually end up the summer up here with one really wild adventure story. I’ve gotten lost in a wilderness area while hiking, I’ve had a bear in my house, I’ve driven a carload of people up to the Wheeler Geological Area – worst 24 miles of jeep road I’d ever seen. Until this year. Last Monday I drove 3 people over California Pass (roughly 13,000 feet), down to Hurricane Basin (where someone has helpfully towed and left a totaled jeep as a reminder) over Hurricane Pass and down Corkscrew Gulch.
I knew that two of my passengers were afraid of heights, but the plan was to take the jeep road over Cinnamon Pass and then on to Ouray by one of the jeep roads going that way. I had been told that the back ways into Ouray were rough. I knew there was one particular road that one should never attempt to take. It didn’t look too far on the map from Animas Forks, the ghost town at the foot of Cinnamon Pass, to the highway outside of Ouray.
I’ve driven over Cinnamon Pass a bunch of times and I find it easy. It took about an hour and we were down at Animas Forks. The road south to Silverton is clearly marked, but you’re on your own when it comes to the roads going northwest to Ouray. I hadn’t known that there were a half dozen jeep trails running all over the place. I didn’t realize none of them would be marked. I stopped a guy driving a tour jeep, and asked him which was the road to Ouray. He basically told me that there were two roads: one was so rough my Cherokee didn’t have clearance and if I went that way, I’d probably lose my oil pan. The other road went up and over California Mountain, Hurricane Mountain and down Corkscrew. Not as rough, but steeper.
Steep barely touches it. We climbed straight up California Mountain, and dropped straight down to Hurricane Basin. It was there beside the glacial tarn that someone with a quaint sense of humor had left the totaled vehicle he’d towed there. We went right straight up again from there. It was somewhere along after the summit of Hurricane that I hit a rock I never saw. I blew out the tire. We were going up a slight incline, but it leveled out and that’s where I stopped.
We started getting everything out – the spare tire, the jack – and then a jeep appeared, coming up behind us. The guy driving had a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth. Then I saw that his two passengers were smoking, too. Since I smoke, I notice other people who are smoking; we aren’t that numerous anymore. The man was stocky, looked 40 something. He stopped and just hopped out and took over and changed the tire. Hardly said anything. I wandered back to his jeep where my friend was talking to his passengers. They were a mother and daughter. The first thing the daughter said to me was that she liked my anti-Bush stickers. She hated him. She taught college in D.C., she said. We stood there and despised Bush together while we waited.
The gentleman had the whole thing finished in about 20 minutes. My passenger who is most afraid of heights, a retired surgeon who is my neighbor, must have said something to him while they worked on the tire, because the guy said he’d follow us for awhile as we got ready to leave.
He followed us up to the top of wherever the hell we were. The road going on from there disappears at the edge of a precipice. The only way down is over that edge. That is the start of Corkscrew Gulch. From there we went on alone.
I don’t know how I did, but I drove over the edge. The road dropped straight down to a hairpin curve so tight I had to back up to get around it. I could feel how scared my passengers were and the blown tire had rattled me, too. That corkscrew is endless, it is one steep hairpin after another down the bare side of a gulch that has to begin at close to 14,000 feet, because we were on a level with Red Mountain (the one south of Ouray, not the one outside of Lake City; they’re everywhere, really.) All I wanted was to get us all down. It took forever, I swear. The road eventually straightens out and goes into trees, but it promptly gets rougher, too – huge holes, huge rocks. It took about 20 years to finally get all the way down to the highway.
I got us to Ouray. We went back on the highway, the long way round. I was upset for a couple of days because I had never had a 4 wheel drive trip go wrong before, and I really love driving these roads. Then all of the insanely lucky things about it starting occurring to me: that I blew the tire in a relatively good place, instead of say, on the way down Corkscrew. There had been room to maneuver and the road was pretty smooth. And most amazing of all, that we were saved by a jeep full of chain-smoking Bush haters. And people say there are no angels.