Michael and Kathy's southwest Colorado tour, page 3

Page 1: Gunnison to Pagosa Springs
Page 2: Pagosa Springs to Mesa Verde National Park
Page 3: Mesa Verde to Ouray
Page 4: Ouray to Gunnison

Friday, June 25

Distance: 68.5 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 2 minutes
Average speed: 11.3 mph
Maximum speed: 48.6 mph

Kathy and I stopped by the Mesa Verde store on our way out of the park this morning, where Mary handed us a refund for half of our campground fee. The normal price is $20/night and we stayed 3 nights, so she gave us $30. We left a thank-you note for Mary and Roy on their RV with our e-mail and web site addresses.

The ride back to Durango had several climbs, but it was mostly downhill and the last 11 miles were entirely downhill. In Durango we wandered through the historic downtown area. It looks nice but we didn't find a museum or visitor's center, so we don't really know the history of this place. All the old buildings contain modern businesses, including a bike shop where I bought a new handlebar plug. We walked into the lobbies of the Strater and General Palmer hotels, both established in the late 1800's. Both lobbies had beautiful antique furniture and stained-glass windows.


Kathy beside the Strater Hotel.

After seeing downtown we went to a grocery store to stock up on food and then ate lunch while sitting on a glider swing in front of the store. Lunch went well until a drunk Navajo man stumbled up to our swing, crouched down, and started talking to us. Though barely coherent, he managed to tell us that he planned to race in the Iron Horse someday (the Iron Horse is an annual bike race that tries to beat the Durango-Silverton train,) and he said that he was an alcoholic but didn't want to cause trouble, then he asked us some questions and accused us of lying with our answers. About then a Navajo friend of his walked up who wasn't obviously drunk but had probably still been drinking. They both talked to us at close range, well within our personal space. The drunk kept on trying to touch Kathy and then asked if he could sit between us on the glider swing. When we said no, he stepped behind his friend who was talking to me and began rummaging though our grocery cart. I jumped up and stopped him and Kathy ran into the store to ask a manager to shoo the men away. Another person had already run into the store to ask for this, so a manager was already on his way. After being shooed away the drunk man returned a few minutes later with a different Navajo friend and began to taunt us before quickly being shooed away again. A few minutes later some police came into the parking lot and we didn't see the men again. Unfortunately, this is similar to another personal experience that I had with a Native American on a public bus a few years ago. I don't get to observe Native Americans much, but when I do they are drunk and/or causing a public disturbance and so creating a terrible stereotype for their people. After visiting the ruins at Mesa Verde I would have liked to talk to a modern Ute, Hopi or Navajo about Native American history and culture, but these men weren't worth talking to.

While we were eating a rainstorm passed through - perfect timing. We began riding towards Silverton at about 4 p.m. We took highway 550, called the "Million Dollar Highway." Parts of it used to be a private toll road that miners used to bring their gold and silver ore to Durango. Although the road goes through the middle of the San Juan national forest, the land right next to the road is privately owned and dotted with impressive homes and resorts. When we stopped at a fire station to get water and ask about a place to camp, a fireman suggested that we camp behind an unmanned fire station several miles up the road. We took his advice. The fire station has a bathroom, water tap and a flat spot for our tent.


Riding north out of Durango.


Mountains near our campsite.


Cooking dinner at the fire station.

Saturday, June 26

Distance: 22.7 miles
Riding time: 2 hours, 52 minutes
Average speed: 7.8 mph
Maximum speed: 42.5 mph

Our goal today was to ride to Silverton then camp near a trailhead so that we could climb a mountain tomorrow morning. We accomplished that, but it could have gone a lot better. This morning the sky was clear and the weather was hot. We were a little slow to eat and pack up, so we didn't start riding until 10:30 a.m. By then clouds had rolled in and it began raining. The rain turned into a rain/sleet mixture but didn't slow us down much because it was still relatively warm outside. The rain stopped near the top of Coal Bank Pass, so we descended on a somewhat dry road. As we climbed Molas Pass it started raining again, and this time the temperature dropped a lot. Biking is a lot less fun when you are cold and wet and you can't see the pretty views because clouds and rain obscure them. A sign at the top of Molas Pass mentioned that the San Juans have some of the cleanest air in the world. Visibility is often 175 miles, one of the best visibilities in North America. I could see nearby mountains, but clouds and rain made visibility pretty short.


Mountains and rain clouds on our way to Silverton.


Molas Pass, the highest of our 2 passes on this day.

When we got to Silverton we were very cold so we stopped at the visitor's center to warm up and dry off. There we decided that tomorrow we will climb Kendall Peak, which is just east of town. A 4x4 road leads nearly to the top, so hiking it should be straightforward. Silverton is small (500 permanent residents) and compact. Its main road (Greene Street) is lined with old fashioned row buildings. Nearly all the houses are on adjacent streets and there is virtually no housing sprawl on the mountain sides leading up from town. It's a pretty place, but tourism is the only industry. For decades it was a gold and silver mining town, but the mines have all closed.

We set up our tent just outside of town along the road leading to Kendall Peak. No one will notice us here because there is a folk music festival in Silverton this weekend and tents are set up in many odd places. We'll go to sleep early so that we can get an early start on the mountain tomorrow.


Downtown Silverton. The blue and white building on the left is the Grand Imperial Hotel, Silverton's largest building and oldest hotel. It is currently for sale. As the sale notice says, the hotel has a rich history that includes "gun fights, prostitutes and many colorful characters."

Sunday, June 27

Distance: 23.1 miles
Riding time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Average speed: 11.0 mph
Maximum speed: 41.3 mph

Kathy's watch alarm rang at 4 a.m. this morning. After getting dressed, un-hanging our food panniers to get some snacks and then re-hanging the panniers, we were hiking towards Kendall Peak at 5 a.m. The weather was clear, just as we had hoped. We were told that the gravel road was 7 miles long. Near the top the road forks to 2 13'ers: Kendall Peak at 13900 feet and Kendall Mountain at 13068 feet. Once the sun rose the view was great. I'm sure that visibility was at least 100 miles.

We saw 2 old mine shafts along the road, well above tree line. I think they would have been harsh places to work. We followed the road towards Kendall Peak, but the road faded away near the top, and there was no established trail. I tried to break my own trail, but I kept slipping on loose gravel piled on the steep slope. Rather than slip and fall to my death, I decided that we should backtrack a little bit and then try climbing Kendall Mountain. The road to Kendall Mountain reaches almost to the very top because a remote weather station is there. Once again, I couldn't climb to the very top because of loose gravel, but the views from where we stopped were incredible. The peaks of the San Juan mountains are very jagged, obviously sculpted by glaciers. Despite its starting point in Silverton, there were very few people on the 4x4 road. During our hike up we saw no one else, and on our hike down we passed 3 trucks and a jogger.


Nearby peaks at sunrise as we climb Kendall Mountain.


An old mine shaft well above tree line.


A panoramic view from below Kendall Peak.



Views of the San Juans from Kendall Mountain.


A panoramic view from Kendall Mountain.

We got back to camp shortly before noon. Dark clouds had formed and we could hear thunder, so we chose to nap for a while before attempting to cross Red Mountain Pass. Eventually the clouds became less threatening, so we packed up and left town at about 4 p.m., heading north on 550 towards Ouray. Red Mountain Pass is between Silverton and Ouray, and most people that we asked about this pass before our tour told us to be very careful on the pass or avoid it altogether. They said it was steep, narrow and had steep drop-offs. All 3 statements are true, but only for short sections of the highway, so on average the pass wasn't dangerous. What was nerve-wracking about the ride was the tight curves in the road between Red Mountain Pass and Ouray. I couldn't see far down the road because it had constant turns, and our wheel rims and drum brake got hot from the frequent braking. We passed the remains of many old mining operations on our way down. This must have been a very rich mining district. As we rode north, storm clouds seemed to close in behind us - we left Silverton at just the right time.

We stopped and set up camp on a hill just above Ouray. Ouray is built in one of the most beautiful mountains valleys that I've seen. It will be fun to visit the town in the morning.


Looking at Silverton on our way down from Kendall Mountain.


The Durango-Silverton narrow gauge train, Silverton's most popular tourist attraction.


Narrow shoulders and steep banks along the Million Dollar Highway.


Red Mountain Pass



The mountains above Ouray are beautiful, and many are tinted red like these.


Curves along the Million Dollar Highway.


Ouray.

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Page 1: Gunnison to Pagosa Springs
Page 2: Pagosa Springs to Mesa Verde National Park
Page 3: Mesa Verde to Ouray
Page 4: Ouray to Gunnison