Why You Shouldn’t Drive on Shelf Road At Night
For those who don’t know, I just started a new job in Cripple Creek, Colorado as the new Marketing and Events Coordinator for the city. Really exciting stuff. If you don’t know where Cripple Creek is, you’re not alone. It’s an old gold mining and gambling town just west of Colorado Springs and north of Canon City. I have been working there about three weeks and it’s been awesome.
I live in Colorado Springs, so I’m no stranger to commuting to and from work, but this particular weekend, I needed to drive back home to Canon City to see my parents who lived just outside of town. Instead of driving through Colorado Springs to drive back to Canon City, I decided to start my drive to go in the opposite direction to get home and save about 20 minutes of drive time.
When I told my dad I was coming home and taking the back way home, he said to me, “Sounds good. Just please don’t take Shelf Road home.”
“Oh, I know dad,” I said to him. “I’m going to take the longer route.”
For those of you who don’t know, Shelf Road runs from Canon City toward Cripple Creek and it’s a one-lane unpaved road created back in 1892. It’s known for the incredibly steep drop off that, if you went over by accident, you would die. It’s recommended that you take a 4wd vehicle on Shelf Road, for your own safety. And actually, there are tons of Jeep Tours who that take Shelf Road.
With a one-lane unpaved road through the mountains, it’s best to be extra careful while driving because there is little space to move off the road to make room for oncoming drivers.
Below is a video of the drive through Shelf Road, which takes about an hour.
I’d never been on Shelf Road before but had heard it was a gorgeous trip from Canon City. That would soon all change.
I’m an idiot.
And before I tell you my story, I want to first preface by saying, I don’t know how I manage to get myself into these situations. Similar situations where I’ve ended up on weird paths or in tough travel situations is nothing new to me. It happened when I traveled to Sanya for the first time, and when I ended up on a farm in middle-of-no-where China, and when I climbed a mountain by myself in the winter, without proper preparation (a story I will eventually get to).
I took Shelf Road for the first time… at night. Just like my dad told me not to. But I didn’t take it willingly and I blame AT&T and Siri for trying to lead me to my death.
The Start of the Drive
I started my lovely and terrifying ride home with a drive asking Siri politely to take me home to Canon City. She put in the directions and the average time of travel matched what I had researched the night before. I passed by many beautiful homes nestled in hillsides and as the sun was setting the sky turned the clouds pink and orange.
As I drove deeper into the mountains, homes became scarce, as well as telephone poles, and soon I lost service. Of course, I didn’t panic, this has happened to me before on the way to Page, Arizona. Boy, AT&T really does suck ass. I didn’t panic just, because as long as I had the GPS going before I lost service, GPS would keep going until I got home.
But with these country winding roads, Google maps can get rather confused. While I was indeed driving on a paved road, Google believed I was going off-roading or some shit, and suddenly, I lost my route. So here I am, on this road, by myself, with no service, trying to get back home. Not a big deal. I’ve driven blind to a destination before. It’ll be fine.
Entering Hillbilly, Wrong Turn Territory
I kept driving until I came to a sign that said Canon City with an arrow pointing where I needed to go. Finally, I had found the route. I took the road and kept driving home. Somewhere along the way, I picked up service again, enough for my GPS to find the route again and just in time to alert me to turn onto a dirt road. Shortly after, I lost service again, but my GPS kept working.
I drove the dirt road, but I became suspicious that I definitely was not where I wanted to be. And by this time, it was already after 8:00 pm. I wasn’t willing to take the risk of driving the paved road and definitely not know where I was going, so I stuck with the dirt road.
That was a bad idea.
My stomach started churning and I felt nauseous. The dirt road kept winding through the darkness and I was like mother f***er. I’m going to Shelf Road. And it was too late now to turn around.
This was scary. This was “The Hills Have Eyes“. This was “Wrong Turn“. No trace of humans at this time of day. I locked my doors after having an irrational feeling that some mountain men would be trying to give me a flat tire so they could eat my ass. I also thought to myself, this is a perfect place to get abducted by aliens.
Nonetheless, I kept driving, white knuckling, and praying to almighty whoever to make sure I didn’t die on the way home and I know that sounds dramatic, but if you’re by yourself on Shelf Road at night, you may see what I’m talking about.
Driving Shelf Road In a Mazda
Before actually make the incline to Shelf Road, I ran into a herd of cattle right in the middle of the road. I stopped, trying to figure out how to get around them.
I thought to myself, this is it. This is how the hillbillies are going to get me. And as I moved to drive around the cows, the young steer in my headlights felt it was the appropriate time to flash his red rocket in an attempt to mount the cow in front of him.
I don’t have time for this. I honked and they were reluctant to move. I proceeded slowly and the little calves in my paths pounced around my car. At least someone was having a good time. I, however, was not.
The incline to Shelf Road became more apparent and I started to curse at myself. I drove slowly, but my panic and my instincts to flee this terror was trying to get the better of me. But you can’t drive fast on Shelf Road. So I ate the next 30 minutes of my drive feeling like I was sure to throw up right on my new Chala purse.
I drove the winding Shelf Road glancing through my peripheral vision at the dark abyss that awaited me on the left side of my vehicle if I was to make one driving mistake.
Guys. I drive a fricking Mazda 6 Sedan. I SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN HERE. I should’ve been safe in the comfort of my parents living room watching my parent’s cat lick the back of my dad’s head to death while my mom fell asleep on the couch watching Netflix.
The Home Stretch
Slowly, I started to feel the downhill slope of Shelf Road and I knew I had to be close. As I came around a corner, I saw the orange city lights of Canon City and I felt a little relieved. I checked my phone to see if I had service. Surprisingly, I did. So I called both my parents and boyfriend to let them know that I hated Shelf Road and never wanted to drive again.
Within minutes, I had found my way back to Hwy 50, the stretch of road that would take me to Canon City.
I’m not saying you should never take Shelf Road. I’m just saying, only an idiot would take it at night. And while I consider myself to be smart, I was definitely an idiot.
Do your research before traveling Shelf Road and be careful out there Colorado Travelers!