It's one thing to test drive a vehicle at a dealership, all smooth roads and silken sales staff, and quite another to clamber up a narrow, rocky path carved into the flank of a mountain. Factor in multi-thousand-foot drop-offs and altitude high enough to require pilots to wear oxygen masks, and you have the ingredients for a typical Sportsmobile owner's annual rally. Breathtaking scenery doesn't hurt, either.

This trip into the great outdoors was the fifth massing of the Sportsmobile faithful. Alan and Liz Feld of Sportsmobile/Fresno dreamed up these events as a forum for teaching buyers how capable their vehicles are in less-than-idyllic conditions. Prior adventures include Baja, Mexico, and Moab, Utah, so a boring dusty field in Nowhere, North America, was not an option. This group drives their off-road vehicles off-road; that's why the lofty peaks of southwestern Colorado were chosen for the annual event.

Molas Lake was base camp for the 102 Sportsmobiles that came from all over the country. Located at a 10,000-ft elevation, a handful of miles south of historic Silverton, Colorado, it provides trout for anglers, calm kayaking for relaxing, and the jumping-off point for three days of exploring mountain passes.

Convoys of Sportsmobiles headed out each morning bound for a number of trails, including the famed Alpine Loop and Imogene Pass Road. In late June, snow still covered upper elevations, though the preceding light winter snowfall meant that more wildflowers were visible than in years past. But waterfalls and cascades were flowing, the temperatures were mild, and the trails were clear. While distant wildfires tinged the far horizon with smoke, the Sportsmobile contingent enjoyed picture-perfect conditions.

Signing up for the Alpine Loop meant plenty of film would get run through the camera. From the well-preserved ghost town of Animas Forks, switchbacks guided participants above the tree line to Cinnamon Pass (12,620 ft), where the wind blew lustily and the view took your breath away. Next stop was Engineer Pass (12,750 ft), under the skittish eyes of ubiquitous marmots. A cross between an oversize guinea pig and a tribble, the marmot is proof that vegetation doesn't need to be lush to support abundant wildlife.