Scottsdale / Montrose
July 2002
Day 12


Wednesday, July 10th, 2002
Start:Montrose, Colorado
End: Montrose, Colorado
144 Miles

At the Best Western in Montrose, breakfast is more than just a continental breakfast. The restaurant has an agreement with the hotel, and so the included breakfast is a choice of eggs, waffles, pancakes, or several other items. It's a cheap breakfast, but good - we were waited on and had some variety.

After breakfast, we discuss what to do today. We'll attend the COG dinner tonight, but during the day there are several choices here at the rally. There are seminars, a tech session, a visit to the local Kawasaki dealer. But what sounds really good are some of the roads on the packet of day trip routes we were given when we signed in.

Sharon has one all picked out, it's about 100 miles.

I have one picked out too, it's about 400 miles.

We talk it over. Sharon is tired of just racking up big miles in the mountains and wants an easier day. But the loop she's picked contains just roads that we will take anyway when we ride from Montrose to Denver on Thursday. In my opinion, there's no point in doing the same stuff twice. We're exploring, let's see new roads!

The loop I've picked out goes down into the Pagosa Springs area, Wolf Creek Pass, Slumgullion Pass, Lake City.... I've been all through that area several times before - in a 4WD, on a motorcycle, and to kayak; and the scenery will be awesome. But, the distance is more than Sharon wants to do. And I've already seen it anyway, so... let's compromise. We're both reading fast now, looking for a nice compromise - something that's not too long, not too short, and hopefully roads I haven't been on before. It's a tall order.

And then we find just the route, we think. We look on the map, and Yes! That'll do nicely. The Uravan loop - north to Grand Junction area, west to Gateway, south towards Naturita, east back to Montrose. Sounds perfect.

I check the battery, and the same two cells are almost dry again. Shoot! This time the water has cooked off in only about 700 miles; I don't like the looks of that. I top off the battery, the bike fires right up, and we're off.

We head north out of Montrose, through Delta, towards Whitewater and Grand Junction. The scenery is mostly arid, but with some irrigated farmland. Large mountains are always visible but never nearby.

Scenic pullout, overlooking the Grand Valley and Grand Mesa.
Overview of Grand Valley
Approaching Grand Mesa and entering Whitewater, the route sheet directs us to take the two-lane CO-141 towards Gateway. We do, and the scenery changes again. It's still arid, but now the road twists and turns through a small mountain range and then into a wide area that seems not quite a valley or a canyon. We stop at a roadside historical marker, which tells of the Grand Overlook and the Grand Mesa, and about the road we're on.

The road we're on was originally a wagon road, and got a lot of use in World War II when uranium mining in the area experienced a boom - no pun intended. At that time, prospectors and miners and various government employees used the road as transportation to the uranium mines in the Uravan area. Now that it's smoothed and paved, it's simply good fun.

Shortly after the scenic pullout, we enter Unaweep Canyon. Unaweep's claim to fame is that the river that formed the canyon exits the canyon at both ends - there are two mouths to the canyon and the river flows out both ends.

We continue to Gateway. There's not much in Gateway - a few homes, a rundown gas station / restaurant, some abandoned pieces of mining equipment.

At the gas station / restaurant, we see Phil Tarman and some friends stopped in the parking lot. We pull over and talk a bit. Then we take pictures...

Then we trade cameras, and take photos of each other. Phil and his friends got an early start and have already completed most of the loop, they're headed the opposite direction we are.

The gas station is permanently closed, but the restaurant is open. Sharon and I head in and look over the menu. We're not all that hungry, and nothing on the menu seems appealing, so we continue on our way.

I'm glad we came this way - the scenery after Gateway is absolutely beautiful! Due to the kayaking and 4WD trips I've taken to Colorado, my mental picture of this state is one where the eastern half is desert, and the western half is huge mountains with 4WD trails, pine forest, ghost towns, whitewater, and cool temps due to the high elevation. But the scenery after Gateway is none of the above.

Doug and Sharon, Gateway Colorado.  Photo by Phil Tarman.
Doug and Sharon
Gateway, Colorado
Red buttes, south of Gateway Colorado, on CO-141.
West of Gateway, Colorado
Dolores River Canyon, with the Hanging Flume barely visible as the horizontal line about 2/3 up the RH canyon wall.
Dolores River Canyon
Detail of Hanging Flume, Dolores River, Colorado.
Hanging Flume
Hanging Flume Overlook
Instead, it's red buttes, red and brown dirt, green tufts of vegetation, the Dolores River at the bottom, sweeping turns and very good pavement. And heat, lots of heat..... we're not up in the mountains at all, this land is all fairly low. The scenery looks a lot like Utah, which makes sense since we're close to the Utah-Colorado border.

We stop and read another historical marker, this time about cattle rustlers in the old days using the remote side canyons to hide and re-brand stolen cattle. Not sure who said it, but the quote: "Hell of place to lose a cow..." comes easily to mind. Trying to locate cattle in here would be a miserable job.

We continue south now on CO-141, moderate speeds, cooking behind the Concours fairing and sipping water - but we don't care. The scenery is so good, the sky is mostly blue, the day so nice, that the heat just doesn't matter. We're simply gawking as we go.

In the 40 miles south of Gateway, the scenery slowly morphs from red buttes into brown sandstone hills. Mine shafts and piles of tailings appear here and there in the hills, along with scattered mining relics.

I'm looking for something here.... we pull over at another roadside marker and we find it: the Hanging Flume.

The hanging flume was a project built around the end of the 19th century to bring water from the upper Dolores to a mine downstream. A flume was pinned to the sheer cliffs above the Dolores River, at times several hundred feet above the water. The flume was approximately 5' x 5', and could transport about 2.5 million gallons of water in 24 hours. It was considered an engineering marvel at the time it was built, and it's still pretty impressive today.

But it didn't work out as planned. The mine wasn't rich enough to support the investment, and the entire venture went broke after just 2-3 years. The flume is still there, though time and the elements and local ranchers have taken out various sections of the flume. Enough remains to really impress onlookers, and is easily visible from the pullout. Simply walk to the edge and look down...

The Dolores River is another river I've read about - many times. There's good whitewater to be had down there, but over the years it's been damned and diverted and de-watered. There's enough water in the riverbed to please most tourists and to look like a river, but it's not like stories I've read of the old days of whitewater boating on the Dolores below the Hanging Flume.

We read the plaque, take some pictures, drink some water, and we're off again.

We continue on to Uravan, another scenic / historic point along the way. Uravan is a ghost town, there's nothing really there now except an historic marker telling about it was... Uravan was once a thriving mining town, boasting of tennis courts and a swimming pool and a population of about 800 people. Publicly, they mined and milled vanadium during World War II, used in hardening steel. Secretly, uranium was also mined and proccessed here. The materials for the bombs exploded at Alamogordo, as well as the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, came from Uravan.

Unfortunately, the entire site has been contaminated with radiation. The buildings and facilities have been razed, the remains trucked away somewhere, and an environmental remediation company is still there cleaning up the site. A marker tells that after the remediation project is complete, the land will be as it always was.

By now, we're getting hungry. We roll into Naturita and have lunch. Rather than the usual splitting of our meal, we each order a chiliburger. We're hungry, how big can it be? Turns out it can be very big... neither of us finishes our meal. We want to wallow there and let everything settle a bit, but we also want to make it back in time for the group photo and tonight's banquet.

We take CO-145 south from Naturita, and the land becomes more agricultural. The weather cools; it rains for just a bit and then stops. The road remains very pleasant, curving this way and that - a road that needs to be ridden.

This entire trip has been affected by the wildfires, but we haven't actually seen a single fire. Near Norwood, we do. Just beyond the next ridge, there's a wall of thick black smoke. We can't see the flames, but we can see the smoke rolling over on itself as it rises up so the fire must be just below the ridge. I don't want to be any closer to it - we continue on.

At Placerville, we head east on CO-62 to Ridgway. Another nice road, and more like the Colorado I'm used to: pines, mountains, curvy roads, creeks, and higher elevations.

At Ridgway, we turn north on US-550 towards Montrose. And we smell the smoke and see the haze.... for the next 20 miles into Montrose, the smoke smell and haze are present. Not obnoxious or annoying, it simply smells like a campfire - for 20 miles. Just a reminder of what's going on all around us out here.

We pull into Montrose in time for the banquet, but too late to make the group photo shoot. Ah well... We find directions to the banquet taped to the door at the sign-in, I write them down, and we head over to the banquet.

We arrive at the banquet hall, and there must be 200-300 Concours parked outside in the lot. Just like BMWs or Harleys, they're all the same yet all different...

We head in. We're not late, more like right on time. People are all seated so our choices are limited, but we find a table with two openings and have a seat. I don't recognize anybody at the table, but once we introduce ourselves we find that one of the people there is one of my customers. She tells me how she loves her vest and wouldn't trade it for anything, and what a shame it is I don't make them anymore. We talk a bit, dinner is served, and although nobody else at our table knows me people keep wandering over from the rest of the room to meet me while we eat. I sort of wonder what the others at our table think about this steady stream of folks coming over to talk with Sharon and I.

Guy Young, the COG Tech Editor, gives a talk about his trip to Europe. The trip was arranged by European COG members, and financed by COG List members. Basically, somebody in Europe volunteered the use of their bike. COG List members contributed funds, and voted on who they wanted to send from North America to Europe. I was the runner-up, so I'm all ears when Guy tells of his trip. He tells us that he had fun, that he's grateful, and tells us all about the trip. And that the first COG Rally in Europe had 14 people in attendance.

I console myself with the fact that if I had gone to Europe, I couldn't have gone to Arizona and Colorado. And since I've been having big fun for the past 12 days, I have no complaints. And with Sharon along to deal with the Spanish in New Mexico, I haven't even have had any language problems so there are no worries and no jealousy.

Between the two talks, I take a step outside. There's a beautiful sunset, the sky is pink over the mountains to the west and there's a thin layer of smoke pall that actually enhances the beauty of the scene. Talk about finding a silver lining in every cloud... Eyes full of the scenery, I head back in.

Then the main speaker is introduced. The Concours Owners Group has arranged for Nick Ienatcsch, roadracer and former editor of Motorcyclist magazine, to speak to our group about "The Pace." Nick tells how "The Pace" developed. He and his roadracing friends were tired of getting tickets, and realized that they were getting tickets going fast on the straightaways. So, why not just go the speed limit on the straights, and save the fun for cornering?

But the idea continued to evolve - riding on public roads isn't the same as a racetrack, it's more like trail riding in that there are a lot of variables that are constantly changing. So it doesn't make sense to be "at the limit" anywhere, but to work on maximizing your visibility through the corners, so you have more warning of dangers and more time to react to them.

For a copy of "The Pace", click here. The methods and theories make a lot of sense and mesh well with what the Motorcycle Safety Foundation teaches about entering corners at the outside to maximize your visibility and your ability to avoid accidents. It's a good read.

Beyond that, Ienatsch is an excellent speaker - he's animated, he has a clear voice and pronunciation, and he has some excellent anecdotes to illustrate his points. I'd love to hear him talk again, he was that good.

After Nick is finished speaking, people can come up and meet with him and talk with him, so I do. I tell him I liked his talk, that he's a good speaker, and that his remarks about Harleys being so slow don't apply to the new V-Rod.... has he ridden one? No, he hasn't. I explain that he should, that when the V-Rod motor ends up in a Buell chassis it's going to be a very fun bike.

We head back to our room, soak in the Jacuzzi, and call it a night.

I think I could get used to this hotel / motel stuff...

Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio