Michael's Colorado/Wyoming bicycle tour, page 2

Page 1: Fort Collins to Sheriff Reservoir
Page 2: Sheriff Reservoir to Encampment
Page 3: Encampment to Fort Collins

Sunday, July 15

Distance: 37.5 miles
Riding time: 2 hours, 34 minutes
Average speed: 14.6 mph
Maximum speed: 37.0 mph

Although I hunt the Flattops region of Colorado nearly every fall, it had been 7 years or more since my last visit during the summer. I'd forgotten how pretty this place is during the summer. Along our hike today were meadows filled with purple, yellow and white wildflowers. The hills had a mixture of aspen groves and pine forest, the weather was nice - it was a very pretty hike. We even saw two bull elk.

Hiking across a meadow west of Sheriff Reservoir.

Clint looking at animal signs. It looked like a mountain lion had slept in this spot.

Pyramid Peak, on the edge of the Flattops Wilderness.

Yellow, purple and white wildflowers along our hike.

Shawn, Clint and I taking a break from hiking.

Since we chose not to hike all day, we ate lunch back at camp and Clint and Shawn had packed up and left by 2 o'clock (Gary had left in the morning.) Right before Clint left I told him that I would go hiking again and then stay in camp for another night, but right after he left I felt uncomfortable with that plan, and I wasn't sure why. Eventually I decided it was this: hiking in the mountains in the late afternoon can be dangerous because of thunderstorms and cold weather, and if I got into trouble then I would have no friends to help me. By 2 p.m. every campsite in the area had packed up and left, leaving me alone in a remote place. Sitting at camp all afternoon would have been boring and perhaps lonely, so I packed up and set out for Steamboat Springs.

I rolled into Steamboat at about 6:30 and knocked on the door of someone from the Warm Showers list. I hadn't called ahead, but Andrew welcomed me into his apartment, and after I'd showered we rode our bikes downtown for dinner at the Old Town Pub. Andrew began bike touring nearly 20 years ago, with his longest tour being a 2-month ride from Virginia to Idaho. His 2-bedroom apartment has bikes parked in every room, and bicycle gear is piled on nearly every shelf, dresser and coffee table. Andrew's son is out of town for the summer, so I get my own bedroom tonight.

While biking to the restaurant tonight, I noticed that my front pannier rack was missing an important bolt. Riding 24 miles of washboard dirt roads over the past 2 days probably shook it out, and I'm amazed that the rack stayed in place without the bolt, given the huge amount of weight I've put on it. Luckily, I had a spare bolt in my pannier.

The gravel Flattops Scenic Byway.

A lodge in the Steamboat Ski Resort.

Andrew, my host in Steamboat Springs, with his new touring bike.

Monday, July 16

Distance: 99.5 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 27 minutes
Average speed: 15.4 mph
Maximum speed: 31.2 mph

Since my route was relatively flat and there were no special sites that I wanted to visit, I covered a lot of ground today. And making a good ride even better, I'm quite unexpectedly sleeping in a comfortable bed tonight.

After saying good-bye to Andrew I rode to a park in downtown Steamboat Springs and cooked my breakfast by the Yampa River. The Yampa flows west from Steamboat through Craig and on into Utah, which is why my ride to Craig this morning was fairly easy (all downhill.) The Yampa is the only tributary of the Colorado River whose flow is not regulated by dams, and much of the land around the river is part of the state park system.

While riding highway 40 between Steamboat Springs and Hayden, I saw a man riding the other direction on a horse. A second horse was bridled behind him, and in the man's right hand was a large flagpole flying the Christian flag over his head (the Christian flag is a white flag with a blue field in the corner, and a red cross on the blue field.) The horses were walking at an easy pace, and a car followed behind them with its blinkers on. The traffic swerved around them at 50 m.p.h. A few questions popped into my head: Why are you carrying a Christian flag on a state highway? And won't it take you an awfully long time to get to Steamboat Springs? How far are you planning to ride? I doubt that I will ever know the answers; I just wish I'd taken a picture of such a rare sight.

A bronze sculpture beside the Yampa River in downtown Steamboat Springs. Both winter and summer sports are popular here, and I'm told that many current and former Olympic athletes live in Steamboat.

Shops in downtown Steamboat Springs.

Highway 40 between Steamboat Springs and Craig.

In Craig I cooked lunch at a little park and visited the local museum. Some exhibits showed photographs of the small, primitive homesteads that were here in the early 1900's. Those families had lots of land (some had 300+ acres,) but little house (15' x 20' log cabins for large families.) From Craig I rode north to Baggs, Wyoming, and although the land was mostly vast ranches, there were a surprising number of fancy homes scattered around. I'm told that most of them belong to businessmen in the oil and ranching industries. I ordered a chicken-fried steak at the Drifter Inn in Baggs, but I really should have cooked my own meal. To much restaurant food is making me feel overfed, and I'd hate to discover at the end of this trip that I need to exercise off some extra pounds.

Right as I was leaving Baggs on highway 70, I looked back and saw a guy riding a bicycle with panniers. I circled back and asked him, "Are you on a bike tour?" No, he was just riding home from work, but he does like to take bike tours. Ron and I rode together for a while, and when he learned that I was planning to camp in the forest tonight, he suggested that I stay at his house instead. Thank-you! It turned out that Ron and his wife, Linda, live in a wonderful farmhouse in the unincorporated town of Savery, which has about 40 residents. Linda and the next-door neighbors Chris and Bud welcomed us as we rolled up to the house. Ron is a physician's assistant in Baggs (and the town's only doctor on most days of the week,) and despite the area's low population he stays plenty busy with accidents from mining/ranching/snowmobiling/ATVing. We have an unusual thing in common: we've both submitted articles to Adventure Cyclist magazine, and we've both been rejected. I'm hoping to climb a mountain in the Sierra Madres tomorrow, so Ron pulled out his topo maps and gave me some advice. I have been very fortunate on this tour, and especially so tonight.

One of many fancy houses in the otherwise undeveloped landscape between Craig and Baggs. All the nice houses appeared to have lots of land (100 or more acres.)

Rock formation near the Colorado/Wyoming border.

Bullet-riddled welcome sign. Wyoming wisely made this sign out of pressboard, which lets the bullets pass through with little damage. Many other states (i.e. Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Virginia) make their signs out of metal, and bullets create big paint-free circles when they hit it, making the signs look less than welcoming.

A sign in Baggs, Wyoming, where the main industries are cattle and gas/petroleum.

Ron with his Bike Friday. Ron used to travel a lot with the military, so he liked having a folding bicycle.

Standing on Ron's patio with Ron, his wife Linda, and their neighbors Bud and Chris.

Tuesday, July 17

Distance: 65.1 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 17 minutes
Average speed: 12.3 mph
Maximum speed: 37.5 mph

I ate my best breakfast of the trip this morning - pancakes and bacon, prepared by Ron. I was getting tired of eating oatmeal every morning anyway.

My goal today was to ride up to the continental divide at Sierra Madre Pass, hike to the top of Bridger Peak, then roll down to the small town of Encampment. I did all of that, but it was a lot of work. It was 33 miles of mostly uphill to reach the pass, then a relatively easy 3-mile hike to the top of Bridger Peak. The peak is below tree line at 11,008 feet, but a big pile of rocks at the very top let me climb high enough to see over the forest.

Riding past cattle ranches in the Little Snake River Valley.

Battle Lake and Battle Creek in the Sierra Madre Mountains. According to a nearby historical marker, Thomas Edison went fishing here in 1878 and had the bright idea to use a fiber from his bamboo fishing pole as a filament in his electric light bulb. That fiber was his first suitable filament - who knew that fishing trips could be so important?

Looking over the mountains from Bridger Peak.

I rolled into Encampment just in time to take a tour of the Grand Encampment Museum before it closed. The museum is mostly a collection of relocated buildings that are filled with artifacts. They have a schoolhouse, tie-hack cabin, livery, ice cream parlor, law office, etc. It's a great museum for a town of less than 500 people. Grand Encampment was a boomtown created in 1897 when copper mines began producing ore all around the valley. The recent invention of electric streetlights had created a huge demand for copper. A 16-mile aerial tram (the longest in the world at that time) brought copper ore down to the nearby smelter, and both the tram and the smelter were powered by an expensive hydroelectric system. In 1908 the mines shut down when the mining company was convicted of securities fraud, and a fire later destroyed the smelter.

I cooked and ate dinner under a shelter in the local park while a storm passed through, then started biking again. I thought I'd ask a rancher for permission to camp somewhere, but there were almost no ranch houses for me to stop at. I saw plenty of cows and hay, but no houses. I did knock on the door of one somewhat-scary-looking trailer home, but no one answered. Eventually I turned off on a dirt highway (hwy 230) and set up my tent on the edge of a pasture. I'm either on public land or on the corner of a vast private ranch - there are no buildings in sight. A sign by the road notes that this is open range, so I hope that cows do not trample me in the morning.

Stormy weather approached as I rode into Encampment.

One of the nicest old homes in Encampment. According to the Encampment museum, this home was built in 1908 to be... a deluxe house of prostitution. I'm sure that it would have been the nicest brothel in town, but before construction was completed Mr. and Mrs. Willis had moved their business to Saratoga, about 20 miles away. The house stayed unfinished until 1931, when it became a family home and a boarding house for school teachers.

An early bicycle at the Grand Encampment Museum - it's a high-wheel with solid rubber tires.

Part of the copper ore aerial tram that originally stretched 16 miles. Expensive investments like this tram probably drove the mining company to make fraudulent stock sales.

I always thought that 2-story outhouses were just a joke, but here's the real thing. Waste from the top stalls free falls through the bottom stalls. Visitors used the top stalls in the winter once the snow was too deep to open the doors of the bottom stalls. In the spring, some lucky person had to clean out the bottom stalls to make them usable again.

Baled hay on a cattle ranch north of Encampment.

North Platte River


Page 1: Fort Collins to Sheriff Reservoir
Page 2: Sheriff Reservoir to Encampment
Page 3: Encampment to Fort Collins