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Old 02-04-2013, 11:49 AM   #1
Mr_Gone OP
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Colorado 550

I am planning on riding Hwy 550 from Durango to Montrose in late May (part of a longer circuit of the Southwest) but this is the only section I'm worried about regarding weather/snow/ice/temps.

Do I need to be worried about snow/ice on the roads at the higher elevations? Or is this road pretty much clear by then?
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Old 02-04-2013, 11:56 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Mr_Gone View Post
I am planning on riding Hwy 550 from Durango to Montrose in late May (part of a longer circuit of the Southwest) but this is the only section I'm worried about regarding weather/snow/ice/temps.

Do I need to be worried about snow/ice on the roads at the higher elevations? Or is this road pretty much clear by then?
Late May can still be "iffy" in the Colorado high country. Cold is pretty much guaranteed, especially once you get about 10,000'.

This past year, many passes that are normally closed in Winter were open by early to mid May (Independence being the first one that pops into my head.) This was because we had a much lower than normal snowfall for last Spring.

For planning purposes, I'd say late May is a bit of a gamble but not much of one. Watch out for sand, though - even if the snow and ice are long gone, the sand will persist until spring rains wash it away (if we get spring rains, which we didn't, really, last year.)

One thing you can do is plan for a contingency. Go ahead and plan the trip, but if you get to Durango and 550 is snowy or icy, you could always route yourself West through Cortez and then into Utah, up through Moab on US 191 and then back to Colorado via the Cisco Road and I-70. It would be several hours longer but the scenery is world class.
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Old 02-04-2013, 12:42 PM   #3
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Late May can still be "iffy" in the Colorado high country. Cold is pretty much guaranteed, especially once you get about 10,000'.

This past year, many passes that are normally closed in Winter were open by early to mid May (Independence being the first one that pops into my head.) This was because we had a much lower than normal snowfall for last Spring.

For planning purposes, I'd say late May is a bit of a gamble but not much of one. Watch out for sand, though - even if the snow and ice are long gone, the sand will persist until spring rains wash it away (if we get spring rains, which we didn't, really, last year.)

One thing you can do is plan for a contingency. Go ahead and plan the trip, but if you get to Durango and 550 is snowy or icy, you could always route yourself West through Cortez and then into Utah, up through Moab on US 191 and then back to Colorado via the Cisco Road and I-70. It would be several hours longer but the scenery is world class.
Having a contingency plan is definitely a good idea. Cold is no worry: heated gear is my friend. The only thing I worry about is ice on the roads.

191 is probably a great backup since Moab/Arches/Canyonlands are on my trip route anyway.
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Old 02-04-2013, 01:39 PM   #4
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Another alternative

Another way to bypass US 550 is to go towards Cortez and go up hwy 145 through Delores, Rico, Telluride, Placerville, into Ridgeway on hwy 62, and on into Montrose on 550. You do have to go over Lizard Head Pass but it is much easier than 550. When dry, they are both easy with 550 the best ride. Silverton and Ouray are great little towns. Just my opinion.
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Old 02-05-2013, 08:35 AM   #5
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The lizard head route is a good backup option. Usually the only icy section is a short shadowed section just before Rico. Late may should be clear on 550, but the weather varies so much around here. The way this winter is going, it will be clear of all snow and flowers popping at the top!
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Old 02-05-2013, 08:39 AM   #6
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Thanks for the replies! I'll plan my route through 550 and make sure I have a good Plan B.

Looking at some historical weather data, I'm guessing that nights will be in the 20s and days in the 40s, all subject to the whims of Mother Nature. So I don't think I'll have any problems.
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Old 02-05-2013, 08:58 AM   #7
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Was out there last year a couple weeks after you're going to be there this year and the weather was awesome.
Do plan on heated gear if you're going to be riding early in the day. I didn't bring mine thinking heated grips and seat would be plenty but had couple of mornings where I would have liked to have it on.
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Old 02-05-2013, 12:30 PM   #8
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Was out there last year a couple weeks after you're going to be there this year and the weather was awesome.
Do plan on heated gear if you're going to be riding early in the day. I didn't bring mine thinking heated grips and seat would be plenty but had couple of mornings where I would have liked to have it on.
Yep, I'll be bringing my heated gloves (because I'm a serious glove whore and I have to have gloves for every 5 increment) and also a heated liner, because it works as a nice insulating layer even if I'm not plugged in. I have never really needed heated pants since my legs never get cold. I do have heavy duty thermals, also, which I'll end up packing.

Plus, as I've learned the hard way, any time you're over 10,000 feet there's the possibility that the temperature will be much colder than you anticipate.
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Old 02-05-2013, 01:04 PM   #9
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Another way to bypass US 550 is to go towards Cortez and go up hwy 145 through Delores, Rico, Telluride, Placerville, into Ridgeway on hwy 62, and on into Montrose on 550. You do have to go over Lizard Head Pass but it is much easier than 550. When dry, they are both easy with 550 the best ride. Silverton and Ouray are great little towns. Just my opinion.
I actually prefer Lizard Head (and the nice thing about it is it's an easy route to the Tabegauche/Unaweep canyon scenic byway) but if 550 is icy, Lizard Head is likely to be icy as well. Presuming that the OP wants to avoid ice altogether (which I would, too!) that's why I recommended 191.

BTW the Rico Hotel has the most expensive and also best hamburger I've ever had. Something like $15 but oh, so worth it.
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Old 02-05-2013, 01:13 PM   #10
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I actually prefer Lizard Head (and the nice thing about it is it's an easy route to the Tabegauche/Unaweep canyon scenic byway) but if 550 is icy, Lizard Head is likely to be icy as well. Presuming that the OP wants to avoid ice altogether (which I would, too!) that's why I recommended 191.

BTW the Rico Hotel has the most expensive and also best hamburger I've ever had. Something like $15 but oh, so worth it.
I'm still in the planning stages of my route, but I'm seriously considering 191. And I will make sure I stop at the Rico if I'm there. I am a hamburger fanatic!!!

I appreciate the advice, and the burger recommendation.
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Old 02-06-2013, 04:43 AM   #11
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If it has snowed recently, then Lizard Head will have some icy spots. The one I mentioned is one that lingers long after a storm. I have drove this way to Durango about five times last month. Even in winter, most of it would have been easily rideable. Million dollar highway has lots more shaded icy areas that stay that way longer. OP, feel free to PM me closer and I can give you a local opinion of conditions if you would like. The Argentine Grill at the Rico Hotel is great, but usually only dinner Thurs through Sun..Herks across the street is decent as well..
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Old 02-06-2013, 07:10 AM   #12
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. And I will make sure I stop at the Rico if I'm there. I am a hamburger fanatic!!!

I appreciate the advice, and the burger recommendation.
It's actually a pretty cool B&B. Back in 2011, on the return trip from Triumphs in Taos, we stayed overnight there. Room was pretty reasonable (under $100, I think) and the food was amazing - the guy who runs the Rico Hotel is a world-class chef who, I guess, decided to quit the rat race and move to Rico, which is a tiny little town. After staying overnight in Rico, we rode the Unaweep/Tabegauche scenic byway which is one of the most amazing motorcycle roads in Colorado.

I know this isn't the right forum for it but I thought I'd tease you with a few pics from the CO 145 (Lizard Head Pass) and Unaweep Canyon (CO 141) route:

This is Rico on the morning we left:



Packing up at the Rico hotel.



In the pic is riding partner Chuck Ferrari. Chuck was an amazing guy - F105 pilot in Vietnam, then a test pilot for the Air Force, then a United Airlines pilot for 20 years, then he just decided to get a bike and spend his life traveling around the US. Chuck died very suddenly last year from Cancer, and he will be sorely missed.

Unaweep Canyon:



Anyway, 550 is gorgeous but if you get a chance to do Lizard Head Pass, I'd say go for it and definitely do Unaweep/Tabegauche if you can fit it into your plans at all. It's well worth it (and my picture doesn't really do it justice, it's an amazing route that runs through sweeping turns in a deep red rock canyon.)
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Old 02-06-2013, 08:14 AM   #13
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No, no, no... this is definitely the right place for photos of that area!!! I appreciate the recommendations. If there's time on my trip, I'll make sure these roads are on my route.
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Old 02-06-2013, 10:18 AM   #14
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Lizard Head Pass looking east at Sheep Mountain.

Near the Yankee Girl Mine above Hwy 550 on the Ouray side.


Molass Pass area above Hwy 550...


Good to have a plan while the white stuff is still around.
PM me closer to your arrival for road conditions.
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Old 02-06-2013, 11:46 AM   #15
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DADODIRT, I'll try to remember to ask about road conditions before I take off.

By the way, this is a fantastic shot:


I tend to spend my winters planning my trips to the nth degree. Which means I usually have a backup plan if the weather doesn't cooperate. It's great that you guys can offer some options on alternate roads/routes.
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