Enjoy an off-road adventure in Colorado

August 8, 2013 Updated: August 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm
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Potholes as wide as a car and half as deep. Sheer limestone protruding from packed dirt. Fallen trees, tree stumps and exposed rock that threaten to pop tires.

And a long fall off the mountain if you're not steering carefully.

It can take 90 minutes of hard driving over an array of obstacles to get from County Road 51 in Divide to the serene, wide-open beauty of the Lost Creek Wilderness. To traverse terrain such as this, specialized equipment is needed: high-clearance vehicles, oversized tires and some horses under the hood.

Jerry Panek has been exploring the state since 1977. To reach the nooks and crannies, he drives a 1976 Jeep CJ7 with 37-inch tires, a 4-inch suspension lift and a 2-inch body lift. So far, he's poured about $50,000 into his Jeep.

"My hobby is outdoor recreation - camping, hunting, fishing," says Panek, the owner of Predator 4-Wheel Drive in Colorado Springs. "Four-wheeling (is) a big part of it."

Panek is particularly fond of Metberry Gulch, which ends at the South Platte River. The trek features enormous granite slabs and red rocks that speckle the wilderness. Green grass and forage stretches as far as the eye can see.

Unfortunately, so do vast amounts of matchstick trees after the Hayman fire, which consumed nearly 140,000 acres in 2002, including Metberry Gulch. Thousands of trees litter the landscape with no branches or leaves, and many still are charred black.

Panek and a steady group of volunteers have performed extensive trail maintenance throughout the county and are a big reason Metberry Gulch is open to the public.

"It's something that I feel strongly about handing to future generations," he says.

After navigating the tricky road, it's easy to see why.

The babbling South Platte River, renowned for its trout, is a stone's throw from the bottom, offering a chance to catch dinner or simply cool off in the heat of summer.

There is a lush, open valley where you can let the dog run. Hiking up the valley provides scenic views of the drive you just completed, only without the jarring.

Metberry Gulch is a place to get away from it all.

"Personally, I feel closer to God down here than I do anywhere else," Panek says.

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