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I met my buddy Bert for coffee at Starbucks about 5:30 AM, and by 6:30 we were on the road. The weather in Lubbock was forecasted to get pretty warm and I could hear the mountains calling. Our ride to Littlefield and up 385 was uneventful, aside from my close call with a mule deer who bounded across the road in front of me.

In Des Moines, NM we turned north and rode 72 over the Johnson Mesa into Raton. I didn’t see the usual antelope, possibly because cattle were close to the highway fence lines. If you’re unfamiliar with this road, it offers fantastic vistas and big sky. It is not a high speed road, but it offers a nice break from the main highway between Clayton and Raton.

Bert lives in San Antonio and rides a hexhead R1200GSA. He has been visiting Snowmass Village since his family bought a house there in the 1980s, but he has not done a lot of riding in Colorado. Our objective this weekend was to ride the best curvy roads and enjoy moto-camping.

Once over Raton Pass, we turned west in Trinidad and rode around Monument Lake and through the Spanish Peaks to La Veda. Then after a few miles on Interstate 25 we stopped for lunch at Obie’s BBQ in Colorado City. From lunch the ride up 165 through Lake Isabel was cool and enjoyable. Traffic seemed light, though the campgrounds around the lake were obviously full. The Bishop Castle offered its typical bottleneck of tourists, with one ace wheelman pulling a 5-point turnaround with the family minivan, blocking both lanes. The scene made me glad we were continuing on to a lesser known campsite for our evening stop.

We made a visit to the cold walkthrough cooler at the Antler in Westcliffe for beverages, and then hit the dirt in Hillside. Several miles of dirt led us to our forest campground for the night. The Lake Creek Campground was pretty empty and fantastic. A stream flowed right through our camp, providing water and a pleasant background sound to sleep by.

Dinner was bratwurst with green bell peppers and salsa on a tortilla, with potatoes and onions on the side.

Friday, July 10, 2020
After enjoying fresh coffee (Jetboil French Press) and breaking camp we returned to the pavement and headed for Salida. Passing super crowded campgrounds along highway 50 really made me appreciate the Lake Creek Campground. In Salida the Patio Pancake Place provided a fantastic breakfast.

Monarch Pass would be one of many major passes Bert and I would ride over the weekend. The snow was long gone, but it was cool at the summit and I stopped to write a postcard to my niece and nephews in Houston.

From Monarch we rode south to Lake City and on to Pagosa Springs, where we made a quick break at another of my usual stops, the back alley Root House Coffee Shop. The ride to Durango was typically boring, but it didn’t take us long to break free of the traffic and begin our run up the Million Dollar Highway. Our plan was to stop and camp near Silverton, and save the very best of the MDH for the following morning.

We enjoyed a fantastic dinner at the Avalanche Brewing Company in Silverton. They had been a block off the main street in a little house, but moved this past winter to one of the brick buildings downtown.

Due to COVID-19, seating was outside in a sectioned off area in the street, which was just fine because the weather was great.

We wore masks walking in and out of restaurants and stores, but otherwise had no problems related to the pandemic. Colorado was open for business!

Following craft pizzas (ham and pineapple for me) and “elevated ales,” and with the sun going down fast, we headed out to find a campsite for the night.

For this ride I had rough ideas for camping, but no reservations or real plans. Winging it worked out just fine. North of Silverton we headed west on 7/585, which is a dirt and gravel road which follows a small river. About 6 miles from pavement we found a spot. There were quite a few campers along the road, but I saw an empty spot that looked level and quiet. We parked, grabbed our gear, crossed a gravel bar, and waded through the river to our campsite. Having camping gear in one waterproof duffel made camping away from the bikes a nonissue. It turned out to be a fantastic place for the night.

Set up for evening coffee under the stars

South Fork Mineral Creek

Saturday, July 11, 2020

It froze on Friday night and Saturday morning was crisp and very chilly. Coffee was made, and we enjoyed watching the sun rise on the surrounding peaks and warm the air. Camp was broken slowly, and we eventually made our way back to 550. Letting the sharp curves warm up is never a bad idea, and by the time we pointed our bikes toward Ouray conditions were good. We carved our way up the Million Dollar Highway, and it was as enjoyable as ever for me. This was Bert’s first time up this exciting road and based on his smile when we rolled into Ouray, I think he enjoyed it as well.
We rode on to Ridgway before stopping, and had a fantastic breakfast on the patio at Kate’s Place, a restaurant Mikki and I found last summer. They have the best French Toast I have ever had; I exaggerate not.
We had talked about heading up the west side through Gateway, but it was getting warm and we decided to stick with mountains. We rode to Montrose and east on 50, through construction zones and slow speed limits and traffic. Just before Blue Mesa we left the cagers and turned on 92. After speaking to a group of riders at the dam we headed up the north rim of the Black Canyon toward Paonia, another real enjoyable road.

The destination for the night was Snowmass. We rode to Hotchkiss and then east on 133 over McClure Pass to Carbondale, and then on to Snowmass Village. We arrived at Bert’s family vacation home about 3:30, and his wife and son were there to welcome us.
After getting cleaned up, the rest of the afternoon was spent visiting, enjoying the view of the meadow below, and going to downtown Aspen for dinner. This was a nice way to cap off three days of camping and riding curvy backroads and amazing highways.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

After coffee I said goodbye and began the long hot ride home. Bert would stay for a day or two before riding home to San Antonio.
For one final highlight, I rode up Independence Pass from Aspen early enough to have the road to myself. I probably saw 3-4 cars and a few bicyclists total, and was at the summit by 8:00 AM. The ride back down was equally enjoyable, and then I settled in for a direct ride home via Alamosa. I rolled into Lubbock at 4:30 with the temperature gauge reading 108. My normal evaporative cooling technique worked to keep me comfortable, though I did miss having drinking water onboard as I removed my LD kit to carry camping gear on this ride.

It was a great few days of mountain riding!

We covered 1,800 miles and rode a dozen mountain passes: Raton (7,834’), Cucharas (9,941’), Monarch (11,312’), Slumgullion (11,361’), Spring Creek (10,901’), Wolf Creek (10,850’), Coal Bank (10,610’), Red Mountain (11,008’), McClure (8,755’), Independence (12,095’), Pancha (9,010’), and North La Veta (9,413’).

Christopher Ross