Pass Bagger 50 - 2005
I've always enjoyed riding the mountain passes in Colorado because they always include a lot of beautiful scenery and plenty of curvey roads. After doing some long rides out of state the past two years I decided that in 2005 I'd stay closer to home, participate in the
BMW Motorcycle Club of Colorado's Pass Bagger 50, and re-discover some of the passes I've visited in the past, and discover a few new ones.
For maps and more pass photos, check the passbagger.org site.
March 12, 2005 - Crow Hill Divide, Kenosha Pass, Red Hill Pass, Trout Creek Pass, Currant Creek Pass, Wilkerson Pass, Ute Pass, Mountain Shadows Pass, Monument Hill Divide. About 280 miles.
The first ride on this quest was on an unseasonably warm March day and took me on a loop of about 280 miles from our home in the Denver area. Heading southeast the first stop not far away on US-285 was at Crow Hill divide, which in the numerous times I had been up/down the hill that's all I thought it was. But checking my primary reference, "The Passes of Colorado, An Encyclopedia of Watershed Divides", by Ed Helmuth & Gloria Helmuth (Pruett Publishing Company, 1994) I found it was more than a hill and was actually a divide between watersheds. So a stop was in order to take a photo of the sign, one of the Concours by the sign (to satisfy the requirements for the Pass Bagger 50), and a third photo just to give folks an idea of what the divide looks like. (Check the passbagger.org web site for the photos.)
On out US-285 I stopped at Kenosha Pass, one of our favorite places for viewing the changing aspens in the fall, but on this March day the trees were bare and snow was on the ground. And it was a chilly 40 degrees. The photos were taken, then it was on across South Park with its views of the Continental Divide all along to the north. South of Fairplay I continued on to Trout Creek Pass on US-24, took the photos, and headed back east to Hartsel. South of Hartsel there there wasn't an official state highway sign at Current Creek Pass but just down the road was a cool sign for the Current Creek Pass Ranch. Hopefully the photos will count for the PB50.
After returning to Hartsel I headed east again on US-24 and met a number of BMW riders who were out on one of the BMW Club's rides. And along the way toward Wilkerson Pass there were plenty of buffalo to be seen. Just like being out West. Oh yeah, South Park is out West. It was a favorite place for the Ute Indians and the mountain men to hunt plenty of wild game back in the old days. After more photos I continued to Ute Pass at Divide, and then on down past the turn off to the Pike's Peak Highway, past Manitou Springs, and into Colorado Springs.
Just north of Garden of the Gods and the MCI office building where I worked for a while was supposed to be a sign for Mountain Shadows Pass. It is pictured in the Helmuth book but there has been quite a bit of nice housing built in the area since the book was published and I couldn't find the sign. Since it was supposed to be right near the entrance to the Flying W Ranch and wasn't, I suspect it is long gone. After riding around a while I gave up and headed home up I-25 and stopped at Monument Hill Divide for some more photos. Rather than stop on the shoulder of that very busy highway I was able to stop along the frontage road on the east side of I-25 and use my telephoto to pull the cycle into a good picture with the sign. After riding the lightly traveled US-285 and US-24, I-25 wasn't much fun, but it got me back home.
April 23, 2005 - Wixson Divide, Bigelow Divide, Greenhill Divide, North La Veta Pass, Old La Veta Pass, Cucharas Pass, Raton Pass. About 530 miles.
Another nice riding day was forecast so I started at 40 degrees with Heatrollers turned up on the electric vest and heated grips. Normal busy I-25, turned off in Colorado Springs to ride CO-115 past Fort Carson (whose soldiers are again deployed to Iraq) to Penrose (where my great grandparents once lived), through the rural town of Florence, past the Super Max prison (I wonder what those folks are thinking when a motorcycle passes by, the rider experiencing the freedom we enjoy so much.), and on to Wetmore. From there the winding roads into the mountains began, first on CO-67 and then CO-165. After 5 miles of uphill I reached Wixson Divide, a very obvious divide, but there weren't any signs to photograph. But after another four miles of riding in 39 degree sunny weather with snow on the ground on both sides of the road I reached Bigelow Divide which was well marked. Just down the road was Bishop's Castle and although it's a fun place to stop and see a real castle with turrets and a smoke-belching dragon at the top, I continued on south cautiously enjoying the curves while watching for sand and gravel. Next up was Greenhill Divide which is in the Helmuth book and on the topographic maps, but again there wasn't a sign.
After passing through Rye and returning to the plains I turned south on I-25 again, exiting at Walsenburg where I've stopped many a time on other trips, including once for a checkpoint during the Thin Air TT and once for a 1-hour stop at the Iron Butt Motel during a 1000-in-24 while "collecting" fifteen Continental Divide Passes in one long day. West of Walsenburg I made the observation that pronghorns (antelopes) will run at the sound of a motorcycle, much smarter than the deer I encountered earlier west of Wetmore. Several miles after crossing (North) La Veta Pass I took the old highway up to (Old) La Veta Pass. The road was fairly easily traveled dirt and gravel but it was clear from the wheel tracks that the Concours wouldn't make it on a wet day. A mile and a half from US-160 was the summit where there are a number of picturesque old buildings, a stone that once had a marker for the summit, and a hand painted sign that said "UPTOP Elev. 9300". Again, I hope the photos will be good enough for the PB50. After enjoying the quiet spot I returned to the "new" La Veta Pass on US-160 for photos.
At La Veta, a photogenic old town, I headed south on very scenic and curvey CO-12, the Highway of Legends. This area of the state was settled by the Spanish a avery long time ago and evidence of that can be found all around. Following the Cuchara River that is running full of spring run-off, I passed through the small town of Cuchara, went by the Cuchara ski area, and after many corners eventually reached Cuchara Pass. The directions to nearby Cordova Pass (at this time of the year, still a site for cross country skiing) were clearly marked but there weren't any signs for Cuchara Pass. But down the road was a nice sign for the Cuchara Pass Ranch. Thank goodness for ranchers or I'd be missing some key evidence for the PB50!
After passing through quite a few old towns and seeing plenty of old adobe houses, I reached Trinidad (and 70 degree weather) and headed south on I-25 for Raton Pass. Two miles from the summit was a sign saying it was just ahead, but I didn't see any signs at the top. I exited at the weigh station, took a photo of the signs there, noticed the road looped back over I-25, spotted some sign boards explaining the history of the pass, but didn't spot a "real" pass sign. I was about to leave and decided to find a tree to go behind when I discovered the "official" plaque for the pass behind a chain link fence at what must be an old rest area. It must have been a fine spot once upon a time because it had, and still has, wooden steps that go way up the hill to what were probably picnic spots with great views toward the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Anyway, I took the necessary photos, stopped in Trinidad for gas, then covered the 195 miles home in 2 1/2 hours. Another beautiful day in Colorado.
May 21, 2005 - Cameron Pass, Willow Creek Pass, Berthoud Pass. About 330 miles.
For the start of this outing I rode up past Ft. Collins to Laporte to meet the Concours Owners Group guys at Vern's for breakfast. After cinammon rolls and such, Jack Reed and about four others headed off to Estes Park and Peak to Peak Highway while I took CO-14 up Poudre River Canyon. The river was full with spring run-off and the trees were leafing out. One of the most scenic roads in Colorado. And in the 60 miles from the turn-off at US-287 to Cameron Pass I only passed seven slow moving tourists. Had the road almost to myself. One of the best motorcycling roads in Colorado. Up high it was cooler with more and more snow on the ground and near Cameron Pass was a lake that was still frozen over. At the pass the snow was about 3 feet deep, not just in the shady places, but all over.From the pass I continued on west down into a windy North Park and stopped at Walden for gas, then turned south on CO-125 through Rand toward Willow Creek Pass. North Park is fairly flat and tree-less but suddenly the road goes into the forest as it climbs toward the pass. After a stop for photos at the top, it's a very curvey 22 miles to Granby on another of the best motorcycling roads in the state. Good pavement, only a couple of surprising corners, and great scenery. Willow Creek had more water in it than I have seen before and it was spreading all over the normal serpentines. So scenic that it demanded slower riding just so it could be fully enjoyed.
South from Granby on US-40 through Middle Park (home of Fraser and record low winter temperatures) there was more traffic so a watchful pace was needed, even on the fun switchbacks heading up to Berthoud Pass. I was able to take an interesting motorcycling photo there with snow boarders in the background hiking up the hill (a manual ski lift of sorts). After Berthoud it was a normal ride back home to the Denver area.
June 18, 2005 - Loveland Pass, Ute Pass, Milner Pass, Fall River Pass. About 300 miles.
It was a perfect day for riding in the mountains. I met Rick Hall, who rode down from Lyons on Peak-to-Peak Highway, at Idaho Springs. We headed west on I-70, stopped at Silver Plume to buy some cinnamon fruit bread at the old bakery, and just short of Eisenhower Tunnel headed up to Loveland Pass on the Continental Divide. At the pass we took some some photos and talked to some guys out practicing for the Triple Bypass bicycle ride which includes 120 miles, 10,000 feet of elevation gain, Squaw Pass, Loveland Pass, and Vail Pass in a one-day ride from Bergen Park to Avon. I rode it two years ago. It's a tough ride.
Then it was a quick return to I-70 and through the tunnel. Rather than being traditional and honking in the tunnel, Rick pulled the old Doug "Speed" Lane trick of hitting the stop button on his cycle, giving it a twist of gas, then hitting the run button. The result was a loud backfire. Who says we always have to act our age. :)
North of Silverthorne we turned east toward Henderson Mines and went up to another Ute Pass. There weren't any signs there indicating the name of the pass, but there was a terrific view of the snowy mountains to the west. After some photos we rode on north to Kremmling for a quick lunch and to visit the Veteren's Memorial Park where a Cobra helicopter is displayed. It brought back memories of a flight I got to take in one of those mean looking machines. Everyone should get to experience a 120-degree bank-over in a Cobra.
After Kremmling we headed to Granby, went past always beautiful Grand Lake, and began the scenic ride into Rocky Mountain National Park. The west side of the park with views of the Colorado River is of my favorite places in Colorado. Up on the Divide we stopped at Milner Pass for photos, then continued on to the Alpine Visitor Center for more photos at Fall River Pass. (The pass can best be experienced by driving the Fall River Road from the east. It's a fairly slow, gravel road but is very scenic and kind of surprisingly ends by the back door of the Visitor Center.)
After a slow ride down through the east side of the park, which made it easy to take some on-the-road photos, we stopped at Rick's place, before returning to the Denver area. What a great day of riding.
July 30, 2005 - Squaw Pass, Juniper Pass, Berthoud Pass, Rollins Pass, Guanella Pass. About 220 miles.
After many years of thinking about getting a dual sport bike, I finally got a 2002 Kawasaki KLR650 on July 14th. I decided my first outing would be fairly close to home and needed to include some curvy paved roads, some dirt roads, and some mountain passes to bag.
So I took off and went up the curvey, fun Bear Creek Road out of Morrison, then over to Bergen Park, then headed uphill on CO-105, the Squaw Pass road, a favorite with bicyclists, motorcyclists, sports car drivers, and tourists. I knew exactly where Squaw Pass is but knew that it wasn't marked (Neither the Colorado Department of Roads or Clear Creek County seems to want to claim that exact spot, and according to rumor, doesn't want to mark it because it isn't a politically correct name.) so I stopped a few miles from the pass and took a photo of an "Old Squaw Pass Community Association" sign, then at the pass took another photo showing the view down towards Idaho Springs.
On up the road a few miles I stopped at the Juniper Pass picnic ground to bag another pass and to take the necessary photos. Then it was a scenic ride past Echo Lake and down to Idaho Springs.
Rollins Pass was next on my agenda, so after crossing Berthoud Pass and traveling almost to Winter Park, I turned uphill right across from the west entrance to Moffat Tunnel and headed up the dirt road, portions of which are an old railbed. We traveled this road last year in the Xterra so I was familiar with its condition, which isn't too bad. But I sure was suprised at how well the KLR handled the bumps and washboards. It was smooth riding and I kept finding myself going faster than was prudent on a narrow road with other traffic. It didn't take long at all to decide that I really liked the bike and that style of riding. I did stop a few times to take some pictures of the views and the many wild flowers that were especially pretty and abundant up above timberline. At the Pass I took some more photos, then headed back down toward Winter Park. A great ride! The KLR is a "keeper".
After arriving back at the pavement I went over Berthoud Pass again and came to the conclusion that the KLR really handles those switchbacks well, probably better and more confidently than my Concours. I was feeling a little like Don Canet, of Cycle World magazine, riding a supermoto bike and it was time to laugh out loud inside my helmet! I followed the curves down to Empire (don't speed there), then traveled I-70 to Georgetown where I bought my first tank of gas (50 mi/gal) before heading up the road to Guanella Pass. The first several miles are paved but potholed, then there's a long stretch under construction. The KLR handled the loose dirt, rocks, and bumps in fine fashion. After reaching the summit, I couldn't find a sign at all, including the one we photographed with the Xterra a couple of years ago. So it was two very dusty miles back down to the Guanella Pass campground for some Pass Bagger photos. Then two dusty miles back up to the pass. Hey, this is a little different than traveling on pavement with the Concours. Especially since it was sprinkling some too. I was becoming a dirt bag. But, boy was I having fun.
The road down the southeast side of the pass was in fine shape, a mix of well graded dirt and pavement off and on. At Grant I stopped to eat a Clif Bar and to consider my plans for the rest of the day. Was there time to bag Boreas Pass too, or should I head for home before my kitchen pass expired? I took the wise choice and headed home on US-285, still grinning inside my helmet.
August 6, 2005 - Kenosha Pass, Boreas Pass, Hoosier Pass, Weston Pass, Hagerman Pass, Fremont Pass. About 300 miles.
Only a week later I just had to get out on the road to ride that KLR again. Heading out on US-285 I crossed Kenosha Pass, then at Como (site of an old railroad roundhouse) I turned onto the gravel road leading to Boreas Pass. This is another road that follows an old railbed that is fairly narrow in places, but it is very comfortable to meet and pass traffic when riding a narrow motorcycle. After stopping a couple of times for scenery photos I arrived at the pass where the Forest Service has restored some old buildings and has some very good signs explaining the history of the railroad and things along the route. Heading on down the road I stopped some more for the views, went past the old Baker water tank, and arrived at Breckenridge where there is an old train engine and rotary snow plow (originally used on the Yukon and White Pass Railroad between Skagway and Whitehorse) on display.
After getting some gas and answering a tourist's questions about the Happy Trail panniers, I headed up the hill to Hoosier Pass, rapidly catching up with some BMWs that were obviously out riding on the Colorado Beemers' 100,000 Foot Ride. At the summit a couple (traveling from Florida to Sturgis on a Harley) and I swapped cameras for photos of ourselves in front of the pass sign.
South of Hoosier Pass I went through the old mining towns of Alma and Fairplay, then turned west on a gravel road leading to Weston Pass. This old wagon road is in pretty good shape all the way to the summit where I stopped for photos at the sign. The Forest Service recommends high clearance vehicles for the road down the west side of the pass and the KLR fit the bill to a T. I weaved and bobbed through the rough stuff, rode down one steep hill with lots of loose dirt and rocks (and wondered if I could make it going the other way), and followed a Jeep through a fairly long and deep stream crossing. If there had been people along the road they could have heard the laughter coming from inside my helmet. This dual sport riding is a kick.
The Weston Pass road comes out on US-24 south of Leadville, where I turned west toward Turquoise Lake and Hagerman Pass. The road partly follows an old railbed, goes by a blocked off tunnel, and then climbs toward the pass on a shelf road. No problem on a narrow cycle. Some of the road surface is rocky, has a bunch of ups and downs, and is usually marked as a "medium" in the 4WD guide books. The KLR and this rookie rider were handling it with ease. When I arrived at the summit I was greeted by a couple from Rifle, the world traveler guy on a BMW GS Adventure and the gal on a BMW GS650. After quickly swapping our riding stories as we often do, I returned to Leadville the way I had come. All along the way I was wondering how I had ever ridden a Windjammer-equipped Honda CB750K to the pass back in the late '80s.
At Leadville I stopped at a gas station and had some Gatorade and Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies for a late "lunch" while I deliberated whether or not I had time to travel across Tennessee and Shrine Passes. Decided that I would be too rushed, I took the quicker route to Fremont Pass, snapped some photos and buzzed back home. Another beautiful day in Colorado, and in the spirit of things, a great day for a 68,187' Foot Ride.
September 8, 2005 - Shrine Pass, Vail Pass, Battle Mountain Summit, Tennessee Pass, Independence Pass. About 350 miles.
After spending a lot of time with our daughter's wedding and with moving, it was time to take a day off to find some more mountain passes. On a sunny fall day I headed west on I-70, took the Vail Pass exit, and then traveled about 2 miles west on a gravel road to Shrine Pass. The Shrine Pass road to Red Cliff is one of the prettiest back roads in Colorado (and one that my friend Terry rode on his BMW R1150RT earlier in the summer), but I stopped at the sign, took some photos, enjoyed the scenery, and returned to I-70.
I don't like to stop on the shoulder of an Interstate, so at Vail Pass I took the truckers' exit (just west of the normal exit for the pass), parked well to the left, and snapped the photos. I then continued west on a very scenic stretch of Interstate as it descends through pine and aspen forest and red rock to Vail. At the bottom of the hill it was time to turn south to Minturn and to one of the most scenic stretches of road in Colorado.
US-24 follows the Eagle River from Minturn, then climbs past the old mining town of Gilman to Battle Mountain Summit. Ironically this summit is well marked, versus some passes that aren't marked at all, but the summit isn't a pass that can count for the Pass Bagger. Never-the-less, the views from there shouldn't be missed. The view looking down on the old buildings and houses at Gilman and way down to the railroad that follows along the Eagle River is like a well-detailed HO train diarama, only it is for real. Then not far to the south near Red Cliff is a high bridge that is occasionally seen in car ads on television. It's an especially colorful scene with the changing aspen all around.
As US-24 continues toward Leadville it passes though the old Camp Hale site where the 10th Mountain Division trained during WWII. Throughout the camp are sign boards that tell much of the history (and back in Vail the Colorado Ski Museum has even more). At Tennessee Pass there are monuments honoring the 10th, the battles they fought, and the soldiers that died fighting for our freedom. A great place to pause and reflect.
I then continued to Leadville, second time to be there on a Pass Bagger ride this year. At Twin Lakes I turned west on CO-82, another of the most scenic roads in the state, to head up to Independence Pass. On a fall day during the week there was almost no traffic, perfect both for making good time and for enjoying the views of the Rockies. I was even able to stop in the middle of the shelf road to take photos. At Independence Pass I stopped for pictures of the sign indicating I was 12,095 feet above sea level, as did a bicyclist who had ridden up from Aspen. Colorado's mountain roads are great on two wheels, whether the machine has an engine or not.
It was then time to head for the garage. Back down CO-82 alongside Lake Creek, through Leadville, over Fremont Pass, along Tenmile Creek, past Copper Mountain, past Lake Dillon, through Eisenhower Tunnel, along Clear Creek, through Idaho Springs, and back to the Denver area. Even the transit stages on a ride like this are vacation material. Sure is tough, but someone has to ride those roads!
(Photos and maps can be seen on the passbagger.org web site.)
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