Jeeping Capitol of the World - Ouray, Colorado

Feb. 01, 2006 By Steve Botkin
Engineer Pass
As an avid Jeeper, I found this self proclaimed statement to be very bold coming from a town with a year round population of 800 people! One would expect a statement like that to be more befitting of Moab, Utah or South Lake Tahoe, California but after a little research, I came to the conclusion that Ouray, Colorado might just have a reason to boast.

At an elevation of 7700 feet and surrounded by 14’ers (Colorado lingo for 14,000 ft mountains), Ouray is a small town devoted to outdoor recreation. Where else can you find a town of this size boasting 8 different Jeep rental businesses, including the local KOA campground! Ouray also has some of the more famous high mountain passes including Black Bear, Imogene, Engineer, and others within easy driving distance of town. Ouray sounded like the perfect place to take my family on vacation! To prepare the Jeep for the trip I ordered a Full Traction 4” lift, Russell braided brake lines, American Racing Atlas wheels, and 33” BFG Mud Terrains tires. I figured that 2 months time would be enough to get the Jeep ready, but the lift was on back order and UPS didn’t drop it off until 2 days before the trip! With the help of a good friend, The Jeep was finished and loaded hours before leaving.

My Jeep was slightly modified, but a stock Jeep can enjoy the trails just as easily with the exceptions of Black Bear Pass and Poughkeepsie Gulch. Rental Jeeps are also not allowed on these trails. Our long trip began in Montana and we were excited to get to Ouray, but we had a wedding to attend first in Boulder, CO. Since Boulder just happens to be minutes from Carnage Canyon, which is a popular trail, my brother and I snuck out for a few hours the day of HIS wedding to try out the new mods done to the Jeep.

Finally loaded and ready to go
Carnage Canyon is located NW of Boulder and can be found with a GPS at N-40deg 6.392 W-105deg 19.331. For those that do not have a GPS at their disposal, the trail head is FR2025 off of Left Hand Canyon road. It is a great place for an afternoon of exploring and can be done in a stock Jeep if the left hand bypass is taken. The fact that the trail head is close to town is another benefit, especially when there’s a wedding to attend and the groom is with you!
Flex test at the top of Carnage Canyon
We were both very pleased with the capability of the newly installed lift and tires. The Full Traction kit is very flexible for a short arm and the manufacturer claims an RTI of 1160 with this kit. Not only does it work well off road, the ride and handling have exceeded my expectations. Luckily for us, we had no problems or breakage and made it to the wedding on time!
Driving into Ouray, Colorado
We left Boulder towing our Jeep with my newly married brother and his wife towing their 91 YJ. The drive to Ouray is incredibly beautiful and becomes even more so the closer you get to town. On the way there, we stopped in Leadville at the National Mining Museum which is a must stop for anyone interested in mining history.

If exploring isn’t the only thing on your agenda, Ouray also has other activities including the Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour, Box Canyon Falls Park, Ouray Hot Springs Pool (with watersides for the kids), golfing, hiking, fishing, and much more. Our plan for the first day was to drive over Imogene Pass to Telluride, then drive back to Ouray via Ophir Pass. The start of Imogene Pass is on the south edge of town on FR869. GPS coordinates are N-37deg 56.406 W-107deg 48.711.

Near the top of Imogene Pass
This area is also popular due to the amount of history, old mines, and ghost towns that are very abundant. Most of the roads open to the off-road crowd were put in by hard working mules and miners hoping to find the mother lode. A sizable amount of the original buildings are gone due to fires, heavy snow loads, and old age but the ones that remain can still give us a glimpse into the lives of the people that helped shape this area. On the Ouray side of the pass, you will drive past Camp Bird Mine, which in the past, had been destroyed by an avalanche and rebuilt.

The Tomboy mine is located 8000 ft above Telluride and is an interesting area to explore, but be careful as the buildings are unstable.

YJ followed by a Yamaha Rhino on Imogene Pass
Today, it’s hard to imagine that a daily stage would carry passengers and mail to the Tomboy Mine as it’s a rough ride even in a modern Jeep. Riding in a wagon with very little suspension and wooden seats had to be rough!        

Above the clouds at the Tomboy Mine


Coming down Telluride side of Imogene Pass

Driving down the Telluride side of Imogene pass, the road is very narrow and steep but the views are incredible. Along this route, you get a great view of Black Bear Pass and Bridal Veil Falls. These 350 ft falls fed the Smuggler-Union hydroelectric plant to supply electricity to operate the local mines. Because of this plant, the town of Telluride had electricity before New York City! After leaving Telluride, we were on to Ophir Pass.

Taking a break


Black Bear Pass & Bridal Veil Falls
Ophir Pass on the west side
Ophir Pass is a scenic and relatively easy pass. It’s also the quickest way back to Ouray from Telluride. It brings you to Hwy 550, otherwise known as the Million Dollar Highway.        

Making the climb up Ophir
Million Dollar Highway
  Depending on which local you ask, the Million Dollar Highway was named as such because it’s rumored to have cost over a million dollars per mile to build. The other explanation is that the highway bed was built from tailings piles that still contained gold, and if extracted, would be worth a million dollars.
Coming down the east side of Ophir Pass
Whichever story you believe, the drive is still one of the most incredible sections of pavement in SW Colorado and if you forget to put the pins back in your front sway bar, can be an exciting one too!  
LEVE Note: I hope you enjoyed Steve's article as much as I have. If so, stay tuned for more installments and see a little more of Jeepin' Heaven.


Ouray, Colorado


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