Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Twisting, sweeping turns through the Rocky Mountains

 We started this morning wandering around Glenwood Springs, Colorado, trying to find CO 82 East. We'd see a sign, get turned around, take a wrong turn on the extremely confusing roundabout, and finally stopped and asked directions. It was worth it, because CO 82 East heads directly toward 12,965' Mt. Sopris in the Elk Mountain Range of the Rockies just outside Glenwood Springs. 

The day just kept getting better as we turned south on CO 133, riding along the fast-moving White River on the West Elk Scenic Byway

The road climbs up 8% grades to McClure Pass, winding to the 8755' summit then twisting down the other side.

Like many of the mountain passes in Colorado, the Ute Native Americans were the first to traverse this area, followed by the Spanish in the late 1700's. It's difficult to comprehend how miners and ranchers drove their wagons up the steep grades when this was a rutted dirt road. 

CO 133 winds through Paonia, named for numerous peonies in the area (evidently the early settlers didn't know how to spell), and now home to farms, orchards, and wineries.

Staying on the Elk Loop Scenic Byway, we picked up CO 92 East, continuing through green ranches until the road started climbing, twisting, and turning in the Curecanti National Recreation Area

Steep cliffs drop down to the Gunnison River and reservoirs formed by three different dams and hairpin turns lined with wildflowers and aspens snake through the mountains.

We turned east on US 50, passing by the Blue Mesa Reservoir, then turned south on Colorado 149.

CO 149 from Blue Mesa Reservoir to South Fork through the San Juan Mountains was named the Silver Thread Scenic Byway in 1990.

We stopped in Lake City, incorporated as a silver mining town in 1875, for lunch at the Lake City Cafe, a superb restaurant in a gorgeous setting. Although home to only about 450 residents, it's a busy tourist center with over 400 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After lunch we continued south on CO 149, twisting our way up to Slumgullion Pass at 11,530'.

With grades up to 9%, this is one of the steepest paved maintained roads in Colorado. This area is part of the Slumgullion Earthflow National Natural Landmark where about 700 years ago a large chunk of decomposing volcanic rock slid down the mountain to form a natural earth dam that blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and formed Lake San Cristobal (the lake that gives Lake City its name). 

CO 149 took us through Creede where two major rivers start:  the San Juan and the Rio Grande.

CO 149 ends at US 160, and is also the end of the Silver Thread Scenic Byway. We headed west on US 160 to Wolf Creek Pass and the Continental Divide. Traffic came to a halt right at the top of the Pass due to a truck pulling a camper that caught fire. We got off the motorcycle, walked around, and read the signs about the Pass at 10,857' for about 25 minutes before we were able to continue down the mountain.

We rode 307 miles today, almost exclusively on scenic byways through some of the most beautiful areas of Colorado. We're stopping for the night in Pagosa Springs at 7,126' above sea level in the San Juan Basin. 

At Hermit's Rest in the Curecanti National Recreation Area

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