2015 Ride The Rockies Route
What can I say; the 2015 route is a beaut. I don't think it will top the 2010 route, but it will be close. It does contain several awesome climbs. The Grand Mesa will be a whopper. Don't let the sub-11,000-foot summit fool you. This climb hurts. Cottonwood Pass is a whopper too. Its summit sits above 12,000 feet. Yes, air molecules have a lot more space in which to dodge each breath you take.
Day One will be a short, stiff climb, followed by a cruise over the top of the Colorado National Monument. A jaw-dropping landmark adjacent to my home town, the Monument has seen my wheels countless times. Being biased, it is one of the best rides in the state - pure and simple. Another 20+ miles can be added to this 45-mile loop by riding the farmland north of Fruita and Grand Junction. The Alphabet, as it's called, is the zig-zag linking of the east/west roads that happen to be lettered instead of numbered (north/south roads are numbered).
The start of Day Two will will twist and turn through the numerous vineyards and orchards of East Orchard Mesa and Palisade. After a short ride up Plateau Canyon, the road ramps up significantly, just below the town of Mesa, then the hurt begins. Huff, Huff, Huff... I guaranty it, no matter how fit you think you are! After a fast descent, 98 miles later, you'll limp into Hotchkiss.
Hotchkiss is a delight. This is a small ranching, farming and coal mining town. Some orchards and vineyards exist as well. It's rural Colorado at its finest. It's a picture of what the majority of Colorado was not too long ago. I miss living this lifestyle. Hotchkiss also is a gateway into the West Elk Mountains. It's easy to let yourself disappear in these mountains.
Day Three will be a 78-mile ride to another favorite town, Gunnison. In fact, we've thought of retiring in this town. It still has a wild and wooly air to it.
Day Four is yet another of my favorite towns, Crested Butte. There are two options for this day, a scenic 27-mile all-pavement route along the Gunnison, East and Slate Rivers; or, a very, very scenic, 35-mile, pavement-and-gravel ride up Ohio Creek to Ohio Pass (10,033 ft). From Ohio Pass, the route drops down to Kebler Pass (9,980 ft), then continues its drop into Crested Butte. Except for some hide-a-ways in the San Juan Mountains, this is about as good as it gets!
Day Five will be another distance jewel. The 102-mile route leaves Crested Butte for Salida. The only thing in the way is a twisty, gravelly, pot-holed road up to Cottonwood Pass, which rises a measly 12,126-feet above the sea. This will be a leave-early-and-hope-to-beat-the-thunderstorms-over-Cottonwood-Pass day. Cottonwood Pass to Salida is downhill for the most part.
An easy 66-mile jaunt down scenic Arkansas River Canyon to the Royal Gorge is in store for Day Six. The tour will cross the Royal Gorge Bridge and into Cañon City for the evening. Cañon City is another small authentic Colorado town. In fact, part of our afternoon will be visiting quilt/yarn stores.
The last day bids farewell to Cañon City and heads southwest into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It'll be a tough climb back up to Westcliffe via Hardscrabble Pass. If you drop off the left side of the above ridge, scamper to the bottom, and head northeast several miles, then head north, you'll find Westcliffe. The above photo is of the summit of Humboldt Peak, touching the sky at 14,064 feet. There's also a marmot stylin' for a photo. Humboldt is the 38th highest Peak in Colorado.
All photos, except Crested Butte, courtesy of Snowcatcher - thank you!