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Two VStroms - Colorado Loop

Joined
Sep 4, 2009
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11,186
Location
Arlington
My good friend Brian Lea needed a vacation desperately. Actually, so did I. So I planned a bike camping trip that would get us both to Colorado for a few days. Brian has a VStrom 1K; I, of course, have my 650. Here’s our story of 10 days riding, camping, touristing, two-wheel ineptness, surviving, and generally having a blast.


Friday (June 7) –


I’ve ridden to west Texas before; no great treat. So we decided to do the hot, boring part of the trip the easy way – tow the bikes to Amarillo with my Jeep. We made arrangements to park the Jeep & Brian’s construction trailer at a church in Amarillo.
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Saturday -

We left Arlington, as my daughter would say, at the butt crack of dawn. Had an easy trip across Texas and made Amarillo by early afternoon. Once there, we offloaded the bikes, locked the Jeep, and headed west.

Our route was the usual – north through Dalhart and Clayton, west to Raton, where we spent the night at a Super-8 motel. Some good news was that my favorite restaurant, The El Matador Café is still in business after all these years. Family owned, good food. I recommend the “green chili burgers”.

One thing about motel rooms – they all look alike once you unload your gear into them.
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Sunday –

In the morning we rode over Raton Pass into Colorado & followed I-25 to Walsenburg. There we cut NW on 69 – a great two-lane road – up to Hwy 50, then along the Arkansas River to Salida. We found a campsite at the Angel of Shavano campground, toward Monarch Pass.
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It was hot in the campground. So how better to cool off than to take a fast ride to the top of Monarch Pass.
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Monday –

Brian is a fitness freak. No time off just because we’re on vacation.
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We rode north from Salida through Buena Vista, and turned west on US 82. Twin Lakes Reservoir is flanked by some of the highest peaks in the state.
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Then, the long climb up Independence Pass. As you can see, it was still quite cold up there in early June.
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And pretty darned high.
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Here’s the last switchback of the road we just climbed.
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Then, westward down the pass, through Aspen, and up to the Maroon Bells.
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Maroon Lake. Obviously, there’s a civil engineer in residence right now….
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Aspen trees and high, red cliffs lining the valley.
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Just to prove I was really there…
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Tuesday –

Before breaking camp, we took a short walk up to the falls just above our campground.
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Then we headed west through Gunnison, to Montrose. We ran into the usual problem. What would a Colorado vacation be without a little construction? We were stopped in a particularly bad spot. A steep hill, so we had to stay on the brakes. Road sloped right, plus a stiff wind, made it difficult to keep the bikes balanced. Taking this picture was actually challenging.
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The closer we got to Montrose, the worse the wind got. Weather.com confirmed that it was blowing steadily at 32mph, plus much higher gusts.
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Brian’s bike was top heavy and not handling the wind well. So we made a decision. He stayed in Montrose for a couple of days, and I pushed south to Durango. Sorry, no pictures on this leg. The wind got worse, and construction was heavy all through Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton. I’ve never liked that pass southbound. Toss in wind gusts, construction, bad traffic, and loose gravel – and a bike, of course – and it was pretty unnerving.

But I made it to the Durango area where I pitched camp at Lake Haviland. Beautiful spot.
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At Durango, I met up with my old high school pal Mark Lubiszewski and his riding buddy, Pete Lizdas. Mark and I hadn’t seen each other since we graduated from high school in Munich, Germany in 1969.
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Pete's in the Aerostitch. That's the only picture I got of him.
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Wednesday –

We rode up to Mesa Verde National Park. Guess where it gets its name.
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Mesa Verde was settled and farmed by the Anasazi nearly a thousand years ago. Spruce Tree House is currently the only ruin that you can visit unaccompanied.
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Probably the most famous ruin at Mesa Verde is Cliff Palace.
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The Anasazi lived in some challenging geography....
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The bikes – That’s Mark with his brand new Triumph 1200 Explorer. Pete belongs to the venerable GS1200, with 80K on the odo.
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Me & my Strom.
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Back in town, we ate at Francisco’s. Good Mexican food.
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Street life in Durango...
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I also met a hot chick, although she wasn’t real chatty.
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Thursday –

Thursday morning, I said goodbye to Mark, and headed east to Alamosa to join up with Brian. This picture is toward Wolf Creek Pass on US 160.
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From Alamosa, Brian & I rode down to Taos. The wind turned nasty again. After surviving 100 miles of tricky winds, I got caught by this corner in Taos. A sharp right hand turn, two badly cambered streets, some nasty potholes, and slow crawling traffic conspired against me, and I dumped the bike in the dirt seen here.
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No harm done, except to my already sagging ego. :oops: And it was my own fault. Never should have tried starting a turn so close to the curb, especially with a loaded bike. No wonder my wife won’t ride with me……

We got settled into the Capulin campground, on US 64, a few miles east of Taos.
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Nice spot, except no water. And Taos merchants aren’t into giving freebies to tourists. On the cell phone, I told my wife we were in search of a city building that would let us fill a water bottle. Her comment: “Duh – go to Walmart and buy a couple of gallons.” Have I mentioned how smart my wife is?
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Friday -

Had a rare lazy day. Brian went into Taos & used McDonalds’ Wi-fi and an I-Pad to get caught up on some college coursework. I hung around the camp, read, and generally veg’ed. Never even started the bike. It was a nice respite.
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In camp, we met John from Corpus Christi. He’s spending the entire summer away from the heat and humidity of the Texas coast.
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John rides an ’84 Yamaha with a V-4 1300 engine – I forget the model name. And he pulls a nicely crafted, handbuilt trailer. We had a few repairs to do and, surprise, he had jars of screws, nuts, bolts, etc. He was more or less towing his garage.
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Saturday –


The weather was a bit dodgy, but we went up through Eagle Nest and over to Red River.
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There was a wine festival in town. This gentleman was the entertainment. A consummate guitarist who played and sang jazz, blues, bluegrass, and mountain music. With his feet, he played bass on some kind of Roland rig.
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We had lunch and did the tourist thing around Red River for awhile.
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Then we headed back to Taos and did the tourist thing there as well.
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Sunday –

Up early, out at 6:45am, we started home. Hwy 518 is beautiful. I’ve done it many times with the Jeep and trailer. It was a whole lot more fun on the VStrom.
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The morning was cool and clear, a perfect riding day.
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We dropped through Las Vegas, then down to I-40 where we super-slabbed it eastward. Here’s Tucumcari. I’ve been told it has more hotel rooms per capita than any other city in the US.
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The wind was really getting up again, as seen from this picture. But Brian's bike was better packed, & we punched on.
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This lady is half of a German couple. They rented Harleys, and are riding from LA to Chicago, following the old Route 66. I’d love to do that someday myself.
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Back in Amarillo, we loaded the bikes, checked into the TraveLodge West, and panicked about potential theft. We bought a heavy cable & lock and secured the bikes within an inch of their lives, then walked across the street for dinner. We came back to find I had left the Jeep door standing wide open. Fortunately, nothing was missing. So much for security. :doh:
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Monday –

We made it home in six hours. The trip was a blast. Brian is already planning a follow-up to Arkansas, his native state. Stay tuned.


The bikes –

We rode a little over 1900 miles in total. Both bikes ran flawlessly, except Brian had a little trouble on some long grades close to Leadville – noisy banging, and overheating. We concluded it was a combination of poor, low-octane gas and trying to climb the pass in too high a gear. We kicked up the octane with a tank of Super. No further problems.

My 650 loves mountain altitudes. It screamed up passes in whatever gear I offered it. Over the trip, I averaged 58mpg in total. The low was 48mpg, fully loaded and battling wind from Texline to Raton. The high was 67.5mpg, from Aspen to I-70 to Leadville and back to Salida.


The cameras -
* Most pictures were taken with my Nikon D60 SLR, and a Nikon 18-55mm lens.
* A few were taken with my Canon PowerShot pocket camera, or my Galaxy phone cam.



Idiot Award goes to….


• The Winner – The lowlife on a Harley, on Red Mountain Pass. I was behind a truck that was managing about 20mph. The Harley guy was in a pullout. He watched the truck appear, and at the last minute, pulled directly in front of him. And stopped. And forced the truck to stop. Then took off up the pass. It was pretty deliberate and just plain mean. No wonder so many truckers dislike bikers. :biggun:

• 1st Runner up – Bozo the clown in his Smart car. Coming up a passing lane near Durango, Mark & I were keeping right and letting traffic use the left lane. A Smart car was hovering behind us. As the lane ran out, he made his move just as Mark was pulling over. The Smart tried to trap me on the apron. I goosed it and got back in front of him & watched his finger wiggle around for the next 5 minutes. At the next passing lane I let him by, but he took a swipe at my kneecap anyway. I should have stuck my foot out and kicked his clown car over. :shooter:

• 2nd Runner up – In Molas Pass, a local yokel gave my rear flank his wrath. Presumably it was my fault the 20 cars ahead of me weren’t going faster. He tried to pass me in a no-passing zone, encountered an oncoming car, and had to quickly dodge back in – nearly into my rear wheel. Seriously???? :pound:


Observations

• Hairpin curves with thousand-foot unguarded drop-offs are intimidating, for me, in a car. On a bike, they’re downright unnerving.
• I need to practice certain skills. Like transitioning from gravel to pavement over a 4” bump, with a loaded bike.
• Don’t ever try to talk your riding buddy into doing something he thinks is dangerous or beyond his skill level.
• If you’re 62 or older, be sure to get a senior pass, good at National Park and National Forest Service locations. $10 for a lifetime card saved me a bundle.
• If you need a quick bathroom break, don’t pull up behind a bus that just disgorged 40 seniors all wearing “Hi, my name is……” tags around their necks.
• If you think driving by a feedlot smells bad through car windows, try it on a bike.
• McDonald’s. Wi-fi. ‘Nuff said.


Shout-outs

• Thanks to TWT members Bill Carmickle and Chuck Gilke for helping me with all sorts of prep work, including rejuicing the front forks and installing heated hand grips.
• Thanks to my cousin Tom for sorting out an electrical bugaboo that had been shorting my instruments.
• Thanks to the Central Church of Christ in Amarillo for allowing us to store the Jeep and trailer in their parking lot for over a week.

Hope y'all enjoyed our trip. God bless.
 
Joined
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Love the report and the pictures wish I could have rode with you two gentlemen. Glad you and the wee are Ok. Welcome back to Texas and the lovely heat. Drew
 
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Nice write up. Just travelled a number of the same roads 3 weeks ago on our way to Utah. Some very nice pictures. Thanks for sharing. More pictures of Green Chili next time.... man I miss living in New Mexico... well what I really miss is eating in New Mexico!! :eat:

3 weeks earlier we headed into Monarch pass as Independence Pass was being touted as a bit harry for Bikes. We kind of kicked ourselves for passing on it. After seeing your pictures, I feel better about our decision. Monarch Pass had just opened when we went through. Those mountains in the background of your pictures, were completley covered with snow when we wandered thru.
 
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Only my pride, Mark. And the fruit bar that was in my right saddle bag. Nothing like a loaded bike and a whole new set of roads to make you face your skills inadequacies. I may be calling on some of the Arlington / Ft Worth locals to help me work on some specifics.

Drew, loving this steamy weather Texas weather. In New Mexico I don't think the humidity breaks 40% in the middle of a rain storm. Oh well, at least I can lay off the Chapstick now.
 
Joined
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Only my pride, Mark. And the fruit bar that was in my right saddle bag. Nothing like a loaded bike and a whole new set of roads to make you face your skills inadequacies. I may be calling on some of the Arlington / Ft Worth locals to help me work on some specifics.

Drew, loving this steamy weather Texas weather. In New Mexico I don't think the humidity breaks 40% in the middle of a rain storm. Oh well, at least I can lay off the Chapstick now.
How did the heated grips work out? Looks like you may have needed them a time or two. Such wonderful pictures makes one want to packand leave out tonight. Thanks for sharing. This is one of the best things about the site, the great ride reports that TWTers do so well. Drew
 
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Nice write up. Just travelled a number of the same roads 3 weeks ago on our way to Utah. Some very nice pictures. Thanks for sharing. More pictures of Green Chili next time.... man I miss living in New Mexico... well what I really miss is eating in New Mexico!! :eat:

3 weeks earlier we headed into Monarch pass as Independence Pass was being touted as a bit harry for Bikes. We kind of kicked ourselves for passing on it. After seeing your pictures, I feel better about our decision. Monarch Pass had just opened when we went through. Those mountains in the background of your pictures, were completley covered with snow when we wandered thru.
Doons, my bad for forgetting to photograph the green chili burger. Essentially, it's a great big sopapilla with Mexican style SOS (Army slang for chipped beef) over it, and it's quite delicious. I've been stopping at the El Matador since the early 80s. They disappeared when all the construction was going on a few years ago, but fortunately resurfaced a few blocks away. Still family owned, still a great value.

Independence Pass is a challenging ride. Lots of tight hairpins, which aren't exactly my strong suit. However, they're well guarded and the dropoffs aren't sheer. Definitely requires exacting cornering and a steady hand on the throttle/clutch. Monarch Pass is really simple in comparison to most Colorado passes. Red Mountain Pass, on the other hand, requires some technical skills, and frankly isn't for the faint of heart because of of the unguarded sheer dropoffs.
 
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How did the heated grips work out? Looks like you may have needed them a time or two. Such wonderful pictures makes one want to packand leave out tonight. Thanks for sharing. This is one of the best things about the site, the great ride reports that TWTers do so well. Drew
You know, Drew, I forgot to plug them in. :doh: Chuck left them unplugged because they're currently unswitched, and we didn't want an accidental battery discharge. I was supposed to plug them in just before we left, and forgot. However, I wore light summer gloves (actually, I wear mechanics gloves) the whole trip and my hands weren't cold.
 
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You know, Drew, I forgot to plug them in. :doh: Chuck left them unplugged because they're currently unswitched, and we didn't want an accidental battery discharge. I was supposed to plug them in just before we left, and forgot. However, I wore light summer gloves (actually, I wear mechanics gloves) the whole trip and my hands weren't cold.
How did you like the million dollar highway? Nothing like the roads in Colorado where you only see the tops of the aspen trees. Before the winter I was thinking it might be a good idea to get some heated ones also. Glad you did not get too cold. When we drove the enchanted circle the crew was amazed on how the temp dropped from where we started out at. They liked the windows down cool air driving alot. Drew
 
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How did you like the million dollar highway? Nothing like the roads in Colorado where you only see the tops of the aspen trees. Before the winter I was thinking it might be a good idea to get some heated ones also. Glad you did not get too cold. When we drove the enchanted circle the crew was amazed on how the temp dropped from where we started out at. They liked the windows down cool air driving alot. Drew
I'll be honest, Drew. I've driven the Million Dollar Highway many times. Like I said earlier, I've never been crazy about Red Mountain Pass going southbound from Ouray (northbound, the dropoffs are on the other side of the road). On a bike, I found it a lot more intimidating than I expected, especially given the construction and generally cruddy condition of everything. Molas Pass between Silverton & Durango - a very nice run and I would have enjoyed it, if not for the late afternoon traffic.
 
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I'll be honest, Drew. I've driven the Million Dollar Highway many times. Like I said earlier, I've never been crazy about Red Mountain Pass going southbound from Ouray (northbound, the dropoffs are on the other side of the road). On a bike, I found it a lot more intimidating than I expected, especially given the construction and generally cruddy condition of everything. Molas Pass between Silverton & Durango - a very nice run and I would have enjoyed it, if not for the late afternoon traffic.
My wife did not like it in the car at all. I can only imagine the reaction that I would have got from her on two wheels. What TS is saying is its a long long way down. Most people would be horse from screaming before they ever stopped sliding. If you have never been on that road it is not for the faint of heart. Glad your back safe with your extended family. Drew
 
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Independence Pass is a challenging ride. Lots of tight hairpins, which aren't exactly my strong suit. However, they're well guarded and the dropoffs aren't sheer. Definitely requires exacting cornering and a steady hand on the throttle/clutch. Monarch Pass is really simple in comparison to most Colorado passes. Red Mountain Pass, on the other hand, requires some technical skills, and frankly isn't for the faint of heart because of of the unguarded sheer dropoffs.
Tim....

Oh I've ridden Independence Pass several times before and yes; it is technical for sure. Next time out, try the ride up to Mount Evans. Your sphincter won't relax for a day or two :lol2:. We spoke to a guy at CODOT who said that at that time, there was still a bunch of gravel on the roads and a number of small ice patches from the snow melt and plowing; in Independence Pass. It had just opened 2 days prior. After seeing your pictures better than 3 weeks later, it confirmed to me that he wasn't pulling our chain.
 

Tourmeister

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Independence Pass is a challenging ride. Lots of tight hairpins, which aren't exactly my strong suit. However, they're well guarded and the dropoffs aren't sheer. Definitely requires exacting cornering and a steady hand on the throttle/clutch. Monarch Pass is really simple in comparison to most Colorado passes. Red Mountain Pass, on the other hand, requires some technical skills, and frankly isn't for the faint of heart because of of the unguarded sheer dropoffs.
:tab The first time I ran Independence pass was from West to East. It was a pretty ride up, but once at the summit a storm came ripping across the mountain. It was mid June. The snow was sticking to my visor so I could not see, but if I opened it, well... I could not see and I was cold and wet as well... It was also sleeting and raining all at the same time! There was also some pretty intense lightning and thunder :shock: The ride down the East side was pretty hairy. Apparently the cars behind us had no problems seeing and were not the least bit worried about loss of traction :huh2:

:tab I will have to look for that Mexican place in Raton. We have used Raton as our truck/trailer drop off on several trips. The Micro-Tel Inn would let us park out on the edge of the lot, still under the lights, and they would watch them for us. We would spend the night there, start riding the next morning, then come back a week later and spend the last night there before loading up and heading home. On our last trip, there was some kind of celebration/festival going on in town and they had a car show. There were some pretty sweet rides at the show and some good food as well.

:tab Good job on the report :thumb:
 
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I've been up Mt Evans. I wasn't driving; I was riding with my cousin Charlie who fancies himself quite the expert driver. Truth be told, he's a show-off, a lousy driver, and he gets distracted a lot. I refused to ride back down with him & we made some driver changes.
 
M

mr-roboto

Thanks Tim for the excellent ride report on Colorado. I have to say your mountain vista pictures are excellent! I downloaded a few for my collection of scenic images. I like to accumulate pics from various ride reports.

:rider:

RB
 
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This is a great report and thank you for the photos. Have many fond memories of Monarch Pass and surrounding area from Army days.
 
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I've ridden all the roads in your report. I wish my pictures looked as good as yours. Excellent report!!

"John rides an ’84 Yamaha with a V-4 1300 engine – I forget the model name."
It's a Venture Royale. Same engine as a V-Max.
 
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I've ridden all the roads in your report. I wish my pictures looked as good as yours. Excellent report!!

"John rides an ’84 Yamaha with a V-4 1300 engine – I forget the model name."
It's a Venture Royale. Same engine as a V-Max.
That sounds right. He sure was lovin' it. Thanks.
 

SL350

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Great ride! I hope to do this some day.

How cold was it at the top of the peaks in mid June?
 
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Great ride! I hope to do this some day.

How cold was it at the top of the peaks in mid June?
It was probably low 40s at Independence Pass (12,100 ft) at around noon. The other passes weren't that cool. We were up at Monarch Pass around 6:30pm, and it was probably 50 or a little higher. We didn't experience any freezing temps anywhere. Nights were low to mid 40s at all three of my campsites, which were between 7500 & 8500 feet.
 
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Enjoyed the ride report Tim. Thanks for the heads up on the construction. Now going to look over my route to be prepared for delays. It'll be my first trip out west next week so will get a baptism by fire (TX/NM heat) both ways. Taking the low clockwise road to Midland, Carlsbad, Cloudcroft, Chama, Santa Fe, Bloomfield, Durango, Ouray, Black Canyon, Basalt, Gunnison and back thru Amarillo (from Palo Duro visit).
 
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Greg, Durango is an easy approach from any other direction. Up through Bloomfield from the south, or over Wolf Creek Pass from the east. And Durango to Ouray is simply an easier drive than Ouray to Durango - because the OTHER guy has the dropoffs on HIS side of the road. Makes all the difference. You've chosen a great route. Just be prepared to sit a while on Hwy 50, somewhere east of Black Canyon.
 
M

mr-roboto

Enjoyed the ride report Tim. Thanks for the heads up on the construction. Now going to look over my route to be prepared for delays. It'll be my first trip out west next week so will get a baptism by fire (TX/NM heat) both ways. Taking the low clockwise road to Midland, Carlsbad, Cloudcroft, Chama, Santa Fe, Bloomfield, Durango, Ouray, Black Canyon, Basalt, Gunnison and back thru Amarillo (from Palo Duro visit).
Been there done that plenty. I suggest an cooling vest and a massive Camelback system. The worst part is not the heat but the wind. My trick was to leave around 3-4 am so you can make decent distance before late afternoon when it gets really warm.

RB
 
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Tim: absolutely fantastic report and pictures! Thanks for sharing. As a kid I camped in Salida/Gunnison area with a buddy above timberline.
 
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Greg, Durango is an easy approach from any other direction. Up through Bloomfield from the south, or over Wolf Creek Pass from the east. And Durango to Ouray is simply an easier drive than Ouray to Durango - because the OTHER guy has the dropoffs on HIS side of the road. Makes all the difference. You've chosen a great route. Just be prepared to sit a while on Hwy 50, somewhere east of Black Canyon.
Did you do the canyon? The pictures are so beautiful of the mesa verde. It must be breath taking in person. Drew
 
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Drew - Do you mean the Black Canyon? Not this year. Just jetted by. We were on a bit of a timeline because we were meeting up with friends down in Durango.

Mesa Verde is a really neat place. Hot too, by the way. If memory serves, it is the only National Park built around manmade artifacts as opposed to natural phenomena. Definitely work seeing. And considering the usual price of getting into a national park, this one's a bargain. If you're 62 and have your parks pass, it's free!!!
 
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Drew - Do you mean the Black Canyon? Not this year. Just jetted by. We were on a bit of a timeline because we were meeting up with friends down in Durango.

Mesa Verde is a really neat place. Hot too, by the way. If memory serves, it is the only National Park built around manmade artifacts as opposed to natural phenomena. Definitely work seeing. And considering the usual price of getting into a national park, this one's a bargain. If you're 62 and have your parks pass, it's free!!!
Yes Black Canyon. We caged it there just last year and it was so nice. Did some exploring and took a few snaps hanging over the edge.:help: Better half just had knee surgery so we skipped the mesa but will not next time. Really enjoyed all the pictures you let us view from the trip. Not 62 yet but feel 80 at times,does that count! Drew
 
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Great report and pictures, Tim, as usual. I'm just now getting to this because I was a Royal Family Kids' Camp last week, sweating buckets each day and being envious.

Looks like a great trip. You were in some of my favorite places, except for Mesa Verde. Three times we've tried to get there, and three times we've experienced some sort of minor tragedy. I finally got the message. :lol2:

For anyone who wants to spend time in Raton, look into the NRA Whittington Center. We've stayed there several times in one of the youth camp cabins, and they're cheap and clean, perfect for riders. And it's cool to shoot skeet with antelope watching you.
 
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Looks like a great trip. You were in some of my favorite places, except for Mesa Verde. Three times we've tried to get there, and three times we've experienced some sort of minor tragedy. I finally got the message. :lol2:
Did any of those minor tragedies happen to involve my camping trailer? :mrgreen:
 
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Been to all of those places on various trips. Towed an xl-185 to Red River, Navajo Lake, Mesa Verde, Four Corners, North Rim, Zion, Bryce, Salt Lake and back.

Been to Mesa Verde 3 or 4 times. Every time I've met German tourists there. Many where German Air Force traveling to see Die Indianer Felsenwohnung after flight training in El Paso. Was stationed in Germany for 32 months and 17/18 days.

I hope to do it on a real motorcycle soon!

Good pics and post! :rider:
 
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Rob, I always run into a lot of Germans out west. Those guys love to travel. This was my first couple on Harleys, though.
 
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Tim, enjoyed the report and will have to do those roads on a bike. Independence was great in a pick up, but would be bunches better on bike or hack.

I just spent 4 days in little Colorado, you know that state just north east of here. Humidity was up but the trees covering the roads sure helps.
 
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