The Rocky Mountain Driving Experience 2024: Day Two

2024 rmde auto event colorado - logoDay one of the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience wrapped up with a delightful dinner, followed by me chilling out in my quite lovely room, watching some HBO, and falling asleep. Well, somewhat falling asleep. After dozens of trips to higher elevations (I live at 5200 feet, Frisco is at 9000 feet) I knew that my first night would be plagued by poor sleep and was unsurprised when I was up and down all night. Still, I got up reasonably well-rested and was ready for RMDE Day Two.

We tried something entirely new for our second day; instead of just driving around town, we could opt for an off-road experience that would let us experience some of the 4×4 capabilities of select vehicles. I was eager to give it a whirl!

The Rocky Mountains are beautiful and great places for skiing, mountain biking, and hiking, but they were originally popular with pioneers and entrepreneurs because they hide another treasure: minerals. Silver, gold, lead, zinc, molybdenum, and even uranium can be found in the mountains. Colorado even had its own gold rush in the 1850s, leading to a lot of gold mines throughout the region along with lots of silver mines (the heydey for silver was a bit later, however, the 1870s). As a consequence, there are a lot of rough dirt roads and trails leading to mines throughout the Rocky Mountains. Like Gold Run Gulch, a fairly well-maintained narrow dirt road 500-800 feet above the town of Breckenridge.

Before we got underway, however, I took the sleek, powerful 2024 Nissan Z Nismo out for a spin:

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - 2024 nissan z nismo

Getting into this vehicle is like sliding into a racecar, including genuine Recaro racing seats. The dashboard design is fantastic, even to the additional gauges on the top of the dash that give you a full picture of your engine and drivetrain health as you motor along:

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - 2024 nissan z nismo dashboard

This is a car for people who want to go on a racetrack or drive the lonely highways as if it’s secretly Le Mans. The former is safer than the latter, for the record! This was really fun to take on the highway and marvel at how quickly it got up to speed.

GOLD RUN GULCH: LET’S GO!

After my first morning drive, a group of us climbed into the authorized 4×4 vehicles and headed up to the Gold Run Gulch trailhead, just a few miles from the hotel. Turns out it’s an unassuming path off a side road in the middle of a rather swanky housing development, and I don’t recall it even being labeled. Know your route!

To be candid, the road was in better shape than I expected, with a few mud puddles maxing out at maybe 4-5 inches depth and some uneven terrain and ravines to negotiate, but mostly a typical dirt road. Here’s the driver’s eye view:

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - gold run gulch trail

This was the 2024 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus which handled the terrain with aplomb. I own a Mazda CX-5, however, which is quite similar so it felt a bit like driving my own car on the trail. It certainly looked good with a breathtaking vista as a backdrop:

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - 2024 mazda cx-50 turbo premium plus

The trail’s about 3.7 miles long, so we had a couple of swap points, one of which also featured The Jessie Mine and Mill, an abandoned gold mine just across the creek from the road. According to the historical plaque, the hills are also dotted with abandoned mines, which makes it a tricky place to hike; you don’t want to find an overgrown shaft by falling into it!

I drove two other vehicles on the trail, the 2025 RAM 1500 Lone Star edition…

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - 2025 ram 1500 lonestar

and the 2024 Lexus TX 550h+ Luxury:

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - dave taylor - lexus tx 550h+

As you might expect, both did great with the rough dirt road. Of the three, the RAM seemed like it would be best able to handle an even rougher road, if necessary.

Overall, the Gold Run Gulch drive whetted my appetite for more aggressive off-road driving adventures, and our Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP) association is planning just that for later in the year, in cooperation with many of the same car manufacturers. More on that after it happens. If you’re into 4×4’ing there are quite a few clubs and groups that sponsor treks too, from easy to crazy hard. A Google search should reveal some in your area.

Soon enough, we were back to the hotel and our dedicated area of the parking lot with all the cars and trucks. To wrap up my RMDE experience, I spent some time in a few vehicles I hadn’t yet driven, starting with the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe:

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - 2024 hyundai santa fe

The 2024 Santa Fe has been nicely remodeled: The interior in particular is really comfy and features a new and quite attractive, upscale dashboard and control layout. It’s also big, one of the few three-row SUVs at our event.

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - 2024 land rover defender 110

I spent more time driving the 2024 Land Rover Defender 110 Country, including across Dillon Dam. I enjoyed its retro styling and quiet, comfortable ride. It actually reminded me a bit of the retro Ford Bronco design (they both have similar wheels, among other features). Early Land Rovers were entirely utilitarian but the newer design has a pleasant number of modern safety and luxury amenities.

Finally, we had lunch – pizza from Dominoes, a meal of champions! – and headed back down to Denver. Here was our route:

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - route back to denver

As usual, we had three pit stops to swap cars and stretch our legs. For the final leg, I finally got some driving time with the 2024 Subaru Solterra, a fully electric SUV:

2024 rocky mountain driving experience rmde - 2024 subaru solterra touring

I really feel that Subaru has a winner here, an EV with all the benefits thereof, but with a modern take on the classic Subaru interior and vehicle design too. It was great fun to drive, even if we had to crawl past a multi-car accident on I-470 along the way.

We returned to the hotel in Englewood and the oppressive heat of an early June heatwave and I got back into my loaner 2024 BMW i5 electric for the drive home. In all, I drove seventeen vehicles during the 2024 Rocky Mountain Driving Experience and had a great time with the people, the cars, and the scenery.

In the end, my favorite vehicle remained the one that originally caught my eye in the parking lot: The 2024 Fiat 500e. Its combination of super fun driving, surprisingly room interior, EV benefits, and affordable price make it a solid option for a second vehicle or for people who are much more interested in a commute than an extended road trip.

Big thanks to all of the organizers who helped pull this together, notably including Matt Pilgrim, RMAP president, along with David Polley and Josh Plies, who helped ensure that we’d have a great selection of vehicles to experience this year. Well done, gentlemen!

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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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