NOA - Colorado's San Juans - Black Bear, Imogene & Other passes & gulches

Nikson

Explorer
My buddy Vlad & I (Nikson) completed our fall adventure trip to San Juans at the end of September, 2014.

Some of the members of ExPo (followers on Instagram as well as subscribers on YouTube) asked to do a bit more detailed trip report here on ExPo.
Promise to be as detailed as it seems to be right, feel free to ask questions.

For those who care to just flip through the photos of the trip, they can be found on my PicasaWeb online album

Trip had been talked about in my "local" crowd for 2-3 years now, just never made that leap of faith of taking 2 weeks off from daily routine, packing up and just leaving home and everything behind that came with it...
Sure helps when one has a wife like mine (love you babe, you are the best) - who took care of kids & home matters while hubby is on a trip of a lifetime... :)

Anyways, not to bore anyone with personal stuff, I'll start w/overall description of gear and any preparation that we did for this solo vehicle trip.

Plan was simple from the start -

Leave Oregon, head to Colorado - see Telluride/Ouray/Silverton area & all possible passes & gulches while in that area.
Copilot & I figured that fuel cost will run us roughly $1000 total, and food costs will vary pending how much we will eat out on the go, and in our case we spent roughly $1000 total for both of us (counting all the groceries we purchased from home & on the road, plus all of the quick stops at pubs/restaurants, etc.), so to answer most common question - the total trip expense was $2000 for 2 people (not counting actual vehicle & gear cost)

For anyone not familiar with the vehicle used on this trip, feel free to check out the more detailed build thread (link is in my signature), otherwise here is a build sheet & gear that came with us:



2003 Lexus LX470
roughly around 150k miles
all stock suspension/wheels/brakes
285/65R18 BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires (set of 5)
custom rock sliders & roof rack for RTT with accessory lighting
RIGID 50in SR-series LED bar, side floods & additional to stock rear back-up activated light in bumper.
Whynter 62qt Dual-Zone fridge (power hog)
ArcPac w/100AH battery
Dual battery setup under the hood (2 Optima Yellow-Tops)
2nd & 3rd row seating removed (for the trip)
Hi-Lift with Hi-Lift accessory bag, bubba rope (20k lbs)
shovel/axe/hand saw
Cobra CB/ iPad3 with GaiaTopo maps preloaded
CVT clam-shell roof top tent w/awning & wall tent
single burner butane stove cooking & JetBoil for water heating
Biolite stove & grill for steak
5Gal water jug / camping table & chairs
5Gal jerry can (never was used)
full craftsman tool kit (wrenches/sockets/hammer, etc.)
ARB Portable Twin Air Compressor kit
Propane torch for starting campfires (very useful)

Our planning went as goes: Venture through the famous passes of the SW corner of Colorado - Black Bear, Imogene, Engineer, Hurricane, Ophir Passes along with all the Gulches that were in the proximity of that area. Camping at a new location every night, eat out as least as possible and just soak in the adventure. We picked this time of the month/year for couple of reasons: Fall colors, Projected better weather, New Moon (or complete absence of one; star photographers will know why thats a good thing), less bugs, less traffic, lower temps.

We left Oregon on September 13 in the PM, and spent our first night almost on the boarder with Idaho, in the Hells Canyon area along the snake river, right along I-84, Weiser, ID was just few miles away, home of a great place where I bought my first snowcat project Thiokol 1402 Imp (for those who followed the build on Youtube).

September 14th was a long haul day - as our plan was to spend the next night in Moab, which was on our way to Ouray, CO.



anywhere you look - it was a great scenery, we were definitely starting to get a taste for what the next 2 weeks had for us

Utah sunsets were sure wonderful



it was pass 9PM if I recall correctly, when we were driving through the main street of Moab, city sure looked alive.

We figured that we didnt want to stay somewhere noisy, get away from the city light and get a good nights rest.
Drove back North on HWY191 a little bit towards Arches NP, and camped along Colorado River on HWY128 at first open spot we found on 3 campground off Hwy191 (Drinks Canyon CG)

Next morning view was pretty rewarding, being that we didnt really know where/what/how it all looked the night before.



Special thanks to Bobby from CVT (Cascadia Vehicle Tents) for helping out with the tent setup considering his busy schedule & our deadlines.
For a guy with a bad back and multiple hernias on my disks, I never once complained about getting a good nights rest in that tent.



quick upload from first free WiFi location with reasonable speed, videos (as is my channel) is bi-lingual, mix of English & Russian - enjoy!


So not much time wasted - we were up and heading out of Utah towards Ouray, CO, where our plan was to spend the next night on Black Bear Pass.

it was just a matter of hours and we were in Colorado





Million Dollar Highway (Hwy550) was simply gorgeous... just breathtaking...



after topping off in Ouray, we headed south on Hwy550 to our first destination - infamous Black Bear Pass.

aired down to 20PSI, it was the official start of our adventure into "unknown" to us

 

Nikson

Explorer
Black Bear Pass

As we left Hwy550, unpaved road 823 is the one that will take you up and over Black Bear Pass, right into Telluride.

Our estimated time traveled over the pass from Hwy550 to Telluride would probably be around 4 hours without "pushing it", while enjoying the scenery.
In our case we did a lot of photography and mild video, to keep followers entertained as much as possible without hurting our "joy of travel", although at times it becomes more of a job, than pleasure, but sure is a fun job :ylsmoke:

Partly up the Black Bear Pass, coming up onto Mineral Creek.





setting up camp before sunset, with Trico Peak just north of us



just wonderful to watch how weather changed right in front of us... where we could see the rain just coming down hard SE of our location



after gathering our content, co-pilot put together a nice video of our first few days, with ending of some great timelapse of this campsite


Sun sets in this area pretty quick, just as quick as cold comes in to replace the warmth of the daytime



it wasnt too long until our "Million Star hotel" & "Million Star Photo/Video Studio" became a chilly place, good planning & prep showed its fruit - we put on our warm clothing and were able to continue into late night, going to bed after 1AM, tired but overwhelmed by the greatness & endless beauty of this area.

couple of funky edits from that night...







next...

completion of Black Bear Pass
 

mph

Expedition Leader
wow..great photography! looks like you had the place to yourself...i didn't see another vehicle in the video...sweet.
 

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Nikson

Explorer
wow..great photography! looks like you had the place to yourself...i didn't see another vehicle in the video...sweet.
Thanks, it was nice to be just "alone" in such WIDE area, scenery was much better without "extras" in our shots.

very nice. curious as to what lens you used for majority of pics
Most of the shots were done with a wide angle, Canon 60D was with a 10-22mm, and Nikon (full-frame) with a 24mm if I recall correctly.
 

skrillah

Adventurer
Awesome report, looking forward to the rest. The time lapse video segments were great!

Also, I'm interested in your impressions on how the LX did, being that it had stock suspension..?
 

Nikson

Explorer
Awesome report, looking forward to the rest. The time lapse video segments were great!

Also, I'm interested in your impressions on how the LX did, being that it had stock suspension..?
Its been always a pleasure to read a good report by someone else, thus I try to do a fair job sharing my own trips/builds.

IMHO, LX did very good, considering that its all stock. At times the suspension reminded of itself that its probably at its max payload, sometimes gauge on the dash would show that its in neutral level, while it was in the high (considering that I tried to rise it), thus I'm hoping to try next is the rear airbags in the springs, which should fix the "overload" issue. If that doesnt help, than probably suspension will fall on the list of following mods, along with re-gear and a rear locker.

Overall - vehicle is great, driver/passenger fatigue is as low as I've experienced, other than may be in my previous LR3, which I loved, but could never get over the subconscious feeling of LR3 not being reliable enough to my liking.
 

mattiep11

Adventurer
Dont u just love the san juans.. i'm so glad u got to experience it.. next time your around shoot me a pm we can do a trail ride... ive got some great spots for camping u probably drove past on your way through from paradox...check out some of my pics in my albums of the region
 

Nikson

Explorer
Dont u just love the san juans.. i'm so glad u got to experience it.. next time your around shoot me a pm we can do a trail ride... ive got some great spots for camping u probably drove past on your way through from paradox...check out some of my pics in my albums of the region
Yeah, loved them more than expected... :)

At this time planning to return in couple of years for sure, would love to have a local guide!

Excellent. Thanks for sharing.
Always pleasure
 

tabraha

Observer
The San Juans are indeed highly addictive. Match up the scenery with the ride quality/capability of a 100 series and it is a combination that makes it hard to leave. We did not want to make the return trip last summer after doing a very similar run through there. If you want to do a return trip with a local guide I would highly suggest the 100's in The Hills event. Don't know if we will make the event next year or not but I am starting to peak I to next summer already and do some return trip planning...
 

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Nikson

Explorer
The San Juans are indeed highly addictive. Match up the scenery with the ride quality/capability of a 100 series and it is a combination that makes it hard to leave. We did not want to make the return trip last summer after doing a very similar run through there. If you want to do a return trip with a local guide I would highly suggest the 100's in The Hills event. Don't know if we will make the event next year or not but I am starting to peak I to next summer already and do some return trip planning...
Yes, hard to not want to come back... :)
 

pmatusov

AK6PM
Great photos and report! I feel bad for not taking time to compile a video of our last year's trip to the same parts of the country.
 
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