|June 3, 2006
TT-West, Durango, Colorado
After taking 2005 off, TT-West was back again this year for another successful event. Once again organized by Gina Castle (cubstter) with help from Peter Grabowsky (PGTT), the 2006 event was held in Durango, Colorado, a small mountain town located in the southwest corner of the state. While it may seem fairly remote when looking at a map, Durango proved to be an excellent location for an automotive enthusiast gathering; it is a beautiful, central location with fine accommodations, easy access to a wonderful National Park and best of all possibly the greatest scenic driving route in the nation.
Most attendees of TT-West have known each other via the AudiWorld forums for years and many have attended at least one of the TT-West/East events in the past. TT Owners from across the nation were present at this year's TT-West. While the vast majority were from the Western half of the country, a number people made the trek from far away eastern states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey. Having never actually owned at TT and this being my first time attending a major TT gathering, I was admittedly an outsider to the close-knit community.
Trying to fit in as best as possible, AudiWorld tried to acquire an Audi press vehicle for the event. Obviously a TT would have been ideal and our pipe-dream was to see if Audi had a new Mk2 TT in the country which we could test for a few days - of course that remained a pipe-dream. So we turned our attention to other Audi's that may have been in the press fleet: a Q7 would have been a good choice, or any Audi for that matter. Unfortunately, it appeared that nothing would be available.
I guess the Audi gods took pity since the next day brought a completely unexpected surprise in the form of a brand new Audi RS4 which had just landed in the press fleet. Needless to say, they didn't have to ask twice if I would take the RS4. In addition to the obvious thrill of having the uber-Audi for the long road trip, it also proved to be an excellent icebreaker in this large group of people that I was meeting for the first time.
The first day of the event (Thursday, May 18th) was a day of arrivals, check-ins and time to relax after the long drives. For me, the day started in Parker, CO and consisted of a 7-hour (near speed limit) drive to Durango. My drive down was uneventful with the exception of an unexpected construction stop in Wolf Creek canyon. The stop proved to be a nice place to stretch for a bit. I learned from another driver that he had seen four TT's pulled over outside of Denver. It didn't take much imagination to guess they were headed to Durango for the weekend. The fun was already beginning for some.
The Double Tree Hotel Durango, the host hotel for TT-West, is located just feet from the Animas River which runs through town. I arrived in the late afternoon, checked into my room and headed over to the hospitality suite to check in for the event. The suite was already filled with other attendees enjoying the relaxing environment of the hotel. Later in the evening I connected with TT-West sponsor (and former TT owner) Nick Martinez from Detailers Paradise who had driven from Denver in his Lotus Elise. We had dinner in the historic downtown section of Durango at a restaurant called Scoot 'n Blues which features a classic motorcycle and blues music theme. While we ate a local band competition was taking place and we were treated to a fairly decent heavy metal band. The music wasn't for everyone, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. After dinner we connected with other Denver area TT owners for a few late night drinks at a local bar called Lady Falconburgh's.
Friday marked the first day of official TT-West activities. The day's schedule started off with a drive to Mesa Verde National Park, famous for its numerous cliff dwellings. Most people chose to gather in the parking lot in the morning prior to the official drivers meeting for the day. A few people even took the opportunity to have their cars reprogrammed by Scott Simpson from sponsor 303 Motosports who was on hand as the official representative for title sponsor Revo.
After the drivers meeting and collecting our box lunches, the large group of Audi TTs headed out from the hotel. The entrance gate to Mesa Verde National Park is about 35 miles from Durango along Highway 160. The progression of TTs made the trek easily and mostly in a single group, with many other drivers rubber necking to see all of these unique vehicles in one place. Once reaching the main gate of the park it would be another 15 miles to the visitor center along a long, twisty road which took us to the top of the mesa where the visitor center is located.
At the visitor center, the group stopped for a group photo shoot. It took some time to line up the cars and many people took the down time to eat lunch, check out the other TTs (the RS4 was a popular attraction as well) and to visit the Mesa Verde visitor center. Once the group photo was complete, individuals were left to their own accord; most chose to further explore the park. While the park boasts over 3000 cliff dwellings, only a handful are open to the public. These include the Cliff Palace, Balcony House and the Spruce Tree House. I joined Nick Martinez on a tour of Spruce Tree House, then went over the Balcony House, which requires a little bit of strenuous effort to visit; climbing a 32 ft ladder and crawling through a small tunnel where required, but the effort was worth it.
After visiting the park, most people headed back into Durango to relax and enjoy the hospitality of the town. A small group of eastern TT owners took the remainder of the afternoon to visit the Four Corners monument, which is the only place in the nation where four states come together in one place. I chose to go back into town and wash two days of bugs off the RS4. The day was capped off with dinner at Francisco's Restaurante y Cantina, a fine mexican restaurant located in this historic downtown section of Durango.
Saturday was reserved for a daylong drive through the Colorado high country along the San Juan Skyway. Dubbed the "Million Dollar Highway", the San Juan Skyway would take us through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the country. The route took us out of Durango back towards Mesa Verde, we then detoured off the byway at Mancos before picking it up again at Dolores. From there, we followed the route to Telluride. Before reaching Telluride, the group stopped at Lizard Head pass. The 10,222 ft elevation and dramatic backdrop of the rocky mountains proved to be another excellent place for a group photo.
The group then made its way to Telluride, which was a short 15 minute drive from our stop through some sporadic rain showers. Once reaching Telluride we encountered one of the most difficult aspects of our drive along the San Juan Skyway: the 15 mph town speed limit. Thankfully, the entire group was able to manage the ridiculously slow town speed limit and find a place to park for lunch.
Telluride is captivating small mountain town at an elevation of 9,500 feet. It is surrounded by 13,000 ft peaks, features a large ski mountain and the downtown area has been set aside as a National Historic District. We soon learned that visiting Telluride in the off-season can provide some challenges, the main one being that 80% of the town's restaurants were closed. Thankfully, the locals were able to show us where to get some good food.
After lunch, about half the group met up at the official rendezvous point to continue on with the drive, while the rest started to break apart into smaller groups and continue on their own. I wanted to get ahead of the main group to find a location to take photos as they passed. I continued along the designated route and let the RS4 stretch its legs a little. I drove until I came upon the town of Ouray, another amazingly beautiful mountain town surrounded by breathtaking mountains. While not in the original plan, I stopped to visit this amazing little town.
Still wanting to be ahead of the main group, I headed out of Ouray and started into what would prove to be the most spectacular part of the drive. Immediately out of Ouray the road picks up elevation quickly with a number of tight switchbacks. A couple of miles up the road I came to an overlook of the town where I stopped to see if it would make a good photo location. While it wasn't ideal, I was able to capture a lone TT lazily making its way through the switchbacks.
I continued on and short time later came to a narrow section of road with shear cliffs on each side (a location that wasn't for the faint of heart) that was perfect for photos. I did manage to pull off to the side of the road with a few feet to spare on one side and the main group passed by within a few minutes.
I eventually caught up with the group and continued on with a number of people for the remainder of the drive. This part of the drive continued with the awe inspiring scenery: rivers raging with winter run off, numerous waterfalls and a fun, challenging road. I was continually conflicted on whether to stop to enjoy the scenery or enjoy the capabilities of the RS4. Ultimately, I figured I would never have the opportunity to drive an RS4 again anytime soon, so I decided to enjoy the RS4. I connected with a TT and together we enjoyed a very spirited drive back to Durango. Only one law enforcement official was seen along the way, but we happened to be being law-abiding drivers during that encounter, although I hear that others were not so lucky.
The arrival back into Durango gave us time to rest before the final dinner of the event later that evening, which would be held at the hotel. I took the down time to relax and to take a walk through the historic Durango downtown.
The event was capped off with dinner at the hotel and the official event raffle. Raffle prizes where donated by numerous sponsors: Audi Club North America, Revo, ModShack TTuned, AWE Tuning, Stoner, Audi TT Car Club of America, Detailers Paradise and many more. My raffle number was called for the ModShack TTuned Injuction System and considering I don't own a TT I took an offer to trade for an AWE Gift certificate and T-Shirt. In all there were many happy winners.
I came away from my first TT gathering with a great appreciation for this enthusiastic group of Audi owners. The group showed a lot of hospitality to this "outsider" (although if I had showed up without the RS4 maybe it would have been a different story...) and I enjoyed myself tremendously.
Initial plans are in the work for TT-West 2007 which will be held in the southwestern part of Oregon. There will be two more TT gatherings this summer: TT-Central, July 13-16, 2006 in Louisville, Kentucky and TT-East, August 24-27, 2006 in Stowe, Vermont. Don't miss out on these exciting Audi owner's gatherings.
Special thanks must go out to Gina and Peter for organizing this event, the Colorado owners group that scouted locations and planned the driving routes and, of course, all of the sponsors that helped make this event possible.