When Jeep asks if you’d like to test out Wranglers and Grand Cherokees in the mountains of Colorado — the answer is “Yes.”
In This Jeep Article You Will Discover
- Why Jeeps Are Awesome
- The Beauty of Colorado
- Interesting History & Towns in Colorado
Pulling into Silverton, Colorado aboard the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, I had already suspected that today we’d be hitting great heights. At 9,303 feet above sea level, Silverton is one of America’s highest-elevation towns — and during the 2012 Jeep Experience, we were only headed up from here.
There is no more of a quintessential and instantly recognizable SUV than the Jeep Wrangler. Its aggressive World War Two-era lineage and indisputable off-road prowess has made it the benchmark for off-roaders for the past seven decades. In Colorado, Wranglers roam the roadways en masse; the state’s unofficial, official vehicle.
I had been contacted just a few weeks earlier by Jeep’s PR reps to jump on board this event and test-drive Wranglers (and Grand Cherokees) in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. To use my West Coast vernacular — I was stoked to do it.
Red Mountain Jeepin’
Leaving Silverton via a sky-blue Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon (soft top, of course), we almost immediately hit the trails and are headed steeply upslope. The mountains of Colorado are rich in mining history; rotten remains of mining operations from the turn-of-the-last century litter the wilderness throughout the state, punctuated by the occasional ghost town.
Dan Barron, Toronto-based AJAC’er, would be my driving buddy for the next two days. At first, I worried about boredom and antsy-pantsyness while sitting shotgun during Dan’s turns to drive — but found it just as entertaining to snap photos and enjoy the scenery as it was to pilot the Jeep. As we wound past the ghost town of Animas Forks, at 11,160 feet, and headed into the Red Mountains, our roadway became steadily narrower — drivers who enjoy the scenery too much would find themselves careening off-cliff in short order. Eyes on the road, eyes on the road…
Air thins out dramatically beyond 10,000 feet. While the vehicles suffered no noticeable power loss during our low-speed crawl, I sure did. During each rest stop, a simple walk around left me — a daily runner — gasping for breath. Hydration staves off the effects of altitude; our Jeep is littered with water bottles and bathroom breaks can’t come often enough.
Greenery fades into Martian-like orange-and-red rock as we enter the Silverton volcanic dome. This is the Colorado I pictured — near-desert, replete with switchbacks and goat-paths winding through barren mountains. Dust drifts through the air as our Jeep convoy crushes gravel ever onward.
Ahead, Red Mountain #3 towers — a privately owned peak that tops out at a whopping 12,800 feet in elevation. We can’t be headed up this path, can we? Jeep wouldn’t allow their guests to risk life-and-limb, four-wheel-driving up one-way paths that drop-off hundreds of feet, mere inches from the road?
I white-knuckle the steering wheel, always in four-low, foot resting on the gas pedal as the Jeep Rubicon handily guides me skyward. Truthfully, cresting the top of Red Mountain #3 — the highest elevation I had ever achieved outside of an airplane— was too easy; a mental challenge over a physical or technical one. Don’t look down…
Dan and I are in the first group to reach the summit of Red Mountain #3. Thunder rolls and the clouds are spitting the first traces of hail. Time for only a quick snapshot before we begin the even-scarier descent.
At this time, I’d like to give Holy Thanks to anti-lock brakes and electronic descent control…
We pull into our pre-set-up, 11,000-foot-of-elevation campsite an hour-and-a-half later. Cowboy barbecue awaits, as does — yes — cold beer and a warm sleeping bag.
Chatting with newfound friends (like Edward Sanchez from Truck Trend magazine), I learn the day’s drive had been a mere warm-up for tomorrow’s expedition over the even-higher and more-goat-worthy Imogene Pass.
And by mid-day next, I would know exactly what that meant… stay tuned for DAY TWO.
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