Colorado Ghost Town Adventure 2017
This is about a trip that I have been wanting to do since 2006. Circumstances in my life have always kept me from going on this trip but since starting to overland last year I said, “We are doing it this year!”. Our shop is so busy these days and with help being so hard to find, Alicia and Jade stayed back. I was fortunate enough to do this trip with my 13-year-old daughter Kayla and some great friends.
We are starting our trip on Friday, July 28th. Karl W. met Kayla and I at our home in Orlando, FL at 5 am so we could get on the road at 5:20 am. We were loaded up with our new Freightliner M2 Chassis Business Class Truck and the 44′ trailer pulling our 2014 JKU, Karl’s 2005 LJ, and Scott’s 2004 TJ behind it. We drove from the house to Ocala, FL and stopped to top the fuel tanks off on the truck and continue our journey west. Making our way north on I-75 and as always I miss the I-10 exit to go west. Yes, I think I have missed that exit more times than I have gone on the ramp. I’m pretty good at going 5 miles north and then coming back to I-10. Got passed all that and headed west. While driving, one of our sensors went off letting us know a trailer tire was low on air. We found out that our tire monitoring system modules are too heavy for rubber valve stems and before long we took out another valve stem. We do our swap outs like we are at the Daytona 500 (ok maybe the slow 500) and keep heading west. Getting to Mobile, AL was a breeze and there is a back up in the tunnel so we decide to go a route John J recommended, which was not the best idea, but we are heading to Colorado and not going to let it bother us. We make the best of it when in Mississippi when we get another tire problem. Karl finds a tire shop about 10 miles away and before long they got us back on the road with all new metal valve stems, new spare and sensors all working.
The day is moving on and our bodies are needing some good ol’ Cracker Barrel for dinner. I still get behind the wheel at this point and ride on. Karl takes over the wheel at 12:00 am and drives til 6 am when I get back on duty. During this whole adventure, Karl and I found out that John has been watching our every move on Find My Friends and was determined to get there before us. To make it all even better, Karl and I delete his following rights on Find My Friends and roll on to catch John. We end up catching up to John on Hwy 25 and it really made our trip better at this point.
We arrived in Pueblo, CO at around 1:15 pm and headed straight to the parking lot where the semi will be parked until the 11th. We unloaded the trailer and left Scott’s TJ there for him to get when he gets into town. He flew into Denver and rented a vehicle with his wife Wendy. Karl and I headed to Walmart to get some supplies, then went to the campground in Pueblo to get showers and prep for starting our adventure. Rain did welcome us to Colorado and did not stop all night. We woke up fairly early and started to pack our stuff so we could actually go get some breakfast before we left town at the local IHOP.
Heading south-west on Hwy 78 toward Beulah, where we topped off our fuel and kept heading west. We arrived at Bishop Castle, named after its builder Jim Bishop. Jim built this place all by hand and welded every bit of it himself. The castle started as a family cottage in 1969 and has evolved in the last 40 years to what it is now. The castle has a 16 story tower that we climbed all the way to the top and ended up spending an hour and a half up there. The views up there were amazing. Later we went north for a bit and took a trail heading over the mountain to get to Medano Pass, which takes you to Greater Sand Dunes National Park. In the middle of nowhere, you come up to some massive sand dunes on the edge of green forest and mountains. These Dunes are so big they make you wonder if you’re in the desert or still in Colorado. After, we decided to go ahead and get to Lake Como, which is on Blanca Peak Trail. It was a great idea at the time and was supposed to be a quick 3-4 hour run up to the lake. We were estimated to reach the lake to camp around 4 pm, but the trail was very difficult and we had no business on it. Jaws 1 Trail was not that hard, but I freaked everyone out when I slid on the edge and had to power out of the slide. Jaws 2 Trail was not much easier and I almost went on the driver’s side. It claimed one of John’s tires. Jaws 3 Trail has a bypass but was still difficult above it with the trail still going. We did not give up and made it to the top at about 10 pm, very exhausted and ready for bed. Somewhere on the trail, a rock sliced Karl’s sidewall and we did not catch it until we got to camp. The first night the altitude of 12,000 feet had most of us all messed up. I was stressed out the whole way trying to get us all up without any broken parts, putting us in this predicament plus having altitude sickness, but I knew it would be worth it when we woke up to the amazing lake and view around it. The sunrise was amazing. After putting a bunch of plugs in Karl’s tire, the way down was much easier than the up! We got to the bottom, checked our rigs out and headed south-west to Alamosa to get a tire for John and see if anyone had one for Karl. No luck on Karl’s so I called ahead to Colorado Springs and had one ordered for the next day for pick up. We got John’s tire mounted and had some lunch at a Greek restaurant that had no soap, no toilet paper, and no paper towels in the bathroom. Once our bellies were full, we headed north to our next campsite, San Luis Campground in Villa Grove, for some much-needed rest and shower at a normal altitude. Karl had dinner duties for this evening and made a great chicken stir fry and rice. While he was cooking dinner, a few of us went to shower and use the bathroom. This was the only time in my life I have had dueling toilets. Facing each other while using the bathroom was an experience to remember, Peter can attest. We enjoyed our evening with a beautiful sunset over the mountains and a great night sleep.
We woke up Tuesday morning to another great sunrise and started breakfast for everyone. Once all torn down, we headed east on Hayden Pass out of Villa Grove toward Coaldale then to Canon City where we headed north on Shelf Rd toward the old mining town of Victor. Victor was founded in 1891 and quickly became the most productive gold mining district in Colorado. This town has some serious history with a bunch of old mining stuff still there. Downtown had a few things in it to do and some really cool building to look at. We kept making our way toward Pikes Peak and noticed will be there in less time than anticipated. We called ahead to Lone Duck Campground just passed the Pikes Peak entrance. On the way off the trail coming into Colorado Springs, you come through what has to be the wealthiest part of that town. The golf course and homes are very luxurious, to say the least, and here we come through in our dirty Jeeps. We make it to the campground and what has to be some of the coolest hosts I think I have ever met at a campground. They tell us to go look and see what we can make happen in the tent sites and come back. We decided to make it work and set up our stuff. This family has to have the coolest arcade room ever with the best games of all time there. We all get our stuff out and cook for ourselves then hang out by the fire for a few.
The next morning we get up, tear down, and go to the office to have a pancake breakfast. While the guys finish tearing down, Karl and I head into town to go grab his tire just in case my 15 plugs we put in the side wall don’t hold up! We met the rest of the group at Pikes Peak at 10 am. When we get there we all start heading up, stopping along the way sightseeing some different things. The temperature just kept dropping as we drive or should I say forcing our heavy rigs to the summit. It is an amazing drive to 14,000 feet with a ton of area to see from up there. We left the summit and start heading down where Peter had some problems with his clutch and pulled over. I did not hear him on the radio so I went all the way to the bottom (18 miles) when my phone vibrates for a text message about the issue and that the rangers are on it. Yeah right, I turned around and went back up Pikes Peak to see how we were going to get this Jk down that mountain when our rigs alone are fighting going down. I get back to him and Karl, Peter and myself fix it up and head down the mountain. I looked at it pretty simply— I got to take one more thing off my bucket list and did it twice!
Once at the bottom, we get everyone together and we head north-west to Eleven Mile State Park, where we find out the campsites are too small for all of us. We head back to the forest about a mile back for a nice campsite. We find our spot we like and set up for another amazing night. Scott and Wendy made an amazing beef stew, bread, and Caesar salad which hit the spot on this chilly night. We got all the dishes done and we get a visitor to our camp. This buck shows up and would get within feet of us. It was an incredible experience that none of us had ever had before. Later, John collected some firewood from the area and created a great fire to keep us warm until it was time to pass out.
Woke up the next morning and made some breakfast. After breakfast, we took some pretty cool back roads on the way to Mt. Antero and made our way to the entrance of the trail. We start heading up to Mt. Antero when I see a young man with a truncate on his leg and leaning on his girlfriend as they come down this steep ass climb. He fell down while hiking and one of the rocks cut him wide open on his left leg about an 8″ cut. It was very deep but he had stopped the bleeding pretty good. Karl got his first aid kit and bandaged it all up. We decided to have Karl and John run him to the bottom to his car. While they did that we headed to the top and it was a ride for sure. The steepest we had done yet and with drop-offs about 6″ from your tires. We made it to the top at 13,750 ft where it was windy, had amazing views, and lots of rocks everywhere. This mountain is nothing but rocks and has many gems on it. It is the only place supposedly that you can get this blue stone (Aquamarine) and I happen to find a small one while digging around. We make our way back down to meet Karl and John at the river crossing where we were heading to Baldwin Lake to camp for the night. Well come to find out the trail to the lake was closed and we had to go back to find another camp. It was getting late so we were trying to find something we like and know. We really want to camp at Mirror Lake so we go thru St Elmo and head to Tin Cup pass. Well this trail is no joke and we are only about 6-7 miles from mirror lake but it takes us over an hour to do so. While traveling thru this rocky uneven trail, we pass thru the Continental Divide. We make it to Mirror Lake around 8:30 pm exhausted and ready for food. Everyone cooks on their own and then to bed we went. (Not me, I stay up every night writing this story)
It was one of the coldest nights we had yet. We woke up to go fishing on the lake and with many bites but no catches we go back to our camp and put everything up. We start heading down the mountain toward Ashcroft on Taylor Pass which was another rock crawl trail. The last 6 miles of that trail was very tough. We made it down and to Ashcroft Ghost Town. Ashcroft was once home to two newspapers, 20 saloons, a school and many private homes. The town faded when the mining boom played out. We walked around checking out the remaining nine buildings left. This was definitely something to stop and see. Once done there, we had to head over to Aspen to get some fuel in the rigs, by far the most expensive fuel stop yet. After fuel, we wanted to get out of that town. We head back toward Ashcroft to find a campsite in the forest on the way to our next trail Pearl Pass. On the way up, an old man came by camp with a badass Dodge Power Wagon and tells us that the pass is impassable. There was still a lot of snow still up there and he was trying to make it through that day. That saved us a trip up the mountain tomorrow but was going to make for a long way around. We cooked some fajitas and enjoyed the rest of the evening by the fire.
We woke up to try to figure out what to do and which way to go. I decided to take a scenic route instead of all pavement. We go on the Aspen/Richmond Hill Trail, which takes you through the ski slopes and snowmobile trails of Aspen. The trail was very nice and at the end, you come down the ski slopes and into the town of Aspen on this tiny road thru people’s yards practically. Once in the town we get out of there again fast and go toward Carbondale where we find a Napa to buy stuff for the LJ and then head over to Heidi’s Deli for a much needed warm meal. Heading south, we get on 12 toward Crested Butte. We get there and want to find camp but there is no luck so we head out to Gunnison with no luck either. Peter knows of a place and it is about 35 miles east. Sargeant’s campground is where we end up for the evening. Everyone went out to eat dinner, while Kayla and I stayed at the Jeep cooking bacon wrapped shrimp for our dinner. A storm comes in so we are rushing to get everything put up while Karl was changing out plugs and coil pack on the LJ. At this point, I needed some time to myself to think and calm down about how pissed off I was about our decision to camp 40 miles out of town. To top it off we were supposed to be riding just outside Crested Butte the next day which was another 20 something miles north of Gunnison. The only reason we end up here is that some of the group needed a grocery store (Gunnison) and a shower.
After a much needed night of good sleep, I get up, take a shower and let everyone know that Kayla and I are heading into Gunnison before them so I can get payroll done and go wash the Jeep a little bit. Scott came to me to let me know that he and Wendy will be splitting off and doing some much needed time in a hotel and such. We did breakfast at McD’s while I worked, washed the Jeep and then met up with everyone. Head west out of town for a bit then head south toward Lake City. Cool little town but only in it for about 5 minutes. Then head to Engineer Pass where right away I find a mine we can do a tour, which was pretty cool. John and I buy our first gold sifting pan there. Moving on down the trail we find some more ruins of buildings and such along the way. A few that were enough to actually walk in and sightsee. Bonanza mine, a former silver mining town, was one of the really cool ones see. Bonanza was founded 1880 and in the first two years of its existence, its population ballooned to between 1,000 and 1,500. At the time, the population of mining towns was determined by the number of saloons and dance halls instead of a census taker and at this time, Bonanza had 36 saloons and 7 dance halls. We get to the end of the trail where we come up to Animas Forks Ghost Town. Animas Forks once contained 30 cabins, a hotel, a general store, a saloon, and a post office. Later on, the Gold Prince Mill was built but was shut down 6 years later in 1910. We walked through every house and building there even checked out the Gold Prince Mill before heading down the California Gulch Trail. Along the way, we run across the Frisco-Bagley Mill, which was our first most complete one yet. The mill was built shortly after in 1912 and lasted until the 20’s. It was great to see these old structures still standing, well somewhat. We headed back to Animas Forks, then out to Eureka for a campsite and dinner. We found out that in 1917, parts of the Animas Forks Gold Prince Mill were removed and sent to Eureka to build the Sunnyside Mill. We found a campsite right on the river with no amenities but it was another great night. Our Jeeps were so dirty that we used John and Karl’s rinse kit to wash some of the mud off. Those things are a pain to carry but have come in real handy.
We get up, cook some breakfast and head out to Eureka Gulch Trail where we find a bunch of different mine shafts and the Sunnyside Mill. But first, my Jeep decides to catch on fire when the positive line of the winch melts against the catalytic converter. Karl said I moved so fast I was already hood up and done with the fire extinguisher by the time he got to me and he was only two Jeeps back. I was pretty quick once Kayla and I smelled it and had the battery terminals off quick also. We didn’t know it was the winch cable at first, so we started to splice it when something hit me. That cable was for the winch. I pulled the cable off the terminal and the Jeep started right up. Close call for something that could have ended our trip quickly. We get past that and yes I was pretty pissed off but kept my composure pretty well (everyone was telling me). We head up to Sunnyside mill where we found many rocks and other things we want to bring back. Heading up the trail a little further to another mine shaft and John stayed back a ways panning for some gold or something when he decided to head down the trail cause he didn’t see us head up the trail. Needless to say, he did not find us so he spent the rest of his day with Isaac traveling around Ouray. We march on and get to Picayune & Placer Gulches. We take a left and head toward California Gulch. Once at California Gulch we find out Ken does not have that much fuel so we change our plans to pull out midway on the trail to head south thru Gladstone to Silverton. By the way, Ken has an AEV 12 gallon rear mounted external fuel tank which he has not put fuel in the last 5 stops we have had. We get fuel in Silverton and try to find a campsite for the night, way on the north side of town we find it. The most expensive campground yet but nice clean bathrooms and a nice stream right next to our site where John fishes and Karl and I make fools out of ourselves crossing the small creek, yes John caught back up to us. We rode into downtown where Kayla and I ate at a Mexican/American style restaurant and the boys go to a Pizza oven microbrewery for their dinner. Both were great and after dinner, we head back to get showers and hang out by the fire for a few and go to bed.
We woke up the next morning to head into Silverton for some breakfast at the Bent Elbow, where Scott & Wendy joined back up with the group. We get going and get to Red Mountain Rd just outside Silverton with plans to hit Ophir pass afterward. Once we get done with Red Mountain we head out and decide to hit Black Bear Pass instead. Wow, what a trail. Black Bear Pass is one of the coolest in Colorado so far that we have seen. The end of the trail with the steps, switchbacks, and waterfall at the end was intense. Those switchbacks are as close to the edge as they come. You swear you only have an inch on one side so you hug the wall as much as you can. Heck, I think I scratched my wheels more on that trail, just kidding! We get off the trail and get into Telluride, where campgrounds are full so we decide to get on Imogene Pass and try to find camping somewhere. We thought we would find one at Camp Bird which we find out was a no-go. Camp Bird is a private mine area so no camping was allowed. We jeep on to Ouray and find out they are all full there but one of the nice people at the campground told us that we should find something in the Tomboy Campground just 8 miles south of town. Heading out of Ouray is a pretty crazy road. Hey, the 550 is no joke. No guardrail or shoulders but a couple 100 feet down if you decide to text. Yes, I wouldn’t even think of doing it there! Lol! We get to Tomboy where Scott decides to head back to Ouray and get a hotel. John had already stayed in town for a hotel also. So the rest of the group decided to keep going with our plans of over landing the whole trip and we cooked up some Porterhouse steaks I had in my cooler for a great dinner. We finally got a fire going after much trying to enjoy the rest of the evening. I will say that a pump for an air mattress works very well when needed to get a fire going.
This morning we wake up and cook up some eggs and bacon. Peter heads down the street to call the Jeep dealership back home he deals with because he has had some issues with a throw out bearing that was installed 2 months ago and his warranty was running out in about 200 miles. I told him not to waste his time as it was installed two months ago but he wanted to be sure. He came back as nothing could be done until the manager got in. Scott pulled in soon after without John who was not coming anymore. We head out to Ophir Pass this morning and have to come back on that trail to get into Silverton. We fuel up the Jeeps and Peter decides he is going to head out to a dealership because he wants to make sure it is noted before he drives out of warranty. The rest of the group heads north out of town and takes the road up to Cinnamon Pass to get into Lake City. Once in Lake City, I decided I would not worry about hitting the trails we missed a few days ago near Crested Butte and start to end our trip. We had planned to head to Sargents again for camp when on the way to Gunnison I find a nice camp at Blue Mesa. We set up and let our stuff dry out and we have a wonderful dinner of Beef Stroganoff cooked by Wendy and Scott. We hung out for a few and go to bed.
In the middle of the night we got a little rain which got our spirits down at first but then the sun popped out and dried all of our stuff up. We then packed our stuff and Scott headed out first on his way to Salida in case something happens to his Jeep. He was not feeling confident with it. We headed out a little later, went into Gunnison and pressure washed our Jeeps then headed east to Salida. We got there and drove around Salida but did not stay long. Ken decided to stay at a microbrewery and the rest of us headed out. While driving east I find out John is just ahead of us at Cañon City eating at Chillis. We also find out that he and Isaac went white water rafting and didn’t even invite us. So not only did he get a hotel and not finish the trip with us, he also went white water rafting without us, not cool John! Lol. Well we went on and kept heading east toward Pueblo where we find out Scott is about 1 hour behind us and we were hungry so Kayla found a pizza place for us. We get lunch and head toward our truck and trailer where Scott pulls in soon after. We got loaded up quickly and head south toward home. We left at 5:30 pm and I drive til 2:30 am when Karl jumps on and drives til 7:20 am. I get behind the wheel and drive til 1 am when we get home.
This trip was outstanding and many bucket list checks done. I got to spend 16 days with Kayla and make some great memories with her. Great group of friends got to do this trip with me. I hope we get to do some more trips together.
Ricky & Kayla Artes- 2014 JKU Rubicon-
Karl Wacker- 2005 LJ- way built up!
Ken Scoates- 2015 JKU Rubicon-
Peter Falkner- 2015 JK Rubicon-
John & Isaac Jordan- 2017 JKU Rubicon- Stock!
Scott & Wendy Brinkley- 2005 TJ Rubicon-