What a day!! Memories of made of this and I am pleased and honored to share these memories with those near and dear, or totally unknown, who may be reading these missives. The day began very early in the morning near the town of Montrose in SW Colorado, because I knew there was much to see today, and I haven't been able to sleep once the sun came up anyway. So early morning found me traveling east on U.S. 50 the short distance to the mountains and the Black Valley of the Gunnison River. The town of Montrose is located in a broad and flat very large valley in a not particularly pretty area. But go just 12 miles east and one enters a wonderland of mountains and one amazing gorge. The Black Valley is another place that defies the attempt to describe it with mere words. It is fabulous. The Gunnison River flows at the bottom, as much as 2,700 below the rim, the valley averaging about 2,000 feet deep, with some of the most perfectly vertical cliff walls that can be imagined. There are two ways to see this valley and I did both.
I had a pleasant surprise when I arrived at the entrance to this National Park. This weekend was free entry - the entry fee was waived at NPs across the nation yesterday and today! As much as I am willing to support our national parks, I was delighted to put my money back in my pocket.
Because I arrived so early I had the place nearly to myself. The entry road going up the mountains to the park was a blast itself, but it only got better. My first choice was to drive the narrow and incredibly steep road down to the bottom of the valley. The warning sign stated a 16% decline and to use extreme caution. They weren't kidding! I can honestly say I have never been on such a long and steep descent with hairpin curves so sharp they were virtually 180 degree turns, dozens of times. First gear all the way down. This went on for a few miles. Once finally at the bottom the view defied picture taking - couldn't begin to do it justice. At the bottom the road continues for a couple miles alongside the river and it finally dead ends and the trip up to the top begins. First gear, and on the gas all the way up. Just amazing. It gave me renewed respect and admiration for the engine and drive train on my bike!
The second way to see the valley is the drive along the rim. This road has many pull overs allowing views from the top. A visitor center stop, with a 15 minute movie explaining how the valley was formed and its history of exploration, capped off the morning. The river has been eroding down through the very hard and ancient granite at a rate of one inch per Century! (for several hundred million years now)
It wasn't entered and explored until 1901 because exploration had been deemed impossible in earlier failed attempts.
In 1909 the BLM blasted a very long tunned through the mountains to bring water to the large valley that Montrose is in, changing it from barren desert to a semi-agricultural area. An impoundment was also formed that provided water and recreation opportunities.
Finally left the Black Valley and headed east into the mountains. The Mts of southern CO arent't as dramatic as those further north, such as in the Rocky Mt. National Park. The southern mountains don't exceed tree line, and in fact many are not all that high and in some areas they are tree covered and in other nearby locales they are brown and barren. But there are delightful stretches where the road is narrow and climbs and falls and twists and turns over several thousand feet of elevation change and uncountable tight curves. By mid morning the early clouds had burned off and the race up the thermometer had begun again. I crossed the continental divide and 11,300 ft Monarch Pass, where it was just pleasantly cool, but far from needing a jacket. I soaked in the scenery at the pass and reluctantly began the ride down. I knew that in about an hour the mountains would be history and it would be flat land for a very long way home.
It was a great ride down to Canon City, fabulous road and good scenery. Just west of Canon City is the largest collection of tourist traps that I've seen on the entire trip. The bridge over Royal Gorge (a walking toll bridge high over the gorge) is indeed very impressive, but it is surrounded by a couple miles of tourist kitsch. I wasted a half hour riding back to the park and getting caught up in the traffic jam surrounding the bridge area.
Everything suddenly ends at Canon City. The city is located in a broad valley and from that point east is plains. Mountains can be seen in the distance to the south and north, but even these quickly fade away. From Canon City east to Pueblo was very uninspiring - quite built up all the way and flat!
And so I rode US 50 (one of my bucket list roads that I would like to ride coast to coast. I've ridden it from Chesepeake Bay to the Mississippi, and now across Colorado) long and far into eastern CO's prairie country. Some of this corner of the state is in agriculture, with the help of irrigation, some is vast expanses of barren dead grass plains, and some is cattle country. I had planned to ride late into the evening to put some of this country behind me, but a massive thunderstorm loomed up ahead of me prompting me to seek shelter. I came to a town with a motel after riding for the last 2 miles in a rapidly worsening rainstorm. Very fortunate, as there are many long stretches with no shelter at all that I could have been caught in.
I will say that I saw the clouds gathering some distance back, and if I were not alone I would have stopped sooner - I had passed lodging and camping places. But being alone I decided to take the chance to put some miles behind me and as it turned out I lucked out, but just barely. Watching thunderstorms gather force on the plains, and then explode in lightning flashes and thunder, and heavy rain squalls, is really quite an amazing sight.
The last three days in the mountains have been just incredible. These roads provide some of the most enjoyable motorcycling in the country and I saw many hundreds, no doubt thousands overall, of bikers enjoying the roads. (okay, they would also be fun in cars, trucks, SUVs, or whatever you might drive, but they're something special on two wheels!)
The only 'bad' incident I encountered today was just down from Monarch Pass, where a truck loaded with lumber had turned over. This must have happened at least a couple of hours prior to my getting there, as they had just about cleared the site, with only minimal traffic backups occurring because of the accident. In all those many miles of dangerous roads, where even a second's loss of concentration would put somebody over a cliff, I saw no accidents or problems of any kind.
I was amazed at the number of bicyclists that were sharing these roads! They were flying down the downhill portions of roads as fast as the cars were, but I can't imagine the work involved in pedaling up the miles of steep road in order to get to the next downhill portion! These are certainly not run of the mill average riders, and the bikes they were riding cannot be average either. They must be equipped with some very heavy duty brakes to slow them on those very long and fast downhill runs.
An observation about the current state of the state of Colorado: It seems that there are now two distinct groups of Coloradoans (sp?) The traditional and long term residents, those that wear the cowboy hats or dirty baseball style caps, drive heavy duty Ford or Chevy pickups that are used for work, not play, and whose holes in the knees of their jeans were put there the old fahsioned way; hard work. These people include the farmers, ranchers, loggers, land managers, miners, and those others who earn their livelihood off the land, and have for generations.
The new Coloradoan appears to shop at Orvis or Bean, not the local Tractor Supply Company store, they drive Subaru station wagons, and the holes in their jeans are by design; they paid good money for that look. From the amount of new development taking place in rural CO I suspect there is much conflict between the old and the new. There are many for sale signs selling large parcels of range or mountainside land for the purpose of development and subdivision into the ranchettes that CO has made an everyday word. Grazing, logging, or hunting lands are under pressure by the forces that cater to the building and lifestyle wishes of the new Coloradoans, who want to stake claim to their view of the west, which just might include a McMansion right in the middle of an Elk wintering area. There is none, or at least very little it appears, of that sort of land use conflict in eastern Colorado. The eastern prairies lack the sex appeal of the mountainous portions of the state.
Upon arrival home I will be spending some garage time changing the motor and transmission oil on the bike that I have incinerated this past week with the extreme heat and mountain roads. I will also be putting new brake pads on; I have pretty well cooked those also these past 3 days!
Next stop tomorrow morning - Dodge City! I hear they're looking for a new Sheriff in that cow town since that Wyatt fellow died, and I think I'll inquire as to what they pay.