Friday, July 31, 2020

Wandering around Colorado on the BMW with some unexpected surprises

Today was full of surprises as we continued wandering around Colorado on our BMW. We started off in Loveland, a city of about 80,000 people on the Front Range. Our first surprise was that Mike found an actual breakfast spot that offered delicious breakfast burritos. Compared to yesterday's breakfast of a muffin, Pop Tarts, and juice this was a real find.

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.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

1100 miles in the past 4 days: mountain passes, wide valleys, river canyons

It was 46 degrees this morning in Saratoga, WY when we walked 1/2 mile from our hotel to the city-owned hot springs facility that is open 24 hours per day. After a 15 minute soak in the 108-119 degree mineral water that bubbles up from the ground near the Platte River, we were ready for a big day on the BMW.

We rode a few miles south on Wyoming 230, then turned east on Wyoming 130, heading over the Snowy Mountain scenic byway that climbs from about 8,000' to 10,847' at the highest point. The road sweeps up and around the mountains, offering views of several glacier lakes and the rocky peaks in the Medicine Bow mountain range.

There was almost no traffic on the road, and when we stopped at Mirror Lake we felt like we had the entire lake to ourselves.

We crossed over the top of the pass and twisted and turned our way down the steep eastern side of the mountains into a wide open valley covered with rocky grassland leftover from the glaciers.

In Laramie we turned south on Wyoming 230, riding through North Park, one of three high elevation (about 8,000') parks, or basins, in Colorado (the most famous is of course South Park). It's incredibly windy riding at this high elevation with open fields for miles around us.

We crossed into Colorado just past the lovely-named tiny town of Wycolo, continuing on to Walden, Colorado where we headed east on Colorado 14, the Cache la Poudre-North Park scenic byway

We could see the mountain range up ahead of us, and soon we started to climb our way up Cameron Pass between the south end of the Medicine Bow Mountains and the north end of the Never Summer Mountains. 

We stopped near the top of the pass at 10,276' to eat another energy bar lunch, this time with a stupendous view, before we headed down the steeper east side of the Pass. There were lots of tight turns and twists around the edges of the mountain to keep Mike happy. The road started following the rocky Cache la Poudre river, one of only 209 wild and scenic rivers in the the United States, as we headed into the tight walls of the river canyon.

We saw several fly fishermen standing the shallow, fast-moving river. The tight turns of the narrow road made this part of the day's ride even more fun.

After riding through the rocky river canyon, we turned south onto county road 27, which curves and winds through an area that burned over 87,000 acres in the 2012 High Park Fire

We ended the day in Loveland, Colorado, a city of about 80,000 people. It was a jar to our senses after riding miles in wide open spaces with almost no traffic to suddenly be in the middle of 4+ lanes of stop-and-go traffic in a city. Tomorrow we'll head back west into the Rockies, and we're looking forward to more solitude and sweeping roads.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Two mountain passes and wide-open vistas

Today is our third day of our summer bike trip, and we started out under bright, sunny skies in Rangely, Colorado heading east on Colorado 64.

The highway follows the twisting White River on the Western Slope of Colorado with irrigated green farmland nestled beneath the sandstone hills.

60 miles east of Rangely we came to Meeker, a town of about 2200 people that is the most populous town in this county - that tells you how wide-open this part of Colorado is. We had to stop quickly to let three deer cross the road in front of us in downtown Meeker before we continued north on Colorado 13 through Nine Mile Gap that tops off at 7,746'.

North of the town of Craig we passed by Fortification Rocks, a series of volcanic rocks that lifts up from the surrounding grassland. According to the sign at the Rocks, it's believed this area was used by local Native American tribes before battle; today it's more well-known as the home of many rattlesnakes. 

North of Craig the meadows opened up on all sides and a stiff wind started to blow. We saw several miles of snow fences and signs for snowmobilers, a reminder that winter is difficult in this wide-open area.

We crossed into Wyoming, our 4th state of this trip and crossed the Little Snake River and turned east on Wyoming 70 at the tiny town of Baggs, population 440 according to the sign. By this time we had been on the road for over 3 hours and were hungry for lunch. Luckily we saw a sign for the Little Snake River Museum, and thought there might be a shady spot to eat our energy bars. We were in for a most welcome surprise as the museum encompasses several historic buildings filled with interesting items. We spent a pleasant hour touring the well-kept area and enjoying a cold bottle of water and Klondike ice cream bar - a much better lunch than we anticipated!

Soon we rode into the Medicine Bow National Forest where 70E becomes known as the Battle Pass Scenic Byway, climbing through the heavily forested Sierra Madre mountains. The road is named for a battle between Native Americans and fur trappers in 1841.

Mike commented on the first aspens we have seen this trip, and they really were quaking in the windy conditions at this high elevation.

We passed many dirt roads heading off the side of the highway into the wilderness but saw very little traffic as we leaned into turn after turn, climbing our way to the top of the pass. We stopped at a sign that explained Thomas Edison visited this area in 1878 on a fishing trip, and looked out over a stunning view of a high mountain lake.

We continued climbing for a few more miles, reaching the summit at 9,955' at the Continental Divide.

We zoomed down the other side of the Pass through dry, arid country devoid of trees until we turned north onto Wyoming 230.

Even though storm clouds were building all around us, we didn't get wet as we pulled into the Riveria Lodge, our stop for the night in Saratoga. There are numerous hot springs in this area and we plan to visit one in the morning before we continue our ride southeast into Colorado - and more high mountain passes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Sweepers, twisties, hairpin turns and stunning canyons in Colorado

We left Blanding, Utah about 8:30am and headed north on US 191 to Monticello, passing Recapture Reservoir and the Blue Mountains along the way. 

We turned east on US 491 in Monticello, passing farmland and soon crossing into Colorado.

The real fun began when we headed north on Colorado 141, a 154 mile scenic route that climbs over Slick Rock Hill and crosses wide, barren valleys. We saw more signs stating 'no snowplowing between 7pm and 5am' than we did cars or trucks, and absolutely no other motorcycles. Having the road to ourselves gave us the wide-open views that we love, and the opportunity to ride through the twisties at whatever speed felt right.

After coming down Slick Rock Hill, we crossed the aptly named Disappointment Valley. Supposedly the valley was named by Mormon settlers who hoped to establish farms in this high, arid desert without success. The 2 lane paved road stretched in front of us as far as we could see.

After we rode through the tiny town of Naturita, a ranching community and past mining supply center, the landscape changed once again as the twisting road followed the San Miguel River through the San Juan Mountains.

Soon the San Miguel ran into the Dolores River, and the road swept through the Dolores River Canyon with red cliffs towering over us to the east.

We stopped at the Hanging Flume overlook, which offers a view of the 12 mile long wooden, open water chute (called a flume) that was built in the 1880's to transport water used in gold mining. The flume is attached to the canyon wall up to 75' above the river, and it's impossible to imagine how it was engineered and built.

The overlook is a perfect spot to stop and take a selfie.

We continued on through the Unaweep/Tabeguache Canyon where the rock walls closed in on both sides of the road as we followed the winding river.

The canyon opened up as we rode through another tiny town, Gateway, giving us wider, longer views of the rock walls that rise like skyscrapers.

We'd been on the road for 3 hours, and with no towns in sight that might have a restaurant open, we stopped at the West Creek day use area for a quick snack.

Colorado 141 ends at US 50, and we turned west through Grand Junction, a city of about 60,000 people on the Western Slope, the part of Colorado that lies west of the Continental Divide. The Western Slope comprises about 1/3 of the state's area, but only about 10% of the total state's population live here. Once through Grand Junction, we turned north onto Colorado 139 through the farming community of Egnar.

139 is part of the Dinosaur Diamond, a 480 mile loop through Colorado and Utah where dinosaur fossils and footprints from 150 million years ago have been found.

The highway twists through hairpin turns up the 8,000' Douglas Pass, and even a quick rain shower wasn't enough to dampen our enthusiasm about today's spectacular ride.

We dropped down on the north side of Douglas Pass and made a quick turn west into Rangely, our stop for the night. Rangely is a town of about 2500 people, and luckily there were three restaurants open for us to choose from. The town is named after Rangely, Maine, the hometown of one of the early businessmen. Mike's now been to both Rangelys, and they couldn't be more different.