A rocky road, and a peak experience

Imogene Pass offers a heart-pounding excursion through one of the Telluride area’s highest mountain passes

Motorcyclists take a well-deserved break at the top of Imogene Pass after riding up some very rocky terrain. Enlargephoto

Shannon Livick/Cortez Journal

Motorcyclists take a well-deserved break at the top of Imogene Pass after riding up some very rocky terrain.

Just a sort drive away, lies a challenging pass. One that offers sweeping views, a heart-pounding ride and a one-of-a-kind experience.

It’s considered the second-highest mountain pass in Telluride and offers some fantastic views of the sweeping mountain variety and views of the past mining history in Colorado.

Imogene Pass trail can be picked up in downtown Telluride near the Telluride Historical Museum.

The road quickly climbs above Telluride, offering views of the town below. Views that are not for those afraid of heights.

“It’s just beautiful when you are up on top and how far you can see on a clear day,” said Amanda Walker, district recreation staff with the Ouray Ranger District.

The top of the pass is at 13,114 feet.

There are plenty of areas to stop and enjoy the view. One beautiful view is that of Black Bear Pass and its infamous switchbacks and the Bridal Veil Falls Powerhouse.

The pass is an unpaved 17.1-mile road connecting Telluride and Ouray. It attracts people from all over – last year, the ranger district counted 14,000 vehicles between May and October, Walker said. The largest number of vehicles was logged in July, when about 5,000 vehicles reached the summit.

At the top, look for snow. There was still snow in August this year. And the mailbox covered in stickers. Walker said she didn’t know the story behind the mailbox, but it made a great photo opportunity.

The journey to the top

The pass should not be taken lightly.

Kathy Peckham, the recreation staff officer with the Norwood Ranger District, said that she strongly recommends a very experienced driver, a high-clearance 4-wheel drive with a short wheel base.

Because traffic flows both ways on this road, it can be narrow in areas, and people can expect to meet other drivers and be expected to have to maneuver difficult situations on sheer dropoffs.

“You should be a very experienced driver,” Peckham said.

Peckham added that there is an active mine closer to Ouray and that people should be aware of mining traffic. In addition, there are a few old abandoned mines.

“We do not encourage people to go into the mines or climb on rubble piles. They are old and unstable. Just enjoy them from where you have solid footing and leave things there for others to observe because they are historic sites,” Walker said.

The county will remove snow in late spring, and the pass is typically closed by snow in early winter or late fall. Every year, the amount of time the road is open is weather-dependent.

“It just depends on the year,” Walker said.

The state of Colorado has ranked the trail a 4 out of 5 in terms of difficulty.

Walker said that first-timers going over the pass should contact local jeep clubs or even go with an outfit company in Ouray or Telluride and pay others to drive you over the pass.

“They will drive, and you can just take pictures and not have to look at the road,” Walker said.

Use of the pass has grown and changed over the years. In the past, the majority of the traffic was jeeps, Walker said, but now, more motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles can be found making the steep accent.

The run through the pass

Another interesting thing to contemplate while making your way up the pass, is that on an annual basis, hundreds of runners run from Ouray and into Telluride over the pass, among wildflowers, water falls and wildlife. Herds of elk can be seen grazing up high and marmots watch as you trundle by.

The Imogene Pass race will be Sept. 6 this year, and race director John Jett said that 1,200 runners have signed up for the grueling race. In fact, the run is so popular and gaining in popularity, that it sold out in 58 minutes this year.

“It’s a big little race,” he said. “Over the last 15 years it sells out faster and faster.”

He added that about half he racers are return racers and that others come from across the nation to take part in the race that is on many bucket lists.

“The scenery is fantastic if the weather is good. If the weather is bad, then it’s miserable,” Jett said.

If you head up the pass from Telluride, it isn’t too long before the pass widens to the Tomboy Mine. Now a ghost town, only small remnants remain of the town that once boasted over 900 residents. A sign near the site says the mine, located 3,000 feet above Telluride, had a school, store, stable and miners cabins. The mine started producing gold ore in 1894 and in 1897 was sold for $2 million.

A marmot takes a break among the wildflowers. Enlargephoto

Shannon Livick/Cortez Journal

A marmot takes a break among the wildflowers.

Small water crossings, rocky areas, steep and rocky terrain greet those that attempt the pass. Enlargephoto

Shannon Livick/Cortez Journal

Small water crossings, rocky areas, steep and rocky terrain greet those that attempt the pass.

The Imogene Pass trail offers sweeping views of Telluride and this one of Tomboy Mine. Enlargephoto

Shannon Livick/Cortez Journal

The Imogene Pass trail offers sweeping views of Telluride and this one of Tomboy Mine.