Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Climbing over high altitude mountain passes on the BMW

After enjoying a rest day in Carbondale, Colorado, we were ready for a longer day on the BMW, and it started off with a bang as we headed south on Colorado 133 with views of 12,965' Mt. Sopris in front of us.

133 sweeps and twists alongside the Crystal River, making for a fun and beautiful start to our day.

Route 133 is part of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway as it travels through the West Elk mountain range in the Rockies. There was hardly any traffic as we wound our way through rocky canyons and then climbed up through aspens on McClure Pass that tops off at 8,769'.

We descended into the North Fork Valley where the landscape changed completely from green mountains and rivers to dry, brown landscape that reminds us of parts of northern Arizona as we rode through Hotchkiss where we turned west on Colorado 92 toward Delta.

In Delta we turned south on US 50 that travels through the Uncompahre Valley Today this is prime, irrigated agricultural land and historically it was the home of the Uncompahre band of the Ute Native American tribe. Spaniards were the first Europeans to explore this area in the 1770's, giving Spanish names to many mountains (the San Juan range) and rivers. Gold was discovered here in 1858 which led to an influx of European settlers.

We picked up US 550 heading south from Montrose, and the real fun of the day began as we passed Ridgway, gateway to the San Juan Mountains and the start of one of our favorite motorcycle rides on the San Juan Skyway scenic byway.

We climbed from Ridgway to Ouray, named for the chief of the Uncompahre band of the Utes. Ouray is an old mining town at 7,792' elevation, founded by miners searching for silver and gold. Today it's a mecca for hiking, off-roading - and zooming around tight hairpin turns, twisties that hug the towering rock walls on one side with thousand-foot drop-offs on the other side (no guardrails!) and so much jaw-dropping scenery that we never tire of riding this fantastic road through the mountains.

There is still plenty of mining operations evidence in this area, and it's fun to try and spot the remnants of the Red Mountain Mining District tucked into the pine forest or sometimes right out in clear view alongside the road.

We crossed the top of  Red Mountain Pass at 11,018' descending with wide, sweeping turns into Silverton.

After passing Silverton, we climbed up and over Molas Pass at 10,912' followed quickly by Coal Bank Pass at 10,610' and then it's downhill all the way to Durango.

We stopped for lunch just before we reached Durango, enjoying pulled pork sandwiches at Serious Texas BBQ. Durango was founded in 1880 to serve the San Juan mining district, and is named after Durango, Mexico. It's the largest city, with about 17,000 people, in the area and we really noticed how much the city has expanded since our last visit a couple of years ago. 

We took US 160 east from Durango toward Pagosa Springs, our stop for the night. Along the way we passed Chimney Rock National Monument a protected archeological site of the Ancestral Pueblans who lived here about 1000 years ago.

Pagosa Springs is the site of several hot mineral springs, but unfortunately we don't have time on this trip to take advantage of their healing properties. We're headed over more high mountain passes in the Rockies tomorrow!

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