Day 9: Sunday, May 22, 2011
Route: Torrey, UT to Gunnison, CO
Distance: 441 miles
Shawn got up at dark o’clock, and by 6:30 he had started his long solo ride back to South Carolina. I crawled out of bed shortly after he left, and managed to depart at around 8:00. (and for anyone who remembers the last trip, yes, my departure was much less melodramatic this time, thank you very much. )
I decided to make several stops on this day to catch pictures of the area. At some point it gets a bit weird, because the only subjects to include in the foreground were the bike and/or myself.
Anyway, here’s what I got as I rolled through Capitol Reef and down UT95. Just inside the park:
A few miles west of Hanksville:
I had wanted to visit Goblin Valley State Park
just north of Hanksville, so I followed my GPS up UT24. When I got to the spot where the GPS wanted me to turn – about 13 miles north of Hanksville - I was disappointed to see a long, sandy road – and a gate closed across it.
The GPS showed another potential turnoff 6 miles further up UT24; according to the park’s website, that’s the main entrance road, and it’s paved. I didn’t know that at the time, and I was hoping to not burn a whole lot of time here (since I expected to take lots of other pictures later in the day)
, so I opted not to check it out. That’s what I get for not doing more research beforehand.
My weak consolation prize on the backtrack toward Hanksville was this nifty roadside rock formation:(click on image to open a larger panoramic view – in a new window – that can be scrolled left and right)
South of Hanksville, looking south:
South of Hanksville, looking north:
In the canyon, near Hite overlook:
The descent from the Hite overlook (I think I’m about the ninth person in the past month to post a photo of this location )
The Colorado River Bridge, with UT95 wriggling away on the far side:
Near Blanding, looking east across Comb Ridge:
At Comb Ridge, staring into the cut:
I stopped for lunch at the MD Ranch Cookhouse in Monticello. It was pretty empty at first, but just a few minutes after I sat down, the church across the street let out and crowds of hungry, well-dressed people began streaming in, many of them pausing to stare at the sweaty, fluorescent monkey sitting in a booth by himself.
From Monticello, I headed east on US491 (formerly US666 )
and US 160 to Durango, Colorado. It’s mostly a straight shot through slightly hilly farm/ranch land, but whichever direction you look, there are massive mountains on the horizon:
The San Juans were where my next waypoint.
Along the way, I took a nice detour on CO184 that bypassed Cortez and put me on US160 in Mancos. This is a less-travelled road with a few more twists and turns than the main highway. A pic next to the Narraguinnep Reservoir, with the San Juans visible in the distance:A note, to no one in particular, regarding a missed photo opportunity:
the next time you see a bloated, dead cow in the middle of a field – with no less than ten turkey vultures
perched on it – try to remember that you have a very capable zoom lens on your camera, and you really don’t need to get so close.
I passed by this exact scene shortly after leaving the reservoir, and then I turned back to take a picture. I stopped by the side of the road, maybe thirty feet from the cow. The vultures, alarmed by my proximity, took to the air and refused to settle back down on the cow until I left. Bummer; it was a pretty cool scene. They hadn’t begun eating yet, they were just…sitting there on the cow. Weird.
In Durango, a local hotel was somehow maintaining a sense of humor in the face of stiff competition:
150 feet away – just beyond the tree – is a Marriott Residence Inn.
A little past those hotels, I turned left on US550, bound for points north. Shawn and I had skipped this road several days ago due to heavy/fresh snowfall, but by this time the weather was more mild, and the road was reported to be dry.
My camera failed to do justice to the scenery I encountered, but here are a few shots anyway:
Coal Bank Pass, the first of three between Durango and Ouray:
There’s a rest area here, but at the time the bathroom was, um, inaccessible:
Coming down from Coal Bank:(click on image to open a larger panoramic view – in a new window – that can be scrolled left and right)
At the top of Molas Pass (the second of three)
, the snowpack was at similar levels, and snowmobilers were having the run of the place:
You can see their tracks in the meadow, and the sleds themselves are visible near the top left corner.
The descent from Molas Pass into Silverton:(click on image to open a larger panoramic view – in a new window – that can be scrolled left and right)
Red Mountain Pass (the third of three)
lies just north of Silverton. After crossing the pass, I stopped on the descent to catch these signs:
Mining companies are often villainized for the destruction they wreak upon the countryside in pursuit of the almighty dollar. It remains to be seen whether the remediation work they are doing here will provide meaningful improvements in water quality, but I thought it was interesting to see them point out that the mining industry – however problematic it may be for the environment – has played a major role in the prosperity and economy of the country.
The particular stretch of road that is famously referred to as the “Million Dollar Highway” – no guardrails, steep hillsides (or overhangs)
above, and steep cliffs below – lies further to the north, in fact just south of Ouray. As much as I wanted to stop and take pictures in that stretch, there were several large signs declaring in no uncertain terms, “AVALANCHE ZONE – DO NOT STOP FOR NEXT X MILES.”
Given that there were waysides here and there, I briefly considered stopping for pics anyway – except the snowpack high up on the hillsides really was
pretty thick. And there really were
fresh rocks here and there on the roadway. And it really was
a long way down if you got knocked off the edge of the road. So, sorry for the lack of pics from this stretch. If you ever get an opportunity to ride it, make sure you do so.
After finishing the descent into Ouray, I carried on north to Montrose and then headed east on US50 to Gunnison. Somehow I managed to dodge this big thunderstorm near Blue Mesa Reservoir
, just west of Gunnison:(click on image to open a larger panoramic view – in a new window – that can be scrolled left and right)
At a couple of points during my eastward run I came across freshly dampened roads – but I never got rained on and managed to arrive in Gunnison unscathed.
I stayed at the same Holiday Inn Express that hosted the ’06 Unrally.
Dinner: if you’re looking for Mexican food in Gunnison, check out Las Palmas, right in the center of town on US50. I had a great meal there, and the staff was friendly. The waiter who served my table owned a Honda Shadow and was very curious about my BMW and all the gear I was wearing, so we chatted for a while about bikes and rides. He much preferred riding in the US to riding in Mexico.