by Trip Hilliard
Colorado IS the roadway to heaven. I wouldn't say it unless I really meant it. Colorado sports some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The mountains, streams and valleys come together to create the most pleasing sight that any human being can see. And to see it from a motorcycle just adds the icing on the snow-covered mountainous cake.
It is for this beauty that five of us left our home state of Texas to travel to Colorado during the week of August 25, 2003. Let me introduce you to the participants:
Dale McCorkle, Bedford, Texas.
1986 Honda Magna V65
Larry Stivers, San Antonio, Texas.
1984 Honda Magna V65
Gary Brooks, Richardson, Texas.
1984 Honda Sabre V45
Rodney Lee, Dallas, Texas.
1983 Kawasaki LTD 1100 (fully restored)
Robert Hilliard, Lindale, Texas.
1998 Honda Magna VF750C
Our journey began on Friday, August 22, 2003. Larry, Gary and myself gathered at Dale's hacienda in Bedford to spend the night so that we could get an early start the next morning. Bedford is located between Dallas and Ft. Worth just South of DFW Airport. Rodney had left on his Kawasaki early that morning with the intent to meet up with us in Alamosa on Saturday. We decided to trailer our four bikes to Alamosa. At 7:30am, on Saturday, August 23rd, we left on our quest to arrive in Alamosa, Colorado. Having gained an hour crossing from central daylight time to mountain time, we arrived in Alamosa at 8:30 that evening. Alamosa was to serve as a base for our 6 day trip to Colorado.
I have traveled to Colorado in the past, but not on a motorcycle. I was looking forward to seeing some majestic mountains not to mention getting to ride some of the best roads in the country. The weather was moderately cool with spotted rain here and there. We were hoping that monsoon would be over with and sunny days were ahead for the week but, as fate would have it, rain plagued our trip every step of the way. Out of the 6 days we were in Colorado, only one day was rain free. When we woke up each morning, skies would be relatively clear, but by 11:00am or 12noon, clouds would build and monsoon would come until late that evening.
Despite the rain each day, we got to see some absolutely beautiful country. After meeting up with Rodney at the Super 8 motel Saturday evening, we all went for a steak dinner at the True Grit restaurant. After talking about the days events and getting our fill of steak and potato, we all turned in for the night. Tomorrow we leave for a 6 day bike-camping trip in the mountains of Colorado.
Sunday, August 24, 2003
After awaking, eating a continental breakfast, stowing our trucks and trailers and loading our bikes, we left the motel at about 8:00am bound for Gunnison. Our travels that day took us West on Hwy. 160 to Monte Vista. We then turned North on Hwy. 285. 285 was a 35 miles stretch of flat road cutting through the San Luis valley which is appropriately nicknamed "Gunbarrel Road". The San Luis valley is the largest valley in Colorado and the second largest vegetable producing valley behind the San Joaquin valley in California. Once we reached Saguache, we all gassed up and proceeded West on Hwy. 114. 114 took us through the North Pass where we stopped at a roadside park to take pictures and soak in the mountains.
Continuing on Hwy. 114 through the mountains, we made our way to Gunnison by Hwy. 50. Gunnison is a beautiful town. When we arrived the town was having a market fair at the town park. Lots of people and lots of motorcycles were there. After gassing up and eating a bite of lunch, we pointed our bikes down Hwy. 50 East and rode to Salida. To get to Salida, you travel through Monarch Pass, which reaches an oxygen starving altitude of 12,000 feet. At the top of Monarch Pass, we stopped at a roadside restaurant to take a break.
While there, a rain storm blew through bringing not only rain but pea-sized hail. This is where I took the following picture of Mount Shavano. I call it, "Tree Line" because the tree line is so definitive. By the way, the pictures that I feel are real "keepers" I have framed for your viewing enjoyment.
After making it through Monarch Pass, we proceeded East on Hwy. 50 until we arrived in Salida. Clouds were beginning to build and as we pulled into town we noticed a glob of heavy thunder storms ahead of us. We ducked into a car wash until the rains passed and we could continue on.
Once back on the road, we proceeded East on Hwy. 50 until we reached Cotopaxie where we stopped to camp for the night at a KOA campground located on the banks of the Arkansas River. Once we unloaded our bikes and pitched our tents, the rain came back and didn't let up until about 10:00pm that night. Little did we know that this would be our first and last night to camp out. The remainder of the trip we had to spend the night in motels due to the rain. Oh well, I think I'd rather camp in the rain in Colorado than be back home at work. Here is a map of where our travels took us the first day. Our route is indicated in blue.
Monday, August 25, 2003
We all woke up the next morning with the sun in our faces. Skies were clear but not for long. We packed our gear, loaded our bikes and rode back to Salida for breakfast. Once fed and gassed up, we headed out Hwy. 24 North to Leadville. Traveling through the town of Leadville was interesting. Leadville is the highest elevated incorporated city in the United States. It sits over 10,000 feet elevation. Leadville has a rich history being incorporated around 1875. We stopped in Leadville to gas up and on our way out of town took a quick tour through the downtown area.
On our way we ran into rain several times. We had to stop to let the rain pass us by. There's something to be said for dodging rain. As you're riding, you can see the clouds building up ahead for several miles. So, there are times you have to make a decision. Do you try and beat the rain by speeding up or do you just hold back, stop on the side of the road and let it pass in front of you. We decided to do just that on one stop. We could see the rain coming down in sheets about 5 miles ahead, so we stopped by a dry lake and waited the rain out. The dry lake bed was a beautiful sight.
Our travels for the second day are indicated in red.
The sun sprinkled sunshine on the hills around us the next morning. We loaded our bikes and caught some breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Once we ate and gassed, we were off. Today our plans were to take us to the Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand Lake, Colorado. The sun was out when we left Idaho Springs, but as the weather proved each day, clouds would build and rain was inevitable.
On our way to the park, we traveled North on Hwy. 40 through Winter Park. We stopped at the top of Berthoud pass, which is over 11,000 feet. I took some pictures of us looking out over the mountain range. Granby was next on the list, then Grand Lake. Hwy. 40 afforded us some absolutely stunning countryside. Even though there was a hint of rain in the air, it didn't dampen our excitement. This was the Colorado I had always seen in pictures...now I was seeing it in person.
We arrived in Grand Lake about mid-day. Grand Lake is the largest natural occuring lake in Colorado. It's a beautiful town nestled right next to a lake in between majestic mountains. We stopped at a small park on the edge of the lake and took in the sights for a while.
We decided to travel into the Rocky Mountain National Park, see the sights, then travel back to Grand Lake for dinner. So, we left Grand lake and traveled up Hwy. 34 into the Park. We came to a stop at Falls River which is at an elevation of over 11,000 feet. We stopped at a visitor's park where they had a restaurant and souvenir shop. It was here we stayed for over an hour, walking around, viewing the scenery. Last year's snow fall was still visible in some of the pictures I took.
On our way down the mountain, we stopped several times to view the valley and the awesome scenery in front of us.
Once back in Grand Lake, we stopped to eat at a place called "The Lodge". It has quite a history and provided some of the best tasting food I'd ever had. Have you ever eaten a Corned Buffalo sandwich? While we ate, we sat on the patio and looked at Grand Lake below us with the lake out on the horizon. After eating at The Lodge, we went into town and stopped for desert. Ice cream in the mountains seems to taste better, especially when it's hand-made by the shop owner with over 40 different flavors. Once we had our fill and pumped gas into our tanks, we left the grand area of Grand Lake to travel West.
Our final destination for the day was Glenwood Springs. We left Grand Lake sometime after 2:00pm and traveled out Hwy. 134 through Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremling. Then we took Hwy. 134 to Toponas, then down South to Bond, ending up in a small town called Wolcott which intersected with I-70. After gassing up in Wolcott, we proceeded West on I-70. I usually don't get excited about riding interstate highways. In fact, I try to avoid them. But I-70 between Wolcott and Glenwood Springs has got to be the most beautiful and fun ride I have ever taken on an interstate highway. To save space and provide a more environmentally friendly highway, I-70 was built with the West side lanes on top of the East lanes. Snaking it's way through Glenwood Canyon, I-70 sports three tunnels which I found to be invigorating to travel through. When we arrived in Glenwood Springs, we stopped and got a hotel room for the night. After unpacking our bikes, we walked next door to a seafood restaurant for dinner.
The town of Glenwood Springs was a point of interest for me. Having studied the lives of famous gun fighters of the West, I took an interest in Doc Holliday. John Henry Holliday was born Aug. 14, 1851, in Griffin, Georgia. His father was a druggist. He grew up in the genteel world of the Old South in pre-Civil War Georgia. Holliday graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia in 1872. Dr. Holliday opened his practice in Atlanta later that year.
His plans to be a local dentist ended when he discovered that he had contracted tuberculosis, which at the time had no cure. The consensus of his physicians was that he had only a few months to live, but that it would help if he moved west for a drier climate. For the last five years of his life, the former dentist tried to give up his gunfighter lifestyle. Holliday claimed he almost lost his life a total of nine times. Four attempts were made to hang him and he was shot in a gunfight or from ambush five times.
In May of 1887, Holliday went to Glenwood Springs to try the sulfur vapors, as his health was steadily growing worse. But he was too far gone. He spent his last two months sick in bed. Accounts say that on Nov. 8, 1887, he awoke clear-eyed and asked for a glass of whiskey. His last words were, "This is funny", and died. Doc Holliday was just 36 years old. His final resting place is in the Pioneer Cemetery, in Glenwood Springs.
Directly across from our hotel was Red Mountain, something that Doc Holliday gazed his eyes on and even wrote about.
Our day of riding was over and it was time to get some shut-eye. We discussed what time we would awake and eat breakfast and where our travels would take us the next day. The day three route we took is recorded in green.
After waking up, packing up and stopping to eat breakfast, we bid farewell to Glenwood Springs. We took Hwy. 82 South and then South on Hwy. 133. It was this highway that afforded us some beautiful scenery. We also got our first look at an actual bear. I had never seen a bear in the wild. As we made a sharp turn around a bend, there he was going through some trash cans on the side of the road. By the time I passed where he was, he had scurried back into the woods. Several times we stopped on Hwy. 133 to take in the scenery.
Did you know that Colorado has a Grand Canyon? It's called Black Canyon and it's located just East of Montrose. We traveled down Hwy. 92 from Hwy. 133 and came into Black Canyon from the North. We stopped numerous times to take in the beauty. Then we traveled Hwy. 50 to the West and entered the South end of the canyon.
After gassing up in Montrose, we noticed that our travel time was going to be cut short due to rain. Yep, clouds were building and rain would be hitting us fairly soon. So, we headed South on Hwy. 550 out of Montrose to try and get a hotel room in Ridgeway. Halfway to Ridgeway, the bottom fell out and when we arrived, we were soaked to the bone. Evidently alot of bikers were getting caught in the rain and we barely got a room at the Super 8 Motel. Ridgeway is the town where the movie "True Grit" was filmed. Dennis Weaver and several other actors own property there. So, we spent the night in Ridgeway. And as I tried to fall asleep, I took pictures of our bikes getting soaked in the pouring rain.
Our travels for day four are recorded in magenta.
Thursday, August 28, 2003
Well, we went to sleep with rain and we awoke with rain. We packed our gear and left Ridgeway heading South on Hwy. 550. Our route took us through some very beautiful country. Down the road from Rideway we passed through Ouray. Nicknamed "Little Switzerland", this town looks like it's nestled in the Alps. I stopped in the middle of town and took a picture. It's a charming town, one that I plan on visiting again someday.
Continuing South on Hwy. 550, we arrived in Silverton. We stopped to eat breakfast there at the Brown Bear Cafe. The charm and atmosphere of Silverton is such that it makes you long to come back and visit longer at a later date. I found that little town to be absolutely awesome. We ate breakfast, gassed up and reluctantly left Silverton headed for Durango on Hwy. 550.
As we left Silverton, we were stopped midway up a mountain due to construction. I was able to take this picture of Silverton looking Northeast.
We continued our way South on Hwy. 550, then at Durango, we turned East on 172 and headed for Pagosa Springs. In Pagosa Springs we hit Hwy. 160 and headed toward South Fork through Wolf Pass which is almost 11,000 feet in elevation. Out of South Fork we headed for Monte Vista and then culminated our trip in Alamosa. It rained on us most of the way today. I don't think I've ever ridden in the rain that much. Looking on the positive side, at least I can say I've gotten plenty experience riding in the rain. Once back at the Super 8 Motel, I took this shot out our room window showing the rain. This just in case anyone forgot what rain looked like.
The rest of the day we unpacked and performed minor maintenance on our trucks and trailers, getting them ready for the trip back on Saturday. Friday, our plan was to take a day ride to Chama, New Mexico. Our day ended with a steak dinner at the True Grit Steak House and, of course, ice cream for desert. Our route for the day is indicated in black.
Friday, August 29, 2003
This was the day that Rodney and Gary were going to head back to Dallas on their bikes. Larry, Dale and I decided to stay in Alamosa one more day and leave for home on Saturday morning. So, Friday turned out to be a good day for a ride to Chama, NM. On our way, we stopped on Conejos to see the oldest church (and friendliest dog) in Colorado. The church dates back from the Civil War Era in the 1860's. We also saw a prison gang. Chama is a sleeper of a town located just South of the Colorado, New Mexico border in a beautiful mountainous region. We arrived in Chama about noon. Once we gassed up, Gary and Rodney said their goodbyes and left for Amarillo. Larry, Dale and I took a leisurely ride back to Alamosa on Hwy. 17. We stopped several times to view the beauty around us.
Saturday, August 30, 2003
After loading our gear in the trucks and strapping our bikes down to the trailers, Dale, Larry and I began the long trip back to the DFW area. We left Alamosa heading South on Hwy. 285. Leaving Colorado was bitter sweet for me. Bitter because we didn't have the prettiest weather during the trip but sweet because we had witnessed some of the most beautiful countryside that God ever made. I took these last two shots of Colorado while we were heading into New Mexico.
The above picture is of San Antonio Mountain, an old volcanic cone which spewed phenominal amounts of volcanic ash when it was active. We drove through areas 75 miles to the South, North of Sante Fe, where the ash layer is still 30-40 feet thick. San Antonio Mountain is now a Wildlife Management Area and is home to one of the largest Elk herds in New Mexico, 1700 head. The mountain rises 10,900 feet above surrounding sage brush plains and is the largest free-standing (not a part of any mountain chain) mountain in the country, being almost 4 miles across at its base.
My heart-felt thanks to Dale McCorkle for inviting me on this memorable experience. We plan on coming back someday. Maybe the monsoon rains won't wash all the beauty away before I get back. We put 1,500 miles on our trucks and trailers and 1,200 miles on our bikes during this trip.
Seeing Colorado was well worth the effort. I look forward to going back.
All requests to use material from this page should be sent to Robert Hilliard.