Chinaman's Gulch [eventually], Colorado USA
I joined the Solihull Society for this trip which took place on Saturday 1st June 2002. This trail is located just outside of a small town called Buena Vista, which is approximately 2 1/2 hours drive south of Denver. To get to the start of the trail, we actually had to travel through the Buena Vista prison property. Luckily I had left my stripped clothing at home so no one stopped us.
This trail is not noted in any of the local 4WDrive books. It is described on the internet by Cosports as a fun drive with the majority of difficulty coming from some really tight spots overhung by trees requiring an external spotter and some large rocks requiring additional ground clearance above standard.
Those participating on the trip were:
Mark Handlovich 2000 Wrangler 2001 Trip Leader
James & Naomi Shackelford 1995 Discovery
Sean Gorman [el presedente] & Josh Lipsy 1994 Defender 90
Mark Stolte with girls Taylor & Alison 1997 Defender 90
Scott & Tracy Launer 1997 Defender 90
Pat & Lurlie Bickford 1997 Defender 90
Norman Hall 1988 Range Rover [Yes the oldest car again]
Plus 3 dogs.
The trip for me from home to the starting point was very interesting as I drove down to Colorado Springs and then took Highway 24 across the mountains. On the way over I went through Wilkerson Pass, which has an elevation of 9,507 feet above sea level. To put this in perspective Mount Kosciusko, the highest peak in Australia, is only 2,228 meters or 7,310 feet above sea level. After crossing the Pass I was presented with a spectacular view of the USA equivalent of the Australian High Plains. I passed several ranches, which were farming both bison and several varieties of deer.
All trip participants met at a small town called Johnson Village, which is 2 miles outside of Buena Vista. By the time all had arrived and fueled up it was almost 10 am. The short drive out to the start of the trail was extremely dry and dusty which is to be expected at present due to the severe drought prevalent in Colorado.
Our first ascent on the trail was relatively easy albeit that it was continuous rocks and loose soil along this narrow pathway. This bought us to our first obstacle, a very narrow gap through some 5-foot high boulders, which required gentle use of the throttle, good wheel placement and a spotter outside to ensure that you did not scrape any panels. Fortunately we all passed through with little difficulty. We then proceeded along to a dry river bed [keep this river bed in mind as it becomes very important later on in the day] with our capable leader taking us straight through onward and upward to what the map suggested would be an old mine site.
We drover for a further 10 minutes before an ominous message came over the radio from our trip leader, I think we should all stop as I am not sure that we are going in the right direction. When we all caught up to him he indicated to us on his 6 inch x 6 inch black and white photocopied map where he wanted us to get to. We asked where he thought we were, he was not sure. One of the trip participants bought up his GPS and from that we were able to plot on the map where we were. Mark then breathed a sigh of relief, he was on the right trail and the point he wanted to get to was a few miles further on [again remember this point, it becomes important later on in the trip]. We all proceeded along the trail until we came to a small 2 foot drop off in the middle of the trail which was relatively easy to negotiate with some judicious wheel placement, those who missed heard a large thud come from the rear of their vehicles.
After coming to another intersection that was not marked on the map we drove part way down one of the trail options before reversing and stopping for lunch under a very nice shady tree. This was great relief given that temperatures were over 95 degrees [35 degrees Celsius]. Up till that point we had noticed lots of large quartz chucks all along our route. I was unable to find out why the area was called Chinaman's Gulch, however given that Quartz is usually an indicator of gold, that there were mines in the area and the prevalence of Chinese miners in Gold Mining areas, it is a good bet that the area would have been named after Chinese Gold miners probably from last century.
After lunch we drove around for approximately ½ hour investigating several of the numerous trails in the area. It was decided that we must have missed the correct turnoff for the Chinaman's Gulch Trail and thus we reversed our course back to, you guessed it, that dry riverbed. It appears that the instructions given to our trip leader were incorrect and the trail loop on his map that we had been heading for, with the use of the GPS, was not in fact the correct trail. Once we had found the correct trail it took us down to the edge of a small lake to then allow us to drive up that dry riverbed.
At that time it started to lightly rain. This was a welcome relief until the humidity set in. We drove up the dry riverbed that consisted of a very tight and narrow trail winding in between numerous large trees and over several large boulders. This was easy for the short wheel base vehicles, the longer wheelbases like mine took a little more care. This was where we encountered our first recovery. James in his discovery became cross axled with his front LHS and rear RHS wheels spinning in very soft sandy soil with the undercarriage of his Discovery being caught up. Up until then he had been raving about his newly installed Detroit Locker in the rear axle, obviously good but not unstoppable. A gentle tug by the Jeep was all that was needed to get him moving again.
Further up the trail we came to an obstacle know as the Rock Garden. This obstacle is basically a series of very large boulders over a 30-yard piece of track that challenges vehicle control, wheel placement, undercarriage clearance and ones will power. Even with large tires, twin diff locks and additional clearance it is very easy to get hung up on the rocks and incur panel damage. Luckily for the more sensible amongst us there is a bi-pass of this challenge. All those of us who tried the obstacle were able to get through with relatively little difficulty although the spotting and instructions coming from outside the vehicle were invaluable in ensuring a clear passage. Lots of undercarriage bumping and metal scraping did however occur.
The next obstacle to be overcome was The Waterfall. This is a large rock area, which forms a waterfall when the river is running. There are three ways of approaching it. The left for mad keen lunatics, the middle being the challenging route and the right being the easy route. James was keen to try out his Detroit Locker again so he went first up the center section. After about half a dozen attempts he became stuck unable to maneuver either forward or back. His rear bumper was sitting on the ground and he had no forward traction. I had to drive around and up the easy section and apply a gentle snatch to get him up and over the obstacle. Several others attempted the middle approach in their Defender 90s overcoming it with relative ease. We all then turned around and headed back out to civilization.
We managed to get back to our start point by 5 pm at which time we all went our separate ways. My thanks go to Mark Handlovich for a great day out in the bush and his wife Paula for letting him out for the day. With Fathers day coming up soon in the USA Mark jokingly suggested Paula might like to buy him a GPS. As I come to the conclusion of this I am listening to the local radio station announce a Tornado warning alert to all residents in North eastern Colorado, aren't we lucky back in Australia only to have to put up with Hurricanes and not Tornados. See You in the Bush.