The Great Western Adventure: Winter Edition Part 2

After a very discouraging day in airports with canceled flights, driving on icy packed snow and a night in the “Hovel Hotel”, we are ready to cross the mountains to visit our first born son.

If you study a map of Colorado you will soon realize that Pagosa Springs is on the other side of the Rocky Mountains from Denver.

If you look carefully at that same map you would see that there are two mountain passes that we must cross before we find our son.

Two. In the winter. Remember me? I’m the one who freaked out on Teton Pass on a sunny day in September!

We started west out of Walsenburg and began the climb toward La Veta pass. The roads got slicker and the snow started to fly as we reached the summit and started down, very thankful that although the elevation was over 9000 feet, the grades were not steep.

We made it! Piece of cake! One pass conquered – one to go.

The roads cleared and the snow ended as we headed down. We had dry roads, clear skies, and sunshine as we drove across the high plains of Colorado.

Our spirits lifted as we settled in and enjoyed the adventure!

But we soon discovered that Colorado wasn’t done with us yet. We started the climb toward the next pass – the granddaddy of mountain passes – the infamous – the dreaded – Wolf Creek Pass.

We hit snow just outside of the city of South Pass.

It got deeper and visibility got poor.

Still we climbed.

We noticed that cars were just crawling down the mountain in the other lane – a mute reminder that it’s easier going up a mountain than coming down. At least going up we have gravity to help us stop.

We saw an accident that had just happened – it was a miracle that both drivers were still alive when you looked at the condition of the car and the position of the truck on top of the guard rail.

We reached the Summit and started the nail biting descent into Pagosa Springs. Steep 7% grades that end in a hairpin turn. Down and around the mountain.

Low gear. Top speed is twenty miles an hour. Poor visibility and the roads are snow covered.

Finally we reach the bottom and drive right out of the snow into Pagosa Springs!

As I peeled Jan’s hands off the steering wheel, I said, “Never ever again will I take that pass. Never again in a million, trillion years – especially in a snowstorm!”

We drove out to Wolf Creek Lodge and finally- finally got to see Matt!

I didn’t even cry – much. 🙂

Wolf Creek LodgeAnd he took this picture of Jan and I to prove that we made it. Notice that white stuff on the ground? Oh yeah…

We had a tour, got to meet his roommates and friends – and it started to snow – again.

I ignored it as we sat down to lunch and tried to just soak up the time with Matt. But it was getting harder to ignore – especially when the director mentioned the Winter Storm Warning that was going into effect.

I tried not to meet Jan’s eyes – because I knew what he was thinking – Wolf Creek Pass.

He talked to the director to see if there were any other options for getting out of there.  There were none. If we wanted to go home, it would be over that pass.

Graduation was at five o’clock. If we stayed for that – we would be traveling over the pass after dark – and after it had snowed all day.

If we left on Saturday – we may not make it out at all.

We said our good-byes and left.

Three hours. We traveled a day and half for three hours with Matt. 😦

And we missed graduation.

We bought some chains for the rental car before heading east out of Pagosa Springs and started climbing up that pass that I had just said I never wanted to go over again ever in my lifetime.

And I got to do it twice – in one day – in a snowstorm.

Thankfully the grade on the east side of the pass wasn’t as steep and winding as the west side, because the snow was deeper and the visibility worse.

Once again the snow stopped at the town of South Pass and we started across the high plains of Colorado in sunshine with dry roads.

Can I pause a minute here and say what an incredible man my husband is?! I was amazed at his driving skills and cool under pressure.

We drove hard and fast – making it over La Veta Pass after dark – despite the blowing snow and black ice. We just kept driving north on Interstate 25, thinking that if the roads were good – we were going to get as close to the airport as we could.

We finally got a hotel on the north side of Colorado Springs – which proved to be a wise decision since we woke up to another snow storm.


We had one more white-knuckled drive into Denver – but made it to the airport in time.

Our flight was an hour late – but considering everything else that we had gone through in the last few days – that was nothing.

Home never looked so good!

And you know – even though things didn’t go as planned, it was still a wonderful trip! I would do it again in a heartbeat – but only in July!

Post script-

We found out later that they closed Wolf Creek Pass a few hours after we got through. The other family hoping to drive home was still stranded on Sunday.

Northern New Mexico, from Albuquerque to Southern Colorado had a winter storm into the next week.  If we had stuck to our original plan – we might still be there. Some of the students who planned to travel that direction were still waiting on Tuesday.

Matt made it to Durango for his flight home on Sunday, but only after another white-knuckled drive west from Pagosa that included hitting a deer.

Remind me to avoid Colorado in the winter! 🙂

5 thoughts on “The Great Western Adventure: Winter Edition Part 2

  1. Oh… I can tell you lots of CO snow stories…but I’ll save that for a long chat and a cup of hot cho. for you and coffee for me visit!! My dads cabin never sees green unitl the end of June and sometimes into July!!! Let me add that I love MI weather…it can change in an instant but you cant count on spring showing its lovely face in March/April!! Love your story…glad I wasn’t there…Jan would have left us in a snow bank!!! Love YA!


  2. You would be an excellent tell a story around the camp fire gal 🙂 Goodness Melinda!! My stomach is in knots after reading that. I’ve been over those passes and you’re right they are NOT fun at all.

    Glad you are safe and sound back in FLAT Iowa 🙂


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