We spent a little bit of time in Arizona, New Mexico and southern Utah, the desert States, and enjoyed our time in the sunshine very much. The scenery and our experience in these States was just awesome. But I think we would both very happily admit that we were looking forward to the next State on our list very much, Colorado. We’d ridden through the teeniest corner the day we visited the Four Corner’s monument, but as one of our anticipated highlights on this road trip, we couldn’t wait to get to know Colorado a bit better.
The view from the Million Dollar Highway, Colorado.
The ride from Moab to Durango was definitely one of two halves. The first miles were hot, long and straight. Red desert turned to yellow desert and there were the “usual” weird rock formations along the road. There was pretty much nothing in between the sparse small towns and settlements, and no-where to stop for a rest and stretch apart from a large turnout at the top of a hill very close to the state line. Then within a handful of miles of said state line everything changed. The landscape changed from dusty yellow sand and rock to lush green fields, trees and hills. There was water in rivers, the air was heavier from the moisture, and there were smells of different vegetables growing in the farms. And then there was the cherry on top – the road got narrower and wound its way through the countryside. After a hundred miles of dead straight road, this was a delight.
After several days of riding in the super hot sun and a couple of weeks since we took a day off the bikes, we needed it. Riding a motorbike, like driving a car, takes a lot of concentration. You can’t get it wrong, so it’s important to keep focused at all times. Doing that for a few hours every single day leads to mental tiredness. Add the very high heat to that and it was all taking its toll, so we found a motel on the outskirts of Durango, a mountain town in southern Colorado, and checked in for two nights. Actually I’ll give a mention to the motel – it was only a Knights Inn, a couple of miles to the north of the town’s main attractions, but the owner was super friendly and helpful, the room very clean and comfortable, and we were very happy with our choice. There was a Trolley Car into town for a dollar each, each way, so we could go down to where all the restaurants were without having to unlock the bikes or pay for a taxi; very handy.
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, Colorado.
Durango is famous for the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, which still runs from the town’s station up to Silverton in the mountains and back every day. We chose not to take a trip on the train (it’s supposed to be a beautiful trip, but at four hours each way would mean we couldn’t do anything else), choosing instead to have a good mooch about in the train museum, which was free to enter and had some really interesting exhibits. We had a wander by the Animas River, which is usually popular with people navigating it on kayaks and rafts, but today it was closed to watercraft because it was too high and too fast. And naturally we wandered around the shops, most of which were outdoors focused in their wares, and enjoyed ice cream from the local creamery, Cream Bean Berry, in the sunshine.
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, Colorado.
On our first night we ate in Fired Up Pizzeria, which came highly recommended on Trip Advisor. And we could see why; the pizzas were really very good, and if we returned to the town we would definitely go back there for another meal. Then on the second night we decided to give the famous Diamond Belle Saloon a go, but while the atmosphere and décor was great, the food itself was a little mediocre for what the hype had lead us to expect.
The Million Dollar Highway
The road north from Durango to Montrose has gained a bit of cult status, or rather the 25-mile section between Silverton and Ouray has, thanks to the combination of three mountain passes that offer narrow winding riding and rather wonderful mountain views. It’s called the Million Dollar Highway, and has made it onto the list of the World’s Most Dangerous Roads thanks to the sheer drops, switchbacks and lack of barriers.
LincsGeek and the snow at Andrews Lake, near Durango, Colorado.
But first we rode along the 550 to Silverton. We caught up with the steam train and overtook it as it started its climb up the mountain. We stopped at Andrews Lake, a place the motel owner had recommended to us, where there was snow below us – getting up into the mountains was something we’d both been looking forward to. A little further and we arrived in Silverton, a lovely little mountain village.
Our plan had been to ride the dirt road from Silverton to Animas Forks, a ghost town that we’d been told was well worth the visit. But as we got into the town it started to rain, and so rather than risk getting caught out by our road tyres on a wet and slippery dirt road, we headed into the town in search of brunch. As we did a couple two-up on a GS rode passed us and we spotted the British plates – we ended up sitting, eating and chatting in a lovely cafe while we waited for the rain shower to pass.
Meeting fellow riders in Silverton, Colorado.
Once we were back on the road we soon came out of the other end of the rain shower and continued along on the 550 north towards Montrose, which very soon turned into the most beautiful winding mountain road – exactly what we’d hoped for here in Colorado. There were lots of sharp bends and the views were spectacular as we went over the three consecutive mountain passes, taking us up and over 11,000 feet at its highest. The three passes are Coal Bank Pass (10,640 ft), Molas Pass (10,970 ft), and Red Mountain Pass (11,018 ft), and all I could think when I saw the elevation signs dotted along the route was I jumped out of an aeroplane at this height.
Waterfall on the Million Dollar Highway, Colorado.
Most people who take this route say it’s much less worrying going north as you are on the mountain side of the pass rather than the side that disappears down into the valley; I would say that’s the case for a handful of miles where the southbound direction does teeter on the edge a little, but the rest is perfectly fine in either direction and as long as you are driving/riding to the road conditions this isn’t any more dangerous than other mountain passes we’ve experienced. Just stay on your side of the road and hope everyone else is doing the same! I think some people who’ve written about it on Trip Advisor have greatly exaggerated, claiming you could easily die, you must never exceed 15mph, or only the best of drivers could ever make it!
Waterfall from Million Dollar Highway, Colorado.
We stopped at a turnout to look at the view and we’d stumbled across a bit of a secret waterfall – you can’t see it from the road, only from the parking lot, which is pretty cool.
LincsGeek’s Tiger on the Million Dollar Highway.
Winding our way back down from the final mountain pass we admit we were a bit disappointed the ride was over. We might have got a teeny bit wet at the beginning of the day but it was beautiful the rest of the day and just glorious on our bikes. We headed into Montrose, where we set up camp for a couple of nights so we could visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (a post on that coming later this week), managing to pitch our tent before the storm we’d managed to avoid all day caught up with us and emptied itself over the campground. Phew!
Camping in Montrose, Colorado.