Ouray is a small, sleepy town in Southwest Colorado that is bisected by U.S. Highway 550. All of its roads, with the exception of the 550 (known as Main Street within Ouray's city limits), are either gravel or dirt, and many of the city's structures have been there since its mining days. While it is a city that is filled with history, one of the biggest draws to Ouray has always been its proximity to some spectacular backcountry. It was this region that Ian Firth chose for the second annual Gathering of Xterras. This year's event drew Xterra club members from as far away as Pennsylvania and New Jersey who came to be part of the fun. Ouray is not only close to some of the most scenic trails in Colorado, but it's not too far from Moab. Many of the GOX attendees had already spent several days 'wheeling through red rock before descending on Ouray for a week of four-wheeling.
Four different Xterra clubs led runs throughout the week: the Xterra Owners' Club/Rocky Mountain Xterra Club (RMXC); the Pacific Northwest Xterra Club (PNWX); the Southwestern Xterra Club (SWXC); and the Southern California Xterra Club (SCCX). Xterra owners could choose the trails that best matched their vehicle modifications. This event drew about 50 Xterras, making it necessary to split up the group, but at the end of every day there was a group dinner, where everyone regrouped and swapped stories.
Our first day on the trail, we went with the group led by Ian and his wife Leslie, which totaled about 25 Xterras. When we left that morning, the sky was a vibrant blue, dotted with the occasional puffy white cloud. We headed out on the trails, which were a perfect fit for the group of lightly modified Nissans. We took Highway 550 to Engineer Pass, part of the Alpine Loop. Poughkeepsie Gulch split off of Engineer, which we took to Hurricane Pass, and we finished off the day with Corkscrew Gulch. These trails were challenging, but not impossible, and wound through spectacular backcountry. The scenery included rolling, tree-covered hills, rugged rock, and loose dirt. The Nissans traveled through all of this, climbing over rocks and inching through loose gravel on uphill grades.
There are only a handful of companies that manufacture off-road gear for Xterras. Spencer Low Racing, Calmini, and Automotive Customizers were well represented, but for the most part, the Xterra aftermarket is a niche that is still growing. Despite this, there was a range of modifications that varied from basically stock, with new wheels and tires, to built, with impressive articulation. We had the opportunity to see the various setups work on the trail.
On Poughkeepsie, the Stair Steps were the biggest obstacle. Even though there are three ways to climb it, none of the options are easy, and none can be done in a stock Xterra without risking body damage. Examining their options, some of the Nissans opted to turn back, while more trail-ready vehicles continued on. It was at this point that we discovered the weather pattern that would follow us for the duration of the event: Every day was gorgeous, except for three hours, when it poured. Wet weather makes Poughkeepsie more interesting, but those vehicles that continued on the trail did very well, despite the slick conditions. At the top of the valley is Hurricane Pass, so named because of the extremely strong winds that blow there. We headed back to town after getting over Corkscrew Pass and down to Corkscrew Gulch. The pass provided an overview of where we'd been and where we were headed. We drove down to the Gulch on a series of switchbacks that required precise driving. That night, we were welcomed by a chili cookout put on by SWXC, Xterraparts.com, and Terminal Reality.
The next day, our group headed toward Imogene Pass. At an elevation of 13,114 feet, it is the second-highest peak in Colorado. This trail is about 13 miles long and passes through mining camps and ghost towns, ending in Telluride. We headed down the mountain to Tomboy, a town that was abandoned when the Tomboy Mine closed. The group continued to Imogene, a trail that is extremely narrow in parts, through the afternoon rain, to Telluride. As the rain fell in sheets, some chose to return to Ouray, and others explored Alta Lakes and Ophir Pass while waiting for the weather to clear. The clouds lifted just in time for the Calmini BBQ on the outskirts of Ouray.
On our last day on the trail, we went back to Poughkeepsie, taking a different route through the Alpine Loop. It was nice to get to the Stair Steps before it began to rain. Unfortunately, this rain quickly became hail, which then disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived. This trailrun, which was made up mostly of PNWX members, was a bit more casual than the previous runs we had been on, and we got to do a little exploring in the area. We saw more of the Alpine Loop and found some interesting water crossings.
While some of the people who were at GOX had just come from Moab and were ready to head home after the event, others were preparing for the drive east. Either way, many of the Xterra owners were in the area, prepared to do a full week of four-wheeling, if not more. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to go to Moab with this group, but perhaps we can at the next GOX, if we are lucky enough to attend. This event is going to run for the third time in Ouray later this year. The only requirement to attend is ownership of an Xterra, but we would recommend four-wheel drive and some prior trail experience.
For More Information
If you're interested in attending the next Gathering of Xterras, go to www.xterraownersclub.com/gox/index.html.