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Old 05-29-2011, 11:46 AM
 
1 posts, read 4,703 times
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Hey! New here. My friend and I plan on taking a 8 day trip through Colorado this summer. We live in Wichita and plan on going to Colorado Springs for two days, Canon City, Fossil Beds National Monument, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison (or Mesa Verde), Colorado National Monument, and Arches National Park.

The reason we are unsure of Mesa Verde or Gunnison is the roads. My friend has never seen a mountain and I have never driven in them before. How hard is it? I have a manual transmission Ford Focus. Is there a particular highway I should take? I would like to avoid mountain passes (or, at least any steep ones) unless I am just being too paranoid.

Thanks! (and what an interesting forum! I love it.)

(We either plan on taking Highway 50 or 160)
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Old 05-29-2011, 12:01 PM
 
Location: Bend, OR
3,296 posts, read 8,422,340 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gordon854 View Post
Hey! New here. My friend and I plan on taking a 8 day trip through Colorado this summer. We live in Wichita and plan on going to Colorado Springs for two days, Canon City, Fossil Beds National Monument, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison (or Mesa Verde), Colorado National Monument, and Arches National Park.

The reason we are unsure of Mesa Verde or Gunnison is the roads. My friend has never seen a mountain and I have never driven in them before. How hard is it? I have a manual transmission Ford Focus. Is there a particular highway I should take? I would like to avoid mountain passes (or, at least any steep ones) unless I am just being too paranoid.

Thanks! (and what an interesting forum! I love it.)

(We either plan on taking Highway 50 or 160)
That's quite a trip for 8 days! It's doable if you don't plan on spending any quality time in any of the parks. You will probably spend the majority of your time driving. All of these locations are quite a drive from each other. Personally, I wouldn't spend 2 days in Colo. Springs, but I much prefer the wilderness to the city. I would also probably skip the Fossil Beds, as they are a bit out of the way if you are planning on going from the Springs through Canyon City and down to the Sand Dunes. Also, Arches National Park is in Utah (maybe you knew that) so you'll need to factor that in to the drive. I would actually skip Colorado National Monument if you plan on doing Arches in the Moab area. You will see pretty much the same scenery in both and I definitely prefer Arches to Colorado NM.

It's going to be a pretty long drive from the Sand Dunes to the other parks you are considering. You will definitely have to travel over some mountain passes, but they are all paved and your not traveling in winter, so I wouldn't worry. Both routes are nice, but the most scenic route, IMO, is Hwy. 160. If you do that route, I would definitely add a trip to Mesa Verde. In fact, I would probably do that and skip Arches this time around. You can then take Hwy. 550 up to Hwy. 50 and go through Black Canyon on your way back to the Springs. Then, if you had time, you could go through Fossil Beds. That's a pretty full trip right there!
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Old 05-29-2011, 03:53 PM
 
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Personally, I would organize the trip in any manner possible to include two days at Mesa Verde. The sand dunes are cool, Garden of the Gods amazing, the Arches are a good stop, and you are in line for one of my favorite drives: Phantom Canyon Road south out of Victor. I personally enjoy the Fossil Beds, but the focus on insect fossils does not appeal to everyone and even a rock hound might not make the detour just for the petrified giant sequoias.

By Canon City I assume you mean Royal Gorge? If you drive over Wolf Creek Pass there must be a dozen more scenic spots either side of the road between South Fork and Pagosa Springs.

Concerning the mountains, yes there are mountains. And mountain passes. I have a daughter who simply cannot rid herself of the illusion that the car will, at any moment, suddenly fling itself over the guard rail and off into space. If that is you, stay east of I-25. But the roads are good and there is no reason to think your car will not do fine.
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Old 05-29-2011, 09:27 PM
 
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Too much to do in 8 days and do justice to anything. If you want to see the "real" Colorado, then blow through Colorado Springs and don't even stop. The Royal Gorge is nice, but a tourist trap. Southwest Colorado has the best scenery that Colorado has to offer, but this year may not be the year to go there--a lot south-central Colorado, as well as some of the lower elevations of southwest Colorado, is really dry this year, unlike much of the west-central and northwest Colorado.

Both US50 and US160 are good highways, but they are mountain roads. It's fine to drive them cautiously, AS LONG AS YOU PULL OFF FREQUENTLY AND LET FASTER TRAFFIC PASS YOU. Nothing infuriates local drivers, especially those who are driving those roads for work and not for pleasure, than being stuck behind some flatlander driving 20 mph under the speed limit for miles and miles. That, and the idiots who drive in the passing lane for miles when those lanes are ONLY to be used for--who knew?--passing other vehicles. Yes, you can be ticketed for driving in the passing lane when you are not passing another vehicle. The one road that I suggest that mountain driving "virgins" avoid is US550 from Durango to Ouray. There are places on it where there is no space for a guardrail and the dropoff from the pavement is close to 800 feet. (Photo below, not my photo, but illustrative)



Arches Nat'l Park is beautiful, but hotter than hell in summertime. Same with Colorado Monument. Best time to visit them is in fall after it has cooled off.
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Old 05-30-2011, 03:12 PM
 
Location: Western Colorado
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Wow that's a lot to do in such a short time, but have fun and what jazz posted is true. Also watch for rockslides, and various animals that like to run out in front of you.
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Old 05-30-2011, 06:26 PM
 
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Wink An acquired pleasure

As others have mentioned, your proposed itinerary is ambitious unless yourself content with a lot of driving, with relatively brief stops along the way.

As far as mountain driving is concerned, although a few extra skills are involved, the prime difficulty of it lies all in your head. How quickly you adapt will depend on personal ease with new situations. It is about as easy to go flying off a flat and level road at 70mph and end up dead, but the prospect of driving off the road, over a cliff, and down half a mountainside at half that speed (initially) tends to elicit more respect and fear from many. The secret to remaining safe either way is simply in paying attention and driving safely.

If not winter, then traversing any paved mountain pass in Colorado is more of a matter of staying at the speed limit, and on the road. The downsides are as obvious as the scenery, as many places without guardrails and numerous opportunities to fly off into space. There is no reason to do so, but the opportunity exists. So just remain on the road. Or avoid such driving if one's fear is more powerful than their good sense and driving habits.

Assuming any level of comfort, then US 160 from I-25 west through southern Colorado offers some fine scenery and relatively easy passes. La Veta Pass (elevation 9,413 feet) offers a fairly wide and easy road into the San Luis Valley. On the far western side of all the flat of that, out of South Fork, Wolf Creek Pass (elevation 10,857 feet) over to Pagosa Springs offers more scenery and bit more of a challenge. Something you previously might not have wished to venture upon without a little more experience, but it has since been 'improved.' RVs, semi-trucks, and everyone else travels this pass on a regular basis, so no reason why you cannot as well. From there all standard mountain driving, but easy enough, and nothing else in the way of passes save only a bit of a climb west of Durango.

US 50 would be fine as well, although here again a question of one's comfort level. From Cañon City it is all mountain driving to Montrose. Really a nice drive with relatively little traffic, much of it only slightly winding and somewhat flat. However it is a slightly narrower road, or may seem that way, with one significant pass to transcend west of Salida, Monarch Pass (elevation 11,312 feet). Again, not all that challenging, but unlike the passes on US 160 not as widened and flattened out, either. This highway would be the most direct route from the eastern plains near Colorado Springs to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, however.

If thinking of approaching that national park from the other direction, if to preclude much of a pass, then think again. It would be possible, say, if driving west on I-70 and looping back around; but aside from that long detour, also a couple notable passes on I-70 as well. If visiting Utah and Arches NP, then able as well to drive back east on some narrow winding roads, if sans high passes.

But from US 160, anywhere near Durango, then US 550 is the most direct route north, but also most challenging when it comes to passes. If easier in this regard, looping farther west to take CO 145 past Telluride will not alleviate that necessity. If US 550, from not far north of Durango it is all serious mountain driving to Ouray. An incredibly scenic drive, but one with some serious passes to contend with, done routinely by many, but something you may by then have a better sense of knowing whether comfortable enough with.

As far as a Ford Focus is concerned, particularly with a manual transmission, then a perfectly fine automobile for such an excursion. You will notice that it has less power at higher elevations, specially when climbing grades. Be prepared to shift more, and down for the torque when, as so often, climbing upwards. Just a vigilant as well on downgrades, prepared to brake early for corners on what can be long descents, and possibly holding a lower gear to save the brakes. If lower on passes, the speed limits may still seem higher than one is at first comfortable with. But particularly in summer there will be some other traffic, so best to look for turnouts along the way if driving under the limit, as other drivers will have few places to pass outright in such places.

These mountain drives are some of the best on offer in the United States, with often superlative scenery. Just in driving, in the winding flow of up and down, lovely excursions as well. But a question of a certain familiarity and ease with such things. Approach it as something to be learned and enjoyed and surely a pleasure.
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Old 04-20-2012, 09:23 PM
 
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Default Pulling a camper over wolf creek pass

We are going to Durango for a few days, the week before Memorial Day. I have a 2010 F150 supercrew (5.4 L) 4x4 and we will be pulling a fairly light camper (26 foot).

This is our first long distance trip, but not our first time in the mountains. We love colorado and we are looking forward to camping this time.

How difficult of a drive will it be over wolf creek pass with the camper? Once we finish with Durango, we are heading on to the grand canyon for a few more days.

As a rookie, am I crazy? or should we be ok?

How does the towing package aid in downhill driving?

I appreciate your insight...
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Old 04-20-2012, 10:23 PM
 
Location: Southeastern Colorado
319 posts, read 640,478 times
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gordon854,

Idunn has laid out some excellent points. One thing to remember is that, from time to time, you will most certainly be awestruck by the grandeur surrounding you. Whoever is riding shotgun has the opportunity to gawk and gaze, but the driver, alas, has no such luxury. Expect to be challenged by seductive scenery vs. the need to keep your hands firmly on the wheel and your eyes on the road and the other drivers in front of, next to, and behind you. (For the love of all you hold dear, don't even think about texting while going over mountain passes. Not even a single OMG!) Turnouts and scenic overlooks give everybody the opportunity to catch their breath and drink deeply of the scenery. Use them generously. There's no shame in taking a short break while long lines of RVs get on down the road huffing and puffing -- or maniacs in Hummers whizz by barely touching the pavement. And, to underscore one of IDunn's points: Don't ride your brake on descents; engage that manual tranny as DOG intended!
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