Remember playing Follow the Leader as a kid? Everyone in a line, mimicking the actions of the first one in the column. The evil grin the leader took on was an early indication that you were in for it. It is much the same when following trail leader Nancy Bailey through the granite of the Stone Quarry Trail. She may know exactly what she's doing, but you can't help but think her senses have left her when you're trying to follow.
We were on day six of a nine-day extreme rockcrawling marathon across New Mexico and southern Colorado. Jim and Nancy Bailey live in nearby Alamosa, and as we were in their backyard, they were responsible for finding us appropriate rockcrawling diversions and serving as our trail leaders for the day. That wicked grin told us we were in for some wild fun when Nancy chose the Stone Quarry Trail.
The Stone Quarry Trail is located just off Hwy. 160 (trailhead:37o38.684'N, 106o16.120'W) between Del Norte and Monte Vista in southern Colorado. Immediately off the pavement is a designated staging area big enough to handle trailers, tow rigs, and recreational vehicles. The road leads back past a local gun range, through the fence designating the beginning of public lands, and out into the rocks. While the towering mountain ranges framing the San Luis Valley serve as the backdrop, The Stone Quarry Trail itself winds through terrain of far less visual impact. The area consists of thousands of acres of low rolling hills covered with granite outcroppings. These eroded outcroppings are Nancy's playground and the scene of many hours of Follow the Leader.
Locals have been playing here for many years. The Bureau of Land Management is currently working on revising the Resource Management Plan to include The Stone Quarry Trail as an official route. This area was formerly known as Travis' Trail (see "What's in a Name?, March '01 issue). Disputes with the management agency's vision for appropriate use had severely limited the amount of use and certainly curtailed the creation of additional fun until recently. Jim and Nancy Bailey, along with their fellow Blanca Peak 4X4 members, were successful in lobbying the BLM to allow the creation of an extension to the original pioneering work done by Travis Steffens. They then plotted out an extremely challenging path through their traditional play area and worked with the BLM to ensure that the trail was included as a designated route.
The club also helped the BLM with a recently approved grant request. Soon, The Stone Quarry Trail should be well marked by signs and directional markers. This future signing is important. The area is currently a baffling maze of almost indistinguishable mounds of rock, small canyons, and interconnecting two-track roads. The proposed trail itself is really just a route that strings together a remarkable series of obstacles and areas of challenges. In many ways, the area is reminiscent of Chokecherry Canyon in Farmington. If a single obstacle is examined and found to be a bit too intimidating, you can easily just turn out and drive around it, rejoining the group at the next level of difficulty.
It had been five years since we had first seen the area, and while the rocks haven't changed, the equipment and challenge level had progressed substantially. One of the former "big dog" climbs was an exercise christened Killer Hill. While the hill itself it is no easier than it was five year ago, the only reason that Nancy even bothered to take us up and over it was for reasons of nostalgia. With 42-inch tires, Dana 60s, Atlas transfer cases, and decades of experience the norm for the group, we quickly sought out the hardest climbs the area offers. Still, following Nancy through her backyard playground is not for the faint of heart.
The new additions to the trail are steep, inventive, intimidating, or a combination of the three. Many of the difficulties found along The Stone Quarry Trail are deceptive. Often just a slight deviation in tire placement or the smallest increment in throttle application is the difference between successfully completing the climb or frantically trying to hit Reverse as the front end attempts to pass you on your way back toward the bottom. The rounded and eroded granite offers substantial traction but not nearly in the category of sandstone. Those who have enjoyed the granite of the High Sierras in California will understand the difficulty of the climbs, especially if they have a little dust on them. If the rock is even a bit damp, traction goes to almost nil and many of the climbs become comically impossible.
With their many hours on the trail, both Jim and Nancy are acknowledged masters of precisely placing the tires on an exacting line, hitting the hills with just the correct amount of throttle, and have the "bump and run" timing down cold on the many ledges in the area. Climbs such as Brain Dead, Yum Sing (Chinese for bottoms up!), and Throttle Hill are definitely for the fearless and well-equipped. There are also dozens of less intimidating obstacles that allow four-wheelers to test the limits of their skill and equipment without the risk of major injury to life, limb, and axles. We spent hours attempting the challenges of the area - not always successfully - and still had not come close to finishing the trail by the end of the day. With the hour turning late, a few deft turns through the rocks had us back on the main road toward the highway and our waiting caravan.
The Stone Quarry Trail is an excellent addition to your extreme 'wheeling repertoire if you are passing through southern Colorado.