Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Looking to get legally high? Just drive Colorado's sky-scraping Imogene Pass

The following tour description is a sample from my guidebook Colorado Byways, which I researched in a stock Toyota 4Runner. The 80-route guide details non-technical backcountry tours suitable to adventure motorcyclists and SUV-borne travelers. Best of all ... it's coming soon as a PDF for just USD$18.95! To be notified as soon as it's available, send us a note today at backcountrybyways at gmail dot com.
NOTE: Check out my magazine feature about adventuring through Colorado's sky-scraping San Juan Mountains in Mercedes-Benz's exclusive Gelaendewagen (a.k.a. G-Wagen) SUV.
LOCATION Between Ouray and Telluride, in the San Juan Mountains. Uncompahgre National Forest. Ouray and San Miguel counties. Google Map

G Wagens on Imogene Pass
HIGHLIGHTS This is one of Colorados most famous and scenic 4WD routes, with some of the best alpine scenery in the state. Named for a prospectors wife, 13,114-foot Imogene Pass [N37°55.910′ W107°44.127′] links two old mining towns that now rank high on tourists itineraries. The views of Telluride, Black Bear Pass (Tour 55 in Colorado Byways), Ingram Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are inspiring indeed. And the wildflowers are beautiful. But dont pick them, so that other visitors can enjoy them as well. The Tomboy mine and town site, 3,000 feet above Telluride, are interesting. You can combine this tour with Yankee Boy Basin (Tour 52), which is particularly famous for wildflowers.
DIFFICULTY Moderate. Rocky with stretches of narrow shelf road and drop-offs. Its busy, as well, so remember that uphill traffic has the right of way. The road is usually open by July 4.

TIME & DISTANCE 3 hours; about 19 miles.

MAPS Trails Illustrated No. 141 (Silverton, Ouray, etc.). Uncompahgre National Forest. Benchmark Maps' Colorado Road & Recreation Atlas, p. 110 (3-C).

INFORMATION Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, Ouray and Norwood ranger districts. Montrose Public Lands Center.

The road can be busy.
GETTING THERE From Ouray: Take U.S. 550, the San Juan Skyway/Million Dollar Highway, about 0.3 mile south of town. Where it bends to the east, turn south onto Camp Bird Road (361) at the sign for Camp Bird Mine, Yankee Boy Basin and Box Canyon Falls. In 6 miles turn left (south) at Camp Bird [N37°58.543′ W107°43.308′]. From Telluride: Take Oak Street (a block north of the center of town) north to Tomboy Road (869) [N37°56.408′ W107°48.703′], and follow Tomboy Road east up the canyon wall.

REST STOPS There are many places to stop. The top of the pass, with its terrific mountain views, is a popular place and can be crowded. People like to take photos at the pass sign, so if its a busy day, dont hog it. At the Ouray end, visit Box Canyon Falls and Park [N38°01.071′ W107°40.752′], near U.S. 550.

THE DRIVE Several rich mines kept the lower portions of this road busy. Above Telluride was the Smuggler-Union silver and gold mine and, in Savage Basin, the mine and town of Tomboy [N37°56.212′ W107°45.260′], among the richest gold operations in North America between the 1880s and 1920s. Almost 1,000 people lived there in its heyday. Today youll see efforts to control its polluted runoff. Above Ouray were Camp Bird and, farther up, Upper Camp Bird, both named for food-stealing Canada Jays. Estimates of that operations gold production run as high as $50 million.
Imogene Pass Road from Telluride

From Telluride, the narrow, rocky road switchbacks up the forested canyon wall above town, passes through Penn Tunnel [N37°56.408′ W107°46.357′], bored through solid rock, then edges along a narrow shelf with an unnerving drop-off. About 5 miles from Telluride you will reach Tomboy. The pass is another 1.5 miles or so.

Climbing from Camp Bird
From Camp Bird, cross Sneffels Creek, follow the rough road through the forest at the brink of a canyon, then cross the creek again. Soon the rocky shelf road begins a long ascent through Imogene Basin to the pass. About 3.6 miles from Camp Bird you will see Upper Camp Bird Mine high to the right. In another 3 miles you will reach the pass, where you can park and enjoy fabulous Rocky Mountain scenery. But don't park for long right at the summit, because it's likely that many other travelers will want to stop for photos as well.

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