Scottsdale / Montrose
|Thursday, July 11th, 2002
End: Boulder, Colorado
In the morning, I look the bike over. Oil, air, brake fluid.... Everything is OK, except the same two cells on the battery are dry again. The bike starts right up, but I don't feel good about the battery.
We eat breakfast, and after breakfast I get a long straw and a glass of water from the restaurant to top-off the battery - again. After topping off the battery, we clean up, pack up and check out. Fill up the bike on our way out of town, and we're off.
We head north to Delta on US-550. In Delta we pick up CO-92 east to Hotchkiss, and at Hotchkiss we pick up CO-133 north towards Somerset.
Delta is Colorado agricultural with small irrigated farms, but after leaving Delta the scenery steadily improves between Delta and Somerset. By the time we hit Somerset, we're getting back to the Colorado that I'm used to in my mind - high altitude Rocky Mountain scenery: mountains, forests, and small towns.
Somerset is a coal-mining town. It reminds me somewhat of similar places in West Virginia, except that the scenery is better in Somerset. Or maybe I should say outside Somerset - the entire town of Somerset is crowded into a rather small area, wherever the builders could find a spot to build on. There's a long coal train being put together at the north edge of town, several big diesel locomotives to haul the train up and over the mountains out of there. And then we're out of town again.
Leaving Somerset, and we climb up to the top of McClure Pass. It's a scenic climb; with the typical pine forests, big mountains, blue sky, and clean air I've come to expect in the Colorado Rockies. And then down the other side of McClure Pass, which is beautiful - the road descends in a series of turns down into a large bowl (or "park" in Colorado-speak) surrounded by big mountains, and at the bottom of the bowl is the turn-off for Marble. We go for it.
Heading down the road to Marble, and the day is nearly perfect. Blue sky, pine trees, moderate temperatures.
We stop at the Bogan Flats campground to use the restrooms there, and afterward I tell Sharon stories about 4WD trips and kayak trips I've taken to this area. The Crystal River flows past Bogan Flats; it's a beautiful run from Marble to Bogan Flats. The guidebook has dire warnings about that run, but for a kayak it's simply a nice trip assuming there are no trees down. Bogan Flats is a great campground in a beautiful setting.
We get back on the bike, and continue to Marble. The road is a former railroad grade; it was converted to an auto road after the railroad was removed long, long ago. So there's no sharp turns or steep grades, its very pleasant riding. After just a few miles, we arrive in Marble. The pavement ends at Marble, to go further you need something much more dirt-worthy than my Concours.
Marble is a neat place. Marble is the site of a huge marble mine, and it's claimed that some of the best marble ever quarried has been from the mines at Marble. Marble supplied the marble for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Lincoln Memorial, as well as many civic buildings across the United States. But a decline in marble's popularity as a building material, combined with a fire in the marble mill, a mudslide, and World War II, caused the operation to be shut down in the early 1940s.
It was a huge operation at one time - there was an electric trolley that would bring blocks of marble down from the mine ever so slowly, to the mill. They'd be finished at the mill, and then shipped out via the railroad.
You can go up to the marble mines; I've done it in a 4WD and on a streetbike if you don't mind a bit of a challenge. The mine itself is unique - you enter a large cave, you come to a railing, and spread below you is the marble quarry inside the mountain.
Recently, the mine has been re-opened. A new entrance, roughly at the same elevation as the town, has been cut into the mountain at it's base. Flatbed tractor-trailers drive in, pick up their load of marble, and drive out.
We stop at a gift shop, and look at the items available. Gleaming marble vases turned down on a lathe, and artistic sculptures made right there in Marble dominate the store's stock. I ask about the mine being open, and its impact on the town. The girl says that they're glad the mine is open, some people have good jobs again in the mine. I also ask about the Schofield Pass route, a difficult 4WD road another 5-10 miles up the Crystal River. She tells me that she thinks Schofield Pass is still closed due to snow.
For more info on Marble, see:
We thank her for her time and head out, back to CO-133 and then continuing north to Redstone. CO-133 follows the Crystal River as both the road and river descend.
Redstone is another former ghost town, as well as a unique social experiment. Another coal-mining town, the founder of Redstone (John C. Osgood) believed that the miners should enjoy culture and clean living. So Redstone had a library, a hotel for the bachelors, and comfy bungalows for the families. What remains in modern times are abandoned coke ovens, quaint bungalows, the hotel / boarding house, and new art studios selling local art.
For more info on Redstone, see:
Redstone's main street parallels CO-133. We ride down the main street, slowly, with me narrating to Sharon the history of Redstone. We don't stop, we're hungry and would like to make Aspen for lunch.
Leaving Redstone, and we pass a very intimidating rapid on the Crystal River. Kayakers name the rapids, and I know the name of this one: Meatgrinder. It's scenic from the shore, and very ugly if you're thinking of kayaking it. It's an S-turn, in heavy current, and if you fail to make the turn you'll end up being flushed into a rock-sieve and drowning at worst. At best, you'll get beat to heck on rocks if you flip or swim anywhere in that rapid. I haven't run it, very few people have. But I have put in just below while a couple of my friends ran it, and I waited apprehensively for them to appear, hoping I wouldn't have to pick up pieces. With today's low water, I get to see how really nasty this rapid is. I don't think I've missed anything by not having run it…
We continue on to Carbondale, following the Crystal River the whole way. The Crystal River Valley opens up in the Carbondale area, and is once again mostly agricultural. In Carbondale, we turn east on CO-82 toward Aspen.
Entering Aspen from the west, and the first thing you see is the airport. What a collection of cool stuff!! Learjets and sailplanes and biplanes and Cessnas, all in one place. Looks like an interesting place to land or take off from as well…
My plan for lunch is to grab something to go in Aspen and have a picnic lunch in a town park in Aspen along the Roaring Fork River, where Cemetery road crosses the Roaring Fork just a bit north of CO-82. It's a romantic secluded spot, with pine trees all around.
Sharon's plan for lunch is to eat in one of the finer eateries in Aspen, to enjoy the resort-town ambiance.
I should mention that aside from the fantastic whitewater on the Roaring Fork River right in town, I don't much care for Aspen. It's a former Colorado mining town, turned ski town by Mountain Division soldiers that trained nearby during World War II and then returned to the area to create the modern American ski industry. But in my opinion, Aspen is too many facades (I don't mean the architecture), too much money, and too little substance.
Sharon wins. We end up at the Hotel Jerome, on a bench in the courtyard - waiting for a table. We wait a long time. We end up striking up a conversation with two older women, who are also waiting on a table: Rose and Trish. I assume the pair are mother and daughter.
The waiter brings us plenty of tea and lemonade while we wait. I worry about running out of quarters in the parking meter while we wait, there's a time limit.. And now and again the maitre'd tracks us down to tell us our standings in the slow race for a table.
Eventually a table for 4 opens up. I ask Trish f they'd mind sharing a table with us - I'm just hungry, starving really, and everybody around us is eating and the food smells so good… Trish seems happy to have the company.
We order quickly, as we've been poring over the menu while we waited for a table. Then we socialize with Rose and Trish and each other.
Rose is local, more or less. She owns homes in Aspen, Vermont, New Mexico... Rose spends summers in Aspen. At first glance, I assume Rose is a typical Aspen resident: well-dressed, moneyed, mature. Yes, I'm stereotyping so I'm probably wrong. Trish lives with Rose, and takes Rose on errands in the Mercedes.
Trish is Rose's caregiver, 24-7, for the summer. Trish lives in Tucson and works for a placement agency, her husband has a Gold Wing, and he spent some time with Trish in Aspen earlier in the summer. I'd guess Trish is about 50 or so.
Rose is much older than Trish. She simply smiles a lot, agrees often, is extremely meek and polite, and actually says very little. Locals and friends come up to her to say hello, but she doesn't recognize them - so Trish is also Rose's tele-prompter and guide. Rose is more than forgetful - senile would probably be the correct term. It's an interesting situation; I wouldn't care to be in either Rose's or Trish's shoes.
We get our food, finish our meal, and say goodbye to Rose and Trish. The food and conversation was nice, but Independence Pass will be even better.
I didn't miss by much, we arrived in Aspen at 11:45 AM and it's now 2:00 PM. As we suit up, Sharon wonders where the time went, and is surprised how late it is. She thought I was kidding when I said 2.5 hours... She points out the ambiance of the Hotel Jerome. I prefer the ambiance of the mountain passes or the picnic table along the Roaring Fork in the pines.
Ah well, nothing for either of us to get in too much of a fuss about - the day is too nice for that. Instead, we head out of town towards Independence Pass.
The road up Independence Pass is stunning. In places, it's the narrowest state road I've ever seen - barely over one lane wide in a couple spots, with a low stone wall about 18" tall separating you from a long fall into the valley below. RVs are out of place, but they're up there...
At the start of the Independence Pass road, on the west side of the pass, is the former townsite of Independence. A great place to gawk and wander, with remains of cabins and mine buildings scattered across a high valley. We continue up…
A plaque at the top tells how the modern road through Independence Pass is open only in the summer months, but one hundred years ago it was kept open all year using horse-drawn sleighs in the winter, carrying people and mail and supplies back and forth between Leadville and Aspen.
The scenery is beautiful from atop the overlook. We can see the road we'll take down the east side of the pass, it consists of long relatively straight sections with a hairpin turn at each switchback. While we watch, we see a large bike with a trailer making it's way up the grade - Gold Wing? Harley? Other? And then from a mile or so away, we hear the rider roll on the throttle - it's a Harley.
We head down the east side, catching up to a gaggle of about 4-5 vintage sport touring bikes (including a couple Connies), and enjoy the ride into Leadville. Leadville is what Aspen once aspired to be - simply a stable mining town.
Basically Aspen is at one end of the spectrum and Leadville is at the other end. Aspen is all glitz and glamour, expensive lunches and Learjets. Leadville is rough around the edges, the 4WD trucks in Leadville have dirt on them, and there's nothing glitzy or fancy about Leadville. I don't know where the Leadville airport is, or what kind of airplanes they have there. I like that, it's more like my own personality.
We motor through Leadville, absorbing the ambiance on the fly, and then at the edge of town have to decide between US-24 into Vail or CO-91 into Copper Mountain. Both are marked scenic, although I think the US-24 route is prettier. The CO-91 route is shorter, and I'd like to make it to Boulder at a reasonable hour in the hopes of having dinner with a friend there.
We head north on CO-91 into Fremont Pass, past a huge molybdenum mine, and into miles and miles of gravel due to road construction. I tell Sharon to relax, that the gravel is more annoying than dangerous, and then I try to follow my own advice. The scenery is nice, but I'm pre-occupied with the darned gravel… And then it's over - we're on pavement again, and a short time later we're at the junction of I-70 and CO-91 at Copper Mountain.
We stop for fuel. While fueling up, I call Jeff on Sharon's cell phone and leave a message on his voicemail. Then I check the battery again, and shoot.! Those two cells are almost dry again, in about 100-150 miles. Not good…
Jeff calls back, and tells us he can't make dinner tonight - some sort of a meeting at work. Since I've got him on the phone, I ask about where to eat supper - maybe pizza? Maybe around Idaho Springs? Jeff tells us we've got to go to Beau Joe's in Idaho Springs. I tell Jeff we'll spend the night in Boulder, maybe lunch tomorrow? Maybe.
Off the phone, I tell Sharon what I've learned. Now the pressure is off us, Boulder's not that far - want to ride up Mount Evans? I haven't done it yet, at least not all the way to the top - we could do it tonight, just before sunset. Sharon's in.
We make time eastbound on I-70, and exit near Idaho Springs for Mount Evans. Perfect, after the ride to the top we can have dinner right here.
There's a self-serve tollbooth at the base of Mount Evans, and I spend some time trying to figure out how to use it. We figure it out, get our receipt, and start up.
The road climbs and climbs. Mt. Evans is higher than Pike's Peak, 14,260' vs. 14,110', as well as paved. But while the Pike's Peak road is wide at the top, the Mt. Evans road is very narrow for a paved road.
Near the summit, Sharon asks when we'll see mountain goats. Moments later we round a bend, and there they are - bunches of them, just watching as the traffic goes by. Sharon's happy, but still nervous - she doesn't like the road being so narrow, and asks if the off-road mountain passes are worse. Oh yes, most are much worse… Sharon tells me she doesn't think she wants to experience that.
We make it to the summit safely. My watch says 45ºF. There's another herd of mountain goats milling around some ruins. We head over to the ruins, but the goats are in the way. They're skittish, so I talk with them as we walk through. What do you say to a goat?
I suppose it's the same as talking to a horse or a cat, so in a soft voice I tell them: "Hey goats, how you guys doing tonight? We're gonna check out this building here, you guys can just take it easy and go about your business because we're not going to bother you at all. Just relax and we'll walk by real slow right here. No need for alarm..."
And then we're in the building. We explore the rooms, there's no roof, just stone walls. It's the ruins of a home, built for researchers stationed at the summit. A propane explosion in 1979 or so destroyed it; a shame.. The pictures of the Summit House intact remind me a little of some of Frank Lloyd Wright's homes. The setting is fantastic!
Entering one room, we startle a goat and he dives out the window - then sudddenly he's walking along the top edge of the wall above us. They're really agile, and apparently have good lungs as well... At 14,000' walking around has us huffing and puffing, while the goats seem pretty carefree and active.
After exploring the ruins, we walk along the eastern side of the parking lot. The view from the top is impressive, we can see over the mountains to the east, all the way to plains beyond the Rockies. I think I can see Denver itself, a cluster of silver slivers in about the right place.
Walking back to the bike, and I notice a large white van with numerous antennas and satellite dishes on the top. I strike up a conversation with the driver, his name is Todd Thorn. It turns out he's an extreme weather tour guide, as well as the owner of "Storm Chasing Adventure Tours." His business card proclaims "Adventure for the Severe Weather Enthusiast." He takes people on tours chasing extreme weather - somewhat amusing to me, back home in Ohio severe weather comes to us all too often. Interesting concept, though. For more info, their website is:
It's getting dark and cooling down, we've seen all we can see, so we start back down. Heated grips are on, we're wearing sweaters under our mesh riding gear, and for only the second time this trip we're actually a bit cool.
We arrive in Idaho Springs after dark. We ask a woman carrying a pizza box about Beau Joe's, and she points us in the right direction. She's a fan of the place, and tells us we'll love it.
Beau Joe's is very cool - kind of rough inside, but on purpose I think. The interior is filled with mining memorabilia and old photos adorn the walls. The pizza is unique, and excellent. Ambiance, very good.
We're relaxing afterward in that after-supper glow, when there's yelling and a scuffle up near the door - people yelling and very excited. The manager tosses a kid out the door, and we don't know what's up. Our waitress explains when she brings the bill - a teenager had a knife and had threatened another in their party, and the manager threw him out. The old West lives…
We pay our bill, and take I-70 east to the outskirts of Denver. Then north on CO-93 to Boulder.. CO-93 is a great road by day, but in the dark and fatigued we both just want it to be over. We want clean sheets and a comfortable bed and maybe 2 minutes of the Weather Channel.
We roll into Boulder late, very late, exhausted and flailing. We check into the first decent motel we find, in a daze as we fill out the forms. In the room, we clean the road dust off ourselves, and go to bed. I don't remember much else that night...