Saturday, July 14, 2012

Uraling to the West End of the Alpine Tunnel

The Alpine Tunnel.  Ever since I'd read about this tunnel, used to get access to the gold mining country in Colorado, first tunnel through the Continental Divide, highest railroad tunnel in the Continental United States according to the US Forest Service...I'd wanted to see it.  Specifically, I wanted to see if I could take a picture of my motorcycle in the spot as this shot I'd found in the Denver Public Library's Photo Archives.

Much more information on this cool tunnel's history here.

I left Gunnison shortly after 6:30 AM after a quick breakfast at the local McDonalds.  Inside of an hour, I'd gone past the small settlement of Parlin off of US50 and had ridden up to the junction with Forest road 839, the route to the Alpine Tunnel.

From the above point, it's ten miles of rather rocky and bumpy dirt road to the vicinity of the Alpine Tunnel Railroad Station Site.  The first four miles weren't too bad, when compared to the other 4x4 roads I'd ridden recently.  Just when I'd gotten comfortable, the rocks got seriously more prolific and much bigger!  

Still, Valencia and I motored on, everything onboard being shaken to include my fillings!  There were no pictures taken on the way up because you have to maintain good forward momentum with your rig or you'll have to start slipping the clutch when it bogs down on the really bad parts.  

Man, those were a long remaining six miles but we finally did manage to make it to the Palisades, the portion of the trail just short of the top where huge rock walls provided the dramatic background to the first picture in this posting.  Here it is again for your comparison between then and now:

Circa 1900-1920
courtesy Denver Public Library

July, 2012

One of the more longer -lasting "then and now" picture subject achieved.  I was the free to continue up to the top to check out what remains of  the train station on the western end of the now closed tunnel opening.

 A wider view

 The road up to the Alpine Tunnel is narrow and winding.  
The slope or grade doesn't exceed 3% though as that's
what the trains of yore were designed to handle.

 The restored Telegraph Building 

 Note the black trailer at the end of the railbed,
I am told the western tunnel opening was just off to the right of it

 To the left, all that remains of the Engine House which used to be able to hold 8 engines.
To the right is another photo of the Telegraph Building.  What you see of the 
rails, is all that remains.

Heading back down, enjoying the views

On the way down, I was stopped to let this big truck come through on its way up.  The driver stops next to me and I got UDF'ed (Ural Delay Factor) for the next 30 minutes at least!  Bob Fulton and I had a nice chat about Valencia, and how its the first sidecar Bob's seen on this road.  Bob also shared with me about the work he's doing for the US Forest Service to stabilize the walls of the Engine House, build some structures to show how the inside of the tunnel is supported and finally the set of signs he's going to install for visitors to get information on the Alpine Tunnel Railroad.

 Above, Bob Fulton alongside Valencia

 Above, a marmot showed up on some rocks near us while we talked.

 Above, you can see the line the road cuts into the side of the mountain.

Restored: a 30,000 gallon water tank used to replenish the steam engines

Once I got going again, it was an easy ride down towards the road to Pitkin/Parlin.  At that point, I made a fateful decision.  I didn't want to retrace my route again back towards US50.  The idea was to to next go to Saint Elmo's an old mining town.

I had the bright idea instead to go back to Pitkin and  take the road to Waunit Pass and Forest Road 887 which would also take me to US50 but by way of the aforementioned pass and Black Sage Pass.  Both passes turned out quite nice but unimpressive.  The roads took me through ranches and farmland with large expanses of Aspen groves.

Then, at the end of Forest Road 887, I turned left when I should have turned right.  The town of White Pine came and went while I sought the town of Sargents which would have meant I was back on US50.  Instead, the road east of White Pine got much narrower, rockier and steeper!  I motored on for a bit, in some of the roughest riding in a very long while then finally stopped when I saw a sign for Tomochi Pass.

Tomochi Pass?  Huh?  I looked where the sign pointed and it was up a very steep hillside covered with what seemed to be just loose boulders and rocks!  No way.  A brief consultation with the map, and I realized my mistake.  Backtracking consumed more time and the huge rainstorm that boiled up from the West wet me down thoroughly.  

By the time I found my bearings and got to US50, I'd lost enough time that St. Elmo's was quite out of the question and still be able to get home before dark!  The continuing rain clouds, lightning and thunder also convinced me that it was probably not the best day to explore a mountain mining town.

I stopped at the summit parking lot of Monarch Pass to try and reach Martha via cellphone but there was no signal up there.  There was instead, pea-sized hail starting to come down:

Quickly, right after this picture, I got back on the road as the hail started to really come down hard.  I was hoping to outrun the storm, but that took some time as I got stuck going downhill behind this semi-truck going slow.  Man, that hail stung when it hit my gloved hands or the parts of my riding gear that weren't armored.

Finally, we left the storm behind and I stopped at the gas station near the junction of US50 and US285.  Not that far behind me though, was the storm Valencia and I had just outrun:

Looking west along US50, where we'd just come from

I took US285 North, now heading towards Buena Vista.  The incoming storm was in the process of obscuring the Collegiate Peaks to the west of the road:

 Rain clouds over the Collegiate Peaks

Rain -shrouded Mount Princeton

As you can see, it was quite rainy and overcast, not the best picture taking conditions.  I elected at this point to simply head home, which was about three hours away on US285.  I made it home by 5:00PM, having been delayed by one accident where some cager had flipped his car on the side of the road.  The local fire department had the highway blocked while they did cleanup.  Rain, people around here just don't know how to handle it or drive safely in it apparently.

Update: Video of Alpine Tunnel added:


SonjaM said...

Sounds like quite the adventure you had there. I doubt that I would ever go up that road. My off road skills are just too limited.
But I thoroughly enjoy that you are going where I can't ;-)

I love the then and now pictures. Looks like time doesn't matter.

Funny you got lost (and kudos to admitting it). Most chaps would just say they took a detour to do some more exploring ;-)

redlegsrides said...

Hi Sonja

you'd be fine, but probably need something other than the HD or the Scooters.....

As to admitting getting lost, I am secure enough in my manhood for that.... did it enough in the Army....

redlegsrides said...

Video added.

SonjaM said...

As for the "something other than the HD..." I am working on that.

Very fitting song title. Clenched teeth is what I would have going there.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Please excuse my absence for a bit. (Reasons stated in the above blog episode.)

Now this was my idea of a pleasant death-defying ride. I noted the marmot posing next to an orange reflector. Are these roads open to the public at night? I can't imagine doing this in the rain.

What happened to the tunnel? You know how I get about all things trains. I expected you'd ride the Ural through the tunnel. I loved this video. Was there water in the old tank or the steam engines?

I loved this ride report. The news I got last week is that I will not be riding for a year. I could scream.

Thanks for your support of my latest literary project.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

BeemerGirl said...

I love exploring places like this! Thanks for taking me there in spirit.

I was on a mountain road similar to this a couple days ago. Though mine was mostly paved and had grades much steeper than 3%. Still, no guardrails and plenty of vertical drops. Blech!

redlegsrides said...

Hagerman Pass proved scarier....

redlegsrides said...

Jack, no water in the tank....the tunnel had several accidents and in the end, both openings were sealed by landslides....there's probably a fortune in redwood supports inside....rotting away.

redlegsrides said...

You gotta get over this no rails preventing you from plummeting thousands of feet down to a fiery death....come visit Colorado with your hubby....we can get you used to seizing no guard rails.....