Bluegrass and Imogene Pass — Telluride Festivathleting

Post by blogger | July 3, 2012      

The sounds of the John Cowan Band reverberated off the canyon walls, but we weren’t bouncing along with the Festivarians in the midday heat. Instead, we were slogging up Tomboy Road — the bluegrass a twangy soundtrack for our ill-fated trail run.

In May 2011, Runner’s World Magazine (defunct link removed 2015) featured Tomboy Road in Telluride, CO as one of its “Rave Runs,” a designation that seems to require little more than a spectacular view that photographs well. RW wrote of Tomboy Road: “At points, the 2,600-foot descent into Telluride can be rugged, but the views make the run worthwhile.” What strikes me as odd about this barebones assessment (no one would claim that RW’s Rave Runs are a go-to for trail route selection) is that it ignores a fundamental Colorado trail running principle: what goes down, must first go up. The only way to get to the 2,600 foot descent is to first ascend those 2,600 feet — a fact RW conveniently overlooks.

In Telluride for the annual Bluegrass Festival, it was impossible not to explore some trails with my running shoes. Tomboy Road is a section of Jeep trail that begins in Telluride (a right turn off North Oak Street) and eventually crests Imogene Pass under a different name at 13,114 feet. Our destination was the ruins of Tomboy, a mining camp overlooking Savage Basin that once produced gold ore. Tomboy sits at roughly 11,400 feet about five miles from the town of Telluride. Continuing on from Tomboy will eventually take you over the pass to the town of Ouray.

 Map courtesy of

Map courtesy of

It would have been my folly to rely on RW alone for intell, so I consulted other sources, like the Telluride town website and some trusty Google searches. I just didn’t pick up on any of the signs. Which leads me to the second principle of trail running (anywhere): do your homework.

The simple context clues (and good sense) I missed included that Tomboy Road is a Jeep trail, popular with local touring companies and big tire enthusiasts. Without a gas pedal and a roof (or for some that passed us on the road, A/C) the road is relentlessly uphill and painfully exposed to the similarly relentless Colorado sun.

A popular Jeep trail also means, surprisingly, that there will be cars. In this dry summer, cars mean dust. After an hour-and-a-half trying to stay cool and keep my lungs from collecting a thin layer of grime, I couldn’t shake the feeling that on this day, I hadn’t done Telluride justice with my choice of ‘trail’ run. I will say though that RW was spot on about those views. Until next time, Telluride.

The Tomboy mine and ruins are actually on private land situated within the Uncompahgre National Forest.

The Tomboy mine and ruins are actually on private land situated within the Uncompahgre National Forest.

The views of the Tomboy mines are, like most now-defunct mines in Colorado, an interesting but sobering sight.

The views of the Tomboy mines are, like most now-defunct mines in Colorado, an interesting but sobering sight. They are in many ways a map of our history and what brought many people West in the first place, but they're also a sign of the way we treat our resources, for better or worse.

If you’d like to give Tomboy Road a better shot than I did, I’d recommend the following: start early, preferably before the sun has climbed up over the canyon walls, and bring plenty of fluids. Try to pick a time when traffic from the touring companies and other vehicles will be lighter (at least one touring company doesn’t leave until 8:30 a.m. and ends its last tour of Imogene at 5:00 p.m.).

( guest blogger Jess Portmess currently lives in Boulder, Colorado. Having grown up in New York and Vermont, she’s now chasing snow covered peaks, endless trails, and a legal career in the West.)


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11 Responses to “Bluegrass and Imogene Pass — Telluride Festivathleting”

  1. Xavier July 3rd, 2012 10:56 am

    There is a great book called” Tomboy Bride “that details the experiences of a woman living at the mine at the turn of the century . She lived there through many winters and it’s a great read. Highly recommend it.

  2. Lou July 3rd, 2012 11:37 am

    Lisa and I have a copy of that kicking around. Indeed, a good read.

    I’ve always found our Colorado mine ruins to be fascinating. Indeed, at the time that most were operating there were NO environmental protections, so they’re a rather unfortunate example of how bad mining can be in terms of how many left piles of tailings leaching heavy metals, and stuff like that. On the other hand, significant percentages of minerals such as the gold and silver we took out of those mines are still being used over and over again, and the roads the miners built are in use all over the state, a rather amazing network of backcountry roads, actually. So like much of our industrial civilization, mixed blessings… me, I’d actually like to see more small-scale hard rock mining being done in Colorado, but I’ve been told that’s nearly impossible due to regulatory climate and public opinion. Instead, we get industrial tourism, which isn’t all bad either (grin).

  3. Lisa July 3rd, 2012 11:43 am


  4. Jess July 3rd, 2012 11:52 am

    I’d most definitely like to read “Tomboy Bride” — Lou and Lisa, maybe I can borrow your copy. When I come across places like this, I always find myself wondering what it would have been like to live in a mining camp like Tomboy. To step out of my one room cabin perched on the mountainside to these expansive views, only to head down into the depths. Telluride must have been a very different place back then, that’s for sure.

  5. Lou July 3rd, 2012 2:07 pm

    Jess, there are some really cool books out there covering what it was like to live back then. When we get home I’ll round up what we have, but you can find a bunch at the library. If you get serious, try the Western History Collection at Denver Public Library. Amazing. Make sure you’ve got a few days off to spend there. ‘best, Lou

  6. Eric July 3rd, 2012 4:09 pm

    Hey Lou, can you post that list of books you give Jess? I’d be interested in reading some of those too.

  7. Lou July 3rd, 2012 5:02 pm

    Better yet, I’ll bet she can write a good book review… we’ll work on that once we return to Colorado from PNW. Tomboy Bride is available via Amazon.

  8. Joe July 4th, 2012 9:53 am

    For those interested here is the link for the above mentioned book.

  9. Tim Nash July 4th, 2012 5:51 pm

    Start early, end early and avoid festival weekends, summer holidays and the Imogene Pass Race if you want solitude; otherwise, it is a great trail run. Avoid early season (check with the County and this year’s record opening is not representative) avalanches. Lots other great trail runs in the area if you like lung busting above 8,600′ and you’ll learn to appreciate some of Otto Mears’ efforts. Lots of history there too. Enjoy.

  10. Dz July 5th, 2012 5:50 pm

    Looks like the blog readers are now requesting some book reviews as well…can’t imagine the feeling of happiness once you reached the top of that trail. The views really do make the perseverance of running the trail worth it…

  11. Lou July 5th, 2012 6:06 pm

    Dz, we’ve got nearly 60 book reviews for everyone’s reading pleasure, more coming as I enjoy doing those in the summer… if we ever quit skiing!

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