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Motorcycling in Western Colorado: Rolling Through the Rockies

Western Colorado riding a motorbike
Rugged mountains, evergreen spiers, historic towns, and amazing curves highlight this trip around western Colorado.

As I sat in the grassy courtyard of the Retro Motel in Cortez, Colorado, the name of the quaint motel made a strong impression. It occurred to me that “classic” might be the theme of this motorcycle ride in western Colorado. Merriam-Webster defines “retro” as something that is “trendy nostalgic”. That seemed fitting as I was contemplating a loop that would take me deep into the Rocky Mountains and through some of western Colorado’s iconic towns. The most famous of these towns have deep roots in frontier history but have since taken on the high-end atmosphere of Western couture and luxury skiing.

After sipping coffee and sipping on the motel’s takeaway breakfast, I headed north out of Cortez on Highway 145. Soon I was rolling through the tiny town of Dolores. From there, I embarked on a scenic ride along the Dolores River for a long and gradual increase in altitude. The route is an interesting mix of short straights and wide turns.

Western Colorado riding a motorbike

Scan the QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER


As I parted with the crystal clear waters of Dolores, the corners narrow and the air cool. After an exhilarating ride, I drove to the historic silver mining town of Rico, which was settled in 1879 and still boasts impressive historic structures for a small place. so. I dropped a kickstand at the town hall and the community church, both built in the early 1890s and very well preserved.

Western Colorado riding a motorbike
The whitewashed Rico Community Church was built in 1891 and restored in 1993.

I had reached nearly 3,000 feet on my 50-mile trip from Cortez, and the mid-September leaves were changing color on the winding road out of Rico. The road became even more zigzag as I crossed the brilliant green lawns of the western Rockies.

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Rockin’ in the Rockies

Western Colorado riding a motorbike
Looking out at the Rockies often reveals great runways to come.

This is not my first time in the area, and memories take over my mind as I make a short trip into Telluride. The Victorian silver mining town, set in an impressive gorge, was founded around the same time as Rico. The region’s economy has shifted from mining to skiing and tourism. The Telluride is now exceptionally upscale while retaining its Victorian charm. I passed high-end stores selling their expensive wares from within the historic brick facades.

Western Colorado riding a Telluride motorcycle
A painter practices his art in the suburbs of Telluride.

My recollection leans forward completely when I arrived at Telluride Town Park, where my wife and I attended Ride music festival a few years back. The setting was amazing, with the tree-covered mountain face standing up as the backdrop behind the permanent concert stage. All of the town’s festivals are held in this must-see for music lovers. One of my favorite carnival memories is listening to Pearl Jam fill the box canyon with their soaring melodious riffs. On my most recent visit, plastic plates and softballs filled the air, but I could almost hear Eddie Vedder still echoing in the evergreens.

I climbed out of Telluride to the northwest. It’s good to get out of the congestion and back on the winding runways of western Colorado. Heavy traffic returned as I approached Delta City. After passing the slow path, I headed northeast towards Aspen.

Western Colorado riding a motorbike
Snow-covered passes are ubiquitous in the Rockies of Colorado.

This stretch is the best performance of mountain biking. Tight curves and relaxed sweepers were the rule here, and the Rockies, snow-covered at the time, made the perfect backdrop. The condition of the road is very good considering the inclement weather in this area. Sometimes I have to get through potholes, but that’s all.

It was on this journey that I came across one of those “joyful surprises” on a motorcycle tour. In the distance, I saw what looked like rows of mud nests made of cliffs by swallows – except much larger. As I got closer, it became clear that the structures were man-made and much more homogeneous. Turns out I was walking along the historic Redstone coking furnace. These brick kilns were built in 1899 and were used to burn impurities out of coal to produce “coke” for use in steelmaking. Fascinating tool.

Western Colorado motorcycle coke oven
The Redstone coke oven is a fascinating roadside attraction. Built in 1899, brick-lined kilns were used to burn impurities out of coal to produce “coke” for use in steelmaking.

Western Colorado riding a motorcycle? Or Plateau Drift?

I filled up at Carbondale, the northernmost point of this roundabout, then headed southeast on Highway 82. The road here wasn’t what I expected. Most of this stretch leading to Aspen opens up to what you might expect in the high plains of Wyoming. There are great views, as most of the area is open or only the lower vegetation is interspersed. It was a comfortable and enjoyable time in the final part of the day trip.

As I rolled into Aspen, I couldn’t help but think of that ridiculous scene in the movie dumb and dumb when Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels nearly froze as they walked into town. Thankfully, I don’t ride small bikes and mine fits much better.

Western Colorado riding a motorbike
Local wildfires have cast a mist over the idyllic inherent landscape.

Aspen is a mecca for skiing, shopping, and outdoor recreation in the Rockies. The ski slopes lead from the surrounding mountains and seem to end right on the town’s main street, where stately buildings dating back to the 1800s impress both in scale and architecture. bamboo. After a short ride through the streets of Aspen’s historic district, I unloaded my luggage and returned to my accommodation for the night. The Aspen Mountain Lodge is clean and comfortable, and its bubbling hot tub is just what gets me the day’s miles off my lower back.

My September evening hike through Aspen was a delightful mix of history, redundancy and mountain charm. I strolled past families frolicking in the town’s park, women in costumes that seemed more expensive than my motorbike, and an interesting mix of structures across town. . After a few slices of gourmet pizza and a pint of local beer, I returned to my room for the night.

Motorbike West Colorado Aspen
A boutique in Aspen embodies the town’s eclectic nature.

Trip to Independence

I wake up the next day with a smile because I will be riding one of the most thrilling trails in the Southwest, culminating in thin air and sweeping views of Independence Pass. With my bags packed and fuel filled, I headed southeast deeper into the Rockies.

Western Colorado riding Twin Lakes motorcycles
Historic wooden structures dot the landscape in western Colorado.

Almost immediately after leaving Aspen’s city limits, the road curled into a narrow black recreational strip. The road is steep and traffic is sparse. Sometimes, the road narrows to a single paved lane. Skeletons left over from the region’s mining heyday rise from undulating grasslands. The spire-shaped evergreens rose solemnly to the sky, and the snow imprinted on the gray rock peaks like marble grease on a delicious steak.

Western Colorado riding a motorbike
The bones of historical mining structures add visual texture to this ride.

Before I knew it, I was there. The path over the tundra above the trees led me to the sign that said I had reached Independence Pass. At 12,095 feet, the summit is the highest paved road in Colorado (but not the highest; that honor goes to Mount Evans at 14,130 feet, located about 70 miles east. north). I’m glad I’m on a fuel-injected BMW GS, as this altitude would be difficult for a carburetor bike.

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Western Colorado Motorbike Ride Independent Pass Continental Pass
Independence Pass is a highlight of this tour of western Colorado.

After taking the necessary photos and taking a moment to breathe in the meager amount of oxygen this altitude provides, I descended the pass.

The other side of the peak is just as thrilling as the climb. The hairpins are almost as tight as the ones you find on the bathroom vanity. It’s down #1 for the first few miles over Independence Pass, and the views are breathtaking.

Motorcycling Western Colorado Motorcycling Western Colorado
Visual definition of a “hairpin” curve south of Independence Pass.

Eventually, the bends loosened until I reached one of the few straight lines on the roundabout. Then I headed southwest on US 160. This road eventually leads to Wolf Creek Pass. Yes, it’s a 1970s song by CW McCall. I cycled down the nearly 11,000-foot pass amid countless signs warning of the slope and its impact on the truck’s brakes. There are two ramps for trucks going downhill that speak to the danger.

Western Colorado Motorbike Wolf Creek Pass Great Divide
Wolf Creek Pass is famous as a shining star of the Great Divide.

I threw the kickstand down to the viewpoint to enjoy one of the most dramatic views of the trip. The scene serves as a topographical harbinger of a descent descending through jagged rocks and vivid conifers into a grassy valley. The few miles between here and my last stop did not disappoint.

Western Colorado riding a motorbike
The southern view on US Highway 160 is dramatic and expansive.

Soak in the Last Stop of a Motor Ride in Western Colorado

I walked into Pagosa Springs, tired but satisfied. This is another town rich in history but with the addition of the evaporating waters of the Mother Spring aquifer. I made my way to The Springs Resort and Spa, an upscale and stunning property that boasts two dozen plunge pools powered by aquifers.

Western Colorado motorcycle ride Pagosa Springs
The naturally heated pools at The Springs Resort and Spa in Pagosa Springs are perfect for a dip on the hard track.

The pools range in temperature from 88-112 degrees and all offer great views of the San Juan River and surrounding mountains. After tasting several hot pools, I retreated to my comfortable room and drifted away with images of the wonderful day trip dancing in my head.

All that remains of my tour of western Colorado is a relaxing ride west back to my starting point in Cortez. However, there is still one more iconic town on the notebook. After about 50 miles of gently winding highway, I reached Durango.

Western Colorado riding a Durango motorbike
Durango’s Strater Hotel is one of many stately, historic structures on this ride.

This southern Colorado town sits on the banks of the Animas River and like all the others I’ve visited, has a rich history and well-preserved downtown area. I picked up a takeout sandwich and sat by the white water park to watch kayakers wade through the rapids. I put my feet up for the last time on the short stroll back to Cortez.

Obviously, this is a summer trip. The extreme altitude makes winter come early and summer late. Some sections of this route are permanently closed in the winter. Pack with expectations of large variations in temperature and precipitation. Plan well and enjoy!


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