After a month and a half of freezing nights, it was almost a shock to get to New Mexico and pitch the tent in a rainstorm rather than snow. How warm it must be! But leaving Colorado was enough of a roller-coaster ride up and down one pass after another that riding down onto the New Mexican plateaus was a nice change.
Some snapshots of the ride:
Leaving Mantiou Springs, the plan was to ride Forest Service roads through the Pike National Forest to Canon City, then head down to Westcliffe and from there cross over the Sangre de Cristo mountains, at which point I’d be on Hwy 160 in the San Luis Valley. The Valley is a pretty flat high altitude basin, promising a quick ride to Del Norte, where I could reconnect with the Divide. But some parts of this plan were destined to change.
There’s lot of evidence of flood damage around Manitou. This road, just outside of Colorado Springs, was officially closed due to a portion of it washing away. Local hikers and mountain bikers were taking advantage of it being car-free, though. Roads and skies were looking good, so I pressed on.
And then the next morning woke up to this. Considering that there were 2-3inches of snow with more still falling, and that I was only at 7500ft, continuing on the mapped out trail to 9500ft didn’t seem like such a great idea. Maybe with a fatbike… Instead, I backtracked to Colorado Springs and took the highway south to Canon City. Down at 6000ft, the ground was clear.
From Cañon City, I got back on the planned route to Westcliffe, where after a particularly cold night in the city park I met Jewel, Pierre, and Alex in the hopping Have A Nice Day Cafe the next morning. They knew about a legendary local castle nearby and were going to check it out, and took me along for the ride.
Joe Bishop’s Castle. Building started in 1969 and is still going, all work done by one man, Joe Bishop. At the beginning, the castle was on National Forest land. After a while and a few wild parties and court fights, Colorado decided they didn’t want liability for the castle and sold Joe Bishop the land the castle was on, for very cheap. The castle is an impressive monument to one man’s vision and dedication; structural-integrity wise, it could’ve used more-lots more-planning. But a cool site to walk around.
Back on the bike, time to go over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range back to western Colorado. Two more days of riding to get through the San Luis Valley, then back on the trail at Del Norte.
Just out of Del Norte lies the start to perhaps the longest climb (4000′) to the highest point on the Great Divide route, Indiana Pass, at 11,910′. The turn-off to Platoro, a few miles down the trail, was covered in snow and mud, so I missed it. After descending for a few miles and realizing my mistake, I took what was left of the afternoon to make my way back up to the last trail marker to find the right way.
The snow does not make the Divide impassable this time of the year, but up in the mountains, there are some shaded portions of the road that never see sunlight. These spots stay snow-covered and frozen, making it harder to find a spot to set up the tent.
But not impossible. As long as you’re willing to brave leaving the warm embrace of your sleeping bag in the morning, the colors of snow-covered landscapes easily justify riding at this time of the year.
The road to Platoro, a town of maybe 20-30 homes, but with a cafe or two for vacationers. One cafe had already closed for winter, and the other was in the process of being cleaned and organized to close in two more days. I got a sandwich and a Coke and rode on, spurred by reports of another storm coming in that night. After Platoro, I crossed into New Mexico above Chama, and right away warmed up with a quesadilla filled with the famed New Mexican green chili. Colorado was a great state, and I’m looking forward to going back sometime.
Other highlights, from off the bike:
Pikes Peak looming over Manitou Springs; having this mountain in constant view was a good reminder of what lay ahead. Also, the Incline path, carved out just to the right of center in the trees, was a good off’bike workout. Thanks Sukie and Bob for showing me around!
Garden of the Gods, full of stunning red rock to explore.
A quick jaunt (Ace stayed in Manitou for the day) up to Denver for a cousin visit. Good to see you guys again, Stuart and Leah!
Goodbye to the high passes, for a while.