All heck breaks loose on the road To-Hell-u-Ride |

All heck breaks loose on the road To-Hell-u-Ride

A view of Sheep Mountain from Colorado Highway 145, the San Juan Skyway, on Lizard Head Pass south of Telluride.

— If I didn't know better, I'd think my trusty sport utility vehicle was feeling disrespected last week as its odometer flipped over 100,000 miles. We were on a ramble from Steamboat to Lizard Head Pass via Crested Butte and Telluride when my car and I fell out of synch.

And I like to think I've taken good care of the 'Runner, which has ferried us up many a rough mountain road. We left Steamboat for the West Elks and San Juan Mountains two days after an oil change, with good rubber all around and a pristine air filter to help the engine get the most out of the thin air above 10,000 feet.

What could go wrong? Operator error could go wrong. That's what. Maybe the problem wasn't that the car turned 100,000; maybe the problem was that the driver was five days away form turning 62.

We were cruising behind a log truck on two-lane U.S. Highway 50, paralleling massive Blue Mesa Reservoir on the way from CB to Montrose, when I was distracted by a growing awareness that the truck was so heavily loaded that it was swaying from side to side on the curves. Just about that time, a strange noise came from the roof of the car. I looked in the rear-view mirror to see a pair of quality sleeping bags tumbling to a stop astride the double yellow lines. And they looked an awful lot like our own sleeping bags. It dawned on me that I had failed to secure the lid on my rooftop cargo box.

As I sprinted down the barrow ditch at the side of the highway to retrieve our gear, I had a minute to consider what carnage the log truck would have wreaked on our camping equipment had the truck been following us instead of the opposite.

The rest of that day's trip to a campground on the upper Dolores River was spectacular and blessedly uneventful. The next morning, we found a high-mountain hike to test our stamina, and later, I found cutthroat trout in the river and its tributaries.

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On Friday, we retreated back over Lizard Head and pulled into Telluride Ski & Golf's Mountain Village (picture Beaver Creek with much bigger mountains). The name of Telluride is most likely attributable to the element tellurium, often associated with silver and gold. But, I like the legend that the town’s name comes from the fact that, when 19th century miners entered the mines, they proclaimed “To-Hell-u-Ride!”

We hopped on To-Hell-u-Ride’s free gondola (did you know it runs until midnight?), and made the dramatic trip over the mountain into the historic mining town of Telluride. There, we mingled with tourists from all over the country complaining of sore necks, the result of craning to see the impossibly high peaks.

Upon returning to our car, we were startled to spy a parking ticket on our windshield. Only it wasn't really a ticket, but rather a cautionary note from a conscientious Telluride employee pointing out that our rear tire on the passenger side was flat.

Apparently, I had driven over an historic nail that morning in the ghost town of Alta.

It was 4:50 p.m. on a Friday, our tent was pitched 18 miles away on the other side of a mountain pass and my wife has finally sworn off hitchhiking. I could have mounted the spare tire and taken my chances, but …

That's when the tire fairy, a good Samaritan whose name I never got, approached me with the business card of Telluride Tire and Auto, which is located in the little crossroads of Iium, not 10 miles down the San Miguel River from town.

The shop was due to close at 5:30 p.m., but the manager said he'd wait for me if I hustled to get my spare mounted and didn't spare the horses on my way to his shop. I changed the tire (without skinning my knuckles) in near record time and rolled up to the shop's garage bay at 5:40, where they cheerfully patched the historic nail hole and sent me on my way.

It's great to know there are almost as many good-hearted people in To-Hell-u-Ride as there are in Steamboat Springs.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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