Kings of the Mountain - StarTrails 2011

Judy Bennett
As attributed
2011 is now just a memory, but, oh, what a memory it is!

King of the Mountains
Riding High with MBCA Pikes Peak Section

by Judy Bennett
Photos by Tom Croak, Brian Croak, Bill Hopper
StarTrails 2011 is now just a memory, but, oh, what a memory it is! As the founder of this national special event, the Pikes Peak Section kicked off the festivities Wednesday August 17 at the Best Western Twin Peaks Hotel and Hot Springs in beautiful Ouray, Colorado. This was an event that got us away from track and pavement – an event that took us places where cars got a little dirty, an event that let us get close to nature in all its glory, and an event that made memories we will never forget.
StarTrails showcased off-road excursions over state-forest and county roads, for every level of expertise. From never-left-the-pavement-before to experienced 4-wheelers, StarTrails had a mountain drive for everyone. We ventured over high mountain passes, following trails carved first by miners and then by railroads in the quest for gold. We saw ghost towns and hidden lakes and the stark landscape above the treeline, experiencing first-hand the difficulty and the grandeur the early settlers faced and coming away with a new appreciation for the term “Pikes Peak or Bust.” Most of all though, we learned to appreciate the capabilities of our Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

For those who were dust-averse and preferred to stick to the more civilized paved roadways, there was a whole range of activities. Daily scenic drives included sightseeing trips to some of the many natural wonders in the area – the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the San Juan Scenic Byway are just two examples. We identified off-the-wall places to visit and interesting things to do once we got there. We included some structure in our itinerary with a poker rally to historic Durango. Photography instruction, fly-fishing demonstrations, and an on-site masseuse to massage away the tension from white-knuckled trail driving were also available. Our goal was to make everyone’s stay in Colorado one they would never forget.

Photo by Judy Bennett

Our section registered 74 people from 13 states before the welcome reception at the historic Beaumont Hotel. President Charlie Bennett welcomed all attendees and recognized our visiting VIPs, including National Board Directors Steve Dierks, Mary Alice Cozza, Frank Cozza, Bill Hopper, and Julie Nelson, as well as MBCA Executive Director Doug Truitt.

Photo by Bill Hopper.

After an all-hands safety meeting Thursday morning, the on-road folks headed out for one of the nine destinations recommended by the highway bosses Bill Kasper and Gary Gagnon. The off-roaders gathered for some basic 4x4 instruction from trailmeisters Tom Croak and Jerry Graves, then broke into groups by ability for their first taste of the trails. The greenies (beginners) traveled an easy trail to Eureka Gulch for a trip up to Sunnyside Mine and Lake Emma. The blues (intermediates) went to scenic Clear Lake, while the reds (experts) and their G-wagens broke off for Governor Basin. The grandeur of the San Juan Mountains, with a profusion of wild flowers, was stunning.

Photo by Bill Hopper
Friday morning, the greenies followed Andrea Hansen to Last Dollar Road, home to many scenes from the original “True Grit,” filmed in and around Ouray. The blue and red drivers prepared for the trails of the Red Mountain Mining Area. There, trailmeisters Tom and Jerry had laid out a training course. The MLs practiced climbing narrow trails and passing on-coming vehicles, as well as off-camber turns and ascensions on loose gravel. Everybody survived, much to their amazement. The G-Wagens followed the MLs and did the same course in reverse!

Photo by Tom Croak.

Then the blues were off on the twisty Red Mountain Trail to Corkscrew Gulch, 13,000-foot Hurricane Pass, and on to California Pass, with many photo stops along the way before taking a break at Animas Forks, a preserved Colorado ghost town. Flatlanders were equally gob-smacked by the views and the drop-offs, but everyone managed to stay on the road and complete the drive. The red team headed for Mineral Basin and Oh Point for some more difficult trail driving.

Photo by Dan Kerbs.

By evening everyone was ready for a little R&R arranged by event coordinator Cheryl Kerbs, who had transformed an empty lot in town into a drive-in theater for us to watch “City Slickers” – how appropriate!

Photo by Cathy Graves.

Saturday was the grand finale for the trail drivers: For the blue teams, Imogene Pass, second highest in Colorado, which provided a thrilling, scenic drive with close-up views of historic Tomboy townsite; and for the expert reds, Black Bear, one of the most famous and beautiful trails in the state, more than slightly terrifying.

Photo by Tom Croak.

This shelf road is covered with loose rocks and dirt and traverses downhill at a steep angle, with narrow switchbacks all the way to the bottom – all you see from the trail is Telluride thousands of feet below.

Once safely on flat land again, the trail-dusty cars were power-washed by the Ouray Fire Department. Then it was off to the Roundup BBQ at the hotel, after which Charlie Bennett announced the awards.

Photo by Dan Kerbs

For Dirtiest Car, Aaron Streater from the Tarheel Section in North Carolina won. The Oldest Car award went to Larry Vorhees of the Omaha Section for his 1990 300SL. The Longest Trail Drive award went to Lin York from Florida with a GL320D that traveled 4400 miles to get to StarTrails. The Rock Hopper award went to Karl Volger of the Los Angeles Section. The Road Warrior award went to Doug and Letha Knox of the Pikes Peak Section for winning the Poker Rally. The prestigious Warsteiner Off-Road Enthusiasm award went to the entire Bonavia Family for their willingness to try anything, including Black Bear Pass, and the Warsteiner On-Road Enthusiasm award went to Ursula and Rudolph Lamprecht of the Twin Cities Section in Minnesota for their unfailing positive attitude. In closing, Bennett recognized our committee members and thanked the generous sponsors – Mercedes-Benz of Colorado Springs, American National Bank, and the MBCA.

Photo by Stan Bixler

If this was a true Western, the StarTrailers would have driven off into the sunset. However, since it was long past moonrise, and most were heading east, the group headed off into the sunrise the next morning, all agreed that everyone had a fabulously good time. The only question on everyone’s mind: Will the Pikes Peak Section do it all over again next year.

Photo by Judy Bennett.