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.
A Sportsmobile is not what you'd call svelte. Even though some trails were barely wider than the big guys, not a single vehicle was unable to make it up to the passes. Maintaining a prudent pace and low-range kept the Sportsmobiles trundling over rocks and through streambeds. Occasional encounters with other off-roaders provided passing challenges, but the surprisingly nimble Sportsmobiles impressed owners and passers-by with their goatlike tenacity.
The 12.8-mile Imogene Pass Road proved to be a rally high point. Not just because this is the highest pass in the entire San Juan Mountains (13,114 ft) and the second highest in the United States, but the overlook onto Telluride gave a sense of accomplishment to the Sportsmobile owners. Filing down the peak into the one-time mining town of Tomboy was like taking a trip into the past. Much of that establishment is still in place, though slowly crumbling. Dropping further into the valley brought us into the affluent resort town of Telluride.
Returning to base camp via the Ophir Pass Road (11,789 ft), the Sportsmobiles traversed trails blessed with the most dramatically sheer drop-offs of the entire rally. Cool heads and steady nerves saw the entire group back at the lake each evening to enjoy hearty meals dished up by Fat City Catering. Entertainment, as well as trips to the surrounding towns, meant that boredom was never part of the scene, unless participants chose to veg. Each trip to the mountains was voluntary, as were the seminars given by Mike Quigley. We each did what we wanted when we wanted. Yet the day trips were well attended, and nobody drove away feeling he didn't get his money's worth.
Next year's rally will be descending on beautiful Park City, Utah, in June. Barring a real emergency, there's no way we'll miss it. The rally is reason enough to buy a versatile Sportsmobile; the rest of the year is gravy.