Day Six RtR
I kind of thought Day Six would be an easy 66-mile cruise down the snowmelt-swollen Arkansas River from Salida to Cañon City. We also had a short side-trip up to the Royal Gorge Bridge. Little did I know what awaited us.
Our traveling carnival filed out of Salida as the sun was warming 14,229-foot Mount Shavano, the 17th highest peak in Colorado. It's hard to see, but if you look closely at the two peaks in the upper left of the larger photo, you can make out the Angel of Shavano spreading her wings below Shavano's summit. She has been reclusive in recent years due to drought. It's nice to see her again. The Angel of Shavano has been brightened in the smaller photo.
After a scary 45-mile ride down a major highway with minimal shoulder, we turned south and began the picturesque climb to the south rim of the Royal Gorge. It started easy enough. Then, at about 50 miles, we met The Wall head-on. We riders got spanked, very hard, over a two-mile stretch of eroding cart path! Some riders climbed it non-stop, while us mortals inched along with an occasional stop. Many people pushed. Riders were murdered for small portions of shaded real estate. The Wall was a whopper. Even the strongest riders were humbled. Any sort of rider brashness was vaporized. The torture was synchronized with the sun just as it crept into the 90-degree range. I still have nightmares!
After our sweat bath, we got to play on the bridge...
...and it was a long way down to the Arkansas River.
Snowcatcher's home flag, and my favorite symbol, was flyin' high above the gorge.
As we descended from the Royal Gorge, we could see a steep road cut in the distance. As we approached we were whispering, "nah, they wouldn't, would they?"
"Why, yes, they would!"
Letting go one final sigh, I started up the narrow, one-way, 15-percent grade. Digging in, the climb wasn't too bad. The steep grade relented a half-mile later, and the narrow jaunt across the top of a hogback became quite scenic. Don't tell anyone, but I enjoyed Skyline Drive more than touristy Royal Gorge.
Colorado has a banana belt. It includes a large portion of the Arkansas River drainage, even at 9,000-foot elevations. Cañon City is the lower end of the belt. Like many higher regions of the southwest, the landscape is that of a piñon/juniper ecosystem. On this day, the Cañon City slice of the banana belt was pushing triple-digits. I like the area. The region reminds me of New Mexico. Perhaps there's some south-of-the-state-line enchantment taking place.
Cholla cactus (I think this was Cylindropuntia kleiniae) was in bloom along Skyline Drive. Did you know there are roughly 35 species of cholla?
Skyline Drive is Cañon City's version of the Great Wall of China. I might have to sneak back down there with Snowcatcher to park sometime for a romantic evening reminiscent of the '70s. ;) Snowcatcher would like to ride this baby when she's fresh and the mercury isn't so bold.
After a cold, wet and snowy spring, the mountains got the go-ahead to release their stored water. The Arkansas River was near bank-full.
Cañon City put on a pretty good post-ride meal next to the raging river. However, the large Oreo Blizzard I had upon arrival in Cañon City even was better – thanks DQ! I must say, the DQ employees more than earned their pay on this day.
4:36:08 ride time (add 2.0 hours for water stops and the Royal Gorge)