Friday, August 6, 2010

Crossing the Unitas and Douglas Pass on Colorado 139, OH MY

It was time to go to Colorado and visit our friends George and Val. They have a hay ranch on Fruitland Mesa, near Crawford, Colorado and it looked like an easy drive with a mountain pass or two but no problem, right? After all the truckers atlas showed the route aa a truckers route and it had some squiggles on the map but still no problemo.
However the first pass on US 191 wasn't quite the pass I expected and when we saw the sign stating ten switchbacks and an eight to nine percent downgrade I started to wonder about my wisdom.
I shifted into low gear and prepared ourselves for the descent. After all we had been over lots of passes before and this couldn't be too bad, right? Notice my second use of the word right.
The pass was so steep that I actually had to use our brakes more then the usual two or three times as the truck kept wanting to pick up speed down the pass, The state of Utah had actually put up signs at each switchback telling drivers how many remained.
I wasn't quite as careful as I should have been and the transmission heated up. I actually had to pull over, luckily there was a place big enough for our rig, and let it cool down for awhile. It was something I hadn't done in quite a while the last time during our first year on the road when I misjudged our speed going down South Pass in the Wyoming Wind Rivers.
We finally made the last switchback and everything was cool so I relaxed as we arrived in Vernal Utah. From there we turned east on 40 and then south onto Colorado 139. We both relaxed, whew.
A sign appeared that said open range and we braked to keep some cows from causing permanent damage to our rig. Soon the narrow road started to gain in elevation as we took the first switchback and then another and another. Rocks lay strewn alongside the road as we passed signs warning of rock fall and in one place huge towers of sandstone stood ready to end someones journey, or at least block the road.
Renita keep telling me how beautiful it was as I kept my eyes glued to the road. Theres nothing more disgusting then your navigator telling about the beautiful scenry as you use all your wit and skill to keep your rig from hurtling over a thousand foot drop. Its not a road for flatlanders or first time mountain drivers and I took hairpin after hairpin, some as slow as fifteen miles per hour, the posted speed!
Trucks passed, all going in the opposite way, and so we knew the road was ok for us as if a truck can travel it we can and so we finally reached the top of Douglas Pass and started down the other side towards Grand Junction, Colorado.
The road snaked down the mountainside, reminding me of our drive as we crossed the Sierras and drove to Yosemite Valley. Switchback after switchback after switchback, some so sharp that I watched trucks go wide to miss the rocks and keep from wiping out another vehicle going the other way.
Again I babied our rig down the mountain and we soon gave up any attempt to count the number of switchbacks. I felt pretty good about it all as I kept the temperature down enough so we didn't have to stop for cooling and we finally reached the bottom of the pass and then Grand Junction.
The rest of the drive to George and Vals was uneventful. I told myself that any pass I would see in the future couldn't possible be any more fun to drive then Douglas Pass. It was a beautiful drive through gorgeous scenery but it definitely is not for the faint of heart. Would I take it again? To that I would probably say yes, but not this year as we will find another way to head back to the Bighorns, our next goal. Clear skies.

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