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Range Rover Adventures Great Divide Expedition - The Great Divide Ride

Range Rovers on the Rockies

Fred WilliamsPhotographer, WriterRange Rover North AmericaPhotographer

Range Rover the brand may conjure up images of uppity royal Brits driving through paddocks to go on a fox hunt or to a pub for a warm pint of Guinness and a lamb-burger, but there is much more to Range Rover than Welsh wheeling in tweed and raincoats. We recall a time when Range Rovers were the vehicle of choice for khaki-clad teams of off-roaders competing in the infamous Camel Trophy, who were abused and yet completed the task at hand in their mustard-yellow trucks with little knobby Michelins, roof racks, winch cables, limb-lifters, and sand ladders. Since then we've held a secret fondness for these aluminum SUVs.

When Range Rover first came to the USA in the late 1980s the automaker needed a marketing stunt to showcase its royal blood yet tough British performance, and Range Rover did so by driving a convoy of then-new vehicles from Wyoming to New Mexico. Now some 25 years later, Range Rover has repeated portions of that trip. We slid in behind the wheel of one of these luxury people-haulers to feel what a mixture of British off-road performance, rocky mountain passes, and high-altitude oxygen starvation feels like. We were more impressed with the vehicles than with our own performance, as the Rovers climbed with ease where our lowly sea-level bodies struggled with the thin air. We better start training for the 50th anniversary trip!

The whole Great Divide Expedition was run in multiple stages starting in Denver and going through the Colorado towns of Breckenridge, Aspen, Nathrop, Saguache, Ouray, and Silverton, and ending in Telluride. We only tagged along for the three days between Ouray and Telluride. But starting at the historic Beaumont Hotel in Ouray was an awesome introduction to the small mining towns of the Rockies.

Whereas the original Great Divide Expedition of 1989 was a media event, this trip was a part of the Land Rover/Range Rover Adventures experience. These are trips available to Rover owners that take place in various locations around the country. These include adventure trips, driving instruction, and chances to meet and mingle with other Rover owners from across America. The trip we attended had both Rover owners and media folks along. It was great to see rookie and experienced drivers challenging the vehicles off-road.

Before the Great Divide Expedition, Range Rover wanted to raise awareness for both the trip and the Tread Lightly foundation, so it restored a 1990 Range Rover in original-style Great Divide livery. This Rover was torn down to the skeleton and refurbished, and then it was auctioned off on eBay with the proceeds going to Tread Lightly to help keep trails open. The winning bidders not only came home with a great vehicle and helped a good cause, but they also got to come on the Great Divide Expedition. They drove a new Range Rover because their fresh purchase had been sent home. (There was, however, an original Great Divide Rover on the trip that is the personal vehicle of a Rover technician.)

After our start in Ouray we headed up by Corkscrew Pass and Hurricane Pass. Along the way we passed a few derelict mining operations. Mining boomed from the early 1890s to 1915 or so, and attracted tens of thousands of people to come dig in the high-altitude dirt in search of gold and silver.

High in the mountains resides Lake Como (in the background), a crystal-clear lake of water so cold you'd swear it should be frozen. On the inaugural Great Divide Expedition, off-road driving instructor Tom Collins (right) won a bet by swimming in this frigid water. This trip, only of handful of tough guys (the three guys on the left) were willing to challenge the cold clear Colorado mountain lake, but it was for a good cause. The other attendees all pledged a few bucks for Tread Lightly if someone would go swimming.

Up high in the mountain with a crisp breeze blowing, we stopped for a snack. Range Rover adventures are always topnotch. No manifold burritos or shaken sodas here. The group of expert driving instructors kept every Rover moving forward when moving and every driver stuffed with delicious treats when stopped.

The Range Rovers we drove are the standard supercharged version with 21-inch wheels and low-profile tires. The various Terrain Response settings that are driver-selected offer a level of refined performance that most automakers can only dream of. The Rover team let us in on the fact that Land Rover spends more time developing off-road traction systems than many companies spend on just their on-road driving performance—and it shows as these showroom-fresh vehicles tiptoed up the loose rocky climbs with ease. Of course most of the passes are a long way from extreme, but it proves that you could go exploring more than the country club parking lot in your new RR. We would have liked to see a bit more tire sidewall, but that's our wish for any vehicle. The low-profile tires worked well on the high mountain passes as drivers made a conscious effort to watch for sharp rocks.

Coming down from the high passes, Range Rover took us on a tour of the Old Hundred mine. The tour is a great way to see how the mines worked when gold diggers were trying to extract shiny rock. At least one magazine editor was disappointed that he didn't find any nuggets to cash in for a new Rover.

We spent our second night in Silverton and found a Range Rover grandfather sitting in the high grass waiting for its next adventure. We tried to track down the owner but had no luck. It was fun to go check it out with the Range Rover driving instructors who drive this luxury SUV daily but enjoy old 4x4 metal just like us.

After Silverton we headed to our final destination, Telluride, Colorado, a very neat mountain town nestled amongst the Rockies. Due to heavy storms the iconic Black Bear Pass was closed the day we wanted to drop down into Telluride. We took the less risky and just as scenic Imogene Pass. We will just have to come back to run Black Bear on the next Great Divide Expedition.