The open road: 2010 summer trip day 4

Day 4: Ouray, CO to Pagosa Springs, CO — 498 Miles

The sunrise broke fairly late down in the bottom of the valley that Ouray, CO, sits in. The night before, I’d seen several places that looked hopeful for breakfast, and indeed they held true to their promise.

Over breakfast, I consulted the maps and GPS and called my buddy, Clint, to discuss plans for my arrival in Plano. Clint had already made arrangements for my arrival the next day, yet, my planned route called for 1300+ miles of mostly 2-lane roads between here and there. My previous slackardly days and road repair delays were starting to catch up with my plans to take the long winding roads to Texas. A bit of ciphering, and I figure it’s doable, with a slight modification.

Little did I realize, 500 miles and 10 hours later, I’d only be 64 miles (as the crow files) away from my starting point!



[click to go to an interactive map]

Leaving the big mountains behind — 13000 ft peaks

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/500sec, 55mm focal L. @58 MPH, map

Between Placerville and Norwood on CO-145, a crew was working along the cliff faces sloughing rocks and debris that was in danger of falling on the roadway. I wasn’t first in line upon arriving at the delay, but, that didn’t stop me from being a bit cheeky and passed all the waiting cars to pull up to the front of the line. I figure they won’t be waiting for me once the road is opened up again, what’s the harm?

While waiting, I chatted with the flagger and he informed me of the happenings. Among other things, he also told me to wave to the woman at the other end of the delay since what was his wife. They literally live on the road following the work around. Boring as hell job, but, interesting way to make the most of it.

Had a nice chat with this guy.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.2, 1/1250sec, 38mm focal L., ~22mi from prev photo, map

CO 141 — Out of the mountains, and into the desert.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/1000sec, 46mm focal L. @52 MPH, ~34mi from prev photo, map

CO 141 was an amazingly fun road. Good tarmac, loads of sweepers, awesome dessert canyon scenery. Much of my route through Colorado was heavily influenced by this post on sport-touring.net.

CO 141 — Joined up with the San Miguel river to run the canyon to Gateway.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.2, 1/1600sec, 35mm focal L. @67 MPH, ~0.9mi from prev photo, map

I did take the time to stop at some of the road side points of interest. This hanging flume was constructed around 1890 and was considered a true engineering marvel at the time. It delivered water for hydraulic mining a of claim downstream. Turns out, they spent all the fortune on the flume, and not so much on proving there was a worthwhile claim. More info here, and here.

Hanging flume — Look carefully along the vertical section of the cliff.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/1250sec, 50mm focal L., map

Sheer red walls

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/3.8, 1/1600sec, 27mm focal L., map

Did I mention that there were just some fantastic sweepers through here? The kind that you can be mid-corner, deep into the lean and then just start rolling into the throttle a little more to just play with leaning over a bit more. But, they aren’t such a gentle turn that you need insane speeds to make it fun. I was all smiles through there.

CO 141 — This section was full of awesome sweepers.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.0, 1/1250sec, 18mm focal L. @72 MPH, ~8.8mi from prev photo, map

The path ahead on CO 141 — follow the valley floor.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.0, 1/1250sec, 25mm focal L. @72 MPH, ~9.8mi from prev photo, map

The town of Gateway sits in the shadow of this sharp edged cliff. That’d be a totally worthwhile climb to sit on the edge and look out over the valley.

The Palisade — this spine formed where the Dolores River and West Creek come together.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.0, 1/2000sec, 29mm focal L. @44 MPH, ~2.8mi from prev photo, map

And just after leaving Gateway, there was another drastic change in scenery. I’m just amazed at how different Colorado’s scenery can change in the course of a few hours ride.

Thimble Rock Point

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.0, 1/1600sec, 27mm focal L. @72 MPH, ~14mi from prev photo, map

CO 141 ends at Grand Junction and then it was a brief hop on I70 to get to CO 65. This would be my northern most reach in my zig-zag across Colorado. Time to head back south and make my way towards Texas.

The section of CO 65 along the river was good fun, excepting for the oncoming sheriff that I met at the apex of a corner. The fuzz buster stayed quiet, but, I felt the burn of the stink eye through my riding suit as he accessed my lean angle and passed judgements about my speed. After a mile or two of paranoid mirror checks, I relaxed and settled back into a “comfortable” pace.

CO 65 — Heading east out of Grand Junction.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.0, 1/2000sec, 18mm focal L. @56 MPH, ~39mi from prev photo, map

CO 65 — Crossing the range through Grand Mesa Natl Forest, in the middle of a very fun section.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.0, 1/2000sec, 18mm focal L. @56 MPH, ~14mi from prev photo, map

CO 65 runs along a river and then through the plains before reaching Grand Mesa National Forrest. It then starts a fast climb up to 10k+ ft at the top of the mesa. The mesa is dotted with small lakes that look to be ideal camping destinations.

Island Lake — Can’t figure out how they named it such…

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.0, 1/1250sec, 18mm focal L. @66 MPH, ~3.6mi from prev photo, map

CO 92 — One of the boring sections.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.0, 1/2500sec, 18mm focal L. @69 MPH, ~26mi from prev photo, map

And then, another complete change of scenery. Sadly, this change also brought about an hour of rather boring straight roads, with some major road construction just to drive the point home.

CO 92 — Just about to the really good stuff…

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/1250sec, 25mm focal L. @74 MPH, ~14mi from prev photo, map


Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/2000sec, 18mm focal L. @43 MPH, ~4.2mi from prev photo, map

But, the map promised to reward those with patience. And reward it did! This stretch of CO 92 is in my top 5 best roads to ride.

CO 92 — Tasty section of corners to carve around.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/640sec, 18mm focal L. @59 MPH, ~3.2mi from prev photo, map

The road follows the edge of a mesa, high above the Morrow Point Reservoir. Every valley cut into the mesa leads you away from reservoir, and then shoots you back toward it again. While the speed limit of this stretch is 35 MPH (iirc), there was zero traffic and freedom to play.

Morrow Point Reservoir

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/800sec, 18mm focal L. @44 MPH, ~1.1mi from prev photo, map

CO 92 — This is squarely in the middle of the “gold” section.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/1600sec, 18mm focal L. @58 MPH, ~3.0mi from prev photo, map

It was along this stretch of road, that I realized I had an asymmetry in my cornering technique: I only ever scraped my left foot peg, but, never the right. This got me to think’n — why was that the case? The epiphany moment was that I have an aversion to hanging off the left side of the bike because that would put me closer to the oncoming traffic. Thus I was pushing the bike over farther to compensate, and dragging the left peg on occasion. Deep into a right-hand turn, there is no foreboding feeling of an errant car bumper appearing out of nowhere, and so, I’d throw myself into a right hander more correctly.

CO 92 — One of the many valley loops.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/1600sec, 18mm focal L. @51 MPH, ~1.7mi from prev photo, map

CO 92 — Up the valley about to make a U-turn to head back on the other side.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/1250sec, 40mm focal L. @57 MPH, ~1.6mi from prev photo, map

Blue Mesa Dam

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/1000sec, 24mm focal L., ~5.1mi from prev photo, map

Looking down Blue Mesa Dam — That’s 300′ down!

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/400sec, 22mm focal L., ~260ft from prev photo, map

After a fun run down to the reservoir, CO 92 connects up with US 50 and runs along the Blue Mesa Reservoir toward CO 149. Heading south on 149 after the junction, the adrenaline of the twisties had faded and the need to stop and became overwhelmingly apparent. It was gett’n on 3:00 and I hadn’t bothered to stop for a proper lunch yet. There was also that pesky problem of where to find some petrol along the way. But, Mr. Garmin promised there was a station that was in range up ahead in Lake City, so I could only hope there’d be food too.

Blue Mesa Reservroir — Following it along the brief run up US-50.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/640sec, 35mm focal L. @68 MPH, ~2.7mi from prev photo, map

Just before getting into the tiny town of Lake “City”, I was greeted with the likes of this while following the river. Up until this point, CO 149 didn’t have all that much to offer.

CO 149 — This is an “orange” section according to Butler.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/5.6, 1/250sec, 18mm focal L. @61 MPH, ~25mi from prev photo, map

Time for a late lunch

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/5.6, 1/800sec, 18mm focal L., ~5.9mi from prev photo, map

Cruising through town, I didn’t have to look any further the moment I saw this place. Mmmmm, BBQ. I was the only customer when I showed up, and they were happy to be of service. I inquired about what style BBQ it was, and I’m certain I offended the chef by asking. I got a “there aint no other BBQ besides Texas BBQ” type answer.

In retrospect, I should have known better with Texas flag flying proudly out front.

For Texas style BBQ, it was a descent sauce — but, sandwich didn’t come with slaw on it already.

iPhone, map

CO 149 — This was coming off a great stretch through the Rio Grande National Forest

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/5.6, 1/2500sec, 18mm focal L. @67 MPH, ~9.0mi from prev photo, map

It’s all “down hill” from here, so to speak.

Over to the east side — be over there for most of the trip.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/5.6, 1/500sec, 18mm focal L. @41 MPH, ~1.6mi from prev photo, map

I picked up a little rain. It wasn’t any big deal, but, enough to warrant putting on the dry gear. It was get’n on to be almost 5 PM local time, and the rain really cooled down the temps.

CO 149 — Fun sweepers to cruise on.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/5.6, 1/640sec, 38mm focal L. @69 MPH, ~1.4mi from prev photo, map

I had forgotten my river geography, and it really took by by surprise to be crossing the Rio Grande so far north. A roadside point of interest sign had a nice refresher on the river’s path.

Quick, call boarder patrol! — Someone is sneaking across!

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/4.2, 1/500sec, 35mm focal L. @32 MPH, ~20mi from prev photo, map

Heading south on US 160

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/5.0, 1/100sec, 18mm focal L. @70 MPH, ~16mi from prev photo, map

US 160 — Heading down Wolf Creek Pass

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/5.0, 1/40sec, 31mm focal L., ~8.3mi from prev photo, map

The sun had set over the hills about 15 minutes ago and the bugs were thick as porridge. This accumulation was just from following the river along US 160. I was glad to have my rain gear on since the bugs clean off that so much better than the mesh jacket.

Evening bugs

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/5.0, 1/50sec, 31mm focal L., map

Wolf Creek pass was practically a super slab. That is, right up until coming upon a semi-truck doing the 20 MPH slow roll down the hill with a long line of cars unwilling to cross the double yellow to get around him. The absence of passing lanes on the down-hill side was a real bummer.

US 160 — One of the switchbacks down Wolf Creek Pass.

Nikon D70, ISO 640, ƒ/5.0, 1/50sec, 18mm focal L. @60 MPH, ~0.6mi from prev photo, map

The light was fading, and 10 miles down the road, I decided to call it a day in Pagosa Springs. Found a real dive of a motel to crash out in for the night. Well, not before a stop into the nearby watering hole to reflect on the day over a couple of pints.

It’d had been one of the best days on the road that I’ve ever had. Life on the road was definitely good. The next day, I’d probably be reconsidering my decision to stop so early in the evening. There were still a lot of miles between me and Plano, TX.

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