Report From the Road–Jeeping the Alpine Loop in Colorado (photos by GoPro)

Continuing where we left off last time, when we got into Ridgway we met up with Forrest and Beth (be sure to check out their blog at: http://3upadventures.com/) and visited for a while, but eventually we got around to firming up plans for the Jeep Tour. First we had to decide which tour to take. The problem with this part of Colorado is that there are so many incredible Jeep trails going into such truly majestic country, it’s really hard to choose. My original goal had to been to do Imogene Pass which gets as high as 13,114 feet and is just a fantastic drive from the pictures I have seen of it. But the cold front that has been making us so cold recently had dumped a foot of snow in the mountains around Ridgway and Forrest thought there was no way we could make it over Imogene. Too much of it was on the North side of the mountains and wouldn’t have melted yet. He suggested we do the Alpine Loop instead. It starts from 550 just south of Ouray and runs through the mountains to Silverton. The high point on it is at Engineer Pass at about 12,900 feet and he thought that since it mostly faced south it would be basically free from snow. It had the advantage that while there we could climb Engineer Mountain (13,218 feet) and have a 360 degree view of the snow capped mountains all around it. That sounded perfect so we decided to head out the next day.

DCIM101GOPRO

You are going to see the sun in many of these shots.The reason is because we left fairly early when the sun was low on the horizon and we were climbing steeply up toward the sky. Plus, the GoPro has such a wide-angle that it includes the sun. This shot is very typical of the road, we are climbing steeply into the mountains and there are many rocks and barriers on the road.

In this post I want to do something a little unusual because I didn’t take any of the pictures in it. Instead they were all taken by my GoPro camera which I had mounted on the hood of the Jeep. You can set it to automatically take a picture at a certain interval, so I set it to snap a shot every 30 seconds. There were 800 pictures on the card before the batteries finally died! In the next post I will show you the pictures I took of the trip but I think the GoPro did a great job of capturing the feel of the “road” we were on and it also caught quite a few candid portraits of the four of us.

Here I am checking on the GoPro. Yuck!! Somebody needs to trim his nose hair!

Here I am checking on the GoPro. Yuck!! Somebody needs to trim his nose hair!

DCIM101GOPRO

Forrest checking on the GoPro (although I am beginning to suspect he just likes to get his picture taken!).

Oddly enough this was my first time Jeeping. While I lived in Alaska for over 40 years (and 4×4 is as common as dirt) there are very few places to go Jeeping, the terrain is just too rugged. The very few places with roads in Alaska were opened up with tracked vehicles and later on by highly specialized vehicles with huge balloon tires (think 10 foot tall tires). So while I nearly always owned a 4×4 vehicle, I never went off-roading in one.

DCIM101GOPRO

There was often snow along the “road”.

When I moved to the Lower 48 and started living in my 4×4 Ford F150 I wanted to make up for lost time and drove it quite a few places where 4×4 was mandatory. But then I sold it and got my current van, and to be honest I have regretted it ever since. In the 10 months I have had the van I have gotten it stuck 4 times! Once I was stuck in the sand in the desert and three times in the mud in the National Forrest. With the 4×4 I would simply have locked in the hubs, put it in 4×4 and driven away. To try to solve that problem I put very aggressive mud tires on the rear of the van—and then was stuck with those within a month! Plus, I have been with at least 6 other people who got stuck and I could easily have gotten them out if I had my old F150.

But sometimes it was very rocky and gnarly. The GoPro is a great camera, but it can't give you a true picture of how bad the road was sometimes.

But sometimes it was very rocky and gnarly. The GoPro is a great camera, but it can’t give you a true picture of how bad the road was sometimes.

I tremendously miss the freedom to go into rough backcountry, so I had pretty much decided to sell the van and replace it with a 4×4 pickup. I estimated that I would have to spend about $10,000 for the truck and another $4000 for a camper for it. But $14,000 is a lot of money. I know enough about 4-wheeling to know that a Locker in the rear could make all the difference and mean I can keep the van. So one of the big topics of conversation I had with Forrest on the drive is how capable are different 4x4s and how would a Locker affect my van.

DCIM101GOPRO

In most of Colorado these roads were originally built by miners who loved to use their dynamite to blast a road through the side of a hill. For example, here they simply blasted a narrow shelf out of the side of the mountain to get a wagon through. On the other side is a sheer cliff straight down.

A brief explanation of what a Locker is: When you go around a corner, the outside tires of the vehicle are traveling faster than the inside tires so the axle is designed to allow them to turn at different speeds. But that means that if one tire speeds up all the power is taken off the slow moving tire and sent to faster tire. So if one tire spins in the sand, the other one stops getting power and you are stuck as that one tire spins away. A Locker literally locks the two tires together so that if either one can get traction, it will. It does that automatically and still allows the tires to turn at different speeds when going around a corner. It’s the ideal system but it is expensive. A Detroit Locker installed will probably be $700-$1000.

DCIM101GOPRO

As we climbed higher, the road got narrower, steeper and rockier. Notice the sun isn’t in this shot. By then it had climbed high enough to not be in them.

As you can see in some of these photos, the road got pretty rough in places, but Forrest said any stock Jeep could easily make it to the top. One of the keys was that as soon as we turned off the paved road we stopped and aired down the tires to 10 pounds each. He said that alone would probably have gotten me unstuck most of the times I had been stuck.

Of course we had to stop often and let me out and take my own photos (you will see those in the next post). Judy is behind me.

Of course we had to stop often and let me out and take my own photos (you will see those in the next post). Judy is behind me.

And here's Beth taking a picture of the Jeep taking her picture! This was an especially beautiful spot on the road.

And here’s Beth taking a picture of the Jeep taking her picture! This was an especially beautiful spot on the road.

He thought the idea of keeping the van and adding a Locker was a very good one. In fact he thought I could easily have made it to the top of the Engineer Pass in my van if I had a Locker and aired down the tires. That opens up so many places to me that it will be well-worth the cost.

After a few hours we had climbed right to the edge of treeline. Here you can see that the trees are nearly gone and there is a lot more snow.

After a few hours we had climbed right to the edge of treeline. Here you can see that the trees are nearly gone and there is a lot more snow.

Here we are at the treeline. To the right and level with us are a few trees, and to the left and higher than us there are no more trees. At this elevation (around 12,000 feet in most of the Rockies) it's too harsh for trees to survive.

Here we are at the treeline. To the right and level with us are a few trees, and to the left and higher than us there are no more trees. At this elevation (around 12,000 feet in most of the Rockies) it’s too harsh for trees to survive.

Since I have a 1 ton van, it has the highest ground clearance of all vans. That’s important because ground clearance is often more important than traction. Even though Forrest had put a lift-kit on his Jeep, it still ground the skid-plates on a couple of the bigger rocks in our path. The one bad thing about my van is that it has en extended wheel-base so it is very long and has a very poor turning radius. That will make many of the hair-pin switchbacks we encountered more difficult, but not impossible. I will simply have to make several back-and-forth cuts to get around them. That’s inconvenient but doable.

Here we are climbing toward Engineer Mountain. The road was often steep and switch-backed.

Here we are climbing toward Engineer Mountain. The road was often steep and switch-backed.

And of course I had to get some shots of this new terrain. Notice that we are even with the surrounding mountain tops.

And of course I had to get some shots of this new terrain. Notice that we are even with the surrounding mountain tops.

 

This was as far as we could go. The road went around to the north side of Engineer Mountain and there was too much snow there for us to get though it. Se we stopped for a delicious (and Home-made) lunch that Beth had made for us.

This was as far as we could go. The road went around to the north side of Engineer Mountain but there was too much snow for us to get though. Se we stopped for a delicious (and home-made) lunch that Beth had made for us.

Forrest wanted to demonstrate the angle the Jeep could safely drive at, so he drove it along this bank of the road. Remember that the GoPro is attached to the hood of the Jeep, so this is the extreme level the Jeep is to the road.

Forrest wanted to demonstrate the side-angle the Jeep could safely drive at, so he drove it along this bank of the road. Remember that the GoPro is attached to the hood of the Jeep, so this is the extreme level (maybe 40 degrees) the Jeep is to the road.

The bottom line is that I am almost certainly going to keep the van and install a Detroit Locker in it. I also might get a Warn 8000 pound winch to make sure I can get in and out of places—and help friends who get stuck. Both of those things will cost about $3000 but that is still much less than what I was expecting to pay for a 4×4 pickup and camper. When I look at it that way, it looks pretty appealing!

We drove out onto this little point for lunch. I've never eaten anywhere with that pretty a view!

We drove out onto this little point for lunch. I’ve never eaten anywhere with that pretty a view!

Here's Forrest, posing for the camera (again!) while eating his lunch!

Here’s Forrest, posing for the camera (again!) while eating his lunch!

And me doing my favorite thing after lunch-taking pictures! That's engineer Mountain in the background. We climbed it after lunch. Photos of that in the net post.

And me doing my favorite thing after lunch–taking pictures! That’s Engineer Mountain in the background on the far left. We climbed it after lunch. Photos of that in the next post.

But there is one other problem with a 4×4 pickup that keeps me from getting one: they are too tall for Homer. He is too old to be jumping in and out of a tall pickup. In act I think one reason he is having so much problem now is the constant jumping in and out of my very tall F150—both in the front seat and up to the tailgate to get into the camper.

Most of these shots didn't turn out well. I reaimed the Go-Pro after lunch and I aimed it too low and cut off the top of the shot. These are the few that are any good.

Most of these shots didn’t turn out well. I re-aimed the Go-Pro after lunch and I aimed it too low and cut off the top of the shot. These are the few that are any good. In this one you can see the road meandering down the side of the mountain into the broad valley below. 

Just heading down.

Just heading down after lunch.

Lots of switchbacks on the road on the way down from Engineer Pass.

Lots of switchbacks on the road on the way down from Engineer Pass.

After this shot the battery in the GoPro died so there were no more.

After this shot the battery in the GoPro died so there were no more.

Bob
About

I’ve been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

53 comments on “Report From the Road–Jeeping the Alpine Loop in Colorado (photos by GoPro)
  1. Laughing Richard says:

    Hi Bob,
    I sure miss the open road but your pictures are helping with the withdrawals.
    Just curious, how much does a jeep tour like that cost?
    Cheers,
    Richard

    • Bob Bob says:

      Richa, it was $165 but it was all day and included a fantastic home-made lunch. I didn’t compare their price with anyone else so I have no idea if that was good or not.

      Of course they are friends, but the big advantage with going with a mom-pop type company is they treat you like family.
      Bob

      • Offroad says:

        good post about the costs. this is honest pay for a company that will make sure you are safe out there in the middle of unused abandoned roads. remember the stories of people getting stuck and not found until spring. rare but happens.

  2. rastaman says:

    Bob, A simple inexpensive solution to getting out of a ‘stuck’. ..Is a simple boat anchor (lightweight aluminum) and a length of strap and a come-along (hand ratchet type)…this set up will get you out of many a bind, of course a winch is easier, but more costly.

    With all these places you are exposing me to I am beginning to think whats left of my one life isn’t long enough,

    Yeh Mon
    Rasta

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks for that tip rastaman.

      I think you are right, there is so much to see and do in this wonderful world it seems like a horrible waste to spend the best of your life in a cubicle or store.

      But we all do what we think is best.
      Bob

  3. Rob says:

    First off you really look like you’re enjoying yourself!

    The word in the VW Vanagon community is that adding a limited slip to the rear end will take that van from not very good on the wet grass-snow-mud to great!
    Modifying your van’s rear end sounds like the thing to do.

    Getting stuck sucks. I carried the poorman’s winch- A come-a-long, strap, chains, shovel & ax/saw. There were other times that the “hi-lift” jack was a huge help.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Rob, I am having a blast!!

      Yeah, a Locker will get me where I want to go and save me lots of money, so that is the current plan. I love my 3500 1 Ton van, but it is a huge beast! Dragging it around takes some pretty good brute force.
      Bob

  4. Forrest says:

    While I have a winch on all my rigs, I agree with Rasta. You don’t need a winch on the vans. It’s very expensive, hard to mount where it doesn’t take away a lot of approach/departure angles, (http://static.ddmcdn.com/gif/off-roading-diagram.gif And is very heavy! Just carry a come-a-long. Since you only get stuck once a year take the extra 20 minutes to get out. If there are no trees/rocks then attach it to and bury your spare tire, it will get you out. I’ve pulled a F350 with 32′ trailer up a dry creek bed using this method.

    Then again everybody is stuck because they have 50-80 psi in their tires!!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Forrest! Since you are my trusted expert, I will take your word for it.

      I checked with a 4×4 shop and they recommended a Warn 8000 lb winch that mounts in the receiver hitch. that way it works on front or rear and only comes out when you need it. Of course it weighs 70 pounds and takes up a bunch of room. And it costs $1000. A come-along is starting to sound pretty good!
      Bob

  5. Joni says:

    Bob & Company;

    Pretty places! I’m glad you’re following my advise and having too much fun!!

    Thanks for sharing…

    Joni

  6. Offroad says:

    1) I like the idea of a come along more than a winch. its true you will not use the winch enough to justify it. Yes invest in some kind of anchor device for off road, when you do not ave trees.

    2) Look at rim with BEAD LOCKERS on them. If you air the tire down below 15 pounds you are going to peal the bead right off that tire and be stuck. With a bead lock you keep the tire on, no matter what the pressure.

    3) You should consider getting a small Nitrogen tank for airing up the tires after you are done with offroad. Nitrogen will not rust the tank, and it compresses well enough. Will not freeze up the valve either.

    from about five years in the offroading community picked up a few tips.

  7. TravelingFirefighter says:

    Great pictures Bob,

    Good luck with whatever vehicle configuration you wind up with. And I’ll second those comments by both Forrest and OffRoad, especially about airing down the tires. I’ve done this often at the Glamis sand dunes near Yuma, and it’s amazing what just airing the tires down will do.

    Enjoy the rest of your journey and I’m sure I’ll see you again in the near future.

    T

  8. Elizabeth says:

    You’re looking pretty trim there, Bob. Are you still doing the hemp protein smoothies? You must be feeling better too. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  9. Lois says:

    Hi Bob!

    Great photos! The Jeep trip looks amazing and lots of fun! Thanks for sharing with us…

    — Lois
    Lois recently posted…How It Is…My Profile

  10. Omar Storm says:

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for sharing. Great pics!

    Omar

  11. Myddy says:

    I absolutely must have a gopro now. I’ve seen the pictures you’ve posted in the other post when you started using it. I’m in love. I’ve got to get one to mount to my van!
    Myddy recently posted…The budget (envelopes)My Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      I am in love with that GoPro! The fact that it is hands-free, just turn it on and forget it makes it invaluable for adventure sports of any kind.

      I’m going to give you a little tease, there is a future post coming up that puts it to it’s absolute best use!! It’s stunning! No, I will not answer any questions about guesses what it might be.
      Bob

      • Myddy says:

        I can’t wait to see! I’m having to wait until pay day on Friday to look into ordering one. But when I’ve got it I’m going to do some road shots for my blog and take some pictures of the dogs. At the moment I only have a very low quality camera phone, it makes me not take any pictures of anything. To me, pictures make every story better.
        Myddy recently posted…The budget (envelopes)My Profile

        • Bob Bob says:

          Myddy, I love photography! And with digital cameras after you spend the money on the camera its free from then on!

          I’m not sure which camera you are referring to so I will give my general advice:

          1) The minimum manual control I want from any camera is Exposure Compensation. It allows you to make the picture darker or lighter if you aren’t happy with the exposure it is choosing.
          2) Point and shoots are amazing in their abilities now, even the cheap ones take great pictures. I suggest if you have the money you get a weatherproof camera. Even if you never take it in the water they are so much tougher I think they are worth it. I am extremely happy with my Nikon AW110. Great pictures, great screen, very easy menu and easy Exposure Compensation.
          3) The more control you have over the camera, the better your pictures so look for a camera with at least Aperture Priority or full Manual controls. I love the Canon G12, but it is very expensive and the Nikon will do just as well in most situations.
          4) The GoPro is essential to a few action-oriented activities, but it is NOT a good general camera. It doesn’t even come with a screen to see what you are shooting or view your pictures!
          Bob

  12. Linda Sand says:

    Homer might like the folding pet ramp they sell at PetSmart. Fairly lightweight and doesn’t take up a lot of room. http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2755211&f=PAD%2FpsNotAvailInUS%2FNo

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks for the idea Linda. When we lived in the camper on the 4×4 F150 I tried different ramps but he is such a stubborn dog he just would NOT use them. I literally had to drag him up and down squirming like a banshee and then as soon as he could he wiggle away and jump anyway. Jumping in and out of the van is not a problem because he will use the step I put in front of the door so it is just two 8 inch steps. That’s one of the things I love most about the van is how easy it is for him.
      bob

  13. jeff says:

    Power-trax trac loc is cheeper alternative. As long as you have a open diff and can be done by a diy kind of person. check it out! I had one and it worked great.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Jeff! The Detroit has such a reputation for legendary reliability that I am tempted to spend the extra money for it. But I will definitely look into it.
      Bob

  14. Patrick says:

    Happy Bob,

    Sheep live in the cubicle prison from 8-5 after that the Sheep go to mortgage prison and they buy junkies to pretend to be happy. We are the sharks who live freely and happy.

  15. ced says:

    hey great post! Question: does anyone else’s photo captions get cut off on the right. I could never read the right 1 or 2 words but blamed it on my phone screen size. I just read this post on a 17″ laptop and the captions are cut off on the right side also. I’m guessing the frame on the right of the page (for ad space) is overlapping the left frame for text???? or is it something on my end.

  16. ced says:

    also, would one of these locker’s help much in snow ? I’m about to experience my first winter in Ma with my new-to-me 1997 ram van. I am a bit nervous to say the least. do they have to change the whole rear end or just the end of the axel?
    thanks

    • Bob Bob says:

      ced, they do not help in the snow, in fact they hurt in the snow. I’m so seldom in snow that I am willing to sacrifice that but in MA you should NOT get one.
      Bob

      • Offroad says:

        you need chains for snow. get some a practice putting them on in a storm. that is when you have to so it.

        • Bob Bob says:

          Offroad, I lived in Anchorage, Ak for 45 years and we got a pretty fair amount of snow. In that whole time I never put on a pair of chains. It snowed so much you would be taking them on and off every week. We used snow-tires, studs, and good driving ability. It seemed to work pretty well.
          Bob

  17. Tim says:

    Bob, an idea would be to convert your van to 4×4. It’s costly but worth it in the long run if you plan to keep it for a while. Would also increase the value of your van when you go to sell it. I would take it to a 4×4 fabrication shop and see what can happen.

    -Tim

  18. gary green says:

    hey now bob, the camping you do you know your going to need four wheel drive !!!

  19. Offroad says:

    hope you someday buy a EMERGENCY LOCATOR BEACON just as a safety button. Have a cardiac event or break a leg and have shock and you might need to push that button. maybe once every five to ten years but it happens.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Offroad, that is a very good suggestion! I’m a big fan of PLBs and they have gotten cheap enough that there really is no excuse not to have one in the rig for dire emergencies. I’ll have to look into that.
      Bob

  20. Robert says:

    Acutally, 4×4 conversions don’t have to be that costly if you can find the right person. I am more than happy with the work and quality of my econoline conversion done at ujointoffroad.com Great value done by a guy who loves what he does and does conversions on vans and some RVs. Look into it amazing stuff. I drove my van over 800 miles just to have the work done. Worth looking to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

CommentLuv badge