I had trouble with Imogene Pass last summer. One steep spot required three tries, and when I did make it there wasn’t much grace involved. Even though a year has made a difference in my skills, plus I have better tires now, I’ve been putting this particular pass off. But on Friday, August 20, 2010, I gave it a go. I should state up front that this is a 4WD road, meaning Jeeps, ATVs, and motorcycles (or hiking or horseback).
One accesses Imogene Pass from the Ouray Side by going up toward Yankee Boy Basin (for details, see here). The GPS track in this post (at the bottom of the post) takes off from Camp Bird. There’s always been a private cutoff through Camp Bird, but this year it’s open to the public. The following photo shows how to find it.
The Camp Bird Road runs up through some old houses that were used as part of the mining activities.
Once behind the buildings, the work begins. The road immediately becomes very steep and you have a number of switchbacks. My observation is there isn’t an unbearable amount of scree, so if you pick your path properly, you’ll quickly find yourself with this view:
The road soon joins up with the “main” road to Imogene. (Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the intersection!) The road levels out for awhile and then heads up into the basin. There are parts with some serious scree, but at first not too steep. You’ll have to ford the creek a couple times. Toward the top the road dips down for perhaps twenty yards, and then climbs a steep section. This is where I had trouble last year. This year I picked a nice line and went up with only one minor problem, and that is at one particular little bump, it was all—and I mean all—my little 250 cc engine could do to keep up. If that section had been five feet longer I think my engine would have stalled. Next time I’ll find a path that doesn’t include that particular steep part.
After more climbing, thankfully nowhere nearly as steeply, you come to an intersection. The viewpoint is to the left (east) and the pass itself is to the right (west). The viewpoint offers spectacular views.
The picture of me at the summit is at the top of this post. If it looks like I’m hanging onto that sign, you’re right. I worked hard to ensure a smooth passage up the steep, moderately scree-strewn road, plus that sign tells you that I’m at 13,114 feet above sea level!
The road down is steep and features some scree, but is mostly in pretty good shape. I don’t like to whiz down roads unless I can see really far ahead and know it’s mostly a straight line, plus I have a run-out at the bottom. I could see plenty far, but the tight switchbacks didn’t offer much in the way of run-outs, so I took my time.
The road winds through the Tomboy Ghost Town, which is very poorly maintained. It appears no preservation or “arrested decay” work has been done on any of the structures. I have quite a number of pictures of Tomboy and have put them into a separate post here.
The road continues to wind down the hillside. One spectacular view looks back to the southeast to see Black Bear Pass Road. Yes, it’s every bit as steep as it looks.
Not much further on, we get our first view of Telluride, nestled down in the bottom of the canyon.
You’ll note that Telluride is tightly surrounded by green space on all sides. That means it can’t expand. That also means real estate is more valuable. A tiny house on a narrow lot can cost well over a million dollars. Lots of money here!
One last photo prior to the GPS track. This photo shows the entry to Imogene Pass Road from Oak Street. Is is not marked. At all. There are no signs even hinting this road has anything to do with Imogene Pass. Further, Oak Street doesn’t even run all the way down to the main drag. And on the main drag there are no signs—repeat, no signs—telling you where to head up the hill. Further, as one comes down the road from the pass, there are signs saying that ATVs and unlicensed motorcycles need to turn around and go back over the pass. There’s no parking area for someone with a trailer to pick up unlicensed vehicles. Do you get the idea the good (rich) folks of Telluride don’t want tourist traffic through here? But now you know just how to access it from the Telluride side!
Here’s the GPS track. I think it’s probably pretty accurate, though I’ve noticed sometimes an error of as much as several hundred feet in deep canyons, and the Imogene Road certainly travels through deep canyons!