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Hot Springs, High Adventure

January 13, 2014

Riding The Rockies

By Lawrence Hacking

Recently, I had the good fortune to participate in the 14th event of the 2013 AMA Yamaha Super Ténéré Adventure Ride Series in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. Organized by Exit Tours of Salida, Colo., the ride promised three days of scenic routes, multiple mountain passes and hot springs. Tucked in a narrow canyon at the base of Cottonwood Pass, near Buena Vista, Colo., is a rustic, natural hot springs that was the starting point of the ride. Once everyone had gathered at the rider’s meeting and we started getting some details, it became apparent that this would be a well thought-out tour offering many of the best roads and attractive scenery that Colorado has to offer.

Sean Barr of Mountain Tech Yamaha laid out the route. It was self-guided by either following the GPS routes or a provided map. On Day 1, I chose to wing it by following AMA Board of Directors member Ken Ford. We were both on Triumph Tiger XCs, so I figured we’d get along.

Ken likes to put in saddle time and, like me, is a steam train aficionado. That morning we carved our way down one of the most impressive passes in the Colorado Rocky mountains, the Guannella Pass, which is wedged in between some towering 14,000 foot peaks with the pass a dizzying 11,660 feet above sea level. The road down was a picture-perfect series of S-bends with nicely banked corners and billiard-table-smooth pavement. The riding was pure motorcycling nirvana.

We dropped into Georgetown, Colo., at 11:30 a.m., just in time to have a sandwich in the center of this historic mining town. As we parked the bikes, a train whistle echoed across the valley and “steam train” crossed our minds. Following lunch, we took the scenic railway ride from Georgetown to Silver Plume and back.

The train chuffs its way up 600 feet in altitude over slightly more than 3.5 miles by way of a rail loop that loops around to reduce the degree of incline so the locomotive can make the climb. The side trip took some riding time out of our day, but it was well worth it.

That night we headed to Glenwood Springs, perhaps the home of the most famous of Colorado’s natural hot springs. We rode a smooth, wide gravel road that followed the Colorado River to State Bridge. The route took another gravel road into Glenwood, but it was getting late so I split off and rode pavement South to I-70, all the while bending the Tiger around a myriad of beautiful corners on some spectacular roads.

The Glenwood Canyon section of the interstate highway system is reportedly the most expensive piece of pavement in the continental United States, and a true engineering marvel. The highway is jammed into a 12.5-mile canyon. Its sheer walls shoot straight up more than 1,200 feet above the valley floor. I was happy to have the wide-angle view the Triumph offered.

Following a therapeutic soak in the world’s largest outdoor hot springs pool, I headed to dinner. There I realized there were people from all over the United States on this ride. There were a total of 40 participants and six more two-up passengers or followers. It was a diverse group of interesting characters from all walks of life, the eldest being 74 years young.

Bright and early the next morning, a group of us headed due south toward one of the most spectacular sights on the tour—Independence Pass, which is 12,095 feet high. The road is what you might imagine the European Alps are like, only without the traffic. After taking time for photos, we booked it past Buena Vista back over the Cottonwood Pass to the lunch stop at Sargents.

Highway 114 South from Sargents is pure motorcycling heaven. This paved road winds down a lush, green valley with ever-tightening corners that come at you with just the right rate of speed. The surface was well suited to our adventure bikes. It was mid-afternoon, the mirrors were empty and the only thing we had to watch out for was wildlife. It was one of those epic moments in time when you realize how fortunate you are to be on a motorcycle. The planned route took us off the pavement on a gravel road that went up and over the 10,200-foot Cochetopa Pass, on an old stagecoach route. Eventually we arrived at another hot springs just North of our overnight stop at Alamosa on the Rio Grande River.

The third and final day had a surprise. Mike Brown, the organizer, set up a tour of the maintenance shop of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, where the crew was busy getting a massive steamer ready for its trip to La Veta Pass and back. We spent a good portion of the morning asking questions about the ins and outs of steam locomotives in a behind-the-scenes tour.

Following the tour, the photographer and I made up our own route, taking the Eastern side of the Spanish Mountains, a range that runs north/south. We enjoyed some nice, empty two-lane roads that are Colorado’s gift to motorcycling. There was some serious distance left to cover before getting back to Mountain Tech Yamaha in Buena Vista for some BBQ ribs and bench racing before everyone went their separate ways. We had great fun whipping by grassy pastures full of bison. It was a memorable day and fitting end to the journey.

Thinking back, I can’t decide if Colorado is like Switzerland or if Switzerland is like Colorado, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter. One thing is for sure: You can’t go wrong riding in Colorado.

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