Day 10: Road Trip in the Time of Covid
Animas Forks Ghost Town > Moab, Utah
Today, I did something dumb. In my defense...I had done this exact same thing 15 years prior and it was fine. I think. At least I don’t remember it being dumb, then.
Here's the story: After two blissful days sitting on the balcony of my favorite Silverton hotel, I was refreshed and ready for adventure once again. I got more adventure than I bargained for. All's well that ends well, so thankfully, this is not a tragic tale, just an I'm-not-doing-that-again anecdote.
The plan for the day was to explore Animas Forks ghost town before driving back to Utah to spend the night in Moab.
Now, remember, I started my travel career as a camping guide. I have driven a fully loaded Trek America passenger van on the same road from Silverton to Animas Forks. A couple times, in fact. I would not have done it more than once if it wasn't safe the first time. So, either my memory is faulty or the road conditions on Route 2 have significantly deteriorated in the last 15 years.
When I was planning my drive, I noted online that two-wheel drive cars were not recommended, but “the internet” said it could be done. I grew up around gravel roads, so I wasn’t too intimidated at the prospect of driving a slow, 25 miles an hour up a bumpy unpaved road.
Route 2 started fine, typical gravel road; but then I came to the sign stating two-wheel cars and low clearance vehicles were not recommended. My Honda Fit has the scars to prove her “low clearance” status - the front bumper is permanently out of alignment due to my condo’s steep driveway. The sign gave me pause...but then I remembered “the internet” said it could be done. And more importantly, I HAD done it several times in the past.
So, up the mountain I went. The road quickly started getting rougher...and narrower. I was going up in elevation 2000 feet in 12 miles, so the cliffs on the side of the zig-zagging road also got steeper. Soon, the “gravel” started to become “rock chunks.” After about 15 minutes, I knew I had made a mistake, but it wasn’t like there was any place to reasonably turn around. And the thought kept repeating itself: I HAD done this before. The further along I went, a new mantra started: "In for a penny, in for a pound." I had already gotten this far, how much worse could it get…
Then the potholes started. I literally crawled up that mountain at six miles an hour - weaving and dodging potholes and mini boulders with the deftness of a Heisman Trophy winner. For the most part. I’ll admit, there was the occasional cringe-inducing crunch as my undercarriage met Jesus.
Since I was going at a snail’s pace, I did try to pull to a stop on the side of the cliff to let other vehicles squeeze by me. You know, vehicles like Jeeps, ATVs, and pickup trucks packing Hemis. Each and everyone of them did a rubber-neck out their window with a concerned expression, trying to figure out what this idiot Honda Fit thought she was doing. So, I just gave gave them a big, toothy smile and gaily waved like a demented person. At that, they’d usually give a relieved smile back and a small shake of their head. I did get a couple thumbs up, so I took that as a gesture of you-can-do-it-girl!
Once I finally arrived with white knuckles and a powerful need for a drink, I had a lovely time exploring the old mining town of Animas Forks. It’s really just a collection of dilapidated wooden buildings and a crumbling mill. The town began in the 1870s and lasted until the 1920s before being abandoned when mines in the area lost profitability. At its heyday, it boasted 450 residents and had its own newspaper.
The scenery was simply stunning. Now that I wasn’t stressed to the max, I could sit and soak up the atmosphere. I took my chair to one of the house’s porches and made myself a picnic lunch.
I finally decided I'd put off the inevitable long enough - I had to return the way I came. Actually, I did have a choice since Route 2 is a loop, but I decided I should choose the devil (road) I knew.
Before I left, I took a picture of the parking lot. One of these is not like the others.
The way back was no better, the downward momentum of the car seemed to make things a little tricker. At one point, I hit a big stone right in the middle of my undercarriage, and I couldn’t go forward. I sat there for a panicked moment and thought, “Great! Now I’ve beached myself.” Turns out, my foot was holding down the brake and my frazzled brain didn’t realize it.
When I finally got back to Silverton, I heaved a sigh of relief and promised my poor baby I would never put her through something like that, again. What I should have done (and what I will do the next time I'm in the area), is rent one of the many off-road vehicles offered in town. There looked like a bunch of different trails to explore back up in that part of the Rockies.
My drive to Moab, Utah, took me on an amazing scenic journey. I did a little more of the San Juan Scenic Byway which included Colorado Highway 62. There was a particular vista I remember from the last time I was in the region, but I couldn’t quite remember where. I sure knew it when I found it, though! It is an overlook not far from the turn off for Telluride Ski Resort. I am officially declaring it to be my second favorite view of the Rocky Mountains. (No. 1 is coming up at the Grand Tetons.)
Of course, I had to pull out, pop the hatchback, and take in the moment. I decided to do a time lapse video since the fluffy clouds were making shadows dance across the landscape.
Once I got back on the road, the gray granite of the Rockies changed back into the red rock landscape of the Colorado Plateau which covers large sections of Utah and Arizona.
My sunset location was an amazing ranch about 15 miles from Moab: Red Cliffs Lodge. I occasionally stay at the resort while guiding. The restaurant overlooks the Colorado River and a collection of stunning red rock buttes as the sun is setting - it’s one of my favorite places to stay just for that view. My plan was to record the video from their balcony while I had a nice sit-down steak dinner, but apparently business was so booming I couldn’t get in without a reservation. This is typical during a regular season, but I didn’t anticipate it during a pandemic.
Speaking of which...I soon noticed a Utah trend which hadn’t been happening in Arizona and Colorado: very few people were wearing face masks. I would estimate that only about 5% of cashiers, residents, and tourists were bothering to wear them. Arizona and Colorado had been more like 90%. In fact, I saw a few very defiant signs (lots of exclamation points) in windows of gas stations and stores claiming that masks were not required. One place in Hanksville even FORBID people from wearing protective gloves due to “risk of contamination.” What. The. What? I decided to get gas and snacks somewhere else. (I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get a photo of that sign - it was just so disturbing.)
Back to Red Cliffs Lodge...fortunately, they have a wedding platform with the same sunset view across the lawn from the restaurant, so I took my chair and made myself a picnic supper as I enjoyed a stunning display of nature.
I would have tried stealth camping at Red Cliffs, but I didn’t have any cell reception and their WIFI is dismal, so I drove back to Moab to car-camp in the parking lot of a hotel.