Sheer, exposed cliffs make my kneecaps clatter like castanets.
Once, during a backpacking trip, I had to crawl on my hands and knees through a 200-foot stretch of trail that was making my eyeballs spin like plates balanced on the end of long, spindly poles. So no, my favorite part of last week’s campervan tour of Colorado wasn’t taking Highway 82 over Independence Pass, between Aspen and Twin Lakes.
Thankfully, my husband drove and I blindfolded myself with a bandana fished from the pile of facial coverings shoved in the Dodge ProMaster 1500 campervan we’d rented. He negotiated all the drop-offs and hairpin turns; it scared the hell out of me.
Before driving the pass, you should know a few things.
First, vehicles (or vehicles plus trailers) that exceed 35 feet in length, are prohibited from driving the pass. The transportation department has a handy bit of technology set up that flashes a warning light if your rig is too long. There’s a spot to turn around if necessary.
In two places on the Aspen side of the pass, the road narrows so much that only one car can negotiate the road at a time. If you meet an oncoming vehicle (like we did, in both spots), some jockeying will take place. Chris had to fold in the side mirrors so we could squeeze past one car.
The road is narrow and twisty, with steep inclines. There are guardrails in places, but they’re low. The pass closes every winter because you’d have to be crazy to drive across it in inclement weather. The elevation at the top of the pass is 12,095 feet, and you can pull over and park (and hyperventilate like me for a few minutes), and even get out and enjoy the scenery (which is not at all scary at that spot and quite beautiful!).
Also, be on the lookout for cyclists, who like to pedal over the pass for fun. (No thanks.)
My husband, who has also driven the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Durango, says this pass isn’t as scary as that one. That one, he says, needs more guardrails. (I crouched on the baseboards of our car as we made that crossing a few years ago, during a winter ski trip. Never again.)
As we made our way down the less terrifying, Twin Lakes side of Independence Pass toward a campground, I opened my eyes. The worst was behind us – except that even on that far more gradual decline, I saw a popup trailer, minus its tow vehicle, dangling about 20 feet down a slope, slightly crumpled.
Afterward, for fun, as we popped a bottle of wine to take the edge off the experience, I googled Independenvr Pass. My advice? Don’t do that.
And if extreme heights give you the willies, leave the driving to someone else.