Honey Buns Does Colorado!
As promised long ago, here is the overdue Colorado Ride Report from our (wife and I) ride in September of 2012.
DAY ONE, Part One:
Okie doakie... off on the first adventure...
First things first: You must realize that one of the things that I find interesting is old railroad history and old railroad remnants. The more mountainous and rugged the old railroad, the more interest I find in it. Thus, it should come as no surprise that often I (we) will dovetail a ride to hit two birds with one stone: A great dual sport outing AND some historic stuff as well. So, some of our Colorado riding was centered around old abandoned railroads through the Rockies.
The first railroad we both wanted to see and ride was the old Florence & Cripple Creek narrow gauge railroad from near Canyon City to Victor/Cripple Creek. The F&CC was a short lived NG RR that only survived about 15 or so years. It ran through a very rugged canyon by the name of "Phantom Canyon". Though I have read and seen the photos in my F&CC book... I had never had the pleasure of seeing the F&CC's territory firsthand... so Honey Buns and I decided to go for it this year!
We left Canyon City bright and early the first day we were in Colorado. I was backpacking the essentials we would need to spend the night in Colorado Springs. Our intention was to ride the F&CC roadbed to the Victor/Cripple Creek area, then ride the Gold Camp Road (the roadbed of the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek standard gauge RR) from Victor to Colorado Springs, spending the night at Colorado Springs, and return to Canyon City via the Gold Camp Road and Shelf Canyon Road on Monday morning.
This wouldn't work out as planned! (More on that later!)
Anyway, we saddled up and left Canyon City bright and early. It was a very nippy 4 mile ride on the hiway to reach Phantom Canyon Road. However once we turned onto Phantom Canyon Road, the speeds were lower and thus less nip in the ride. (Must point out that our riding gear choices do a great job of allowing us to comfortably ride in temps down into the low 30's.)
Oh, before you view the pics: Bear in mind that you absolutely, positively, CANNOT bring Colorado home in a camera. No way. The vista's are too grand, the canyons too steep, etc. Simply cannot. I'm not the best photographer, anyway, so I've done the best I could. That disclaimer made, here we go!
We hadn't gone far before we approached the first tunnel...
After passing through the first tunnel, the canyon narrowed, and the grade REALLY begin to steepen, 4% as I recall? (Steep for a railroad.) My photos just don't do the area justice. You can't imagine how quickly this was becoming spectacularly rugged. Here's a scene as we climbed... see the roadbed cut ahead?
Another scene as we climbed and did our things on our dual sport bikes. The smells of the trees and all were fantastic as we continued up Phantom Canyon!
Up we climb as we pass through another tunnel...
The state of Colorado has left some of the bridges in place, converted for vehicular travel. Here is what is called "Steel Bridge". My picture can't convey the tightness of this railroad curve, nor the steep grade on which the roadbed is rising. Incredible to be there!
On up into the canyon. Here we look back at what we've come through. Can you discern the tiny notch where the rails/road pass between the rocks?
The last day I worked before leaving for Colorado it was 95 degrees and high humidity. It was still very uncomfortable in Oklahoma. Up here, the leafs are already turning!
Eventually we climbed our way out of Phantom Canyon, and arrived in the high meadows of the area. We had climbed something like 5000' in 30 miles or so. That's quite a feat for a railroad! Here's Honey Buns looking over at the town of Victor, where we would eat a delicious meal at a diner that was in one of the 100-120 year old buildings. (The building used to be a bar with a bordello upstairs! Or, as the lady owner said, it was a "Gentleman's Club". ) It is SO cool how that you can find so many towns in Colorado that are literally steeped in history. It is also cool how that many of them take pride and care in preserving that history.
I'll begin to close this first segment with a closer look at Victor.
We arrived just in time at Victor. You see, with the ridiculous prices of gold nowadays, they have reopened the mines around Cripple Creek and Victor. Money wins out every time: Some of the old mining sites are being covered up with the tailings of the new mining that's taking place. The lady at the diner said that within 2-3 years, some of Victor's historical mines were going to be forever lost to the new mining that's taking place. Get up there and enjoy it while you can!
Next up: We ride a portion of the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek standard gauge railroad... and then litterally DROP down into Colorado Springs on an old stage coach road... where Mayhem awaited!
DAY ONE, Part 2:
And now, on with the show!
After a very good meal at Victor, it was time to hit Gold Camp Road (the old CS&CC std ga. roadbed) and ride it almost all the way to Colorado Springs. Once near CS, we would pick up Old Stage Road and ride it to the outskirts of CS. We were travelling very light (I was carrying a backpack w/essentials therein). We already had a room booked at Colorado Springs for the night. No rush... just take our time and groove to the scenes before us! We hadn't been on the Gold Camp Road long when I spied this very large and very oddly shaped rock formation. Had to take a pic! What does it look like to you?
Leaving the above rock formation, we continued to twist and turn along the roadbed-turned-road of the old CS&CC. Splendid scenes would unfold before us so often, you just can't take pics of all of them. The CS&CC was a fantastic piece of railroading.
Here's another scene along the way. Note the roadbed/road ahead that we'll be soon be riding on?
The neat thing about riding roadbeds is that many of the cuts and fills remain. The CS&CC had some significant cuts and fills! I'm confident that early on in the CS&CC, many of the fills we road across were trestles, being filled in after the intial construction, which was common practice.
Here's a rock cut that I thought interesting...
A few curves later, we see these fascinating rock formations. They are almost like hot lava had oozed out, and solidified... forming these amazing rocks walls! Oh... and Honey Buns thought that one very unsual rock formation reminded her of a type of person... can you see it too?
More of the amazing rock walls that abounded on this ride...
And even more...
Eventually, we rounded a curve and ahead was another tunnel. This made three tunnels we would pass through. This was was the longest of the three. It, too, was single lane. It was still lined with timbers!
The above tunnel pic would prove to be the last of the pictures from Gold Camp Road.
Eventually, Gold Camp Road turned into Old Stage Road. Old Stage Road was just that: A road made upon an old stage coach road. It was very steep, with lots of switchbacks and loose gravel.
By itself, it would have been a BALL to ride. However, as we neared Colorado Springs, it begin to have INSANE traffic levels. I'm talking vehicles (sometimes groups of them) coming at you every 5 to 15 seconds flying around the blind tight curves. UNFUN.
As motorcyclists, we are very vulnerable to oncoming traffic (or any caged traffic). I was uptight BIGTIME worrying about Honey Buns behind me. (Even on easy stuff, I'm always glancing in the mirrors every few seconds to make sure that very special headlight is still following me.)
I had just gone through an S-curve, and was on the inside lane of the right turn when a huge black Dodge Ram dually pickup blasted by me going way too fast for the conditions. I had a sick feeling for I knew that Honey Buns would be on the outside of the first S-curve.
I glanced in my mirror to see the Dodge disappear around the curve. I waited for Honey Buns' headlight... she should be visible by now. Nothing. I slowed some more.... still nothing. I stopped. STILL nothing.
My stomach knotted up.
Immediately I spun gravel and pivoted a U-turn. Back uproad I went.
As I rounded the curve, the sight before me really got to me: There in the ditch was Honey Bun's bike... nearly upside down. The Dodge pickup was stopped. Two young men were lifting Honey Buns onto the tail gate, one lifting her under the armpits the other lifting her by her legs. She looked limp.
"My God they've hit her!" was my first thought. I immediately began to wonder how severe the injuries were... or worse. It was one of the most horrible feelings I have ever had to experience.
I slid to a stop to hear Honey Buns talking amid the sounds of her pain... so at least I knew she was alive.
She was shaken. Really shaken... (scared, too) but nothing broken.
Once I was able to quickly piece together the events, the Dodge had nothing to do with it. They had seen it unfold and stopped to render any aid that might be needed, including getting the bike off her and carrying her to the tailgate.
Honey Buns explained that she came into the curve a bit too hot... got into the marbles... and the front end tried to wash out. After a couple of swap outs, she caught it... had it straightened and slowing... but was running out of road. Momentum carried here slowly into the shallow ditch... however now under control again, she decided to ride it up out of the ditch and continue her way.
That was the fateful decision. The deepening ditch won, washing her front tire out from under her, and she took a low-speed spill off the high side. Unfun.
No broken bones, not even any real scrapes (aided by her protective gear)... but she was going to be SORE. That much I knew.
Breathing a HUGE sigh of relief that my Honey Buns was going to be okay... now it was time to give her some time to get the jitters out (me too!) and then, climb on the scoots and get out of this potential Killing Field known as Old Stage Road and hit the shower at our room for the night.
This we did.
However, this little incident would change our plans that we had made.
To Be Continued.
We made it to our motel in Colorado Springs without further incident, thank God. However, frankly, I just wasn't "okay" with her riding so soon (the next day) after a scary spill. (More for my sake than hers?) I knew she was already sore... and suspected that she could be even more sore the next day. Further, we had to do that Old Stage Road and it's fool traffic AGAIN tomorrow. (We were to reverse our route back to Victor, then take Shelf-Red Canyon back down to Canyon City.)
No, I was NOT okay with this at all. Plus, I felt Honey Buns needed a day OFF the bike so as not to push anything physically and see where we were at in regards to her soreness level.
Therefore, after arriving at the motel and getting checked-in, I made the decision to hot-foot it back to Canyon City via hiway 115, load my bike up on the trailer, and return to Colorado Springs to load hers up. We would then drive over to our next destination point: Pitkin, CO.
This I did.
The next morning, she was feeling better... still sore... but not as bad as last night. This was encouraging. I was ready to scuttle the idea of riding the bikes anymore on this vacation, but she wouldn't hear of it and said she'd be fine and we should continue with our plans. Hmmm... I'll mull that one over.
In the meantime, it was off and away to our next destination: Pitkin. Along the way, we intended to do the Royal Gorge.
Royal Gorge is indeed royal! We road the Skyway tram, descended to the bottom via the incline cable cars, and even walked out onto the bridge. The Royal Gorge is too much for words!!!
Here's a pic from the Skyway Tram. BTW, that tiny railroad at the bottom is a full sized, sure'nuf railroad!
And here's a pic looking UP at the incline we had just ridden down through that crevice. This thing has a 100% grade! That is, for every 100' it travels, it has descended 100'! Amazing.
And here's a pic of Honey Buns on the bridge. She's still smiling and gettin' around pretty good!
As we trailered west on US 50, the road follows the Arkansas River through the canyon for miles and miles. It was a great portion of road to be traveling.
Soon, lunchtime rolled around. We stopped at about the only town out in the canyon: Cotopaxie, CO.
Here we were, out in the middle of a canyon... and what do we see? Two small bore motorcycles fully loaded with tents n' stuff: Adventure Riders!
I had to find out who was doing some Adventure Riding. Turned out it was this young couple...
They had ridden those things all the way from Georgia... and were on their way to Oregon!! They had already been riding for nearly a month.... and they were only about half way to their destination!
They were very interesting to talk to.
This is one of the neat things about being a biker, be it on-road (cruiser, touring) off road, or whatever road... just being a biker opens you up to all sorts of neat encounters that only bikers experience! I've done this for 43 years, now... and I could fill a book with some of the neatest things I've experienced being a biker/motorcyclist. I can't imagine life without motorcycles... but I guess if I live long enough, one of these days it will be time to hang up the helmet. But until then... RIDE ON!
The general store was very typical for and old general store, and has some great food. Took a quick pic of the inside as we wait for our vittals...
Leaving Cotopaxie the next towns of significance were Salida and Poncha Springs. We would be returning to Poncha Springs the next day aboard our motorcycles... but our route for tomorrow only had about 4 miles of pavement... the rest of the 60+ miles would be mountain passes, and we would do it both ways: Out and back.
As we climbed Monarch Pass, we begin to really see some gorgeous fall foliage. Though a cloud zapped the sun at the last second, this at least gives you and idea of what was unfolding before us as we headed toward Pitkin...
Eventually, we ended up at one of our favorite Colorado towns: Pitkin!
Here we are in front of what will be our home for the next three days: Our own cabin. Inside is no TV, no internet, and no cell phone service. WE LOVED IT!!!!
As for Pitkin:
Pitkin was an important small town on the Denver South Park & Pacific narrow gauge railroad. Pitkin was the helper station at the foot of the eastbound grade to Alpine Tunnel. That is, they would add engines to the train to help it up the steep grade to Alpine Tunnel.
Fortunately, many DSP&P artifacts remain in the area. This is one of the main reasons that Pitkin is one of my favorites... that and the gorgeous setting!
Speaking of the DSP&P... here's the nicely restored depot, still sitting in the original location...
See that dirt road heading up into the mountains? That's the roadbed! We'll be on that all the way to Alpine Tunnel before we leave Pitkin!
We were soooo PUMPED to be back at Pitkin.
BUT... there was a dampener to our spirits of the dampening variety: Rain was forecast for the next two days: 40% tomorrow (our Marshall Pass day) and 70% the next (our Cumberland Pass day).
Wonder how this will unfold???
To Be Continued.
We had arrived in Pitkin Monday afternoon. According to the folks at the Pitkin general store, the weather news was not good. Tuesday (our planned Marshall Pass day) was calling for a 40% chance of rain.
However, the worst forecast was for Wednesday (our planned Cumberland Pass day): 70% and high at Pitkin in the 40's. This would mean the passes would be in the low 30's or lower.
Cold, we can do (we've done it many times). Wet, I can do. (I've done it many times... Honey Buns, not so many.) Cold AND wet: Not fun at ALL. The upside to this was that all day today at Pitkin had been mostly sunny and not a drop of precipitation. This on a 30% chance of showers.
Decision? Let's see what it's doing in the morning and decide from there!
Tuesday morning was dawning nicely... very few clouds in the sky. However, the temps were in the LOW 30's, with heavy frost all over the bikes... far different than at the lower elevation towns of Canyon City and Colorado Springs!
Here's a early morning view toward Alpine Tunnel from the back porch of our cabin...
See those white looking porches in the pics? That's heavy FROST. So thick it was slick, like walking on ice.
The sky looked promising!
We decided to go for it. Marshall Pass, here we come!
Today was to be one of our biggest rides. We would be leaving Pitkin and traveling over Wauntia Pass to near Waunita Hot Springs, then over Black Sage Pass to Sargents... then pick up Marshall Pass Road and run it to Poncha Springs. At Poncha Springs we would fuel and eat, then return via the same route. When the day would be finished, there would be about 130+ miles of riding, with only about 8 total miles of pavement.
This decided, it was time to wipe the frost off the bike seats, suit up, pack the stuff into my dual sport "fanny pack"... and get to it!
Waunita Pass was the bomb! There were aspens all along the route... already turning flaming bright colors. The pics will NEVER do justice to the actual beauty of the experience... but the pics are the best I can do in order to share it with you!
Here's Honey Buns on Waunita Pass during one of our "awe moments" stops...
One of the most amazing things about Colorado is how quickly the terrain changes. One minute you're riding amid aspens and spruce trees... then you round a curve... and boom: You're in black sage country!!
This is EXACTLY what happened descending the southern slope of Waunita Pass... we rounded a curve and suddenly the trees were behind us, and desolation lay before us! Welcome to black sage country! Plus, after twisting and turning and riding tight switchbacks... all of a sudden you're on endless straights that seem to go on into infinity! Here's pictorial proof!
After a few miles we passed by Waunita Hot Springs (and old hot spring spa was/is there)... and turned onto Black Sage Pass Road.
Oddly, I find that I also enjoy riding desolate looking country... it has a very unique "feel" to it.
For example, one's sense of isolation is more pronounced. (Again, oddly, I enjoy such feelings when riding a motorcycle. In 43 years of riding, I have yet to have any experiences that were too "backwoods" or too "isolated" for me.)
In fact, I remember being on a solo trip on a very, very, backroad aboard my Harley "Deuce" that I owned at the time.
I was heading across the New Mexico high plains. There was ZERO human habitation as far as the eye could see from horizon to horizon (and hadn't been for many miles). Neither were there ANY vehicles (to be met or otherwise). There, out in the middle of nowhere (literally), I pulled off to the side of the road, killed the bike, removed my helmet and just sat there savoring the experience.
Eventually, way out on the horizon a vehicle was coming my way. When it got near enough to identify, it was another solo Harley rider. (Most dirt bikers would have called him a "Pirate".) He slowed to a near stop and ask if all was alright. I replied that yup, it was MORE than alright and I was simply grooving to the experience. He smiled a huge understanding smile... and nodded in complete agreement. With that he throttled up and motored off.
Yup, I dig isolation!
Wait... I found a pic that I took during that above "isolation" moment. Here it is below. There was just as much nothingness behind the bike as there is in front of the bike! Awesome stuff.
However, I digress... back to the story at hand! Below is a pic looking back toward Waunita Hot Springs.
By the way... do you notice something grey in the last few pics??
Yup... you noticed: Clouds are moving in.
We had a bunch of miles ahead of us... so it was off for Sargents.
The town of Sargents used to be a Denver & Rio Grande helper town. Engines and crews were kept here to help freights over the 4% grades of Marshall Pass. Marshall Pass was a LOOOONG pass. From Sargents over the summit and on over to the bottom of the grade on the west slope near Poncha Springs, it was over 30 miles with VERY LITTLE along the way. That was a lot of lonesome railroadin' right there!
We made a quick stop at the Sargents General Store... and it was off for Marshall Pass. Soon, we were climbing among the aspens and spruce again. We didn't take as many pictures along the way... for given the way the clouds were acting... we both had a sense of "urgency" about us!
Somewhere on the east slope...
It really was a beautiful pass. We so wish we'd had bright sunlight and the typical Colorado azure blue sky to accompany us... but well... "you pays yer money an' you takes yer chances"!!
Here's a couple more poorly lit pics (one is a bit soft focused, even) that at least give you an idea of what beautiful country this is...
We reached the summit, and stopped momentarily for a quick pic or two. The elevation at this point was 10,847 feet. That's gettin' on up there and was our highest pass on bikes to date!
Just past the summit, there was a rest stop that we took advantage of. Nearby, there was an old railroad artifact that I have yet to identify...
From the same rest stop, looking back upgrade at the summit cut...
There was a lot of very cool stuff descending the east slope. However, that sense of urgency thing was really motivating us to get our butts to Poncha Springs and beat the rain!
Fortunately, it did NOT rain on the way over to Poncha Springs. We had a great meal at a small convenience store, fueled up, and almost ran non-stop back over the pass. It was getting REALLY cloudy... with some intermitten sprinkles even.
Then, as we neared Sargents, magically it cleared and the sun came out! I decided to explore and see if I could find some old railroad artifacts. Eureka! I located the old water tank....
From the railroad findings, it was back over to the general store at Sargents for a quick stop.
We were only at the general store for a few minutes, but when we came back outside... the sky was completely overcast again... and up toward Marshall Pass summit where we had just beenit it was dark, ominous, and was pouring buckets !
We decided it was time to BOOK IT and ride non-stop back to Pitkin. I remember turning north on Black Sage Pass road and looking back toward the Sargents area... it was now dark, ominous, and pouring there, too.
On we rode like madmen! (I guess Honey Buns would be a Madwoman?)
Finally, our cabin came into sight and we pulled in... still dry.
No sooner did we get off the bikes and started taking our helmets off... then the rains begin! We had beat the rain by about 3 minutes! That was CLOSE!
Seeing as the forecast was calling for RAIN now for the next 24 hours, I went ahead and pushed the bikes up onto the front porch so they could be under the porch roof. Yup, the forecast was calling for big time rains tomorrow... and we were SUPPOSED be going over 12,000+ foot Cumberland Pass to the old town of Tincup and onto Taylor Lake.
Hmmmm.... this ain't lookin' too promising!!!
To be continued.
Gotta love Colorado riding, on road and off :thumb
Great report & pics! Beautiful country up there. I hope I can experience it myself one day. Thanks for sharing!
bookmarked and waiting for more
I go elk hunting every year in SW Colorado and am trying to get the family (wife and 2 kids) to take our dirt bikes to the area's I hunt and do some trail riding. This will be good ammo for my argument:evil
Nice pics and report, glad HB's get off wasn't any worse.
Thanks all. Glad you're enjoying it. Producing a ride report is a LOT of work... it's encouraging to read that it's appreciated! I'll probably post up some more installments tomorrow night... 'bout outta' time for tonight.
Bob: I'm glad too! That was the scariest thing I've ever experienced on a motorcycle. Don't want to repeat it!
Beautiful photos. You are a lucky man in that your wife shares your love of riding. Glad she escaped serious injury in her accident.
Great report and pictures, glad HB was ok. Not a good area to go off the road.
I have been up and down Phantom Canyon road many times in the last three years. As you say pictures just doesn't do it justice at all. I have tried many times to take pictures out there and while they show some of the beauty, not way does it capture the true picture. Must of just missed you as I was there around the same time.
I think the town is named Canon City. So much beautiful contry out there to ride in. I didn't get rained out, one year the fuel pump went out one my BMW and last year a flat in Silverton. Still will be back there riding once the weather warms up and the snow is gone.
Looking forward to your next installment.
Yup... lucky. She's not as nuts about riding as I am, but she enjoys it on her terms.
Know what'cha mean. Colorado is addictive. We've already marked-off time on the company calenders and will be returning this coming September. We intend to ride the Shelf Canyon Road out of Canon City that we missed last year due to the... ummm... "incident" on Old Stage Road. Also talking about doing the Alpine Loop out of Silverton, etc. We've done the Alpine Loop many times in rented Jeeps and our own 4WD Blazer... but never ridden it aboard our bikes.
Gotta' run... work beckons! More tonight.
:clapTrain tunnels and bikes?:lurk I'm in!................Great pictures and writing. I'm so jealous.
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