Saturday, July 12, 2014

Colorado mountain passes and rivers on the BMW motorcycle

Day 5 of our motorcycle trip in Colorado started with a bear.

Mike and I went for a walk before breakfast, headed for the path along the Roaring Fork River in Aspen. Just before we reached the path Mike spotted a large black bear leisurely crossing the road. Deciding caution was in order, we walked through the streets of Aspen instead of following the path.

We didn't see other bear as we headed up Independence Pass but we did see sweeping views of the Sawatch Range as the narrow road twisted and climbed through the aspens at lower elevations and pine trees as we neared the top.

On the way to the top of the pass we stopped to see the ghost town of Independence, founded in 1879 when gold was discovered in the area. At one point over 300 people lived in this remote mountain area at 10,000' elevation, but when the gold ran out the settlement couldn't survive. According to legend, during the worst recorded storm in Colorado history in the winter of 1899, the remaining 75 people made wooden skis and escaped down to Aspen when they ran out of food.

The road kept climbing until we reached the Continental Divide at 12,095'. We walked on a paved path through the alpine tundra above the treeline with views of Mt. Elbert, at 14,440' the highest mountain in Colorado and the second highest in the contiguous United States behind Mt. Whitney in California.

We zoomed down the Pass around hairpin turns and long sweeping curves into the town of Twin Lakes.

Less than 200 people live at 9200' elevation in this beautiful area at the base of Mt. Elbert.

We turned onto Colorado Route 24, but didn't leave snow-topped mountains behind as we traveled the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway, with views of several of the fourteeners (mountains over 14,000' elevation).

We continued on Route 50 into Salida, with the Collegiate Peaks to our right and the Arkansas River to our left. We sat outside on the deck of the Boathouse Cantina watching kayaks navigate the river rapids and mountain bikers climb the surrounding hills.

As we left Salida dark storm clouds formed overhead and we stopped to put on rain gear. The temperature dropped and a light rain fell as we climbed Monarch Pass at 11,312'. We saw several motorcycles throughout our ride today, but I was surprised to see two heavily packed Ruckus scooters slowly winding up the road at 20-25 mph.

After we descended the 7% grades the sun came back out and the rain gear came off. We rode the last few miles through wide valleys into Gunnison, arriving at our hotel at 2:30 pm. Our son Nate recommended that we ride up Cottonwood Pass through the Gunnison National Forest, so we unpacked the bike and headed back out.

The Taylor River rushes next to the road on the way up to Cottonwood Pass, and we saw people in bright-orange rubber rafts navigating the rapids and fisherman wading in the shallow areas.

Our luck ran out when the sky turned black and lightning lit up the sky nearby. We turned around before we reached the Taylor Reservoir at the top of the Pass and retraced our route back to Gunnison.

We rode 145 miles today through some of the highest mountain passes in the United States. Tomorrow we continue through the Rockies to Durango. Hopefully the day won't start with another bear sighting.

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