SW Colorado & Mesa Verde

ROUTE DESCRIPTION: From Denver you can drive to Montrose
on I-70 to Clifton, then South on 50 to Montrose. Or, if you’re in less of a hurry
and want some great scenery you can leave I-70 in Glenwood and drive via
Carbondale, Redstone, over McClure pass and through Paonia/Hotchkiss to
Montrose. We chose the latter option and stopped in Paonia at The Casa on
Grand Avenue (970-527-4343) for dinner on the back patio. It was perfect.

Riding south between Montrose and Ridgeway (26 miles) there are gorgeous
views of the San Juans. The road is very slightly uphill providing a good warm up
ride before the climb up over the Dallas Divide, out of Ridgeway. The climb up is
a pretty good grade but the downhill on the other side makes it all worth it
(23 miles total). From the junction with 145 in Placerville it is a 17-mile uphill
into Telluride, with more traffic than earlier in the day.

There is a four-mile backtrack out of Telluride before you start the climb up Lizard
Head Pass. This is a great opportunity to let the legs warm up spinning before they
have to begin some tough work. The ride up the pass is about 15 miles with one
good downhill in the middle. The scenery is outstanding. I think Lizard Head is
my favorite Colorado pass so far. The downhill off the top toward Dolores seems
to go on forever. We regrouped in Dolores over root beer floats at the Ponderosa
Restaurant and Lounge (65 miles). Hoping that we could make it to
for a ruin tour we loaded up the bikes and drove the rest of today’s route into
Mesa Verde. It was spring, so not too busy, and we were able to reserve space
on the last tour of the day through Cliff House – and get on the first tour of the
next day for Balcony House. Dinner at the restaurant in the park was unusually
good. Breakfast at the cafeteria was so-so but adequate.

Although we had planned to ride through the park, we had slept through howling
wind that did not subside at daybreak. So, we left the bikes on the car and
escaped the winds that were fanning a wild fire in the distance. The wind had
not improved by lunchtime so we made the executive decision to drive into
Durango. If you are able to ride in the park, you may not want to ride the
first few miles of switchbacks from the entrance station up onto the plateau.
Although you are on a plateau, the roads are very rolling and narrow – but
the vistas are lovely. There are rules that no more that two bikes can ride together.
(The roads are narrow and this, supposedly, allows cars and big fat RVs to pass).

This is a lovely back road out of Durango: Ride north out of Durango on Florida
Rd (CR240) to East Animas Rd (CR250). Turn left on 250; stay on 250 all the
way to 550. This back road parallels Hwy 550 until just before Rockwood. This
road rolls through the lower Las Animas Valley, a great warm up for the ride over
the passes, with lovely scenery both close up and distant. After joining U.S. Hwy
550 the climb(s) begin. However, the road has wide shoulders and a very steady
grade past Purgatory Ski Area. Although the road narrows from there on, there is
little traffic and the scenery is gorgeous. After the top of Coal Bank there is a fun
descent for several miles before a shorter climb to the top of Molas Pass. Stop and
take in the views before a screaming descent into Silverton. Although the scenery
is lovely over Red Mountain Pass, the ride off the top is very winding before a
very narrow, potholed road through the canyon into Ouray.
(Mileage to Silverton is 50, Ouray is 73.)

We altered our plans for the final day and rode up through Cedaredge and part
way up the Grand Mesa (Colorado Hwy 65) before heading home. We look
forward to going back and finishing this ride. It was beautiful.

ITINERARY:
Day 1
Leave mid-afternoon to drive to Montrose (5 hours).
Stop for dinner en route.
Day’s Inn, Montrose, 1-970-249-3411

Day 2
Ride from Montrose to Telluride over Dallas Divide (66 miles)
House in Bachman Village, Telluride, 1-970-782-4952

Day 3
Ride to Dolores over Lizard Head Pass (67 miles)
Drive/ride into Mesa Verde National Park (33 miles)
Far View Lodge, Mesa Verde, 1-970-529-4422
Day 4
Ride in Mesa Verde with stops to visit sites & tour ruins (30 – 50 miles??)
Ride or drive to Durango
Jarvis Suite Hotel, Durango, 1-970-259-6190

Day 5
Ride to Silverton (49 miles) or on to Ouray (+23 miles)
St Elmo Hotel (B&B), Ouray, 1-970-325-4951

Day 6
Drive to Curecanti Reservoir (75 miles), ride to Hotchkiss (52 miles)
Or ride some or all of McClure Pass between Paonia and Carbondale
Drive back to Denver, dinner en route.