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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jeepers Creepers

Engineer Pass would open any day; just a snowdrift or two left to bulldoze on its alpine summit. Then, like ants on a Sunday picnic lunch, Jeepers will become Creepers... scratching and crawling their way up and down this stoney, oil pan bustin' four wheel drive ledge on the edge. If you blast a notch of a road out of solid rock, they will come; if you plow away winter's snowdrifts, they will come sooner. That noise you hear in the background is the sweet purr of cash registers... gobbling "goodies" like Johnson's at a Thanksgiving reunion. That stubborn snowdrift gave Engineer wholly to our lonesome selves on a simply gorgeous day, and we did a little preseason boot-scoot boogie. If you'd like to take a little photo trip up Engineer without leaving the farm, read on...

One of the first thing you'll notice on Engineer Pass Road is rocks scream with color. The second thing you'll notice, especially as a Jeep passenger, is the hair raising vertical drop-off and absence of guardrails. It's a Jeep road people. We don't even put guardrails on paved highways around here... there isn't room for them. 

But we're hiking so relax; a wide and comfortable path for a change.

 Aspens...  greening up nicely

 Two Wheel Drive Day Tripin' Gal, Bobbie 
We are truly blessed to live in an area so colorfully rich in iron, copper and manganese. Hiking among muti-hued rocks is like strolling Natures Art Gallery. "Momma please, don't take my Kodachrome away." I never tire of it and sometimes wonder if Ansel Adams might have considered switching to "color" had he stumbled through these San Juan Mountains (smile). 

Have dynamite, will Road-Build!

Interesting things happen when four wheel drive vehicles meet on such narrow roads, especially when one or both drivers are inexperienced and a tad acrophobic.

Walking Engineer's narrower sections had me recalling close encounters with "the Ledge." Imagine meeting a big old Hummer (or Dodge dually, for that matter :)) on the road in the above photo; you would be lucky to find enough room to pass two Jeeps. On 4WD mountain roads the vehicle going up hill has the right of way, so if there isn't enough room to squeeze by each other the vehicle going down hill must back up until there is a wide enough spot. The following is based on a true story. 

Jeeper guy meets a wide bodied Hummer. He pulls in both side mirrors and inches as close as he can to the inside cliff face, all but scraping paint on the rocks. 

Now the "balls" are in Hummer guy's court; Jeeper guy has done all he can do. He must sit and wait for Hummer to ease by. Hummer guy pulls in his drivers side mirror and inches his puckered butt forward. It's going to be tight... beads of sweat well up even tho it's plenty cool outside. Wifey is not happy... she's on the outside looking straight down to a distant river roaring through the canyon's bottom... about a zillion feet below... and wants out. 

Hummer guy second guesses his boy-toy purchase, first because of the Hummer's width, and second, because they quit making them as soon as he bought. One of those little Suzuki's would sure come in handy here. Nevertheless Hummer guy "feels" his way forward, unsure of how much room there is, exactly, over on the passenger side. An odd tightness in his chest develops... palms begin to sweat. 

Jeeper guy gets impatient and waves for Hummer to just do it, mouthing, "You're ok... lots of room." Hummer guy knows better and inches forward and grazes mirrors with Jeeper. In the next foot a washout in the road drops the right front tire sharply toward the canyon... Hummer leans uncomfortably toward the canyon.

Hands vice-grip the wheel; pulse quickens. With each forward inch, the road leans more to the canyon. Wifey prays to Plastic Jesus on the dashboard. The off-camber pitch is not as bad as it feels to Hummer guy and his soon to be ex-wife, but you'd never convince them of that. She leans uphill... head practically in Hummer guys lap, as if it might be the difference between life and abyss.

Hummer guy reaches into the Jeeper's window and grasps his roll bar... a desperate and humiliating act. They have essentially pinned each other in, cliff face to abyss; short of a sunroof no one can escape to see if it's safe to proceed. Wifey is catatonic and no longer responds to Hummer guy's plea to "look out your window and give me some feedback." 

I've been there... afraid to go forward... afraid to back up, feeling "Nearer My God to Thee" on an off-camber cliff. It makes your stomach squirm to be the one on the outside trying to get by in a bad spot... like gravity's pulling on your arm and won't let go. Only when other Jeepers arrive on scenes like this does the situation get resolved... ever so cautiously, ever so slowly. Once every year or two the worst happens. You hear Rescue sirens, see the flight for life copter land in Town Park... waiting for the injured. Most of the time it's a climber who fell, but eventually it's a four wheel driver. In a few days the mangled remains of an unrecognizable vehicle parades through town on the back of a flatbed truck. 

The past few years finds more and more ATV style four wheelers on Jeep roads. They are much smaller, have ragtops, and can carry four to six passengers. When we are too old and crippled to hike, I think I'll get one of those.  

If you enjoy waterfalls and would like to see more photos of Engineer pass, check out my video link...


  1. The photos show what could be a great mountain bike ride (when the jeep traffic permits it).

  2. Yet another awesome hike I have written down for my to-do list next time arrive in your beautiful area. It really does seem like America's Switzerland. Funny story, too.

  3. To say I have been there, done that is precise! More than once! Except, I get out... I can tell Hubster what he needs to do much better from the road than from that passenger seat!! Now, on the occasion of me being the driver, I have usually wished I'd been the passenger!!!

    Engineer is about the only pass we have not made it over!

    Now I'm off to look at the video link!

  4. me again...

    and it was magnificent!!! Do you see where the water comes out from the mountain?

    Just spectacular!!!

  5. I do love to drive the curvy mountain roads and always thought guardrails were just a weak security blanket. But that one takes the cake. In fact walking on it seems like taking your life in your hands if a Hummer comes whipping around a curve towards you. Yikes. But the waterfall is worth it, being you took the hike.

  6. A couple years ago we stopped towing our Hyundai Santa Fe & got us a little Jeep Wrangler specifically for touring mountain roads. Great decision & we have never regretted it. Had a great run up Harquhaula Mountain near Wickenburg Az this past winter. Never met any oncoming Hummers:))

  7. Boonie,
    Engineer is worse than it looks... you would be pushing your mountain bike 80% of the time. However, coming from the Lake City side, it is totally rideable.

    Thanks. You will need a big "bucket" when you come here... so many places and roads, so little time (not that you are old :)). We'll be glad to show you around.

    so you have "experience" four wheeling in this area. Then you know what I say is true. I've seen grown Hubsters cry (grin), and passengers walking the bad spots. Thanks, glad you enjoyed the video. The water does come out on the other side of the mountain... It was cheaper to blast a tunnel than build a bridge over the creek.

    Then you would love the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Lovely Ouray... lots of switchbacks and no guardrails. I have a semi truck driver story about that road... another time, maybe.

    Bayfield Bunch,
    The new Jeeps are great... perfect size and comfy. 50 years ago there we only Willys Jeeps on these roads... not so comfy, but plenty low in gears. I am familiar with Arizona's magnificence as I was raised there. Wick. has a lovely old downtown and perfect winter climate. I love your photography, by the way.
    Thanks for commenting,

  8. I enjoy hiking jeep roads when out alone, I figure if I'm laying in the road after having a heart attack at least one of those jeep guys would throw in the back seat and get me down the hill. Enjoyed the pictures and video!

  9. That's what's nice 'bout a raggedy A$$ old dodge dually... you can get that extra inch closer to the mountain that you need... cuz you ain't worried 'bout scrapin' the paint! :) and even if you have one tire hangin' in the air... you got five more on the rocks! :)

  10. Johns Q,
    You are too skinny to have a heart attack :))
    But if you had one, in the wrong place, the jeepers wouldn't even see you. Bump bump... what was that? :))

    CowBoy Brian,
    Ms Heidi said you had the outside dually touching nothing but air a couple times going from Lovely Ouray to Telluride over Imogene Pass. And was it John Q or Walden Steve that was riding oblivious in the back seat? Arn't you glad I talked you into trying Imogene? Hee hee. :))

  11. Saint Heidi was in the back seat and reading a book to keep her mind off the edges. I sat in the passenger seat. I didn't mind the edges so much, but Brian would jump out to snap pictures and mumble something about his parking brake not working. So when Brian jumped out, I jumped out to put a rock under the front wheel. Great fun!

  12. John Q,
    I'll never forget the look on the Jeepers faces on Imogene pass... "you made up here in that?"
    Must have been a really good book for Ms Heidi :))


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