Subject: WanderRockies 12 - Mexican Hat, Utah
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 20:52:02 -0700
In all of the United States, possibly the most diverse
change of terrain from lush to lost occurs between western Colorado and
eastern Utah. An easy motorcycle ride.
The hot and relatively flat Uncompahgre Plateau lies at the foot of the Rockies. Delta, Montrose, and Ridgeway sit in this bowl. It is open land and fast travel, but a notable comparison to the path that follows. Heading south and west, you have two choices. The Million Dollar Highway heads through Ouray toward Durango. (A million dollars was still a lot when the road was built through the toughest mountains yet attempted. These days a million dollars *a mile* is considered cheap for road construction, even in flat Florida.) The Million Dollar Highway is twisty and rugged, but it is also the more direct route and every RV in Colorado responds to its magnetism. If you've never ridden this on a motorcycle, it is a worthy ride, but save your sanity and try to do it on a weekday.
The other choice is my favorite. CO62 leads up the tight and narrow canyon of the San Miguel River to Telluride. Just before Telluride, CO145 begins the spectacular climb over Lizard Head Pass. This section of the Rockies could easily be mistaken for the Sawtooth Range, except some of the teeth are missing. To me it seems this road is both closer to the edge and exposes more of the mountain angles and elevation. And there are fewer RVs. CO145 is a proper road for a motorcycle. The curves are tight enough to require real leans but open enough to still let you see scenery (if you keep your head up and look through the curve like your MSF training taught). As there is on the Silverton side, there was an old narrow gauge railroad to Telluride, but this one was removed after the mining boom. The old Galloping Goose engine looks remarkably like a school bus with a cow catcher. It now resides at the rail museum at the bottom of the pass in Dolores. While the view from the top is not as panoramic as some, it is still awe inspiring for the red, copper, green and grey color strata lining the mountains like decorative wainscoting.
The storm door slammed shut behind us.
Sometimes there are moments in nature when you just feel a change. We had been climbing toward the clouds since passing the horse whisperer's (Monty Roberts) corral in Ridgeway. I sighed relief after we began the descent and the roiling clouds were still only dark gray instead of black. The winds were at out back going downslope until we reached Stoner, then in an instant the wind changed to upslope and smelled damp. Looking back confirmed what I already knew. The separate clouds had closed together, turned black, and claimed the pass. A thunderstorm had been born. I would not want to be up there when that happened. Wanderlust rain luck snuck by again.
Cortez marks the end of the lush. Within only a few
miles on the road to Hovenweep, the land becomes too rocky and too dry
for anything but sagebrush. This lost land is, of course, typical of what
the government uses to solve a problem - it becomes a reservation. In a
strange play on words, the Ute reservation is in Colorado and ends at the
Utah (land of the Ute) border, where the Navajo begin.
About the same time, any semblance of comfortable temperature ends also. From mid 70s on the pass, temperatures steadily increase toward the San Juan Plain, and we are now soaking ourselves to try to counter
It may be crazy to be here on a motorcycle in July, but even in the heat the magnificence of the ride past the Valley of the Gods into Monument Valley is worth it. On the bank of the San Juan River, the sandstone cliffs are all red. This is an entire world away from the forest green of the upper Colorado, yet we have traveled only
Cedaredge CO65 CO92 US50 US550 CO62 CO145
US160 county-G UT262 US163 Mexican Hat
Sam Lepore, San Francisco