McClure Pass Area

Blustery days around McClure Pass.

October 3-5
For the past 3 days we’ve been camping in McClure Campground, a little known forest service campground near McClure Pass, off highway 133. It is set in a wonderful aspen grove that is at peak and only a few campers are here. Most of the 12 sites are big enough to hold us plus our Rav, but only a few are open enough to allow good sun exposure  to keep us powered up. Because of daily intermittent cloud cover, we’ve been running the generator for an hour in the evening just to be sure we have enough power for The Daily Show and whatnot. No internet or cell service here either.
Before leaving Carbondale, we stopped for propane and groceries. Turning off the highway to City Market, I noticed something very strange going one with the Rav we tow. There were odd sounds coming from behind the RV and looking into my rear view mirror, I could see the Rav was not tracking as it should. I immediately pulled over to the curb and as I did, I could see the Rav bump up onto the curb. Not good.

Getting out and inspecting the tow hitch, it was clear one arm had disengaged from the car. The pin that keeps the arm connected to the car was missing and the noise I heard was it swinging around. It punched a hole in our new bumper and managed to break the metal connector of the electrical tether that powers the lights and lube pump. We had already driven a couple of miles, stopped for gas and propane with no problem, so that told me I lost the pin somewhere between the station and this turn-off – about another 1/2 mile. We walked the road back to the highway and I found the pin in the road right where we turned off – about 50 yards from where I first noticed a problem. It stayed in all the way to this point. No sign of the other locking pin that holds this pin in place. I don’t know if I never put it in place, or if I neglected to lock it down if I did. That is probably the case or the pin would probably have fallen out long before.

In any event, now I had to fix things. There are no RV stores anywhere near us in Carbondale. The closest is in Grand Junction – a long way off. There was an Ace Hardware just across the street. Since I found the connecting pin, all I needed was the locking pin. Ace happened to have one – just one – that fit. I could have gotten by with any number of other kinds of locking pins, but getting this one felt lucky. If I’d lost the connecting pin I would have had a bigger problem.

The electrical cable was another matter. The swinging tow arm had broken the metal housing of the 7 pin connector so that the wires were showing. It looked like all but one wire was still attached OK and I managed to reinsert that one back into the connector. The connector itself is a bit deformed, but still able to fit into the plug. After a lot of duct tape it seems to be holding together well enough to get me to a hitch shop or RV store so I can replace the whole cable. We were very lucky in so many ways. What if it had come detached on the highway? What if the electric cable had been cut completely? It would at best put a real damper on the rest of the trip.

I have purposely created a mental checklist for attaching the Rav. I do all the steps is the same order every time – down to starting on the same side of the car. Well almost every time.  Sometimes by necessity or connivence, I’ll do thing slightly differently. This was one of those times. The water pressure at the RV park was low and flushing the tanks was taking a long time. I do the dumping and Mary is in the bathroom with a hose filling the black tank after emptying so we can get a better flush. I decided to hitch the car while Mary filled the tank. This caused me to start and stop a couple of times and broke my routine. So, DON’T DO THAT!

Looking over the north side from McClure Pass.

After calming down a bit, we moved on.

Each day we’ve set out on a different road excursion. Really not getting much hiking in, but it’s the nature of the beast this time around. Much of the area is past peak color, but many spots of intense color still remain – we just have to get to them. On Wednesday, after we arrived, we spent time going up and down 133 photographing from the highway. Loads of great views and changing light gave us many nice shots. In this area, it was just past peak and color was great.

We also took a dirt spur road called Ragged Mountain Road, that traveled through ranch land dotted with cottonwood, birch and aspen. It was mostly flat, but eventually the road becomes Buzzard Ditch Road (I love these road names) and does rise into the Grand Mesa area – out next area of exploration. Based on what I see around here, I don’t expect much color left up there, but it will be a “first Look” for future trips. There were some terrific view from along this road.

Thursday was a little cloudy in the morning and we got up a little later. We headed down the north side of 133 today. More terrific views of the mountains and trees around us. We retraced our route a bit back to the historic coal town of Redstone. We noticed a long row of coke ovens as we originally drove by and wanted to check them out a little more closely. Much of this part of 133 moves along the Crystal River and has a lot of nice scenic spots. The town itself was kind of nice – not as cutesy as some and the General Store had fresh pastry and let up fill our thermos with fresh coffee.

Properly refueled, we drove up to the town of Marble. Guess what they do. This is a really small actual working town. There is tourist trade here, but the marble quarry up high in the mountains is still producing as evidenced by the hugh blocks coming down the hill and the many blocks of white marble all over the place. We stopped here and there photographing the lakes and trees and such.

Coke ovens at Redstone


We then headed up the mountain toward the quarry. A narrow dirt road took us high above the town where we had great views of Mt. Sopris and the valley before it. After returning to camp, I set out again for a late afternoon visit to an Aspen grove I’d seen earlier. While out I found another dirt road I thought would make a nice hike for Friday.

On our way back to camp, we stopped to photograph Aspen leaves blowing across the road. It gave the effect of snowflakes, but yellow. What did mom say about yellow snow? Oh well, this is different anyway.
I took off again a little later to photograph in a grove of Aspen near our camp. I saw it as we pass by and though it would be a nice place for some Aspen trunk shots. This spot, and one across the road proved to be pretty nice to work in.



Friday we woke to a decidedly cooler morning. Quite windy with fast moving clouds overhead. We set out on a rare hike up the forest service road I’d seen yesterday. It started out quite nice with views of the northern valley, but soon rounded a bend and just became an OK hike. It was steady uphill, but easy to walk and it did have some nice views of the changing forest. After a few miles, we stopped for lunch, then headed back and were pretty exhausted by the time we got back to camp.


All in all, it’s been a really nice 3 days out. We are now in Hotchkiss to resupply, then it’s up to Grand Mesa to see what condition the landscape is in up there.

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2 Responses to McClure Pass Area

  1. Brian says:

    I love McClure pass. Looks like you had a great time and got some great shots. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sugel says:

    Truth be told, the Steamboat area has always been a favorite area of my family going way back to my very early years. We took numerous camping trips to Steamboat and Pearl lakes and I have many amazing memories. The topography is not dominating for the most part, but rather soothing rolling hills. The exception is the main crest of the Park Range around Mt. Zirkel . Buffalo Pass lies on its tame southern portion. If you find additional time to spend up here, there are more great aspen forests and groves in the Elkhead Mountains around Steamboat Lake and the settlement of Columbine a bit further north. There is a vast network of (car-accessible) forest roads here that are waiting to be explored ( exhibit 1A ), which see very few travelers; I have traveled the majority of these. Hahns Peak? Yep, a favorite mountain of mine for many years. Love it!

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