What is Avantoberfest? It started as an east coast event for Audi enthusiasts, mostly for avant owners, but was never really limited to just the 5th door kind.
This year marked the 5th annual Avantoberfest; Neil, the event founder, approached me about adding a Rocky Mountain addition to the event. I was thrilled because I know that here in Colorado, we have some of the best sites and roads of any place in the US. I knew immediately where our route would take us: the southwest corner of Colorado. Why you might ask? Because some of the best views and roads are nestled far from the mainstream of the front range. I had only been once prior and it was a quick day trip, but it left a lasting impression that I knew others would enjoy just as much as I did.
I looked at a map and plotted a course that involved a scenic drive to Durango utilizing some of the less traveled, more adventurous roads. Our route took us behind Aspen, over McClure pass dropping us into Delta where we linked up with the main highway that takes you into the San Juans. I think it’s safe to say that our drive from Carbondale to McClure pass was probably the most amazing stretch of road to view the fall colors in all their glory. The gold of the aspen trees, the green grass on the valley floor, the blue waters of the crystal river, the red rocks climbing up the valley walls until they reached the freshly snow capped peaks that towered above us, all set to the bluebird backdrop of the Colorado sky.
We made a stop on McClure pass to bask in all of the colors and grab a few photos. From there we continued on our journey which lead us to one of the most amazing stretches of road. What lie ahead was a 30 mile stretch of road filled with some of the best twists and turns and spectacular views. I’ll admit, we were all feeling the itch of a heavy foot to plow through this magnificent road, but we were held back by sight seeing road goers who didn’t share our enthusiasm to test the limits of this magnificent road.
From there we linked up with highway 50 which took us to Ridgway. Once arriving into Ridgway, the San Juans really show their presence. As far as you can see they rise very dramatically out of the ground; the sheer cliff walls of Cimarron Ridge and the dramatic peaks of the Dallas divide directly in front of you; the San Juans have a presence like no other range in Colorado; their ruggedness and size rival that of the Tetons.
Once we arrived in Ouray, a local from Cortez joined us for the remainder of our drive into Durango. Ahead was the Million Dollar Highway. I had only been as far as the Ouray overlook, but never beyond that. I have seen photos and even did Google street view through stretches of this road, but nothing can prepare or express the raw beauty and terror of this road. It’s a two lane ribbon of asphalt that runs through the heart of the San Juans; tunnels carved out of the mountains, drops that will leave you falling for weeks, no guard rails, no barriers, just a stretch of road carved out of the mountain side. Needless to say, the radios went quiet and we were all rather humble for the next 15 minutes until we reached the valley floor. There we were able to see some of the old heritage of the mining era of Colorado; abandoned mines, ghost towns of a time forgotten, reminding you of the hardships people once endured in this region. It’s a humbling feeling to consider the conditions people once lived under to make a living; a reminder that the modern day isn’t so bad after all.
We arrived in Silverton; it was like coming out of a time warp
We arrived in Silverton; it was like coming out of a time warp, being transported back to the mining days. The town sits on a valley floor with the surrounding mountains towering overhead in every direction. I wish we had more time to spend in Silverton, but we were losing daylight and we wanted to hit Molas Pass before the sun went down.
Molas Pass was about 10 miles outside of Silverton en route to Durango. I’ve seen photos of this area; there’s a stretch of mountains known as The Grenadiers in this area which I have always wanted to see. From the highway you can see them and they have a striking resemblance to the Tetons; very steep, pointy and rugged. We made a stop at the summit of the pass…let start by saying, it was freezing cold. The light was fading and the parking wasn’t ideal for photos, but I made use of what I could and moved over to get some shots. I think the best photos were captured by Jace at this moment. The photos I think are a tell tale of what we sought out for; breathtaking views of the state we call home as our background and an automobile in the foreground that expresses the passion we have as enthusiasts.
The remainder of the drive to Durango was dark and by this point we all wanted to get to the condos. Everyone was tired and hungry, so we just drove. It was a tad confusing getting to the condos, and it didn’t help any that we were split into 3 groups at one point due to traffic coming into Durango. Eventually we made it, took time to get situated and then headed to the Steamworks Brewery for some refreshing beverages and food. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking there isn’t much going on in a small town so far off the beaten path, but like me, you’d be wrong. The place was pretty busy and there was a variety of personalities. I guess it makes sense considering its the biggest town for probably a million miles and it is in fact a college town. After dinner the night wound down, unless of course you were staying in a condo with Sowers and his cheap tequila, then the night continued on into the wee hours.
The following morning we rallied at the local supermarket. The main Starbucks was under renovation so the coffee drinkers had to utilize the Starbucks inside the Albertsons. Everyone hung out and discussed the plan for the day. The majority of the group wanted to get back to the front range and opted to take the more direct route while 3 of us decided to continue on course of the original plan and head to Telluride. Only 3 remain, the 3 amigos if you will.
Now clearly I cannot comment on the drive via 285, but I can tell you about the magnificence of the drive to Telluride. From Durango to Dolores the landscape is that of movie set on some foreign planet, deserted and desolate. It’s beautiful in its own unique way.
From Durango to Dolores the landscape is that of movie set on some foreign planet, deserted and desolate.
That all changes when you get into Dolores. Green starts to appear and the colors of fall return with gold and red leaves. Aside from a few details, I actually felt like I was on a country drive back home in Wisconsin; the trees canopying the road, the river following you, the green of the farm fields, it was spectacular to see and gave me a feeling of serenity. Most of the drive is through a canyon with hillsides surrounding you rather than towering mountains. I had a stupid smile on my face the entire drive as it was just a peaceful, beautiful place to be allowing you to shut off reality for a bit and live in the moment.
Eventually the valley starts to open, the road starts to climb and the mountains reappear. This section of the San Juans is a little different in its appearance to what we saw the day before, the peaks are more resembling of some of the desert landscape we saw outside of Dolores, but on a grander scale. The road continues to climb as you approach lizard head pass, the higher we climbed the more San Juans appeared. I can’t really express the presence they have; they are very different and much more dramatic compared to anything else I have seen on my adventures around Colorado.
At this point of the drive we were hugging the western border of the San Juans. Lizard head pass isn’t very dramatic in terms of the road, but is in terms of the views. As we got closer to Telluride, we became more engulfed by the mountains around us, growing taller and becoming more dramatic with each mile of road we cover. We made a stop at Trout Lake, located just south of Telluride. Sadly, the lake appeared to be under a cleaning project so it wasn’t as beautiful as it could have been, but it did not disappoint with the views surrounding the lake.
Our drive continued to deliver with breathtaking views as we approached the town of Ophir. At the time, I did not realize we were this close to Ophir. To try my best at an description of the scene…the road is draped in trees, the backside of the Mt Wilson massif lie ahead, the mountains around roll up to the sky. You come around a bend and out of the ground rises a gigantic spire; pointy rocks sticking straight out of the ground, the shadows casting down upon you..it made me think of the Dolomites in northern Italy. We pulled off just up the road to get some photos. To our west was a valley that separated Mt Wilson from the mountains we were on, aspen trees climbing high into the sky covered the majority of the valley floor; to the east, mountains casting their shadow on us. That’s when we realized just how much bigger things are in the San Juans; everything around us seemed so much larger.
We made one more stop before getting into Telluride. There’s an overlook of the Mt Wilson massif that we stopped at briefly to get some photos before heading to town. The drive into Telluride brings you down from the plateau above and drops you into the valley in which the town lies. Telluride is in a box canyon, as you drive in you become surrounded by steep, rugged, rocky mountains. The majority of the ski resort is above you, but the actual town is in the valley. It has a very similar feel to Aspen, but without the Hollywood glitz and glamour. It’s an old mountain town still rich in heritage, but transformed to fit the modern day. It’s quiet in comparison to places like Breckenridge or Aspen, but by no means is it a ghost town. People were still out and about, patios filled with people enjoying the local food and fresh mountain air. It was relaxing to be in such a magnificent place, surrounded by other people, but not overwhelming like the towns off of I-70.
We grabbed some lunch and then walked around town for a bit, taking in the sites. It was peaceful; the changing of colors, the new snow on the high peaks, the leaves on the ground, the sunshine overhead. I think the three of us were in a bit of a trance with how picture perfect the day was. After walking around town for an hour or so, we split up one last time as 2 of us were ready to put a close on this adventurous weekend.
We said our goodbyes and hit the road back to reality, but we had one more planned stop. As you approach Ridgway there’s a parking area with a spectacular view of the Dallas divide; we stopped to grab some photos and take in the view one last time. From there it was just driving towards Grand Junction where we’d connect with I-70. The highlight of the remainder of the drive was the section from Grand Junction to Gypsyum; it follows the Colorado river through some canyons and is littered with high speed corners…definitely a must for some spectacular highway driving.