Ride Report: Day 12

Day 12 / Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Waking up to a beautiful and chilly morning, we headed to the remote trading post at La Garita, near Del Norte for breakfast. The 30 miles to get there was an enjoyable ride up and over Carnero Pass at 10,166 ft. The town gets it name from the relatively unknown La Garita Caldera, a supervolcano nearby that has been billed as the most explosive event on Earth besides asteroid impacts, when it exploded about 25 millions years ago. The caldera is 22 by 47 miles wide and greatly impacted the geology of Colorado. Its vast size took scientists 30 years of research to reveal the story of the volcano.

We were the only patrons at the homey rustic restaurant and the old lady who ran the place was sitting at the next table cutting red skin potatoes for our breakfast. After seeing a program on TV in one of the motel rooms on tasty biscuits and gravy, I was craving for some and found it on the menu. It was delicious, but probably not the best food for off-road riding.

Waking up to a beautiful morning east of Cochetopa Pass.

Heading south towards Carnero Pass.

Riding through aspens in the morning is a nice feeling.

Heading south towards Carnero Pass.

Carnero Pass

Cutting through a rock pass east of Carnero Pass.

Heading towards La Garita for breakfast.

Breakfast at La Garita, a small convenience store with a restaurant and campground attached.

Biscuits and Gravy at La Garita. I was craving biscuits after seeing a cooking show in one of the motels. The potatoes were cut by the owner sitting at the next table with a bunch of regulars. Nice setting.

I indulged in a heavy breakfast, thinking the next bit of the trail was all pavement into Del Norte, but to my surprise, it quickly turned down onto a two-track jeep trail. With my left ankle still not feeling the best, I was a bit leery following Mike, but the first section was fun with the track following the undulating terrain and water puddles in the troughs. But after a while, the track emptied into a dried river bed with fine black sand, a terrain I'm not yet comfortable riding. Not having the skills to plow through there with full throttle, I puttered along trying to be as light as possible on the handle bar, yet having it snap repeatedly to the left and right. I was breathing heavily and wanted to be done with this section. I kept my right foot near the rear brake but had to dangle my left foot to catch the bike if she felt like going over. With shrubs growing right onto the trail, I didn't see a rock hidden under a shrub and banged my already injured left ankle against it, sending shivers of pain shooting up my spine. I tried to get up onto the surrounding solid ground, but couldn't negotiate a better path than the river bed. Having learnt the lesson of keeping the throttle pinned open instead of grabbing the brakes in tricky situations, I didn't take a spill and made it out of there alive.

Mike offered some consolation in saying even he too found that section quite difficult. Alright, I was now done with off-roading for the remainder of the trip. My foot was healing up pretty good, but I probably set it back a few notches with that whack and it looked like strap-shifting was here to stay for a few more days.

At Del Norte, Mike decided to turn around and start heading back up to Denver as he had to report back to work the next day. He had hoped to get to the southern end of Colorado, but with more rain clouds looming up ahead, the decision was easier to make. I enjoyed having Mike's company for the past two days and appreciated him waiting patiently for me along the way and giving some pointers.

Tackling the hardest part of the route for me right after a heavy breakfast. This little trail heading to Del Norte started out with some fun undulating two-track and then merged with a black sand river bed, which wasn't fun and I banged my sprained foot against a rock. That's it, no more off-road for the rest of the trip. Need to make it back home.

Mike wiping some sweat off as even he admitted that was a tough section of fine sand.

Even after saying I was sticking to pavement after the river bed run, I figured I would at least go up to Summitville on the route and then turn towards the highway. Having been told that the trail through northern New Mexico was quite rocky, I had already planned to avoid that section, much to my dismay as this was one section that I was really looking forward to for it's stunning scenery from other ride reports.

It was easy riding up into the Rio Grande National Forest on well-graded gravel roads as the elevation rose to the highest crossing of the CDR at Greyback Mountain and Indiana Pass, at 11, 959 ft. With dark clouds looming over and more to the south, I figured I should throw in the towel and take the highway to Chama, New Mexico.

The terrain near Summitville, consisting of high altitude meadows was made more memorable by the looming gray presence of rain clouds and the streaks of sunlight cutting through. I passed through the once open pit mine and saw the heavy foot of man treading destructively on this fragile earth. Summitville is another Superfund EPA site; a gold mine best known for the environmental damage done in the 1980s by its accidental leak of cyanide and other toxic chemicals into the Alamosa River, killing all aquatic life for 17 miles in the river, earning it the title of worst cyanide spill in American history. I know we need to extract resources from the earth to sustain our modern way of living but it looks like whenever things go bad, responsibility is lacking. Of the $150 million spent of taxpayer’s money on the clean up, only $30 million was paid by the mining company before declaring bankruptcy. Riding through all this pristine wilderness and seeing the recklessness of our modern civilization emphasizes the need for greater respect for nature and not taking for granted this beautiful planet we inhabit.

As I descended down Pass Creek Road in the rain towards the highway, I was concentrating on being very smooth with the throttle and brakes as the road surface was turning slick. Coming out of the forest onto US-160, sanDRina and various parts of me were covered in a slick mud. I bid farewell to the off-road one last time and set into the groove of riding twisty pavement in the pouring rain up and over Wolf Creek Pass at 10,850 ft. I had ridden through here two years ago with some friends on a sport-touring ride heading to the Million Dollar Highway, on a tour around Colorado and Utah.

South of Del Norte, Mike turned around to start heading back to Denver and I continued south towards Summitville.

Entering the Rio Grande National Forest.

No more aspen trees, but evergreens also make for some nice riding.

At Greyback Mountain.

Greyback Mountain

The highest I got to on this trip, 11,959 ft at Greyback Mountain, Indiana Pass.

Is that virga or real rain?

High altitude riding past Summitville.

Deciding to head back to US 160 and take pavement to Chama, NM.

Riding through a good hour or so of rain soaked mud roads heading down from Summitville on Pass Creek Rd.

Following Pass Creek to the highway.

Done with the wet mud and finally on pavement.

Muddy boots.

A thin coat of wet mud on everything

Riding in the rain through Wolf Creek Pass heading towards Pagosa Springs.

Crossing into New Mexico and riding through more rain heading to Chama.

After warming up over a cup of hot soup at Pagosa Springs, it was onwards to the last state on the CDR, New Mexico. The views along US-84 were nice and the rain persisted all the way into Chama. This small, idyllic tourist town is set at the base of Cumbres Pass and is known for its still functional steam train plying the scenic Cumbres to Toltec Railroad, built in the 1880s.

The first five motels on the edge of town were all booked for the night and I luckily got the last room at the Foster Hotel, later finding out that this was the oldest commercial structure in town being built in 1881 to house travelers riding the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. Different sections were added throughout the years and you definitely felt the age of the place in the rooms, but hey, that's character. The shower was basically a closest with a curtain, but the warm water felt great after all that chilly rain riding. The bartender said there were quite a few haunted rooms in the hotel and guests have encountered a few friendly spirits. Having gotten over my fear of ghosts long ago in childhood, I'd welcome some company. As I prepared dinner, I could hear the steam engine at the nearby terminus huffing and puffing and releasing its steam.

Next: Day 13, Northern New Mexico

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