Subscribe to a magazine

Powerhouse Road

Rear Driver Side View Cars Up Hill
Posted July 18, 2002

You've heard the advertisement sitting in traffic on the way home from work: "WRCK really rocks! All rock, all the time! You can't find rock like this anyplace else!" But our thoughts drift to another place that truly fits that description. This place, too, is all rock, all the time. In fact, this place is pure rock from one end to the other. Fans of rock will flock to this place. And the only instruments you'll hear are the custom-built machines we so proudly call our own.

The place our thoughts drifted to on that exhaust-filled street is called Powerhouse Road. Never heard of it? Neither had we until a few short weeks ago. Friends Jim and Nancy Bailey had been talking about a potential extreme rockcrawling trail that a fellow club member had found. Nancy called late one evening, almost giddy with excitement. They had finally pointed a couple of hoods up this new trail and was she ever excited. Interspersed with her animated description was the constant refrain, "You have never seen so many rocks in a trail!" All right, now she was getting us wound up. Nancy drives a bobbed Scrambler with 42-inch Swampers and lives for rockcrawling. If she thinks a trail is that promising, we are already on our way! Plans were put in motion for an informal little christening run.

The Powerhouse Road trail can be found southeast of Antonito in the extreme south-central portion of Colorado. In fact, it is so far south that the trail actually slips across the state line into northern New Mexico by about a mile. Since Nancy and Jim live just to the north in Alamosa, we gathered at their house the evening before. When we pulled into the driveway, we knew we were in for a treat with a great bunch of 'wheelers. In addition to a few members of the local club, we were joined by some names that are pretty well known in rockcrawling circles -- names such as Off, Gremillion, Currie, Pepper, Monk, Fogel, and Bartlett. Oh yes, this was going to be fun.

We were informed that we would be leaving for the trail head at 6 a.m. the next day. Say what? Jim and Nancy had taken a group of five vehicles through two days before and they had barely finished the 1/2-mile trail before dark. Since we would have at least a dozen vehicles, Nancy wanted to ensure that we finished in the daylight. She also informed us that she wouldn't be coming along because she had another engagement. What kind of trick was this? Since husband Jim was to accompany us, we assumed that Nancy had to be on the up-and-up.

According to plan, we were on the trail shortly after 7 a.m. The head of the caravan turned off the road and was immediately immersed in rocks standing hood high. The trail was absolutely living up to its billing.

A quick description is in order. The Powerhouse Road trail follows an old road bed up from the lush, green canyon of the Rio de los Pinos (River of the Pines) to the mesa top just above. On top of the mesa sits the narrow gauge tracks of the (still operating) Cumbres & Toltec Railroad. Lava Tank, one of the former water stops along the railroad, is perched at the edge of the mesa at the end of the old road. The road was used to haul coal from the railroad at the top of the mesa to a boiler and pump house located at the river's edge. This pumping station, in turn, pumped water up the hill to the water tank.

To say that the trail follows the old road might be stretching it a bit. It actually follows the former route of the road; the road bed is long gone because of many years of rainfall and rushing snow melt. In its place is an absolute plethora of exposed boulders and loose rock. The man credited with discovering this route, Pete Wells, remembered that the county road along the river had to be cleared by a bulldozer after a heavy cloudburst blew a big pile of rocks right out onto the river road. Another old road parallels the route for the lower half of the trail and offers a measure of insurance in the form of a feasible escape route.

The previous couple of days of rain should have left the trail wet, but it didn't matter. There is so much rock, with so little exposed dirt, that mud was not even a concern. Nancy was right. Powerhouse Road is one continuous, never-ending, constant stream of rocks. Big rocks, small rocks, slick rocks, sharp rocks. Rocks piled on other rocks and interspersed with yet more rocks. We loved it. Rockcrawling heaven.

Nancy was right about something else, too. When you finally sit on the mesa top and let your mind wander back down the trail, there really isn't any one particular obstacle or two that stick in your mind. Just the perfect progression of constant rocks.

It took our baker's dozen just a little more than six hours to traverse the trail. Only one vehicle was forced to take the escape route because of a balky fuel system. Other than a hole poked through a differential cover early in the day, we did not suffer a single, solitary breakdown. Your results may vary.It's really going to be hard to top this one for a while. We enjoyed a fresh trail, nonstop challenge on the rocks, a great group of friends, a beautiful blue sky, and a celebratory feast at a local restaurant before the evening dinner crowd. It can hardly get any better. So, as we sit in traffic and listen to the radio blaring out its inane rock bluster, we smile. Our newest rock anthem is Powerhouse Road.

How to Get There

The Powerhouse Road trail is accessed from Antonito, Colorado. Antonito is located astride Highway 285 in the extreme south central portion of the state. We left our tow vehicles in a dirt lot located just west of the highway where the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad tracks cross the pavement south of town. This is also the jumping off point for the trail. A small, paved road heads west, paralleling the tracks for about a mile.

It then turns due south for around three miles before winding its way west again. The road eventually starts following the river (Rio de los Pinos). After passing the old powerhouse (a very interesting old, stone building) along the river, Powerhouse Road is around the corner and to the right up the ravine that heads toward the mesa top.

After completing the trail by reaching the top of the mesa, head to the right along the two-track road toward the old water tank. Continue to follow the most traveled road back along the mesa until the road drops off the mesa and rejoins the road along the river. Powerhouse Road is on public land (BLM managed), so please leave all gates in the positions that you find them.


View Photo Gallery
  • Jamison Haponenko proved he isn't afraid to take his custom paint through the rocky horrors of Powerhouse Road -- a good thing since he likes to run with fellow club members like the Baileys.

  • Chip Monk put his Scorpion's extreme articulation to the test as he negotiated the nonstop boulders on the trail.

  • Just a little more articulation, a little more tire, a little less rock, a little less Jeep...

  • Brian Cook from nearby Alamosa was one of the locals who first challenged this great trail. Brian drove a homebuilt, tube-framed creation that includes an adjustable wheelbase. Maybe a height adjustment feature next time?

  • Pat and Jan Gremillion enjoyed a bright-blue sky, big rocks, and a fresh trail. It doesn't get any better than this in northern New Mexico.

  • The Curries brought out one of their toys to play on the rocks for the day.

  • Forty-inch tires, a tube frame, custom coil suspension. Harold Off's new Scrambler was set up to dance through Powerhouse Road.

  • Pete Wells is credited with rediscovering this great new, extreme opportunity. Pete remembered a big pile of rocks being flushed out into the river road from a wash after a heavy rain. The source of those rocks was the Powerhouse Road route.

  • There is no overwhelmingly memorable rock or ledge along the length of Powerhouse Road. There is, however, no lack of challenge for those drawn to this type of rock mayhem, since the entire route is one continuous challenge.

  • Jason Bartlett piloted his Wrangler up and out of an off-camber trough about halfway through the trail. The escape route paralleling the trail ends here. So once you nose past the take-out point, you are committed to reaching the top of the mesa.