Thursday, October 13, 2011

Top of the Rockies 2011, by Dave McBride

Friday I went to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. First time I have ever been there. Spent most of the day there. Got in free with my “old man national park free pass”. A really unique canyon. The river cut down through some of the oldest (and hardest) rocks in North America. It has incredibly steep canyon walls. You can see millions of years of geological development from top to bottom. At the painted wall you can see million year old remains of old lava flows that resemble an upside down view of the root structure of plants. The molten lava flows sent out fingers sideways and upward through the rock and they then cooled and hardened into the shapes we see today. Many miles away you can see the results of the lava that reached the surface and produced the mountain where Paonia exists today.
Saturday was a day for riding around Colorado. I headed out to Grand Mesa and in Mesa ran into Dale and Gerald taking a lunch break. Also found out that the heavy snow fall last winter means BIG holes in the road. Rode fairly slowly after the first couple of launches from potholes. The view leaving Mesa heading south up Grand Mesa is spectacular. You can look down several thousand feet and see the entire valley north of Grand Mesa. It stretches for miles. It was a hard ride up the north side of Grand Mesa trying to watch for potholes, traffic, and scenery at the same time. With the pass over Grand Mesa above 10,000 feet, it was blessedly cool on the top, almost too cool riding with just my air jacket. After riding down the south side of Grand Mesa it was nice but not as good as the north side. However, I did find a couple of nice local paved roads back to Paonia through some really pretty country. The neat thing about Colorado is the number of local paved roads that are not marked on the state map. However, you must be prepared to retrace your steps as some of these roads may become “cow paths”.
About 750 people attended the rally, the weather was really good, the food was excellent, and a small shower sped up the awards ceremony which didn’t hurt my feelings. Top of the Rockies can be crowded but it will also reward you with beautiful views (photo at left), cool riding, and an opportunity to see land that we in the Midwest cannot believe.
Sunday morning I packed up and headed to north central Colorado to stay in the mountains as long as I could and also miss Denver. I finally headed east out of the Rockies on Colorado State Road 14 which goes through a beautiful canyon and then spits you out in Fort Collins. Unfortunately, I traveled in a light rain and did not see much of the scenery that SR14 has. The rain ended just as I got to the flatland of Ft Collins and I then had an unobstructed view of wonderful eastern Colorado. In addition to being flat, it was also 100 degree’s - a journey from heaven to hell.
Made it to Ogallala where I spent the night. Got up at 4 in the morning to avoid the heat and was almost the only one on I-80. Had cool and fast riding. I saw a beautiful sunrise on the Nebraska plains. There was thin cloud cover in the east on the horizon and when the sun came up through the clouds it refracted the sunlight up into the cloud cover producing a red light over the normal yellow sun and a brilliant orange sunrise. The cloud cover was translucent enough that I was able to see the real sun just behind the refracted sun.
Got to Des Moines at 12:15. The temperature was 100 degrees. Into the air conditioning I went. End of trip.

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