Today was all about the three T's: tunnels (9!); twisties up, down and through the Rocky Mountains; and temperature changes from a low of 50 degrees near the top of the Continental Divide to a high of 96 degrees as we finished our ride into Grand Junction.
We started the day early, leaving the hotel at 6:30am to beat the traffic around Denver. The Front Range of the Rocky Mountains defines this entire area. The temperature was in the mid-60's, but since we expected it to get cooler as we crested the Rockies, I wore a long-sleeve shirt and one jacket liner. As usual, we took the winding, twisting, scenic route on US 6 heading west into Clear Creek Canyon, a steep gorge with high rock walls on both sides of the 2-lane highway.
We rode through 5 tunnels on this twisting route that was the site of some of the most intense activity during the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859.
US 6 turns onto I-70W to cross the Continental Divide and provide a major East/West transportation route through the Rockies. We rode through 2 more tunnels: The Veterans Memorial Tunnels near Idaho Springs, built in 1961 and the Eisenhower Tunnel that is the highest vehicular tunnel in the world at 11,112' as it passes over and through the Continental Divide. We stopped in Silverthorne for gas and to put on more liners and warmer gloves to better tolerate the temperature - now hovering around 50 degrees.
We descended down the western side of the Continental Divide and rode through 3 more tunnels as we wound our way through Glenwood Canyon. Because the canyon is so narrow and deep, the 4-lane interstate was specially constructed with two, 2-lane highways, one for east-bound traffic and the other for west-bound traffic, that are nearly on top of each other.
We usually avoid Interstate highways in favor of smaller roads with less traffic but there aren't a lot of choices going East/West across Colorado. I-70 in this area feels more like a smaller highway with plenty of twisties to keep us happy.
We turned off I-70 at Glenwood Springs where we promptly stopped to shed the warm gloves and extra jacket liners as the temperature started climbing. We wound our way first on CO 82 and then CO 133, which to our delight climbed and curved over McClure Pass which at 8,755' isn't the highest pass we've crossed on this trip, but it has gorgeous views of the Elk Mountains.
As we descended down the western side of McClure Pass, we rode past Paonia Reservoir, built between 1959 and 1962 for irrigation storage in this high, dry desert area of Colorado.
We were surprised to see huge coal mining operations near the town of Somerset in the North Fork Valley, and learned that this area used to house 3 major coal mines. With the recent decline of coal, only one mine remains open.
The Hightower Cafe in Hotchkiss advertises "Strudel, Trout and Walleye". We couldn't pass it up, and stopped for lunch. Mike discovered that our waitress moved here 4 years ago from Craftsbury, VT. Small world! Since the temperature was now close to 90 degrees, Mike put on his cooling vest and we both added our neck coolers.
The high desert countryside reminded us of northeastern Arizona. We typically think of Colorado as much greener than Arizona, but the Western Slope is primarily desert.
We turned onto US 50 heading west into Grand Junction where we are spending the night. Grand Junction is the site of the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers and has a very friendly, walkable downtown area with sculptures, parks, and many restaurants with outdoor seating. After 302 miles on the BMW, we're ready to relax for the evening before continuing toward home tomorrow.