The views of the snow-peaked Rocky Mountains along the Front Range is unbelievable, but this area is also home to the vast majority of people who live in Colorado, which meant lots of traffic. We followed US 34 west out of Loveland and thoroughly enjoyed the twisting ride through the Big Thompson Canyon where granite mountain walls tower along both sides of the 2-lane highway.
Our original plan was to ride through Rocky Mountain National Park but when we pulled up to the entrance, the ranger told us that entry is by timed reservation only, and all reservations for today were taken. We turned around and consulted our trusty Butler Motorcycle map and came up with an alternate route.
We rode back to Estes Park and then headed south on Colorado Route 7 which we were delighted to discover is the Peak-to-Peak scenic byway. This is Colorado's first scenic byway, established in 1918. The road swept through the Rockies, past Lily Mountain and Twin Sisters, with teasing views of snow on the higher mountain elevations in the distance.
The scenic byway continues south on Colorado 119 in Nederland, twisting past several reservoirs.
This area is home to several abandoned gold mines and we saw both high piles of tailings as well as old mining equipment and structures along the road.
Due to our change of route today, we had to ride about 20 annoying miles on I-70 with stop-and-go traffic due to road construction. We were relieved to exit at Empire, a tiny town of about 300 people but luckily one very welcome dairy stand where we enjoyed actual food for lunch (burger and a malt) instead of the energy bars we've been eating. Don't miss it!
Thankfully most of the traffic stayed on I-70 and the ride was much more fun as we continued west on US 40 up and over Berthoud Pass, first discovered in 1891 and now a paved road that offers outstanding views of the Rockies through hairpin turns and switchbacks. Due to a passing lane going uphill, Mike was able to zoom past slower moving traffic (ie everyone else on the road).
We crossed the Continental Divide for the second time on this trip at 11,307', the highest elevation yet.
We continued past the Winter Park ski area, then through Middle Park, the second of the high elevation basins, or 'parks' that we've ridden through this trip.
Gore Canyon along the Colorado River marks the end of Middle Park with a fun, twisting ride through rocky canyon walls that rise 1000'.
We continued west on Colorado 134 through more wide, open-range valleys where we met another surprise: a cow and her calf next to the road.
We turned north on Colorado 131, stopping for the night in Yampa, a farming and ranching town of around 500 people.
We were pleasantly surprised to find the Antlers Cafe & Bar down the block from the motel. The building was constructed in 1906 and is one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in the area. The food was absolutely amazing; I didn't expect blackened red Snapper and shaved Brussels Sprouts in this isolated part of Colorado.
We never know exactly what we will encounter when we're traveling on the BMW, and today held several surprises, some disappointing and others really fun. We rode 250 miles today, and are looking forward to our 6th day on the road tomorrow.