Riding on the Edge in Telluride

tellurideAs you slowly make your way up the narrow, crumbling Tomboy Road outside of Telluride, Colorado, don’t make the mistake of looking down. Your truck’s wheels may be less than a foot from the edge of the road and the oblivion below. The road, which was originally a Ute Indian Trail, winds its way from the Town of Telluride up to Imogene Pass at 13,100 feet (3,900m). Up until around 1925 it was the primary route to the gold and silver mines high on the mountainside, and was traversed by periodic stagecoach runs and lots of mule-pulled wagons hauling supplies and ore. Today, although officially a county road, it’s a narrow, moderately difficult four-wheel-drive road that is not well maintained. Traversing it, though dangerous, is a real thrill.

Vehicles bounce over large and often sharp rocks—this is not the road for a Cadillac or a BMW sedan—around blind corners, and along continuous twists and turns. It really gets interesting when two vehicles meet (the vehicle heading uphill always has the right of way). Though the tour companies have specialized vehicles with heavy-duty tires and suspensions, on any given day you may see Jeeps and Range Rovers inching up the road. Most of the vehicles have to stop at times, so hikers and mountain bikers can safely squeeze by. This rough road is not a recommended trip for novice off-roaders.

Atop the road is the ghost town that housed the miners working in the Tomboy Mine, which is not far from the summit. Along the road you’ll pass through the “Social Tunnel,” a favorite location for the miners to meet with the prostitutes who made the trip up from town. You’ll also see the cables that were strung between rocks to stop the mules and their wagons from taking their last one-way trip down. The ghost town still has many deteriorating buildings, the pilings from the miners dormitory, old cable, broken bottles, timbers, and other remnants of a day when “environmentally friendly” was not a part of the lexicon.

You might consider going on a tour and learning the history associated with the mines and how they operated. For example, while mine owners made millions, the hard rock miners were paid $3 per day and, as might be imagined, there was considerable labor strife and union busting. When the Ames power plant was built, the mines in this area became the first commercial users of alternating current. Of particular interest were the huge cable car-like pieces of equipment in which they would load the ore and let gravity take it to the mill in the valley below. The weight of the ore heading down brought the empty, or supply and miner laden, buckets back up the mountain.

In addition to the trip to the Tomboy, there are jeep tours to Ophir Pass and the Alta ghost town, Black Bear Pass, with its fields of summer flowers, and Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado’s highest.

Telluride became a ski town in 1972 and has grown to a full functioning resort community. In town are excellent lodging and dining possibilities. A relatively new village on the mountain can be reached from town by gondola, eliminating the need for a vehicle in town. There are festivals almost every week in the summer, and such activities as golf, river rafting, hiking, and mountain biking will keep you as busy as you wish.