TCT Magazine Roadtrip – a Texan Perspective

TCT Magazine Roadtrip – a Texan Perspective

Get Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine on the Google Play Store!Get Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine on the App StoreIt was the 3rd week of August and I was confused. I was standing outside of a gas station in the town of Fairplay, CO…and I was freezing. Two days earlier, I was in Texas packing for this trip, eager to escape the 100+ degree temperatures. Packing winter weather gear never crossed my mind—because it was August. I scrambled inside the gas station in hopes of finding a sweatshirt or something to provide an additional layer. My sweatshirt and rain jacket would have to suffice, as the gas station sweatshirt inventory lacked sizes for a Texan addicted to Whataburger.

The gas station was the rendezvous point for meeting up with other TCT Magazine staff, as well as some of the ToyTec Lifts Team. My previous night was spent camping in Mills Canyon, NM in mild temperatures under dark skies. Naively, I expected similar weather conditions the following nights.

The crew rolled in, introductions were made, and we departed for a Creekside campsite at around 11,000 ft, which meant even colder and windier conditions. The next morning, we headed up to Mosquito Pass. On the way up, we took a side route up a somewhat steep and technical climb to view Kite Lake. Nestled between snowy peaks, the picturesque lake was surrounded by beautiful flowers. Our layout & design editor, Kathy, was busy taking photos of the flowers up close. Good idea!

Toyota Overland Rockies Trip Kite Lake at 12,000ft elevation

“Are you okay?” asked one of our crew.

“How are you feeling?” asked another.

So began the frequent inquiries into my health. Everyone on this trip resides in Colorado, except me:  I reside in a suburb of Dallas at 613-feet elevation. Fun fact:  Toyota built their new headquarters just 7 miles south of my home. My TCT teammates are concerned because I was the oldest and the least healthy (thanks to Whataburger), and I don’t visit 5-digit elevations very often. Or maybe it was because my “I’m fine!” responses were paired with gasps for air.

Next stop was a historical mine, and then we started up the rocky ascent to Mosquito Pass. I stopped at one point to capture a photo of my Tacoma on the rocky trail. As I lifted my camera and zoomed out for a wide angle shot, I realized the steep slope of the mountain was just a big pile of boulders. It was a rockslide waiting to happen. I scurried back and drove up the trail at a quicker pace.

Pile of rocks didn’t seem stable, so I scrammed out of there.

We reached the 13,185-foot pass (the highest drivable through-pass in North America), parked the trucks for photos, and started the descent. Eventually we found ourselves hitting paved roads as we headed to our next campsite west of Salida. As we set up camp and cooked dinner, we were treated to a colorful sunset between nearby mountains.

Colorful sunset at our campsite west of Salida.

 TCT Creative Director Kathy Woods-Locke takes on the rocky descent as we depart Mosquito Pass.

Day 2 offered new challenges, most of which occurred on the trail called Otto Mears Toll Road. This narrow trail is riddled with tight switchback turns that sometimes made me regret my long wheelbase double cab Tacoma. I remember another thought that crossed my mind:  at least I’m not the guy behind me. Shane, the publisher of TCT Magazine, decided to drive his CrewMax Tundra on this trip, and it lacked protection. Each time I managed through a sharp turn without rolling down the mountainside, I stopped to make sure Shane could make it.

Wooded trail to Otto Mears Toll Road.

At one point, I hit a hilltop with zero visibility of the trail because Toyota stuck a big hood scoop on the TRD Pro Tacoma and it was blocking my view of the drop-off side. The left side offered no guidance. I took it slow and edged to the left a bit, quickly putting me in an off-camber situation. I was unable to step out to examine the trail. Eventually I leveled out and could see the trail again. Usually I just grin and laugh when I encounter nerve-racking off-road experiences, but this time I was butt-puckering concerned.

Otto Mears Toll Road features tight turns with intimidating drop-offs.

We continued onto more trails before finding our next campsite on a gradual hill amongst some white aspen trees. As the sun set, the sides of the aspen trees illuminated with a mesmerizing orange glow. I was so captivated, I forgot I had a camera sitting nearby.

Camping amongst the aspen trees.

The ToyTec crew cooked up some Italian pasta that attracted the rest of the crew like flies. These guys are amazing…they can discuss suspension spring rates while displaying their culinary skills. As darkness surrounded us, we turned up the propane fire (CO fire burn ban was in effect) and listened to someone’s Weird Al playlist while telling stories and reliving the Otto Mears trail.

The next morning, we took our time breaking down camp, mainly because the ToyTec chef squad decided to make a fantastic breakfast. So much for losing weight. We finished the morning in a historical mine we could walk through. Soon we said our farewells and I started the long drive back to Texas.

There was so much more we experienced during the 4-day expedition, but I think this conclusion is better suited. Folks living in Colorado and other states out West with near instant access to numerous trails, national forests, and BLM land are truly blessed. The ability to go out into your backyard and explore is something of which I am envious. During campfire chat each evening, I was amazed as these very experienced off-roaders of Colorado would talk about CO trails they had not yet encountered. Oh how great it would be to have a plethora of trails waiting to explore on the weekends, and to do so in the midst of such fantastic scenery.

I’m glad Shane referred to this as the “first annual” TCT trip. I look forward to participating in the future trips. For me, it was worth the 2-day drive. Comradery, stunning landscapes and sunsets, and fun trails are the perfect combination of getting away.


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