early morning in Colorado Springs
The lowest elevation for the past four days was in Colorado Springs, 6,035' above sea level. It's amazing that even when we travel down into the valleys, we're still over one mile above sea level.
Today we rode west across Colorado into Utah, crossing the Rocky Mountains and winding through several steep canyons. We started off retracing our path from Friday, heading south on Colorado 115 and then west on US 50. Twisty Route 50 took us through the Arkansas Headwaters with craggy, rocky cliffs close to the edge of the road, ranches tucked into the hillsides, and miles of pine forests.
Arkansas River near Salida, CO
We barely had time to catch our breath before we crossed the Continental Divide on Monarch Pass. The temperature dipped down to the low 50's as we climbed to 11,312' and the clouds started to gather over the tops of the moountains.
We dropped down to around 7,000' on the western side of the Monarch Pass, into a high mesa valley that quickly became another winding, twisting road through the Curecanti National Recreation area. There are three reservoirs on the Gunnison River that stretch along the river canyon. We saw several fishermen and small boats as we rode 20 miles along the shores of the Blue Mesa Reservoir, created in the 1960's to provide hydroelectic power.
I could easily spend a week here, riding along the dirt roads the criss-cross the mountains, taking a boat road on the reservoir, and hiking on the miles of trails.
We were only half-way through the day but we had another amazing mountain road in front of us: Colorado 145 which winds through the San Juan National Forest with several peaks over 14,000'. Mike loved riding this highway with technical hairpin turns, long sweeping descents, and steep 7% grades. We passed by Telluride, originally home to silver mines and today a world-class ski area.
By the time we rode out of the San Juan mountains into the Great Sage Plains on the border between Colorado and Utah we thought the amazing scenery was behind us. We didn't count on the deep canyons that cross this high (over 6,000' elevation), dry area and the dark rain clouds that covered the entire sky.
There's little traffic and the small towns are spaced far apart in this remote corner of Colorado. We stopped at the Dove Creek Superette, which sells groceries, hardware, flowers, and hunting supplies for this town of around 700 people - and it's the largest town in the county.
We stopped for the night in Blanding, Utah which was originally settled by Mormans. I thought the name must be for one of the original town founders, but learned the town was originally called Grayson, and changed it's name in 1914 when a wealthy easterner offered a thousand-volume library to any town that would adopt his name. The town changed its name to Blanding, the maiden name of the easterner's wife and shared the prize with another town in Utah.
We missed most of the rain today as we rode west, and we're still smiling with the memories of the canyons, mountain peaks, and lakes. Tomorrow we head home, south through Utah into Arizona. It sounds like rain gear will be required.