Archive for the Colorado Category

ILX Colorado Trip Day 1: Scottsdale to Denver

Posted in Colorado, ILX, Road Trip on July 22, 2013 by tysonhugie

Odometer (ILX):  47,142


Total Trip Distance:  1,941 Miles

Daily Distance:  903 Miles


Hold your breath.  I’m about to take you on a high-adventure ride to some elevations where oxygen is in short supply.  Last Friday, I took flight in my 2013 Acura ILX to head for the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado.  My goal was to push my car to extreme elevations and to experience the inspiring scenery of the Rockies.

I’ll share this trip write-up in a 3-part series.


Just 3 hours northeast of the Phoenix area lies a meteor crater that was formed an estimated 50,000 years ago.  If it weren’t for the multiple signs along Interstate 40 trying to lure drivers in, I probably wouldn’t have even known it existed.  I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a look at what the billboards stated was the “best preserved impact site on earth.”  A $16 entry fee later, I was standing at the rim of a 4,000-foot-wide hole in the ground.


And here’s what that looks like from overhead (thanks Wikipedia):


Mining engineer and businessman Daniel Barringer spent decades in the early 1900’s trying to find the meteor that created this gigantic impact site, to no avail.  It was originally thought that the meteorite would be buried directly beneath the center of the crater.  Drilling projects were unsuccessful.  It is currently believed that the meteor vaporized upon impact.  Only small fragments remain.  As the sign at the entrance to the site indicates, the meteor was traveling an estimated 26,000 miles per hour.


My next pit stop satisfied an intense craving for a Taco Bell crunch wrap supreme at 10:30 in the morning in Holbrook, Arizona (breakfast of champions!).  I had an interesting conversation with a guy named David in a blue Subaru WRX as I was fueling up.  “Is that the new Acura?” he asked.  I told him that yes, this was a new model.  “That looks really sharp!” he said.  After telling him a little more about my story with the car, “I’m sure glad you got the 6-speed.”  I am too.

While in Holbrook, I drove through town on what was formerly part of Route 66.  There are a number of establishments that carry on the Route 66 style.  I especially enjoyed “Empty Pockets” Saloon.


Sahara Inn.  I thought for sure this place was long-since closed, but a look on Trip Advisor reveals that it’s still in business.  It’s rated #15 out of 18 hotels in Holbrook, though.  Be advised!


Holbrook is only about 70 miles from the New Mexico state line, and that was my next destination.  The Zuni Indian Reservation straddles the border and there are tourist traps advertising $7.99 “authentic Indian” blankets and $10 phone cards all over the place.  Does anyone still use phone cards?  The scenery can’t be beat, though.


I’ve stopped here a number of times already, but it just seems appropriate to commemorate my entrance to the “Land of Enchantment” every time I pass this sign on Interstate 40.


Gallup, New Mexico shares that same Route 66 DNA with Holbrook, so again we see some run-down relics of what may have at one time been really nice motels.  Desert Skies has a rate of $25/night.  Bargain basement rates.


I didn’t linger long enough to learn what kind of things “Zuni Fetishes Direct” sells.


But just ahead, I pulled the ILX into the historic 1937 El Rancho Hotel.  El Rancho’s claim to fame is that over the years, it has hosted such famous guests as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Katherine Hepburn.


Though the Interstate 40 bypass of Route 66 cost El Rancho some business, a renovation effort has again made it an attractive place to stay.  A vintage postcard shows the hotel in its original glory.


“The Charm of Yesterday; The Convenience of Tomorrow” is still the motto today.  Surprisingly little has changed from an appearance perspective in El Rancho’s 76 years of existence.


Eastward Ho to Albuquerque we go, then north on Interstate 25 toward Santa Fe.  ABQ marked the halfway point for this drive.  I took the opportunity to stretch my legs, fuel up the ILX with some premium fuel, and take a bathroom break at the Flying J service station.


The high desert pines of Santa Fe give way to some open grassland in northern New Mexico.  I breezed through Las Vegas without even deactivating my cruise control in 6th gear.  Unlike the Las Vegas in Nevada, this one doesn’t offer much to see.  Well, except for 27 “modern” gas stations and 34 restaurants, per the blue sign at the south entrance to town.  I’ve always been intrigued with how New Mexico provides these types of stats for each town.


  • Cotton Eye Joe – Rednex
  • Tubthumping – Chumbawamba

Anyone remember such classics?  I listened to volumes 1 through 4 of JOCK JAMS to get me through northern New Mexico.  I’ve had these CDs for 15 years, but they still get the blood pumping every time.


As I neared the NM / CO state line, storm clouds descended but I saw that Denver finally was a mere 250 miles away.


Thanks to the random travelers who took my picture with the Colorado entrance sign.


I was driving the wrong car for this particular picture, but I still felt it worth a stop.


Sunset on I-25 as I roll through Castle Rock, Colorado northbound.


And finally, reunited with my friend Jason as we’re about to embark on our 4th road trip together.  Jason and I have met up a number of times in the past, for trips to Bisbee, White Sands, and Sedona.  He made the trip from Las Cruces, New Mexico in his 2004 Honda Accord EX coupe 6-speed.


The next day was when we REALLY started having fun.  More on that soon!

By the way, did anyone else see the 401,000 mile 1988 Acura Legend sedan that ran on Ebay last week?  Not too shabby!


Million Dollar Highway Day 3: Chinle to Scottsdale

Posted in Colorado, ILX, Road Trip on May 29, 2013 by tysonhugie

Daily Distance:  287 Miles


Almost home!  Welcome to Part III of my trip write-up about my Memorial Day 2013 travels to southwestern Colorado in the Acura ILX, totaling nearly 1,300 miles over the 3-day weekend.

Monday morning, I took my time getting up and about at my hotel in Chinle, Arizona (pronounced chin-lee).  The name itself is derived from a Navajo term that means “flowing out,” since this location is where the water comes out of the adjacent canyon. One point of notable historical significance is that Chinle was the location of the 1864 peace conference between the Navajo people and Kit Carson that ended the war between the Navajo tribe and the United States.

These old phone booths are an indication of just how behind the times this community is.  It all appeared pretty run-down during my brief drive through.


Just a little bit out of town on Highway 191, I saw a small one-lane dirt road leading off to the east.  As I got closer, I noticed that the sign said this road would lead to the town’s cemetery.  Since it was Memorial Day, I saw it fitting that I should go.

Notice, the south side of the sign said “Cemetery.”


And the north side of the sign spelled it “Cemetary.”  This sign was clearly confused.


Here’s what the road looked like.  It seemed to lead off into the middle of nowhere.  I was careful not to take things too quickly in my ILX and road conditions were pretty good considering it was a dirt path.


Probably 2 miles down the road, I got to the location of the cemetery.  There is a dirt mound for each gravesite, but at this point I’m not clear on whether that means the bodies are buried above ground or below.


I took a few minutes to pay my respects.


I can see why the Navajo nation has selected this place for its graveyard.  It is very remote, secluded, and quiet.  There was a very peaceful feeling about it.


Back on my way I go.


Loved this picture which captures the lines of the ILX in front of a picturesque background.


The only other picture I took on the way home was at a (closed / abandoned) trading post called Bita Hochee.


In the 730 miles since I reset the car on Sunday morning, the ILX achieved 38.6 miles per gallon.


Here’s a 5-minute, 40-second video which captures the entire 25-mile drive from Silverton to Ouray, Colorado in a speed that’ll give you motion sickness if you watch the screen too closely.  Watch at your own risk!

ANDDD, after all of that, I’d say it was time for a car wash.


I decided an at-home wash job was not going to suffice, so I spent $2 at the local coin-op car high-pressure station.





Squeaky clean.


I took a few moments to wipe down the interior and all-weather floor mats, too.


It cleans up pretty nicely for having about 40,000 miles on it already.  This week I also made an upgrade to the license plate lighting.  At left is the new LED bulb; on the right is the stock bulb.  The car definitely now has a more upscale look to it at night.


Thought I’d share this messy page from my day planner.  This started out as my list of “to-see” driving destinations for 2013.  Notice how many of them I’ve already crossed off.  And the list continues to grow.


Thanks for coming along!

Million Dollar Highway Day 2: Durango to Chinle

Posted in Colorado, ILX, Road Trip on May 28, 2013 by tysonhugie

Daily Distance:  443 Miles


Welcome back!  This is Part 2 of 3 in my write-up about this past weekend’s Memorial Day trip to Colorado in the ILX.  Part 1 is here.

Sunday morning, I woke up to crisp temperatures in the mid 30’s Fahrenheit and bright blue skies in Durango, Colorado.  It was a perfect day to enjoy the great outdoors on some of the most famous “driving roads” in the country with my mom and my step-dad.


We left behind my mom’s 2003 Lexus GS430 in favor of my 2013 Acura ILX.


Fueled up and ready to rock & roll, we headed northbound on U.S. Highway 550.


I took the opportunity just a few miles up the road to attach my GoPro Hero3 video camera to the roof of the car.  You’ll see the video footage from this at a later date – I’m thrilled with how it turned out.


Our first stop was just about 20 miles up the road.  Silverton is a beautiful community at a striking 9,300 foot elevation.  I could really start to feel the effect of the thin air as I powered my way up the mountains to get there.  Winters are so harsh here that many of the business are only open for 6 months of the year:  from the first part of May until the end of October.


Total land area of the town itself is only .8 square miles.


A Jeep excursion company offers summertime recreation to visitors who come to this area.


We parked the ILX and took some time to walk around and enjoy the cool weather and unique shopping opportunities.


There are about 600 brave residents who call this place home year-round.


A trip to Silverton wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of shopping for silver.  We stepped into this store to have a look at the selection.  The sign on the black door of the safe behind the employee in this picture says:  “Yes, this was a bank from 1882 to 1939.  No, it was never robbed.”


Colorfully-painted buildings line the main road, called Greene Street.


The below “Railroad Art” store is for sale for $85,000 if any of my readers are entrepreneurs who’d like to invest!  Silverton is one of the hubs to the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad so the railroad industry is one of the most important sources of income for this small community.


Don’t get too comfortable on that park bench, mom; we’ve got places to go!


Your eyes don’t deceive you; that’s a 4×4, lifted red Checker taxi cab parked outside Ortega’s Old Town Indian Store.


Let’s get this show on the road, I say!


The Million Dollar Highway officially starts in Silverton and goes 25 miles north to Ouray.  It’s part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway.  From Wiki:

Though the entire stretch has been called the Million Dollar Highway, it is really the twelve miles (19 km) south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass which gains the highway its name. This stretch through the gorge is challenging and potentially hazardous to drive; it is characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and a lack of guardrails; the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic—many cut directly into the sides of mountains.

My eyes were open wide for the amazing scenery that we’d soon be experiencing.


The twisties were endless.  I’m afraid to think of what the road conditions would be like in any kind of inclement weather.  The sport-tuned suspension on the Acura ILX made light work of the hairpins.


And we all enjoyed the Colorado sunshine streaming through the moonroof.


The Million Dollar Highway as we see it today was completed in 1924, but it dates back to 1883 when it was constructed as a toll road.  The origin of the road’s name is not known for sure, though two one idea is that it cost $1 million per mile in the early 1920’s to build the road, and another idea is that the fill dirt that was used during construction contains $1 million in gold ore.

Hang on!


At one area on the road, a concrete “overpass” of sorts has been built to keep avalanches from wiping out the highway.  We drove underneath it and continued on our way.


Here’s where the road really started to show its character.


This is an honest-to-goodness white knuckler.  No guard rail, narrow lanes, and a steep drop-off on one side.


In one of the rare places where there was a shoulder wide enough to pull off the road, I shot a picture of the car.


Look for mom’s “peace sign” hand gesture out the moonroof.


The only tunnel along the MDH is this short one.


Another small mining town awaited us a few miles north.  Here we’re entering Ouray, Colorado:  Elevation 7,706 feet.


I love the architecture of these old towns.  It feels like taking a step back in time to pass through them.  Prospectors first arrived here in 1875.  The town was named after a chief of the Ute Indian tribe that was native to the area.


This type of scenery is unlike anything else in the country.  Ouray’s economy is based on tourism as the town is referred to as the “Switzerland of America.”  It’s boxed in on 3.5 sides by steep mountains.  I also learned that this place is the winter ice-climbing capital of the United States.


Candid shot by mom.  Get that camera out of my face!


Panoramic vistas surrounded us as we made our way westbound on Highway 62 in Ridgway, Colorado.


23 miles later, we hooked up with Highway 145 and headed toward our next stop:  Telluride.


Found it!


Telluride, like many of the other small towns in southwestern Colorado, got its start as a mining boom town.  Today it’s a recreation hub for skiers, hikers, and ATVers year-round.  It’s home to just over 2,500 people.  The first ski lift wasn’t installed until 1972.

Traffic was tough to come by along the main road (Colorado Avenue) but we snagged a space and walked around.


In the background of the below picture, a waterfall is clearly visible that cascades from the mountaintop to the valley below.


The layout here looks a lot like Silverton and Ouray, but Telluride boasts a festival of some sort almost every single weekend of the summer.  While we were there, the “Mountainfilm” festival was going on.


Check out those gnarly mountain bike tires!


Lunch was at a place called Maggie’s.  The mushroom & Swiss burger hit the spot!


A sign along Colorado Avenue tells us that the tunnels in the mountains surrounding Telluride would reach from San Francisco to Los Angeles.


One of the main reasons I’d wanted to see Telluride this trip was to check out a place called Bridal Veil Falls.  I learned that a trailhead started at the east end of town, so we headed there on Colorado Avenue. The pavement ended and we continued a bit further.  Soon, though, it became clear that this road would require a high-clearance vehicle, so I parked the car and we hiked.


Spy shot by mom.  Sneaky, sneaky.


Here’s a glimpse at the ILX parking space; the waterfall can also be seen the very far top left edge of the picture.


Quick photo-ops for Todd & Tia.


And one for Tyson.


Just a little ways up the road, a stream crosses the roadway.  I was tempted to dip my feet in but I held back!


Bridal Veil Falls are the tallest free-falling falls in Colorado.  They reach over 360 feet in height. A power plant and a private home sit at the top of the falls.  The power plant was built in 1907 to supply power to a local mine, but it only operated until 1953.  The view must be incredible from up there!


Even from our vantage point probably a mile away, we could still hear the gushing water as the sound echoed off the canyon walls.  We didn’t end up hiking the rest of the steep trail but continued back to the car.


The rest of our return trip to Durango on Highway 145 took us to summits of over 10,000 feet in elevation.


Back at the Durango Mountain Resort, I dropped off my mom and Todd.  I had a bit further to travel to my nightly destination.


Back down the canyon I went.


Back through Durango, Cortez, and descending to the desert, I once again abandoned the green forest and became familiar with the barren landscape of the desert.


At 331.8 miles driven since the start of the day, I noticed that somehow I’d achieved a miraculous 40 miles per gallon.  That’s even better than the ILX hybrid is supposed to get!  It helps that most of the day’s travels were at conservative 35-60 mph in 5th & 6th gear.  But still, I was very impressed!


At the intersection of Highway 160 and Highway 504, I stayed on Highway 160 and headed toward Kayenta.


And as dusk descended, I took Highway 191 south.


This time of day is my absolute favorite time to drive in the desert because of the way the sunset ignites the red sandstone colors.


I pulled over for just a few pictures before I ran out of daylight.



And about 60 miles later, I’d arrived at my hotel in Chinle, Arizona on the Navajo reservation.

Tune in next time for the last day of travels for this Memorial Day escapade!

Million Dollar Highway Day 1: Scottsdale to Durango

Posted in Colorado, ILX, Road Trip on May 27, 2013 by tysonhugie

Odometer (ILX):  39,696


Daily Distance:  465 Miles


A couple of hours ago, I opened the front door at home to a Dish Network salesman whose first question, pointing to the ILX in the driveway, was “What’s with the bug graveyard on the car?”  I told him I’d just gotten back from a 3-day trip to Colorado and he offered to clean the bugs off for $5.  I thanked him, but declined his offer.


Saddle up, pardners.  This weekend’s roughly 1,300-mile trip was so extensive, I’ll be breaking it up into 3 separate blog entries.  It would be a shame to let a holiday weekend go to waste, so I took advantage of the opportunity to get out of town and explore some new territory in a neighboring state.  Ever since I published my post on my Road Bucket List back in September 2012, I’ve been itching to make it to Colorado to check out the so-called Million Dollar Highway.

My drive started out on Saturday morning with an ascent from the Phoenix area to Flagstaff, Arizona via Interstate 17.


In Flag, I headed north on Highway 89 toward Page.


Flagstaff, established in 1882, prides itself for being the “World’s First International Dark Sky City.”  It was designated on October 24, 2001.  Here’s what I’ve learned about the meaning of this title:

The International Dark Sky City designation is given to identify towns and cities “with exceptional commitment to and success in implementing the ideals of dark sky preservation and/or restoration, and their promotion through quality outdoor lighting.

Based on this, my guess would be that Flagstaff is a great place to view constellations!


North of town, I crested a summit and began to drop to the desert valley floor below.


There’s an abandoned stretch of old Highway 89 just to the east of the existing, newer, road.  It’s about 4-5 miles long and it’s still serviceable, though being overgrown by weeds and with flaking paint stripes.


I always like to take this side road because of a small bridge at the north end of it.  It didn’t cost me any extra time since it parallels the other highway and reconnects at the other end.




Cameron, Arizona is a small community located where Highway 89 and Highway 64 intersect.  It’s the gateway to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Gas prices at the local service station were not clearly communicated.  $1.41 for unleaded?  I’ll take it!


I branched east on Highway 160 toward Tuba City, Arizona.  This tall wooden building on the north side of the highway caught my eye, so I pulled over for a closer look.


This appears to be a schoolhouse and it dates back to the late 1800’s.  The town of Tuba City was named after Tuuvi, a Hopi Indian leader. Tuba City was founded in 1872 my members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Tuuvi converted to the LDS religion and various members of the local Indian tribes migrated to the area because of its natural springs.  Inside the schoolhouse, there’s not much left except a place for birds to nest.


Playing around with color contrast makes this an eery place.  I probably wouldn’t go crawling around in there after dark.


I spent most of the remainder of the afternoon continuing through the Indian reservation.  Various roadside attractions dotted the highway, including this Anasazi Inn which backs right up to some magnificent red rocks.


I’d soon be crossing through all 3 of these next milestones.


I’ve said it before, but I absolutely love the color contrast between bright red sandstone rock formations and a blue sky.  Landscapes like these are a great opportunity for pictures.  I can only imagine how awesome this background would look at sunset.


The ILX’s Silver Moon Metallic paint job reflected the sunlight with a glare.  It’s a good thing I was wearing shades.  At 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it was an absolutely perfect day to be out on the road.



Next up:  Four Corners


Open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., the Four Corners Monument is the only place in the United States were visitors may stand (kneel) simultaneously in 4 states at one time.  I was disappointed to learn that this was a cash-only operation ($3), and I didn’t have any on me.  However, I’d already seen this before on a prior trip in the Legend.


The attendant at the booth was nice enough to let me loop around in the ILX and grab a picture in the meantime.


I should’ve left those sunglasses on; that sun was BRIGHT!


Just up the road on Hwy 160, I entered “Colorful Colorado.”  Wouldn’t that sign make a great photo opportunity?


I thought so, too.  But you might’ve noticed that my Michelin tires look awfully messy there.  And that’s because….


…  I got stuck in the sand.  Hopelessly, unmistakably stuck.  What began as an attempt to simply loop around the sign ended in my front end digging itself endlessly into a hole.  By the time I realized what was happening, the quicksand had already done its job.  I pondered next steps.  The Four Corners monument was just 1/2 mile up the road, so I threw on a baseball cap and got ready to hike up the road and ask for help.  Miraculously at that very second, I saw this guy pull in:


A good samaritan saved the day!  This was “Joe,” who’d seen me trying to free the ILX from the sand.  He said he had chains and offered to pull me out.  Talk about timing.  As I helped him get the chain hooked up, I quickly snapped this picture with my phone.  The ILX has a conveniently located tow hook right underneath the rear bumper.


Just minutes later, he’d freed me from the sand and I gave him a hearty handshake and a thank you.  Joe, if you ever read this, I owe you one!  Grateful to be back on my way, I stopped just a moment at the Indian Trading Co just south of Cortez.  There were two classic / matching Ford Thunderbirds sitting on the south side of the building.


Cortez is home to only about 9,000 people.


And one humongous cow.  The now-closed “Purple Sage Rib Company & Saloon” was a great opportunity for a picture.  It reminded me a little of the Longhorn Grill I visited a couple of weeks ago in Amado, Arizona.


Just east of Cortez lies Mesa Verde National Park.  It comprises over 52,000 acres, making it the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.  It is best known for its cliff dwellings that date back to the years 600-1300.  I didn’t pit stop there; I’ll save it for a future trip.


I breezed past this Sinclair gas station on Hwy 160 and noticed a giant orange banner covering the entrance sign.  It read:  TOXIC SITE, and in smaller letters just above that, “Massive Petroleum Spill.”  Yikes.


Soon I arrived at The Hogan Trading Post in Mancos, Colorado — home to one of the coolest roadside attractions I’ve seen.


Massive arrows made out of telephone poles!  These poles have been outfitted with arrowheads and lodged in the ground at an angle.


I happened to stop by at the very moment when the teepee and the poles were being repainted.


I asked the guy, “How are you getting those lines so perfect?”  “Just eyeballing it,” he said.  Impressive!


Mancos is situated in a beautiful green valley. Pictured below on Business Loop 160 through the historic part of town is the Wes Potts Memorial Theatre.  It was originally the Mancos Opera House, dating back to 1910.


Beef:  It’s so satisfying.  Spotted on a building alongside Hwy 160.


I made it!  Entering Durango:  Elevation 6,512 feet.


Here’s where I first saw a sign denoting Hwy 550 – the famed “Million Dollar Highway.”


Main Avenue was bustling with bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and automobile traffic.  Durango’s history dates back to 1881 when it was established by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.  Today, it’s home to fewer than 20,000 people.


One of my favorite buildings was this historic Strater Hotel.  It opened in 1887 and is an example of American Victorian architecture.  Author Louis L’Amour stayed here frequently in room 222 when he was working on his western novels.


Inside, the front desk probably looks a lot like it would have looked back then.  The owners have tried to preserve the historic integrity of the facility, and I say they succeeded brilliantly.  I met up with my mom and step-dad at this time, and we checked the place out.


Adjacent to the hotel lies the Mahogany Grille where we ended up getting dinner.


I went for the pan-seared Salmon, one of several delicious sounding entrees.


Todd, Tia, Tyson


Before sundown, I had a few minutes to wander around town.  At the south end of Main Avenue lies the station for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  Originally put in place to haul ore, it’s now a passenger train line that runs 45 miles between Durango and Silverton.  Someday I’d like to go back and ride this.


As day 1 drew to a close, I headed north 26 miles from Durango to the Durango Mountain Resort.  Steep canyon roads offer plenty of passing lanes, thank goodness.  Cooler temperatures were a relief from the Arizona heat that I’ve been used to.


I entered the San Juan National Forest which covers over 2,900 square miles of western Colorado.


The following day, I’d be experiencing the real adventure.  For that, you’ll have to tune in next time.