Pass Bagger 50 - 2007
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 enjoying the
BMW Motorcycle Club of Colorado's
Pass Bagger 50 quest so much last two years, I'm still riding this year to re-discover some of the passes I've visited in
the past, and discover a few new ones. Here are some of the details for 2007.
For maps and more pass photos, check the passbagger.org site.
April 22, 2007 – #76-77 - Golden Gate Pass, Floyd Hill. About 150 miles.
This was another easy afternoon ride in the Denver area. First up was a ride around C-470 to Golden, then a turn to the west up Golden Gate Canyon. After 5-10 miles of scenic riding and plenty of twisty corners I arrived at Golden Gate Pass (7,754’). When I was planning this ride I had the hardest time finding the pass’s location because it wasn’t clearly described in the Helmuth book and maps weren’t helping much either. Eventually I stumbled upon an article that told the history of the area with all its mines and toll roads and realized that the pass was originally called Guy's Hill, with the road going around the north side of the mountain named Guy Hill. From there it was fairly easy to use a topographic map to find the pass, which is now at the intersection of Golden Gate Canyon Road and Guy Hill Road. As my Pass Bagger quest gets down to more obscure passes, the detective work gets more challenging and interesting. It’s becoming a fun hobby for sure.
After taking photos, including one of my GPS while sitting right at the crest of the pass, I rode back downhill to Golden and turned up the Lookout Mountain road toward the Bill Cody museum and Windy Saddle (6,900’). When I rode there last December I was somewhat confused by the appearance of the pass because the road doesn’t climb, peak, then descend down the other side. But this time I kept my eyes on the terrain and saw that an original trail did in fact climb to the summit and then descend. The current road climbs a different route and follows a ridge line that runs perpendicular to the original route, intersecting at the current parking lot for the Windy Pass hiking trail. (Squaw Pass on CO-103 between Bergen Park and Echo Lake is like this too.)
I continued on up Lariat Loop Road to I-70 and headed west for Floyd Hill (7,920’), a summit on I-70 that everyone knows. We don’t think of it as a “pass”, but it is listed in Helmuth’s book and is a true watershed divide. I snapped some photos then turned back east to Bergen Park, Evergreen, Bear Creek Canyon road, and the road that runs through Indian Hills. At the intersection of Myers Gulch Road, Inca Road, and Parmalee Gulch Road, the location of Dix Saddle (7,470'), I stopped again for photos, mainly because I’d like photos of the GPS for additional documentation (an idea I picked up from Desertman Jim).
At the bottom of the hill I turned west on US-285 and rode to Crow Hill (8,500’), the first pass I bagged on this quest, for the now mandatory GPS photo. Then I headed back toward town via US-285, Aspen Park, South Turkey Creek Road, and Deer Creek Road. At the top of the hill above the fire station at Fenders is Switzer’s Gulch Pass (7,271’), one of the passes listed on the “Unnamed Passes” section of the mountain pass spreadsheet. I stopped for photos but won’t count this toward the Pass Bagger because in spite of its obvious crest and having one creek on one side and another creek on the other side, I couldn’t find the pass on any map. “Switzer’s Gulch” was labeled on one detailed map, but that was it.
After the twisty ride down Deer Creek Canyon Road to the prairie, I returned home and started researching and mapping some more obscure passes. I’m up to 77 now. Great fun!
April 28, 2007 – #78-80 - Long Saddle, Bell's Gap, Packers Gap. About 1050 miles.
Three passes "collected" during an Iron Butt Association SaddleSore 1000. Click here for the report.
May 26, 2007 – #81-84 - Dowe Pass, Park Hill Divide, Moccasin Saddle, Wind River Pass. About 200 miles.
Memorial Day weekend seemed like a good time to take a couple of day rides to collect some more passes. First, some easy ones on a loop to Estes Park with the Concours. Easy, as in easy to ride to, but not all that easy to find on the maps. In fact, it took a bit of research with the Helmuth book, topographic maps, and maps.google.com to locate Dowe Pass with any degree of confidence. Once found though, it was a simple matter to ride through Golden and Boulder, then just east of Lyons, jog east and north to find the pass a mile or so past the Rabbit Open Space park. Being a minor pass, there weren’t any signs, so I just took photos of the GPS and of the view of the foothills to the north and south. The folks at the nearby home probably wondered why I was photographing the area and might not even know they live right at Dowe Pass.
Next up was the scenic ride up US-34 toward Estes Park. Just past the Jellystone Park RV park was Park Hill Divide, another un-signed pass that I documented with photos of the GPS and the view in each direction. Another ½ mile or so up US-34 I stopped at a turnout to take a photo with Estes Park down below and snow-capped peaks all about. It sure is tough living in Colorado and having to put up with such stuff.
After cutting around the southeast side of Estes on Fish Creek Road I arrived at Mary’s Lake for photos at Moccasin Saddle. It is another of those passes in the Helmuth book and one that is on a map published by the city of Estes Park, but is one that you’d never guess that you were crossing. But with the handy info and being able to tell where the crest of the hill was, I quickly got the photos (with snow-capped peaks in the background) and headed back south on CO-7, commonly known as Peak-to-Peak Highway.
Several miles south of town just past the Baldpate Inn and the much-photographed Catholic chapel I stopped at the entrance to Wind River Camp, which just happens to be right at Wind River Pass (with no Wind River anywhere in the area). The folks doing some work along the road probably wondered why I was interested enough in the spot to take the photos, but I got that accomplished and then continued south on P-t-P for a relaxing and scenic ride home.
I detoured off P-t-P to ride the old highway through Allens Park, wondering if any of the many little old fashioned cabins might have belonged to my Dad’s cousin many years ago. Traveling on down Freak-to-Freak Highway I passed Weird (Ward), went through Never-never-land (Nederland), followed some very slow traffic on the double-yellow lined road to Black Hawk, then continued south through the tunnels to I-70 for a quick, but easy ride on home.
Nice day ride. Passes 81, 82, 83, and 84 in the bag.
May 27, 2007 – #85 - La Salle Pass.
This was an interesting KLR ride with my neighbor Dave, who also rides a KLR. We traveled out US-285 and just past Kenosha Pass we turned south towards Lost Creek Wilderness to find Rock Creek Trail Pass. Back in April Beth and I drove this road and were stopped about a mile short of the pass by snow. On this day Dave and I were stopped about 12 miles from US-285 by a closed Forest Service gate at the base of the climb to the pass. We turned around, returned to US-285, and headed for Jefferson for lunch where we found that the hamburger stand was closed. So we sat there in the warm sunshine and munched on our Clif Bars and watched the traffic and clouds pass by.
After “lunch” we headed south from Jefferson, passing quite a few old log houses and barns along the way, and on the south side of Tarryall Reservoir turned west onto a gravel road that leads toward La Salle Pass. It was a good two-track road with a few surprising sandy spots, but there was no traffic at all and there were plenty of great views of South Park and the surrounding mountains. Several miles west of La Salle Pass we were able to follow the numerous signs pointing the way to the pass. Normally Avon Gripsters work well, but on the climb to the pass we wished we had knobbies for some of the extra sandy spots, but we made it just fine. Since there was no “La Salle” sign at the summit I pulled out a black marker and “updated” a utility sign with the required information and took photos for the Pass Bagger. I think two gray-haired guys showing up on loaded KLR650s, marking the sign, and taking photos somewhat left all the youngsters gathered there at the summit on their dirt bikes and ATVs somewhat confused. We didn’t explain, just waved “hi”, and headed back downhill. We turned east on US-24 and took in the views of Pikes Peak as we headed to Lake George.
At Lake George we turned northeast on county roads that supposedly would lead us to West Creek on CO-67 south of Deckers. After miles of gravel we came to a sign saying 4WD was required ahead, so we pressed on until we came to a spot where the road had been washed away. (More consequences of the big Hayman forest fire several years ago.) It wasn’t a deep or wide crossing, but the other side was sandy and steep, we were tired, and there wasn’t a way to tell how far the road-now-sandy-creek-bed would last. We pondered on this situation for a while and finally good sense prevailed and we turned back, and eventually arrived at Divide. Then it was a simple, easy, non-gravel ride to Woodland Park where we called our wives to let them know of our delay.
The rest of the ride was in our “back yard”. CO-67 to Deckers, gravel county roads across to Sedalia, and the normal route back to our homes. It was a scenic, but long ride to collect just one more pass.
(As a post script, it turns out that the washed out road from West Creek to our turn-around point is a favorite place for our neighbor Scott to play with his Honda and KTM dirt bikes.)
June 24, 2007 – #86 - Rock Creek Trail Pass.
After two unsuccessful attempts, I sure wanted to bag Rock Creek Trail Pass, so off I went again on the KLR out US-285 to Kenosha Pass, south toward Lost Creek, and this time I made it to the pass. I stopped for photos where the pass is noted only by a fence and cattle guard, a common scene at back country passes, then continued to the end of the road where a forest service campground is located. (We camped there one rainy Memorial Day weekend long ago.) I then returned to US-285 and headed back home.
July 5, 2007 – #87-92 - Cameron Mountain Pass, Carnero Pass, Moon Pass, Peon Pass, Cochetopa Pass, South Pass.
This was a long day, part of the long way to the BMW club’s Dirty Dozen dual-sport ride in Buena Vista. Once again I traveled southwest on US-285, crossed Kenosha Pass for the umpteenth time this summer, and headed south from Buena Vista. North of Salida I turned onto the shortcut to town, then not far from downtown, headed into the mountains on Cameron Mountain road. After navigating my way through two or three unclear corners and crossing a couple of false summits (knowing the coordinates of the pass and trusting my GPS), I arrived at the pass, another one marked only by a fence, cattle guard, and the Fremont County sign. Much to the amusement of the cattle hanging around there I pulled out the black marker, “updated” the sign by the cattle guard with “Cameron Mountain Pass” and the elevation, and took the Pass Bagger photos. On the way back down the hill I stopped to take pictures of the huge views of the Collegiate Mountain Range down and across the valley. Talk about a photo of Colorado!
In Salida I gassed up the KLR, found my way through town on the diagonal streets, headed west to Poncha Springs, and then turned south for the fun sweeping curves leading up to Poncha Pass where I stopped a photo of the GPS. The next part of US-285 travels down into the San Luis Valley where there are big skies with the Sangre de Cristo Range on the left and long flat views straight ahead. This time rather than taking the 60-mile straight to Alamosa I followed the big curve to the west, leading me to the sleepy, little, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere town of Saguache with its tree-lined streets and old, run-down stores.
Quickly through Saguache I traveled up the broad valley with semi-arid buttes on either side. (In the spring the meandering creek is surrounded by wild iris.) About 12 miles later I turned south on a well-maintained gravel road that wanders to Carnero Pass. Along the way there are interesting rock formations, quite a few old log buildings, and a creek at first bordered by grassy fields and then by aspens as the road climbs toward the pass. It is a lightly traveled scenic byway. The pass is well marked with signs which made it easy to get the necessary photos. I then continued on down part way toward La Garita, turning west on a Forest Road for the 10 mile, curvy climb to Moon Pass. Good gravel road along the creek, blue skies, green forests, grassy parks, and signs directing me to the pass. Another pass marked only by a fence, cattle guard, and a fence post that now is labeled as “Moon Pass”. Funny how that works.
With that in my rearview mirror, I continued back over Carnero Pass and returned to CO-114 for the ride up the pavement to North (Cochetopa) Pass on the Continental Divide. The only sign for the pass is where someone used a black marker to print “North Pass” on one of the highway sign posts. Very handy, eh? After a couple of photos I continued on over the pass for a mile and turned north on a two-track Forest Road that leads to Peon (Lujan) Pass. I had been eyeing the dark skies, and based on a previous trip, was afraid this could be a muddy or impassible route with the Avon Slipsters. Turns out that everything was fine and I easily got to the fairly flat summit, a quiet, big grassy area in the forest, where there is a trailhead for the Continental Divide Trail.
After returning to the pavement I took another long look at the dark skies to the south and west and pondered whether I should try for another couple of passes and what route I should take. I finally decided to head west and reevaluate again at the next intersection. At that point I went ahead took a chance, turned south into a large park, and after a ways down the good gravel road, turned back east towards Cochetopa Pass. It wasn’t long before I rode into light rain. At first the road was ok, but as I neared the summit things got really slippery. Not fun, but I made it, took photos of the bike by one of the old 1929-vintage bronze plaques, and headed back through the mud. (I sure have discovered a lot of different kinds of mud riding in the rain. Some of it is alright and some is more slippery than just about anything. And all tires are a compromise. Sure would be nice to be able to switch on the fly.)
Back at the near the corner where I could return to the pavement I again had to decide whether to turn south toward Salt House (South Cochetopa) Pass or not. Knowing I wouldn’t likely be in the area again for a while I of course headed toward the dark clouds. Things weren’t too bad as I rode on across the grassy hills into the forests, following the two-track toward the pass. At the summit I visited briefly with a guy with an ADV sticker on his pickup truck and his wife took my photo in the light rain that was falling again. All was well, but it was back to reality as I went returned downhill. I was creeping along on the slippery stuff and got passed very easily by a group on ATVs (they have four wheels you know). I finally got out of the forest and back on the gravel roads in the park which led back to the pavement. Yea!
It was then an easy ride through the scenic canyon with all its twists and turns along the creek, and before long I was riding into Gunnison. At the KOA I asked if there were any camping cabins because I didn’t want to tent in the rain, but then found out that it hadn’t rained in Gunnison for 60 days. They would have been very pleased to have some of the rain I had just ridden through. I pitched my tent, talked with the Harley riding couple camped next to me, and went into town for a relaxing meal at that LD riders’ favorite place, Subway. Back at camp I finished the day checking all my detailed maps (and wishing I had brought along the Colorado map) to see if I could “bag” Los Pinos Pass the next day, since I had bailed out of my planned route after South Pass. It looked do-able.
July 6, 2007 – #93-95 - Los Pinos Pass, Marcellina Pass, Schoefield Pass.
The next morning I had the IBR breakfast of a Slim Fast (for the instant fuel) and a Clif Bar while I packed up my tent and stuff, pushed the KLR out of the quiet camping area, and hit the road by 7AM. West of Gunnison I crossed the bridge over big Blue Mesa Reservoir and traveled the sagebrush covered hills to Powderhorn where I turned onto another gravel road. It went past log barns, horse pastures, and scenic ranches as it followed alongside Cebolla Creek. Near Caldwell Ranch I took photos of the sign directing me to Los Pinos Pass, then began the gravel and two-track road to the summit. I passed a couple of other travelers along the way but mostly had the very scenic area to myself. After photos at the summit (again someone’s black marker came in handy) I turned back, stopping along the way for photos of the huge vista looking towards Lake City and the San Juan Mountains. Another one of those classic Colorado Rocky Mountain pictures.
Back down at Caldwell Ranch I debated whether to return the way I had come, or follow the road to the left that would take me toward Lake City. I turned left so I could see some new territory. Along the narrow road I saw a few cars, scenic ranches with their hay fields and livestock, mountain sides on either side of the valley, big rock formations, a family fishing together at a small lake, and big blue skies overhead. It sure is fun to be out in the morning enjoying the Colorado back roads.
The road gradually became wider and finally took me to CO-149, just north of Slumgullion Pass. From there it was a fairly short ride on the fun, curvy road leading down and down into Lake City, an old mining town with tree-lined streets, quaint old houses and churches, and plenty of places to base a good 4WD adventure.
North of Lake City the highway curved right alongside Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, providing close-up views of the rushing mountain water and giving me the feeling, that while leaned over for right hand curves, I could reach right out and touch it. I probably should have stopped, put my feet into the cold water, and listened to it going by. But I pressed on, following the road as it popped up out of the canyon and crossed the sage-covered hills on its way back to Blue Mesa Reservoir and Gunnison.
From Gunnison I traveled north through the small fishing town of Almont and past ranches and hayfields to Crested Butte, another old mining town that is now a ski town and home to mountain biking. I passed through downtown with all its Victorian-styled stores, shops, and restaurants, and headed northwest on a well maintained and treated gravel road. After stops at Kebler and Ohio Passes for photos I tracked down the location of Marcellina Pass which isn’t marked, but is beside Lake Irvin where the road crosses the spillway, right level with the lake. That is a scenic spot in the mountains and is a popular place to fish.
After returning to Crested Butte I hauled out my maps and made some changes to my plans for getting to Schoefield Pass. Rather than straight up Gothic Road and back, I decided on a loop that would take me up Slate River Road to the pass, and then just the return on Gothic Road, so away I went. The first section of the road was a little muddy because of a rain shower that had passed by, but then it became a good gravel road, narrowing as it climbed into the mountains. Along the way I just had to stop for photos of the tall mountain scenery all around. Wow.
After a bit the road came to a switchback with a very steep uphill climb that sure looked intimidating. But after waiting for a Jeep to come down I gulped and head up. The road surface was rocky, but not loose, but did have a good drop off to the right. Turns out that it was no big deal, but I still let out a sigh of relief at the top. The road continued to climb and went past a couple of signs directing me to Paradise Divide. At one point a Volvo went by on its way back to town. One of those funny things that happens just when you think you’re out on a tough road. At the summit I was so intent on my quest to get to Schoefield that I went right past the Paradise Divide signs. (Oh well, that just gives me a good excuse to return for photos.)
The rocky road continued across the high mountain valley, with two or three streams to ford on the way to a fork in the road. (As someone once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”) To the left was the very tough route (the “real” Schoefield Pass road) past the punch bowl, along a shelf road, and on to Crystal and Marble. I turned to the right for a short, easy climb to Schoefield Pass where I stopped for photos and conversation with some of the many mountain bikers who were there too. Continuing on down the hill wasn’t too bad, although the dark skies up ahead made me very aware that the mostly dirt and eroded road surface would be a slippery, muddy mess if it started to rain. But I made it safely down, passing Volkswagen Jettas, and other small, close-to-the-ground cars whose drivers apparently don’t have the same mechanical sympathies as I do. Gothic Road is advertised as being passenger car accessible, but I don’t think I’ll be driving our Mazda 3 up there any time soon, although later in the summer we easily drove our Xterra back up to Gothic, a neat old mining town.
Again back in Crested Butte I pondered the threatening skies and my maps, trying to decide whether to cut directly across the mountains and Cottonwood Pass to Buena Vista, or whether to take the longer route back through Gunnison and over Monarch Pass. Should I travel directly into the storm, or travel farther and longer with a possibility of avoiding the rain? Of course I chose to take the fork in the road heading toward the dark clouds.
I headed south from Crested Butte and took the Jack’s Cabin Pass shortcut over to the road to Taylor Park. In spite of the light rain showers that came and went, I sure enjoyed riding the curvy road with the Taylor River on one side and forest on the other. Then just past the dam at Taylor Park Reservoir the wind really started to blow. And as I rode along the south side of the lake, I could very clearly see a line out on the water that marked the front edge of the rain heading my way. I stopped quickly to make sure the Aerostich was fully buttoned up and continued on around the east side of the lake and then rode into the heavy rain. The road went from pavement to gravel, but it really wasn’t too bad since the road is so heavily treated with mag chloride or something. Things were wet and messy, but not too slippery, so I made fairly good time heading on up toward Cottonwood Pass, and surprisingly rode out of the rain after six miles or so. At the summit I stopped for some photos and even got an “atta-boy” from someone that had been following me.
On the east side of Cottonwood I got to ride one of the best sections of motorcycling road in Colorado as the smooth pavement twists and turns on its way down to Buena Vista. After passing through town I went out to the KOA to meet up with the other folks gathering for the BMW club’s Dirty Dozen dual-sport ride. I greeted my old riding buddy Jeff Foster from Albuquerque, washed off the yellow mag chloride (or whatever) that covered my boots and the lower part of my riding pants, pitched my tent, and was done for the day. (Long story for a long day of riding.)
July 7, 2007 – BMW Dirty Dozen ride. No new passes for Pass Bagger. – Cottonwood Pass, Cumberland Pass, Waunita Pass, Black Sage Pass, Old Monarch Pass.
Saturday morning greeted us with clear blue skies and off we went. First up was the road up to Cottonwood Pass, which was just as much fun to ride as the day before. The sidewalls of our motorcycle tires weren’t spared. After stopping to gaze at the high altitude scenery we continued on down to Taylor Park and to the small town of Tincup. The group naturally broke off into smaller groups based on riding speeds, but none of us took very long to bounce over all the exposed rock on the way to Cumberland Pass. That road is also listed as passenger car accessible, but the passenger cars we passed sure aren’t built for those conditions like our dual-sport BMWs and Kawasakis.
South of the pass we stopped at Pitkin for some snacks and then headed up to the Alpine Tunnel. That road required slower speeds, more standing on the pegs, more rocks, more sand, and more drop-offs. But as we climbed up that old railbed the scenery just got better and better. Carl, the ride leader, had us all stop on the shelf at the Palisades where we could look over the big drop-off and admire the craftsmanship of the long stone wall. Very cool. Nearing the tunnel, we took the leisurely hike (because of the 11,000’ elevation) up to the telegraph office where we learned some of the history of the Denver, South Park and Pacific railroad and how difficult it was to dig the tunnel (used from 1882 to 1910) and to build the railbed that the builders hoped would reach the mines before their competition. More hiking got us to the wooden turntable and the portal to the tunnel, which is now covered by debris that has fallen down the hillside. It’s always interesting to search out bits of Colorado’s railroad history during motorcycle rides around the state.
After the great stop, we bounced our way back down the railbed and on to Pitkin. We then took the same scenic route over hill and dale and through the forests and parks to Waunita Pass and Black Sage Pass as we had done last year. Neither stop at the passes was for long since we were aware of the darkening skies to the east. We somewhat hurried up to Old Monarch Pass but didn’t make it there before the rain caught up with us. But we stopped briefly for photos anyway and headed through the rain down the eroded, decomposed granite road to US-50. Back on the pavement, we slowly followed a long line of traffic on our way to Poncha Springs. That was difficult after all the freedom we enjoyed riding the back roads. By the time we got to Poncha Springs we were back out of the rain and had an easy but somewhat boring ride back up to the KOA at Buena Vista.
July 27, 2007 – #96 - Mountain Shadows Pass.
The Helmuth book lists Mountain Shadows Pass and even shows a photo of the sign, but over the years that area in northwest Colorado Springs has really been developed. The sign is long gone and the pass certainly isn’t very noticeable in what is now a residential area right up the street from where I once worked at MCI. But in true Pass Bagger fashion I made a point of taking a day trip to bag that pass anyway. Once the photos were taken I continued through Garden of the Gods, and on to Wilkerson Pass and Currant Creek Pass for photos of the GPS. On up the road at Fairplay those wild dark clouds appeared again, this time with lots of lightening. I had planned to travel over Hoosier Pass but decided it would be wiser to turn east and miss the worst of the storm. I raced up US-285 past the edge of the storm and then cruised on home. Even shortened day rides in Colorado are spectacular!
July 28, 2007 – #97-100 - Iceberg Pass, Stillwater Pass, Cabin Creek Divide, Cottonwood Pass.
Back on the KLR650 for a long day ride with my neighbor Dave. We first journeyed up through Boulder and Lyons to Estes Park, stopped at one of the Rocky Mountain National Park visitor centers, then headed into the park on US-34. We turned off onto Old Fall River Road, the original road through the park before Trail Ridge Road was built. It was great fun riding the gravel road though the forest, past the scenic views, and eventually climbing above timberline. We stopped right behind the Alpine Visitor Center for some “official” Fall River Pass photos to complement the ones I had gathered earlier on the other side of the parking lot during a ride on the Concours. After a quick stop we turned back to the east on Trail Ridge and rode past some elk to Iceberg Pass, a pass that is marked on the park maps but not marked at the site. But with some GPS coordinates and an eye for the saddle between river drainages, the place to stop for Pass Bagger photos is obvious. Having done that we headed west again to Milner Pass, Far View scenic turn-out, and on to Grand Lake.
On the west side of Lake Granby we turned west onto Forest Roads and started following the signs to Stillwater Pass. We stopped at one of the signs for some photos documenting “Stillwater Pass”, getting plenty of rusty and grey pine trees in the background. We made a rough estimation that 80 percent of the evergreens in that area have been wiped out by pine beetles. As we rounded one corner the sun was shining down through a hole in the clouds and brightly lighting a mountain side that was rusty, yellow, and green. It would have been pretty had we not known that all the rusty and yellow color was from dying trees. What a mess. Continuing on, we stopped at the summit for photos and then pressed on, eventually reaching CO-125. Dave hadn’t ever ridden to Willow Creek Pass so we headed north so he could enjoy the ride on one of the best motorcycling roads in Colorado.
At the pass we turned around and traveled most of the way back down CO-125 before turning west onto the road leading to Cabin Creek Divide. The road grew increasingly rough as we gained altitude and although the guides said the road was passenger car accessible, I decided I’d never drive our Mazda 3 up there. Then just around a bend we came up behind a Subaru station wagon. Some people just don’t have as much mechanical sympathy as they should. We didn’t want to be obnoxious and honk our horns, so we followed the guy for a bit before he noticed the headlights right behind him and pulled over. We bounced on up the road and stopped two or three times to compare the GPS readings with the coordinates that I had for the Divide. Even took two sets of photos. Eventually we came to muddy section near an intersection and decided that we would rather return than take the steeply descending road to the left. But we might as well take the short steep climb to the right and see what was there. Lo and behold, we reached what obviously was the Divide, complete with a change in road surface and signs for the next forest service jurisdiction over. We could see for miles in either direction, and the views would have been mighty fine if not for all the dead timber. After a third set of photos we continued round and round and down and down, with the road finally coming out of the trees into sage-covered ranch land, and then reaching US-40. Between the Stillwater and Cabin Creek roads, a lot of time had passed and we were hungry.
We rode into Parshall and didn’t see anything we liked, so we pressed on. Not far down the road we slowly cruised through Byers Canyon, stuck behind a slow mover, giving us plenty of time to take in views of the Colorado River and the train tracks on the other side, a scene that reminds me of a well-done HO train layout. At Hot Sulphur Springs we stopped at a little café and were treated to some really slow service, which really bugged Dave (who is the general manager at a large Denver hotel). But after some lunch we were ready to go again.
By then it was about 3PM and Dave was anxious to travel on home, but gave in and went with me on the gravel road south of Hot Sulphur Springs that follows an old stage route and leads up to another Cottonwood Pass. We of course stopped for photos, read the very informative sign, then went on down the other side on a road that would be plenty muddy if it rained. The road was actually a shortcut that bypasses Granby, rejoining US-40 south of the ski area that changes names regularly. From there we took the normal paved route through Fraser, Winter Park, Berthoud Pass, Empire, and down I-70 to the Denver area. It really had turned into a long day ride, but we saw lots and lots of high altitude scenery and traveled miles and miles of gravel and rocky roads through the back country. True dual-sport riding.
August 11, 2007 – #101-109 - Trough Road Pass, Gore Pass, Lynx Pass, Yellow Jacket Pass, Dunkley Pass, Ripple Creek Pass, Height Divide, Grassy Gap, Twenty Mile Divide.
Just two weeks later Dave and I headed out for a two-day dual sport ride that promised a bunch of passes and even more miles of back roads for the KLRs. (Which will result in another long story.) We rode out on I-70, made a quick stop to see his and Amy’s new condo in Silverthorn, then headed north towards Kremmling. Just short of the Colorado River we turned west on Trough Road, one of Colorado’s great back roads that follows the river all the way to State Bridge. We went only as far as Trough Road Pass, another of those that is difficult to find on maps, but with the GPS coordinates and an eye for divides, we found it easily, took the photos, and returned to the pavement.
North of Kremmling we shared the twisty route up to Gore Pass with a large group of bicyclists that were on a long loop out of Steamboat Springs. At the pass we took the time to read the “Mrs. J. N. Hall” historical sign, took some photos, and watched a large group of Mini Coopers go by. The winding road with light traffic and Rocky Mountain scenery is a favorite with everyone that likes wheels, whether their vehicle has four or two wheels and whether it is motorized or not.
Down where the road begins to flatten out in some green, grassy valleys or parks, we turned north for Lynx Pass on a well maintained gravel road. It crosses a large open area, goes past a campground, then makes a slight climb through the trees to the pass. We stopped by the Lynx Pass Work Center, took some photos, and decided to head back south, then west to Yampa for lunch. Later on I realized we could have continued north on County Road 16 which eventually comes out on pavement near Steamboat Lake and Yellow Jacket Pass.
But we went back to the pavement, then traveled west through open range without seeing any cattle, or even any signs of cattle. (“You’ve gotta watch your step when the chips are down”. – from Jim Stafford’s “Cow Patti”) As we wound down toward the Yampa valley we took in the views to Finger Rock and across to the Flat Tops. Definitely worth a picture, especially if you are there when stormy skies are rolling in. Green trees, a big valley, mountains, and blue skies interrupted by white, gray, and black clouds. The wild side of Colorado.
There wasn’t much at Toponas so we continued north past Finger Rock to Yampa where we didn’t see anything other than the Conoco station. But at the north end of town we u-turned back down the old main street, went past a bunch of picturesque old buildings, turned onto the old gravel boulevard complete with fancy street lamps down the middle, and stopped at a brand new Penny’s Diner. Service was extremely slow, but the food was alright. Then before leaving town Dave pondered buying an old hotel across the street, or at least taking a photo with its Western style front porch and board sidewalk.
After a stop that was too long, we followed the highway along the railroad to Phippsburg and Oak Creek, then turned east toward Stagecoach Reservoir and Yellow Jacket Pass. Routt County does a fine job of pointing the way to passes, but a poor job of placing a sign at the summit. So once again we relied on GPS coordinates and an obvious crest in the road to locate the spot to “bag” another pass.
By then it was early afternoon, but a lot more passes were calling, so rather than ride right on into Steamboat Springs, we returned to Oak Creek, then turned west on more gravel roads that headed into the Flat Tops area to Dunkley Pass, then on to Ripple Creek Pass. We went miles and miles on gravel and after a while were actually getting a little tired of it. Some of the road was extra “freshly maintained”, meaning that the gravel was a little deep making for some squirrelly riding. Along the way we had to stop for some livestock being herded down the road, went through aspen groves and evergreen forest, up and down over hills with big views, alongside some creeks, past a few ranches and met very little traffic.
After Ripple Creek we headed towards Steamboat on gravel roads, navigated through a bunch of intersections, stopped for a while for some road construction, and found our way to Height Divide, Grassy Gap, and Twentymile Divide. By the time we got to Steamboat we were pretty well worn out. We had covered a lot of miles, with a large percentage being on gravel back roads. It was very relaxing to sit down for a good Mexican dinner at the Cantina on main street.
August 12, 2007 – #110-112 - Columbine Pass, Buffalo Pass, Old Rabbit Ears Pass.
The next morning I left at dawn and rode north through mountain ranch country, Mad Creek, and Clark, and past Steamboat Lake and Hahns Peak to the small settlement of Columbine, Colorado, the location of Columbine Pass. The road is all paved now and is a very easy, relaxing ride, except for the occasional deer that appear from time to time. After taking the photos in the early morning light, I headed back to Steamboat Springs, stopping along the way to explore the old streets of the town of Hahns Peak and to take photos at a summit where a rural subdivision is well marked as “Willow Creek Pass”. I added that to my list of “unofficial passes”.
Back in Steamboat I stopped at the Rabbit Ears Motel because Nick Ninja and three of his buddies just happened to be there getting ready to take off for another Ride the Divide (Steamboat to Pagosa, via fourteen Continental Divide passes). After catching up on news, I got back to the motel to meet up with Dave.
We rode back through downtown and turned northeast toward Buffalo Pass. We passed a few cars on the gravel road, a number of mountain bikers, a pickup and a couple of dirt bikes racing way too fast down the road, and weaved and bounced our way over the rocks and erosion. We wound our way through evergreen and aspen forest, spotted some columbines in the shady spots, enjoyed the terrific views back down into the Yampa valley, and eventually found ourselves at the top. The road is described as passable by passenger cars, but on that day it wasn’t a route on which I would ride my Concours or drive our Mazda 3. Dave told me I was crazy to choose to ride there, but he led the way back down, standing on his pegs most of the way, looking like a real experienced rider, and at the bottom was all smiles.
On the way back through Steamboat we stopped for gas and a snack and headed for Rabbit Ears Pass. Just short of the east summit on US-40 we turned north onto a paved Forest Road and traveled though the alpine meadows along old US-40 to Old Rabbit Ears Pass where another of the “Mrs. J. N. Hall Foundation” bronze plaques is located.
South of nearby Muddy Pass Dave continued on home while I planned to find three other back road passes. I didn’t see the turn-off for Indian Pass as I expected, but then turned off the pavement just north of Wolford Mountain Reservoir to find Gunsight Pass. The first mile was fresh, squirrelly gravel which gave way to a plain old dirt road. After a few miles I came to an intersection down in a little dry valley where there was a city-type street sign labeled as “Aunt Olive’s Road”. I pulled out my maps to determine where I was and decided to turn off the marked county road and travel over the sagebrush covered hills on Aunt Olive’s Road. A mile or so later I came to a fence, gate, and “no trespassing” signs for the Gunsight Ranch. At that point I figured I really was on a private road rather than a “public road through private property” and decided to heed the signs and the gathering dark clouds to the west and head back to the pavement. It was fun “flat tracking” along the dirt road until I got to the loose gravel where I needed to slow down. I got to the pavement just as the big rain drops began to noisily splatter on my helmet. I was glad to be on firm footing as the dirt roads would have made for some very tough, slippery riding had I been caught out there in the rain.
There was plenty of wind to go along with the big dark sky and rain, but with the proper gear (ATGATT) the wild weather wasn’t a problem as I headed on into Kremmling. Then I had a decision to make. Should I follow the faster route to Silverthorne and I-70, or take US-40 over Berthoud Pass to I-70? Murphy’s Law kicked in just east of Silverthorne on I-70 where traffic came to a slow crawl because a semi-truck was stopped, blocking two of the three lanes heading up to Eisenhower Tunnel. It took about 45 minutes and what smelled like a hot clutch to get past the jam. After that little delay it was just the normal cruise back out of the mountains to the edge of the prairie and home.
And that’s it for Pass Bagging in 2007. I sure enjoyed the back road scenery, the curvy roads, and doing a bunch of the exploring with my neighbor Dave. Now it’s time to pull out the books and maps and plan rides for next summer.
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