On June 19, 1997 I set out on a solo motorcycle trip from the Dallas, Texas area to Northern New Mexico and Colorado. The ostensible reason for this trip to visit my wife who was working for the month in Pagosa Springs, CO., So I visited her on one weekend and I explored on my trusty BMW-K75S for 7 days. Overall this was a fantastic way to escape a Dallas summer and pig out on majestic scenery (well, once I got past W. Texas) if you like miles and miles of canyons and mountains and forests. I also drove a lot of great roads, if you like mountain roads and challenging curves.
I got home June 26 after ~2500 miles of great motorcycling and about 350 miles of cage touring (see days 4-5).
Day 1: Dallas, TX Raton NM (~580 miles) -- no rain
Boring ride up US 287 to Amarillo TX, then on to Dalhart TX and Clayton NM. The drive from Clayton to Raton is about 95 miles of boring straight road (US 64). However, this time I took a detour at Des Moines, NM and took NM 325 to Folsom and then NM 72 to Raton. This adds very little distance and adds lotsa tight curves to an otherwise dull day. NM 72 varies between forest and ranchland. The road is narrow and has soft spots from the winter snows, but there is virtually no traffic and you can make good time.
I drove into Raton for dinner, but returned a few miles up NM 72 to NM 526 and set up my tent at Sugarite Canyon State Park. I recommend this park. It does not appear to receive heavy traffic and the tent camping areas are somewhat separate from the RV camping. Farther up the road from the campgrounds is a pretty nice dam/lake.
Day 2: Raton, NM Pagosa Springs, CO. (~240 miles) -- no rain
Note that the mileage listed above is the direct route: US 64 Raton Cimarron Eagle Nest Taos Tres Piedras Chama US 84 Pagosa Springs. In actual fact, I found some of the roads so interesting that I made some serious deviations. My actual distance for the day was 350 miles.
You know you are in great country when you see a sign at the entrance to a side road that says, "Gate closed during elk calving season."
The 20 mile stretch between Cimarron and Eagle Nest was both scenic and has a lot of challenging curves. It goes through Cimarron Canyon with beautiful pine forest and the road is paralleled by a rapids-filled stream of ice cold water. After covering this stretch, I enjoyed it so much that I turned around and went back to Cimarron. That, of course, meant I'd have to drive it yet a third time -- which I did with pleasure.
In Eagle Nest, I ate breakfast at the D&D Cafe. They serve breakfast only and close at 11 am. The owner, Gary Thompson, is a motorcyclist and loves to chat. Pay him a call. He told me about some interesting local roads. As a result, instead of driving directly into Taos, I took a big loop around to the north (NM 38) to Red River and Questa and then south on NM 522 to Taos. The stretch from Eagle Nest Red River Questa is very scenic and curvy, but not particularly challenging. The scenery justified the extra miles though.
I had been in this country before and wanted to drive US 64 between Taos and Eagle Nest, so I did. Of course, I had to turn around and head back to Taos again. This stretch is narrow with lots of good curves, but too much traffic.
From Taos Tres Piedras (US 64) is unexciting from a motorcycling perspective. The best part is stopping to stare down in the the Rio Grande Gorge from the bridge above it. My guess is that the river is 800-900 below the level of the road (I forgot to read the plaque).
Tres Piedras Tierra Amarilla (US 64) is beautifully scenic mountain road and crosses the continental divide. This is a great stretch of road (50 miles) for fast touring.
Chama NM Pagosa Springs CO (50 miles) is another great stretch of curvy mountain road for fast touring.
I spent the night at Davidson's Country Inn. It's a great place and the owners Gilbert and Nancy Davidson are great people.
Day 3: Pagosa Springs, CO Lake City, CO Pagosa Springs (~235 miles) -- no rain
West on CO 160 to South Fork, then north on CO 149 to Creede and Lake City.
A spectacular day. It covers three passes over 10,000 feet altitude; Wolf Creek (10,850), Spring Creek (10,901), and Slumgullion (11,361). The latter two passes are only 6 miles apart. And since this was a "round trip" I got to go over each of them twice. This trip has it all -- spectacular vistas, forests, fast stretches, and very challenging curves. At one point there is a scenic overlook where you can look up a valley of marshy looking lakes that make up the beginnings of the Rio Grande river. The ~10 miles from the top of Slumgullion Pass into Lake City is particularly challenging. It drops about 2000+ feet in 10 miles of sharp curves. And I got to do it again on the return trip.
Days 4 and 5: I went touring by cage with my wife.
We made a big 350 mile loop around SW Colorado. Pagosa Springs to Creede to Lake City to Gunnison to Crested Butte to Gunnison to Montrose to Ouray to Silverton to Durango to Pagosa Springs. -- no rain
This route takes you over 6 passes 10,000 ft. (or higher) and over the "Million Dollar Highway" (US 550) between Ouray and Silverton. The whole stretch from Ouray to Durango is very enjoyable with great roads and scenery, but far too much traffic and RVís to suit me.
Day 6: Pagosa Springs Aspen (~335 miles) -- no rain
West on CO 160 to South Fork, then north on CO 149 to Creede and Lake City. North on CO 149 Blue Mesa Reservoir. West on US 50 CO 92. North on 92 Hotchkiss. North on CO 133 Paonia Carbondale. West on CO 82 Aspen.
There was no backtracking on this spectacular ride; I was just too busy. The first 116 miles retraced day 3, but I didn't mind. That is one of my favorite trips anywhere. But things got really exciting once I got onto CO 92. This road departs from US 50, crossing the dam at the west end of Blue Mesa Reservoir and it is immediately apparent that something great is at hand. This road is about 40 miles of narrow road, tight twisties, virtually no traffic, spectacular views into deep canyons as you drive across Black Mesa. Try it you'll like it.
The rest of the drive to Carbondale is great scenic road too, but by this point in the trip I was experiencing sensory overload and getting a little tired.
Carbondale Aspen is terrible. It is a 4 lane rolling traffic jam.
I pitched my tent in a National Forest campground a few miles west of Aspen and dined at a brew-pub in Aspen (can't remember the name, but the sustenance and libation were great).
Day 7: Aspen Colorado Springs (~170 miles) -- no rain
This day started out with mind boggling roads and scenery. On leaving Aspen, you immediately begin an ascent up to 12,095 ft. high Independence Pass. The road and scenery are mind-boggling. For the first time on the trip I was not tempted to take serious liberties with the speed limits. The speed limit is 25-30 mph. for most of the way to the top (~20 miles). But the scenery was so overpowering I just wanted to drink it in and hang the corner carving. Once on top of the pass you are above the timber line on some alpine tundra. From there, astride the continental divide, in the land where rivers begin, you get a magnificent view of snow-capped peaks in all directions. I wanted to go back to Aspen and make a fast run back up to the pass, but decided to press on. The Dunlop 541 on the rear was getting pretty thin, so I decided to get into Colorado Springs in time to find a new tire.
The descent from Independence Pass to Twin Lakes is the most similar to roads in the Swiss Alps that I have seen in the US. There were numerous hairpin switchbacks that make you feel like you are chasing your tail. Try it you'll like it!
From Twin Lakes to Colorado Springs on US 24 is fast and merely Colorado beautiful.
I got to my sonís house (mooch stop and play with the grandchildren) in Colorado Springs about 1:00 p.m. and immediately dove into the yellow pages to find motorcycle tires. The local BMW dealer (Rocky Mountain Motorcycles) gave me a great deal on a replacement rear tire and, in spite or being very busy, got it mounted for me before closing time. Then we had a nice relaxing evening of dinner and basketball in the driveway.
Day 8: Colorado Springs Arkansas City, KS (~560 miles) -- no rain
Boring super-slab ride across eastern Colorado and Kansas. But the evening with my daughter and grandchildren (mooch stop) was enjoyable.
Boring superslab ride south on I-35, but home.
I'd do it all again tomorrow if I could take the time off.