July 4th Road Trip: Meeker Range Call, Independence Pass and Leadville

Shooters in Rifle

Kristy at Shooters in Rifle, CO. Note the sticker on the door.

Driving I-70 west on a holiday weekend is a daunting task, so we left promptly at 6am on Saturday to get ahead of the traffic. We had plans to spend the Independence Day weekend with family in one of our favorite Colorado destinations, Meeker, for Range Call 2014. After our 3 hour drive, we stopped in to have breakfast and to support a local restaurant, Shooters Grill in Rifle. They recently made headlines for allowing employees and patrons to “open carry” firearms. Kristy ordered a breakfast burrito the size of a football, which she barely touched, and I had Angus corned beef hash and eggs. Breakfast was excellent and up the road a ways, we arrived in Meeker just in time to catch the parade. After watching the parade in the hot sun, we welcomed the shade at the BBQ afterwards hosted by some friends of the family. We relaxed and visited with some great people and chowed down on the never-ending buffet of fresh barbequed pork and lamb and every side dish, salad and dessert you can imagine.



The hosts did it up right and spared nothing. From the kegs of beer and fresh lemonade and tea, to the tents and tables sitting on the freshly manicured lawn right on the White River. It was one of the better 4th of July BBQs I have been to.

Rejuvenated from the food and cold drinks, we made our way over to Main Street to watch the reenactment of the famous Meeker bank robbery that took place on October 13th, 1896. With the help of the 100 year old Meeker town historian, every year a group of locals acts out the bank robbery in front of the Hugas Building next to the Meeker Hotel.

Hugas Building

Hugas Building

Using authentic props and a little humor, this historic gunfight plays out in the same location it originally occurred almost 120 years ago. There have been a few minor changes since then; the streets are now paved, a few buildings have gone up and the three would be robbers have a permanent view of their mistake from the cemetery above town. An affirmation to this day as to why our 2nd Amendment is so important.

What would the 4th of July be without fireworks? The festivities came to a close with a great fireworks show that we were lucky enough to watch from Linda and Joe’s deck. What a perfect setting with the Grand Hogback mountains as a shadowy backdrop.



We always hate to leave Meeker, but the time had come. We ate breakfast with the family and hit the road taking a different route home on Highway 82 in Glenwood Springs and then through Aspen. Leaving on a Saturday we were not in a rush to get home, but we didn’t want to push our trip into the madness heading back to Denver on Sunday. The plan was to drive over Independence Pass (on Independence weekend) and into Leadville and then on to Denver. On our way up the pass, we stopped at the ghost town of Independence. It is one of the better preserved ghost towns in the state and yes, it got its name because gold was struck there on July 4th, 1879. In its heyday it had 1,500 residents, 47 businesses and 5 saloons. After producing $190,000 worth of gold, the winters became too much for the miners and many relocated to the newly named Pitkin County seat, Aspen; and by 1912, Independence was completely deserted. The Aspen Historical Society has done a great job restoring and maintaining what is left of the ghost town. They even restored the old general store and turned it into a small museum with mining artifacts and old photos of Independence. Of course the intact buildings are boarded and locked up in winter, as the snow all but covers them.

Independence Pass

The last time we drove Independence pass was a few years ago and it was the weekend it had re-opened for the season. You could barely make out the rooftops of the mining remains at Independence, there was a lot less snow this time… (Pics below are of the exact same sign).

Spring 2011

Spring 2011

July 5, 2014

July 5, 2014

We descended the 12,095 pass into the twin lakes area and headed north to Leadville. Leadville is another mining town that was founded in 1877 and is still a very active town with about 3,000 residents. It is the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,152 feet. As Denver is known as the Mile-High City, Leadville’s nickname is the Two-Mile-High City. The Historic District boasts some awesome 19th century architecture and the detail and craftsmanship is amazing. Leadville is home to some notable historical structures such as the Tabor Opera House, the Delaware Hotel (supposedly haunted) and the Silver Dollar Saloon, where Doc Holliday is said to have had his last gunfight before his passing in Glenwood Springs, CO of tuberculosis. Leadville is a really cool town with a lot to do and it is surrounded by some of Colorado’s highest mountains (Mt Elbert and Mt Massive). After a quick bite to eat at High Mountain Pies, which we highly recommend, we headed back to the Mile-High City.

Mountain Pie

High Mountain Pie with Mt Elbert in the background.

See ya in the mountains!

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Ghost Town, Gunnison & Crested Butte

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We took a road trip to south central Colorado to see the final colors of fall.  With Gunnison and Crested Butte as our destination, we made a few stops along the way to enjoy the scenery and see a few new sites.  A couple hours into our travels, we veered off the beaten path to find a Colorado ghost town.

Saint Elmo was established in 1880 and originally named Forest City because of its remote location.  It was founded to support the men working in the nearby mines and at its height was the largest town in the area with almost 2,000 residents.  In 1890, part of the town was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.  By 1900, the town population was only 64 residents.  However, the Stark family ran the general store until the 1950’s until Annie Stark, the last of the siblings passed away.

After finding no ghosts at the ghost town, we headed onward to our destination via Cottonwood Pass.  We spotted some lingering Aspen gold along the pass, but the vibrant yellows and golds were soon exchanged for white snow as we reached the 12,126 ft summit of Cottonwood Pass at the Continental Divide.  Here we stopped to stretch our legs and let Furry B romp in the snow.  This stop offered great snow capped views of the Sawatch (not Sasquatch) mountain range.  After snapping a few pics, we continued on the unpaved section of the pass into Taylor Reservoir, and on to Gunnison for the night.  Gunnison is surrounded by three mountain ranges, mountain streams and beautiful scenery, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.  Even though the sun shines almost every day, it is also known as the coldest town in winter in the United States due to its location at the bottom of several valleys. Western State Colorado University calls Gunnison home, and its “W” located on Tenderfoot Mountain is the world’s largest collegiate symbol.  Their athletic facilities are also a world record holder, being recognized as the highest collegiate football field in the world at 7,750 feet.

For Best Video Picture, click on “Gear” symbol and select 1080 HD

After a night in the small mountain town, we continued our road trip to Kebler Pass, one of the world’s best places to view gold Aspens.  Being mid-October we may have missed the peak of the Aspen’s golden transformation, but  the drive did not disappoint.  There was still plenty of color to enjoy and it was fun to see the contrast between the fall colors and the recent snowfall.  With a successful photography session on Kebler Pass, we spent the late afternoon exploring nearby Crested Butte.  Crested Butte is one of America’s great ski towns, but the entire town only covers an area of 0.7 square miles.  Skiing has been the main town attraction since the 1960’s and Crested Butte also claims to have created the sport of mountain biking.  (Fun Fact: Many locals believe the movie Avatar is based on the town of Crested Butte.)

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Fun with Leaves (Click FAST)

3rd Annual 100s in the Hills

After months of emails, texts and conference calls with the 3 other Co-Directors, it was finally time to hit the road. Bandit and I had the Cruiser and trailer packed up and we were off for the 3rd Annual 100s in the Hills event. Some of you might remember a few years ago a trip we took to the San Juans to camp and wheel with some friends. Well, this small excursion has grown significantly in the past three years to a nationally recognized event. This year we had almost 30 vehicles from all over the country, 65 people in attendance and twenty-three sponsors. Located in a remote area where everyone is to be self sufficient, we require all participants to practice the leave no trace principles. This event takes quite a bit of logistics and planning, which was completely worthwhile. No one left disappointed.

Unfortunately Kristy was out of town on business, but she is sure to attend next year. I wrote an article that was published in the November/December issue of Toyota Trails magazine on this years event. Please click below for the online edition of the article page 19:

Toyota Trails Nov/Dec 3013

Below are more pictures and a link to the 100s in the Hills Facebook page:

Facebook/100s in the Hills

Day #1: Clear Lake family fun run

Day #2: Ophir Pass & Imogene Pass

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Day #3: Black Bear Pass

Day #3 continued, Directors run back to camp and night run:

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Day 2 – Cruise the San Juans

Day 2 – The Alpine Loop: Poughkeepsi Gulch, Lake Como, California Pass, Animas Forks; and return to “The Super Secret Trail”

After a good night’s sleep in the roof top tent, we were ready to head out early to see what else the San Juan Mtns had to offer.  Our trusty trail leader, JH1, planned for all to explore the Alpine Loop.  The Loop is about a 65 mile trail through the mountains and provided some challenging trail obstacles.  We started the Loop at Poughkeepsi Gulch – this section of the trail climbed over loose rocks, through streams and led us to the main obstacle – “The Wall.”   Even though Landcruisers are not rock crawlers, they can hold their own.  We all made up “The Wall”, with only one having to be winched up, due to lack of a suspension lift and larger tires.  The scenery up to this point was nothing short of amazing….it is literally something you see “in the movies” and is known as the “Switzerland of America”.

Just a few miles up the rocky road, we stopped for lunch at Lake Como — A turquoise colored lake nestled in the midst of the mountains. Refueled, we headed through California Gulch and ended the Alpine Loop at the ghost town of Animas Forks.

Animas Forks, a small mining town, was first established around 1875 and remained active until the 1920s.  The town reached it’s largest population in 1883 with over 450 residents.  After years of decline, the town rebounded in 1904 with the construction of a giant mill – The Gold Prince Mill, which only stayed open for 6 years.  Today, several of the buildings are still very much intact and are open to the public. 

After visiting the ghost town, we headed into Silverton.  A couple of Landcruiser stragglers had arrived late the previous day, and missed “The Super Secret Trail”, so with some time on our hands, we decided to revisit the trail and share the view.  The second trip did not dissappoint.  With clear skies, we were able to see the green mountains in a totally different “light”. 

Back at camp, we had another night by the camp fire….we could definitely get used to this!

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Wheeler Lake

Apologies to our loyal readers, we have not posted anything in a while as we have had some out-of-state company (which we thoroughly enjoyed!!).

I took a day trip with a friend to Wheeler Lake on Sunday.  It is a 4-wheel drive trail located between Breckenridge and Fairplay, almost in the center of the state.  After turning off the road near the Montgomery Reservoir and airing down our tires, we came to the Magnolia Mill.   Gold brought miners here and the mining camp/town of Montgomery was founded in 1861.  The Magnolia Mill is located just above the Montgomery reservoir where the original town of Montgomery (now an underwater ghost town) was located.  By 1862, a town of over 1,000 had sprung up, but by 1866 the miners had moved to other areas.  In 1957, the Montgomery Reservoir was completed and the remains of the town were forever lost underwater.  The Magnolia Mill is the sole survivor, aside from some mining equipment left behind that sparsely dots the landscape.

After leaving the mill, we headed up to Wheeler Lake.  This was one of the roughest roads to date, which allowed for some of the most pristine scenery I have seen.  Once we got to the lake at over 12,000 ft, we set up camp, grilled cheese burgers (with some mysterious Roman steak seasoning that I have to get) and did some hiking and fishing.  There was an awesome waterfall that seemed to flow out of the top of the mountain like a volcano that streamed into the lake.  Unfortunately, I did not catch anything, as a storm rolled in and we had to pack up and leave.  Driving on wet rocks = no fun!!  I did however manage to catch a Furry B.  He put up quite a fight…  When we first got to the lake, he was very excited to see the water, but I don’t think he realized how cold the water was.  I let him find out on his own and he swam longer than I thought, with just a few shivers when he got out.  It was a great day, aside from the clouds and little bit of rain that moved in.