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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Riding and driving on the Alpine Loop in Colorado

This is a two part post.  Part 1  My post about jeeping on the Alpine Loop while on our June 2009 motorcycle trip.  Part 2 is a post is from one in our group that road is dual sport instead of riding in the jeep with us.  (Part 1 can be found on my Taking It Outside blog.)


My brother-in-law had been telling me for years how much fun and invigorating taking a jeep ride over the mountains in the San Juans near Ouray was.  I decided to do just that during our annual motorcycle trip this past summer (June '09).  The guys and I rented two jeeps and tried it out ourselves.

We stayed 3 nights in cabins at the Ouray KOA, which is a great campground in a very pretty and quite area just north of Ouray.  We rented the two jeeps at the campground and picked them up at 4:30 on Sunday June 14, '09 and returned them before 5pm the next day.

We left the KOA around 8 after breakfast and headed into town.  We stocked up on snacks and drinks, after all there is not a Burger King on the Alpine Loop. :)

We drove south out of Ouray on US 550 for about 3+ miles and turn left on Country Road 878 a.k.a. The Alpine Loop.  We left the nice paved road and began a day long adventure. (Photo of one of the jeeps and the DR 650 on the Alpine Loop)


Within the first 2 miles we hit some pretty big (by this amateur jeepist's standard) rocks and it was pretty rough, but became much better quickly.


What a road!


The vistas were great.  To the south of us the snow covered Tuttle Mountain was visible.  (picture above this paragraph.)

The trail continued to ascend up the mountains and we passed several abandoned mines and cabins including Mineral Point that was founded in 1873.  Soon after passing Mineral Point we ascended above the timberline.  Snow patches were plentiful and the higher we went the more snow there was.  Snow melt made the road muddy in places and fed the mountain streams and falls.
Mineral Point
The closer to Engineer Pass the colder it got and the muddier the roads were.  Prior to Engineer Pass there  is a big pull off area named Oh! Point.  There was plenty of room to park (room enough for our two jeep and ten 4-wheelers that arrived from Lake City on the east end of the Alpine Loop with room to spare). The view was spectacular.  From Oh! Point we could see Engineer Pass and the road that continued east.  

We continued to Engineer Pass (12,800 ft) in spite of one in our group who was having a difficult time with the sheer drop offs and narrow trails.  At the pass we were rewarded with an amazing view, cold winds, a lot of snow and the thrill of making it to our destination.  We enjoyed the moment and took several photos.

(Here is a link I found on Youtube of jeeps going to Engineer Pass that can give you an idea of the trail.)
We back tracked passed Oh! Point and headed to Animas Forks, an abandoned mining town.  Animas Forks is a great ghost town and is at elevation of almost 11,200 feet. Several buildings are still standing.  We walked around and in buildings. There is a lot history there.  Animas Fork at one time had a newspaper known for being printed at the highest elevation for any newspaper.  A record it still holds.  (Photo below of some buildings in Animas Forks)
We continued west through California Gulch surrounded by snow.  At times the snow banks on either side of the trail were 8-12 feet high!  We passed Hurricane Peak (13,447 ft) and drove through Hurricane Pass and continued pass Red Mountain 1(12,592 ft) and down the appropriately named Corkscrew Gulch. (photo on the right was taken at the beginning of Corkscrew Gulch)

At the end of Corkscrew Gulch we come to US 550 and head back to Ouray.  This was my first jeep outing in the mountains, but it will not be may last!  My rating of the Alpine Loop and jeeping around the Ouray/Silverton area is: 



The follow was written by the member of our group that rode his Suzuki DR 650 on the Alpine Loop.

When we began planning the trip to Colorado, my first thought was - "At last, I get to try my dual-sport bike on some real terrain". Remember, we live in flat North Texas. The trade-off was doing all the highway riding on it. But a 650 dual sport isn't at all bad on the road, up to the legal speed. So the DR was my weapon of choice.

How did it work out? In a word, fantastic!

Feeling a bit cautious when we started off on the jeep trail, I positioned myself between the two jeeps. That way, I wouldn't get lost, and if I fell down the other guys could help me up (after they ran over me...).

I soon found that my comfortable speed on the bike was considerably faster that that of the jeeps. They have all those extra wheels to maneuver over rocks and such. So after about a half mile, I went ahead of them and rode at a nice pace until I was a few minutes ahead. Then I stopped and "smelled the roses" while they caught up. This worked out great for me, and I was able to take some photos of the jeeps.

It was big fun, bouncing up the gravel roads, climbing the inclines, generally acting like I knew what I was doing. Until... I came to one particularly sharp and sloping switchback.  I tried to take the inside of the curve without stopping, and dumped the bike. I had been riding a while, was out of breath, and the bike was lying with the tires pointing uphill, so I was unable to pick it up. So, I sat on it until the jeep guys got there and gave me a hand. One crash - not so bad.


On the way to Engineer Pass, we went through an area where the road cut through some big snow banks, with snow on both sides, and some in the wheel tracks. I was pretty careful, and made it to the pass, after meeting a group of ATV riders in the narrow snowy part. Yikes.
I waited at the pass, since that was our turnaround point. After everyone arrived and we finished taking triumphal photographs, we headed back the way we came. 


I was feeling more competent on the snowy road and went a little faster. I road ahead to Animas Forks where we spent some time looking around the old abandoned mining town.  We continued on through California Gulch and up to California Pass (12,9300 ft).  After California Pass I road toward Hurricane Pass and I was feeling good - Whoops - off into the ditch and up against the snow bank I went. Needless to say, I was glad to be riding on the uphill side of the road. Well, two crashes, and nothing broken. Not too bad. Since the bike was just leaning into the snow bank, I extracted it without help and went on.

After passing Hurricane Pass I road toward Corkscrew Gulch.  I was heading down a long, straight, wet grade when I realized there was a stoppage ahead. Three guys on dirt bikes had stopped in the road because they had met two vehicles coming up and couldn't figure out how to pass. I was cruising downhill at a fair clip, and discovered that tires don't grip as good going downhill as on level ground. I slid to a stop just as I reached the three bikers, at the same time my rear tire tried to pass the front - and performed a slow high-side onto the gravel road right in front of the whole group. They were kind - they asked if I were ok and helped me pick the bike up without even chortling. Fortunately, the jeep guys were far enough back to miss the show.


Three crashes - and that last one kind of stung a little. I guess I'm not such a great off-road rider after all! But I learned a lot, and had a blast doing it! I was very glad I chose two wheels instead of four for exploring the mountains of Colorado. The DR-650 proved to be the perfect companion for my adventure.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

Everyone knows about Sturgis and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and for good reason.  A world renown monument and the town synonymous with motorcycles, but there is a lot more to see and a lot of great roads in the  southwest region on South Dakota. (All photos taken July, 2007 except when noted)

23 miles west of Sturgis on US 14A/85 is a small community called Cheyenne Crossing and US 14A turns north through Spearfish Canyon 22 miles to the town of Spearfish.  If you ride from Sturgis you will go through Deadwood and Lead both historical, interesting, and fun towns.

The Cheyenne Crossing Store sits on the northwest corner of the intersection.  The store consist of  gas station, a general store, an upstairs lodge, and a restaurant.  The food is great!  Especially the breakfast.  During our five day stay in Lead we ate breakfast three times and lunch once at the Crossing.

The restaurant's decor is country and cozy.  The servers were always friendly and helpful.  The food arrived hot and tasty.  The sourdough pancakes are big, the bacon thick, and the Indian Tacos satisfying.  I highly recommend the pancakes for breakfast and the Buffalo burger for lunch.  No one in our group of six ever complained about the food they ordered.  (photo on right from www.cheyennecrossing.org/cafe.html)

After each meal we enjoyed looking around the general store.  They have snacks, drinks, camping supplies, small groceries, and some tourist like items including Cheyenne Crossing shirts/sweaters, etc.

Stop by the Cheyenne Crossing store - you will enjoy a great meal and a good ole country atmosphere.
After our breakfast we rode the 22 mile Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.  This is one of the best roads in the country.  It has plenty of curves, great scenery, and historic significance.  Like the name suggest the road is in a canyon and runs along side Spearfish Creek most of the way.  The byway has 13 designated "Points of Interest" including a "Dances With Wolves" film site.  The film site is about 4 miles off of the byway and about 3.7 of it is on gravel/dirt.  Once at the site you don't see much.  Members of the group went and were greatly disappointed.  (photo on the left for film site)

One point of interest site that is worth stopping can be seen from the byway, Bridal Veil Falls.  Bridal Veil Falls is located int he northern 1/3 of the byway.  There is a unpaved pullout that we used.  Be careful, it is really close to a curve.  The fall is about 50 feet and is one of three falls in the canyon, but it is the most accessible.  (photo from pullout off of the Byway)

The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is one of those roads that you will want to ride to one end, turn around and ride it again, and probably want to ride yet again.  Besides the twists and turns and the scenery the road is also well maintained.

If you are up in the area of the Black Hills in South Dakota you will want to ride Spearfish Canyon and grab a bite to eat at the Cheyenne Crossing Store.  You will enjoy both and you will want to go back for more.