I’ve been wanting to put together an off-road trip for quite a while, and it finally came together with a little push from a long time customer. Thanks Dirk!
Ok, I’m going to back up a second and explain why the name “Rover Riders” in the title.
The Rover Riders were a club and group of Land Rover off-road enthusiasts that was started many years ago. That club was absorbed by the Solihull Society, the other and still current Land Rover club in Colorado, and the name was lost. I thought the name too cool to let go, and while I have no plans to create another (or competing) club, it was perfect to put it to use as a Facebook group
This trip is the 1st time I created an event in that group, and invited some friends and customers of the shop.
So it came to pass, that on Saturday July 23rd, 2016, our group of 8 vehicles gathered at JC’s British & 4×4 to head out for some high altitude adventure.
Our group consisted of: a 1998 Range Rover (Jeff & Dena), a diesel ’93 Defender 110 (Dirk & April), a ’96 Discovery (Prudence), a ’00 Discovery II (Andy), a ’89 Range Rover Classic (Gordon & Kelli), a ’07 LR3 (Chuck), a ’94 Defender 90 (Chris & Shea), and a ’13 Jeep JK (Ethan & Jessica – He’s got 2 Rovers too, but wanted an open top, 1/2 door experience for the trip).
We headed out at a leisurely pace up Hwy 285, making a short stop in Fairplay for fuel top off for those that needed it. We had our 1st and only mechanical issue at that point, if you can even call it that. Dirk’s diesel D110 had developed a no crank situation only with a heat soaked starter. So 2 of us gave the truck a push start, which was surprisingly easy! From then on Dirk either left the D110 running, or allowed enough time for the starter to cool down.
A few miles north out of Fairplay on Rt9, we made our turn off pavement on onto the dirt road leading to Mosquito Pass and the New London mine.
Mosquito Pass, is the highest drivable pass in Colorado at over 13,000 feet. In 1879, it became part of the toll road from Denver to the mines at Leadville. Once it was called the “fast freight route” and the fare from Fairplay to Leadville. Also known as the “highway of Frozen death” as many suffered and lost their lives attempting to cross this high pass. Once the railroad was run through Leadville, use for this toll road diminished. Due to its altitude and steepness, use of the road was limited to only the summer months.
The New London mines along this pass became some of the most productive gold mines in the area.
Here we stopped at the lower ore processing building to explore what remains and for some nice group pictures. It is surprising how long these buildings have held together, and at the sheer size of the equipment that was hauled up here, probably my wagons and burrow, by the miners.
We next stopped at one of the mine buildings shortly above the processing building, surrounded by a large mound of rough rock and what appears to be a collapsed mine entrance. Here we took our lunch break and I took the liberty of setting up some Camel Trophy banners for some fun staged pics. This is also where the first real climb and elevation gain take place, and a short while later we reached a section of trail still covered in snow! Luckily, we came prepared with some shovels, and everyone pitched a hand clearing a track for the trucks. Within the hour we had everyone through the snow field, only one vehicle required a little winch guidance over the slick and sloping snow.
Not long after we reached the top of the pass @ 13,185 feet. Once again we made a short pit stop for photos and enjoying the incredible view. Then continued on down the western side of the range quickly descending a series of switch backs before the hillside leveled out some, and soon transitioning into smoother dirt roads into the city of Leadville. We stopped along the roadside to arrange evening plans and almost immediately a ’04 DII pulled up its owners extremely excited about seeing our group of Land Rovers. Owner Lucas and friend Jeff had been at the radio tower atop Mosquito Pass when they saw our group and immediately follow us down. They invited us to join them at a new local brewery, Periodic Brewing, and we all enjoyed a pint while reminiscing on our incredible day so far. We then headed over to the historic Silver Dollar Saloon for more libations in a much more rustic setting. Our day was drawing to a close and we needed more than drinks before turning in for the night, so our group headed to Quincy’s for a steak dinner. About half our group had managed to make reservations at the historic Delaware Hotel as I had arranged some rooms to be held for the group a month or so before our trip. Dirk, April, Gordon and Kelli had arrangements to stay at Kelli’s parents property in Leadville, which some of us got a chance to tour Sunday afternoon.
We all met up again Sunday morning for breakfast at the Golden Burro, we chatted and ate, talking out where everyone grew up, what brought us to Colorado, what brought the couples together, and of plans for today. Seven out of the eight vehicles from the prior day were up for running Half Moon Creek, a nice trail on the south side of Leadville which has a few water crossings. We said our goodbyes to Dirk and April, as they had other obligations that day, and headed out for the trail.
Half Moon Creek is generally a fairly easy trail, which is dictated entirely based on the water crossings depth, and luckily the water was running low. No vehicles had any issues during the crossings, and we even managed to have some fun and throttle through at some speed for some good splash pics. BTW, as a general rule, stock Land Rover’s water fording depth is measured at the top of the rim. Half Moon Creek is also a relatively short trail, and we made it to a closed gate in short order. There are some old outbuildings owned by Colorado Outward Bound School at this point, and a short hike further we reached Champion Mill. (further up the valley following a trail on the south side is Champion Mine, which we did not reach this trip). Champion Mill is a huge structure, leaning heavily south and west after decades abandoned. I did not some newer re-enforcement beams that had been added, perhaps by the forest service in an attempt to maintain this historic mill. After a good look around we hiked back to our trucks and had lunch under the shade of a pine tree. Our return trip was smooth and uneventful with the exception of some more splashing in the water crossings. Once off the trail and tires aired back up, most of our group said their goodbyes and headed home to Denver. Gordon invited those remaining back to Kerri’s parents’ property on the south side of Leadville, where we got a tour of the outbuildings and learned a little history of their family. We got to hear about how their grandfather distilled moonshine during the prohibition era, how the children slept in the many outbuildings from the main home, and some more stories of life around Leadville from years past.
Unfortunately, the day was getting on and we had a drive back to Denver to contend with, so we said our goodbyes and got ready to head home. Dena & I weren’t quite ready for the adventure to be over, nor the idea of hitting the pavement yet, so thanks to a suggestion from Kelli’s dad, we headed over Weston Pass back towards Fairplay. Weston Pass is extremely easy (we passed a VW car on it) between the south side of Leadville and Fairplay. We aired back down and cruised over it enjoying the great scenery. I took it fast, sometimes that was easy dirt roads just scream for, and it was nice knowing that the hour we took (over 26 miles of trail) was just as quick as if I had taken the highway back south from Leadville through Buena Vista to get to Fairplay & Hwy 285 (over 75 miles).
All I can say is “What a great weekend!”
Thank you all who made it out, I look forward to the next trip.