Continental Divide- Colorado

The section from Rawlins, WY to Steamboat, Colorado was just plain fun, starting with a straight paved section south of Rawlins that suddenly turned to gravel as we approached the forests the Sierra Madre mountains. It felt good to be climbing back into the mountains with the tall pine and fir trees surrounding us. Soon we were over 8,000 feet at Middlewood Hill before dropping down only to climb again to 8,600 feet where we pulled over at a viewpoint for the 9,098 foot Battle Mountain in the distance. It was a spectacular view, so much so that I forgot to take a picture… go figure. Finally, we crossed into Colorado and rode another favorite section along the border before cutting south on CR129 through the beautiful Aspen forests. What… was my camera broken??

This was a scheduled short day, 131 miles and I wasn’t complaining. Steamboat Springs is a tourist town year round, usually. This year things were open but the normal summer crowds were missing and those that were there were all dutifully wearing masks. We checked in early at a place called the Nordic Lodge right on the main street. Funny thing, all the beautiful scenery and my only picture is of the motorcycles in front of the hotel.

We had plenty of time to walk around town, about half the tourist shops were open. Then we did something fun that would ending up costing me a lot of money later…. rented electric bicycles.

Soon we were busy offroading on these silly fat-tire e-bikes.

We found the bicycle BMX track and I gave the e-bike a good test over the jumps.. yee haa!

Steamboat to Estes Park.. more detours

It’s a good thing we had a “rest day” because this section tested our resolve. We were on the road before 8:00 and were trying to stay warm in the morning chill. We didn’t get very far out of town when we had to stop for a balloon crossing. Ahh, only in Colorado. It was pretty cool.

We rode highway 40 south and were suddenly climbing steeply on switchbacks to Muddy Pass at 9,000 feet where we crossed the Continental Divide for the first but not last time of the day. It was a nice road but was getting colder as we climbed. We entered the Apapaho National Forest and crossed the divide again at 9,000 feet and then switchbacked up even higher to 10,000 feet before starting down into the town of Grand Lake.

Dang, it was cold and my most reliable weather forecasting tool (looking up at the clouds) told me rain was on the way. This didn’t look good. The planned route took us through Rocky Mountain National Park. We had been there before and I really recommend it but I know the Trail Ridge Road to Estes Park is claimed to be the highest continuous paved road in the United States, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet. I was cold just thinking about it. Would there be snow in August? Could be.

As we approached the park there was a long line of cars which surprised me, as we got closer I saw a sign…. Reservations Required. About that time it started raining for real. We waited our turn in line when we reached the front we were turned around. No reservation and no way to get one and no way he was going to let us ride through the park even if I promised not to stop. Bummer, we turned around in the cold rain to start the southernly detour to Idaho Springs.

Gas station stop to warm up
Burrrr… coffeeeee

We arrived in Idaho Springs early enough to check into the Argo Inn and Suites and get warmed up with hot showers, ahhh. I wouldn’t say the hotel lived up to it’s name and it seemed like there were only a few other people staying there, ok.. it was run down and kind of strange. There was one really cool thing… the room had a patio door that looked over Clear Creek onto the side of a mountain. There was an impossibly narrow trail with two Bighorn Sheep that were having a royal battle.

We sat for well over an hour watching them buck horns, it was actually loud and the sound echoed across the canyon.

Just down the road was an old mine that was open for tours, I just had to check that out…

It was a gold mine and we learned about the horrendous working conditions for the workers and their children who worked the mine, most of them didn’t live very long.

Idaho Springs is also the launching point of the road of the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway which is now the “highest paved road in North America” at 14,130 feet just barely surpassing Pikes Peak at 14,115 feet. Wait, what was that claim about the road in Rocky Mountain NP? Oh, that is the tallest “contiguous” road. We considered making a run up the mountain but were there once before and decided to skip it, anxious to move on.

The high road to Aspen

The clouds cleared and we headed south in high spirits. Immediately outside of town we were on side roads following I-70 West before cutting south on perfect gravel roads with stunning scenery. This time I thought to take a few pictures.

The road we were on in the distance

We were on the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway climbing to over 11,000 feet this time. Whew, the thin air was making me happy, of course, it could be the fun we were having.

We zig-zagged up to Webster Pass at 12,103 feet before dripping down to 9,000 feet for lunch in Breckenridge. After lunch is was more fantastic riding through the Pike National Forest. Then it got crazy… Mosquito Pass. I found a YouTube video of a guy going up the same route in 2015, it wasn’t any better in 2020.

This is our story… this last uphill to the peak at 13,185 feet was as tough as I’ve ridden in a long time. I was really glad we were on the small bikes, anything bigger would have been a disaster. We stopped on the bottom next to a couple of guys in jeeps, they were looking up the steep rocky climb wondering if they could make it. Really???? In a Jeep? They looked at Deby and didn’t say a thing but it was clear what they were thinking… she’s going to try this?

We didn’t have a choice, it was a long long way around and we were determined. Probably being slightly hypoxic at over 10,000 feet wasn’t helping our judgement. I went first with Deby behind me… I tried to call out the path and obstacles as we bounced up the incline. In actuality it didn’t matter what I said, we were just bouncing wildly from one rock to another trying to stay upright. Deby bounced left when she should have bounced right and finally bounced to the ground.

Picture of my parked bike as I walked down to help Deby

Pictures never really convey how tough it really was. Deby was OK, whew.. You can just see the Jeep at the bottom waiting to see if we made it. They were smart(?) and turned around.

Here it is a little zoomed in….

After a short break we each got back on the bikes for the final push and made it to the top to document our achievement.

It was so cold and windy that Deby didn’t want to get off her bike.

She didn’t say it but I could read her thoughts…. “take the &*(% picture and let’s get going!” I talked for a few minutes with a guy that came up from the other direction on a KTM. Clearly he was an experienced rider. He took off his helmet and said the ride up from the west was way harder than he expected and he had a pretty good crash around one of the sharp switchbacks. He admonished us to be careful going down. I didn’t need to be told twice.

— LAST MINUTE EDIT… YOU HAVE TO READ THIS —-

Ok, the following falls in the category of serendipity. I finished this post last night but didn’t post it because I was going to wait until today to get it uploaded. About 9:00 PM Deby and I turned on the TV to watch something, anything so I went to the television YouTube app which usually suggests motorcycle videos. I wonder why…..The first suggestion was a guy riding the Continental Divide Route. Hmmm, scary, is YouTube reading my blog??? What the hey, it might be fun so we clicked on it. Here is where it gets surreal…..

About an hour into the video (58:47 to be exact) I see Deby! This is the guy I just wrote about who crashed! Look at my picture above, see the KTM motorcycle on the right? That is him. Here is a screen shot from his video.

Here is the video, it’s long but entertaining.

We have a guest appearance 58 minutes into the video at Mosquito Pass

—- BACK TO THE BLOG —-

Yes, we made it down. Slow and easy did the trick and we rolled into Leadville tired but with a huge sense of achievement. The plan was to ride north over Hagerman Pass and then circle around to Aspen for the night. I checked the map and decided to take a shorter route over Independence Pass on paved state highway 82 instead.

We arrived in the upscale tourist town of Aspen tired and cold, we treated ourselves to a nice hotel for the night, The Annabelle Inn. A beautiful hotel close to the center of town, I’m not sure how many stars it had but it seemed like about 10 to us. I’m surprised they rented a room to us at such a nice place after we dragged in full of dirt and mud on some old dirt bikes, but they did. As a matter of fact after we checked into the beautiful second floor room with a huge deck I went right back to the lobby and asked for a second night.

Whew, a day off in Aspen, nice.

The rest of Colorado

Colorado is a paradise for anyone on an adventure motorcycle. There must be endless places to explore and passes to cross. We spent the next five days riding North to South and back North again. After Aspen we detoured North to tag Hagerman Pass.

I’m glad we didn’t skip that one, except for another rocky uphill and getting lost a little it was a great ride. From there south to the cross the Continental Divide at the 12,126 foot high Cottonwood Pass before connecting with the famed highway 50 where we spent the night in a lawnmower shack in Sargents, Colorado.

Our room for the night in Sargents, CO

You know it’s cold when you have frost on your bike in the morning.

Frosty morning in Sargents, Colorado

Then one of my favorite passes, Marshall Pass at 10,842 feet.

We found ourselves on the Historic Saguache – San Juan Toll Road which is actually listed on dangerousroads.org. You can read about it HERE.

I love it when we find these old highway markers, this one is probably from the Stage Route era.

By this point in the trip we had given up on Kevin’s route and were making up our own paths using a combination of tracks from Big Dog, the Colorado Backcountry Adventure Route and my own tracks from previous trips. After an eerie night at a non descript hotel in the seemingly abandoned town of South Fork we turned south for a quick pass through northern New Mexico.

We stopped at the Summitville ghost town. A crazy place that turned into an environmental disaster and is now a Superfund Site.

Look at these guys in the boat, they were workers diving in the polluted toxic waters. I wonder how much you need to get paid for that job.

We love this kind of stuff, amazing.

Then something special happened…..

We were traversing the Rio Grande National Forest east of Pagosa Springs when I stopped to take this picture.

We rode a little further and came to this informative sign.

We were looking at Little Red Mountain. In the weeks before we left on this trip our dog, Little Red moved on to the great squirrel chase after being part of our family for 14 years.

Little Red, we miss you.

That night in Durango we had a toast for Little Red.

North from Durango it was more mountains and passes. We rode through Silverton and on to the Animas Forks ghost town where we climbed up another steep rocky road to the famous Cinnamon Pass.

Cinnamon Pass is just one of those beautiful places in the world that has to visited more than once.

We were on a roll, checking off passes left and right. After lunch in Lake City we rode east and crested Stumgullion Pass at 11,529 feet and circling back north to rejoin Highway 50 and cross Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet.

We dropped into Salida for the night, a place I keep finding myself coming back to. In the 1970’s I was a touring musician and Salida passed through that town before it was the tourist city it is today.

Past Salida we officially started riding north and starting to think about making progress towards home. We rode the back roads into Breckenridge where we stopped for lunch and overnighted in the impossibly small town of Kremmling at the Super 8.

The next day we recreated our path south through Steamboat Springs and soon were back in the Aspen forest close to the Wyoming border. This time I took a picture.

I’ll end this post here and should be able to wrap up the trip in the next post where we ride in 90 degree heat and then get turned around by a blizzard… all in the same day.

Thanks for following,

Donn and Deby