With the weirdness of 2020 creating an extra day of Fall Break vacation from school for our kids, we wanted to make sure that we maximized the “adventure’ness” of the brief break from the hustle and bustle of these very memorable times. Thankfully, my father was in town so we recruited him to join us.
The “Alpine Loop” in Colorado has been on our to-do list for quite a while. We had hoped to get there during prime leaf-turning season, but we missed it by a couple of weeks. The views were still amazing and the memories we created as a family are everlasting.
Packing enough gear, winter clothing, and food for five people and four days into a Jeep Gladiator was a huge challenge. Thankfully, we were able to quickly and easily add some additional rooftop storage to the top of the A.T.L.A.S. Rack. Since the rack was designed to be about 1” taller than the top of the cab. I was able to add a Thule roof box to the top. It was a complete life saver. There’s no way we would have been able to make this trip in the JT without it. It was also super convenient to be able to get to anyone’s bag without having to unpack anything else. Simply hop on top of the tire, open the box, and pull out the needed duffel bag. I couldn’t be happier with how the roof box worked out. This particular box is a Thule Motion XT and is a perfect fit for the Gladiator.
Aside from the roof box, we also took three Craftsman plastic totes that lived in the bed of the Gladiator. The boxes fit nicely below the sliding tent platform of the A.T.L.A.S. system. We employed a Dometic CFX 35 fridge to handle the cold food storage needs. I have the fridge connected to a rear 12V plug from ARB12V plug from ARB. That plug is wired to one of the OEM AUX switches. That setup works very well for us. Currently, the fridge is somewhat “free floating” in the bed of the truck. The plastic totes keep it pretty safe, but I am working on a much better way to secure the fridge. Stay posted!
The plan was pretty simple. My dad would get to sleep in the comfy, warm, level, warm, roomy, warm, roof top tent on the sliding A.T.L.A.S. platform. Since the rest of us are more adventure-tested, we would get the ground tents. Kristin and I sleep in a MSR Hubba Hubba backpacking tent which is one of my favorite things on the planet. The kids sleep in a Kelty tent I bought in college and is still going strong. We don these digs pretty often every time we take the JL out camping, so we’re pretty comfortable in these tents. However, my dad clearly had the cushy accommodations with the Overlanding Off-Road roof top tent.
Well, let’s back up a little bit. Day “-1” started with me realizing that we didn’t have enough room in the Gladiator to handle all of the gear we had laid out to take with us. Luckily, I had purchased the aforementioned Thule Motion XT roof box a few days earlier. The original plan for that box was to install it for our events to illustrate the flexibility of the high version of our Gladiator bed rack. So, Day 1 actually kicked off with me heading to the shop early to install the Thule box.
Kristin ended up bringing the fam and remaining gear to the shop so we could leave from there. So, immediately after loading the duffels into the Thule box, we hit the road pointed toward to Colorado with all five of us, lots of gear, food, and good times on the horizon!
After 420 miles and 8 hours of driving, we arrived in Durango, CO. The original plan was to drive all of the way to Silverton, where we would find a camp spot and crash for the evening. Unfortunately, it took longer to get there than we thought. By the time we made it to Durango, it was already dark and approaching 20 degrees. So, instead of driving another hour to Silverton and trying to find a camp spot in the dark, we admitted defeat and snagged a hotel room in Durango.
After a quick night’s sleep, we were up early and back on the road to Silverton. This was our first time in Silverton, and it has been on my short list for several years, even before moving to Utah. The town of Silverton was absolutely more than I expected. As I get older, 43 as of a few days ago, I appreciate towns like this more and more each day. Silverton is a fleeting glimpse at what made America great; a town that built itself up out of the ground, quite literally. The mining history in the surrounding area is still quite evident and visible throughout the local trails. It was an honor to get to spend a little time in this town before it eventually succumbs to the impending “growth” of society.
After arriving in Silverton, my wife’s mandated first stop was at the Coffee Bear cafe. Typical small town Colorado charm, good food, and some heat, made for a memorable first meal in Silverton. If you’re in the area around breakfast time, I highly suggest the sausage burrito. As many of you know, I consider myself a “breakfast burrito” connoisseur. The sausage burrito from Coffee Bear is definitely worthy of a mention on my nationwide breakfast burrito list.
After breakfast, we made the short drive just outside of town to start the Alpine Loop. This trail is actually more of a road. OK, it’s literally a road. But, it’s still amazing. After about a mile into it, we did decide to pull off and air down the Nittos. With the Icon Vehicle Dynamics suspension, 38” Nitto Trail Grapplers, and 12 pounds of air, the Gladiator rides like it’s floating on air. I can honestly say that there’s no way I can explain in words how well this thing rides on the trail. I couldn’t be happier with how the Gladiator performed over the entire trip. The ride quality was perfect!
The mining history of the area was immediately evident as we drove past the long-retired Frisco Mill. The fact that this building is still standing is a testament to the fortitude and strength of previous generations. It’s also a testament to the local town’s people who keep the remnants of the mill safe and clean.
Consisting of over sixty miles of trail, the Alpine Loop had several highlights including:
A box truck driven by at least one person who made multiple repetitive bad decisions.
An Abandoned Cabin
Along the way, we stopped at Lake San Cristobal for a quick lunch. We put together a few quick ham sandwiches and hit the trail again.
Entering and exiting the Alpine Loop from Silverton takes you past the Eureka Campground. The campground was closed for the season when we went through, but the sign on the door said that primitive camping was free, so that was really cool. Unfortunately, the wind was pretty high at the time we were there, so we decided to continue on to Clear Lake to see if there was room. Thankfully, it was mostly vacant. The bathrooms were closed for the season, so make sure you prepare for that if you’re camping here out of season.
By the time we were setting up, it was already getting dark and the temperature was cooling significantly. It was great to set up the Overlanding Off Road tent for my dad and know that he was going to have a level, warm, comfortable evening. We slummed it in the ground tents and froze our tails off. Apparently, at some point during the night, my teenage daughter got up and tried to get into the Gladiator to get warm. She does strange things. The cold and adversity builds character. #Truth
The next morning, after getting everything packed up, Kristin convinced us to go back to Coffee Bear for breakfast again. Originally, I had planned on cooking breakfast burritos on the Oris Skottle, but remembering how warm it was in the cafe was a true incentive to head into town.
After freezing throughout the night, we decided that we didn’t want to spend another night on the ground in Silverton. The temperature was in the low 20’s all evening. Madi, my daughter, had the great idea to go to Moab. During the night, while I was awake in the cold, I had already been doing some research on getting to Moab from Silverton. That’s when I realized that the Rim Rocker Trail would take us there. After a quick conversation with the group, I had them convinced that the Rim Rocker Trail was the way to go! After breakfast, we headed to Montrose to get the trail started.
The Alpine Loop was truly amazing. There isn’t really anything to challenge the vehicle or diving ability, but the scenery and views of mining history along the way created memories that will last a lifetime. I definitely recommend this trail to anyone who appreciates the natural terrain and history of Colorado.
Read my report on the Rim Rocker Trail to see the results of the rest of this trip.