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"Serious Explorations"TM
Colorado Fall Colors Run '99
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Lunch on a hill along the Tomichi Pass trail

Saturday morning was crisp and cold, yet the sun was shining brightly. The remainder of the group had descended upon Salida the night before and by Saturday morning 15 Explorers were ready to head out onto the trail. The group was made up of drivers who were scattered between 19 to 56 years old. Most of the runs participants were from Colorado, but we had Explorers arrive from; Arizona, Calgary, California, and Kansas. 4 stock Explorers and 11 modified machines were on hand for this run. One of the most significant Explorers in attendance was a '98 Explorer Sport with a 4" suspension lift that had been adapted from a '98 Ranger. Todd Curtis's (TC's) ingenuity showed that yes, the '98 can be lifted!

15 Explorers makes for quite the convoy

The plan for Saturday was to tackle Old Monarch Pass, Tomichi Pass and Hancock Pass. Old Monarch as I mentioned before was an easy trail. There were no obstacles and the road was easily accomplished in 2wd. The trail had us descending rapidly into the valley below. I spotted a deer peering out from the pines, but he decided it wasn't a good time try to cross the trail. 

Tomcihi Pass was rated difficult in the "Guide to Colorado Back roads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails". The author said it was difficult due to the narrowness of the trail and he didn't recommend the trail be run if there was any snow present. I wouldn't say that the trail was difficult, but in spots it was an attention grabber. The trail heading North from Tomcihi Pass was very narrow and in spots it seemed there were mere inches between the Explorers tires and a long steep drop off. I spoke with a hunter later that day who told me that the trail had been closed by a rock slide just 2 weeks prior. While traveling through I could see where the rock slide had previously closed the trail. Loose rock covered the right side, it continued to roll down slope as our vehicles passed through. To the left was the narrowest section of the trail with a little snow thrown in to keep us on our toes. We took a well deserved break for lunch after our descent, here I took the time to take some photos.

TC's '98 Explorer with a 4" Superlift adapted from a '98 Ranger

After the decent down Tomichi Pass we came across a plank bridge which is there to keep vehicles out of the ecologically fragile bog area. At this altitude it's difficult for anything to grow let alone thrive and it's important that the bog be left undisturbed to keep soil erosion to a minimum. The group crossed the old planks with help from spotters. The planks had a tendency to kick out to the side as the Explorers passed over so they needed to be put back in place after each truck passed. Brett Grooms and his spotter learned the importance of good spotter / driver communication the hard way. The spotter was yelling to go right...he meant his right not Brett's. So Brett turned right and ended up with his passenger side wheels off the boards. Brett's stock Explorer was no worse for the encounter, he just popped right back on the bridge and continued on his way

Mary Murphy Mine was next on our agenda. This landmark is quite an impressive site. The old mining building slid down the hillside years ago leaving the building split in two and perched precariously on the hillside. I'm glad to have seen this site for myself because it's hard to visualize just how big a building it is from the photographs.

Since we finished fairly early we decided to take a look at Iron Chest. Dave, Ryan and Trace made a run on Iron Chest during their pre-run. At that time they had decided to turn around before completing the run because they didn't know what the trail had in store for them. After talking to someone who had just completed it they found out that they were almost all the way through when they had turned around. Iron Chest is composed of thousands of rounded boulders the size of VERY large pumpkins all placed in a narrow chute which ascends towards the Iron Chest mine. The run is rated as difficult with the caveat "body damage likely". During the main run no one wanted to retrace the steps of the pre-runners. I believe many may have shared my thoughts which were; "it's a long way home from Salida and this section of trail could prove to be very expensive should something go wrong".

During the pre-run. David Meisner on the Iron Chest Trail.

Mt. Anterro's Switchbacks

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Copyright 1999 Rick Horwitz Photography
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