Colorado is a young state. The Europeans explored and settled it at about the same time that they explored and settled Southern African where I grew up. On our first day out of Denver we came across a tiny museum and the replica of a fort around which the busy highway made a small dogleg. Fort Velasquez was a fur trading post built to help the beaver trappers to sell their pelts to dealers. It was the activities of these French speaking beaver hunters that gave the Cache le Poudre River its name when they stashed gunpowder in a secret place by the river.
Gold also opened up the area. Water was needed to wash gold from the gravel dug out above the Dolores River so in 1889-1890 an astonishing seven-mile long flume was built. This hung 100 to 150 feet above the river delivering the water to the mine. Later the same area was developed to extract the vanadium needed to harden steel for war armaments in the 1930s and 40s. Then, when the atomic age dawned, uranium was recovered from the tailings and used in the first atomic bomb. The town of Uravan flourished till the mines closed in 1984 and now could not even supply a couple of thirsty cyclists with water.
After our attack by “no seeums” and suffering from the increasingly unseasonable high temperatures which reached 100°F, we stopped for a break at Annie’s rural Bed and Breakfast outside Norwood. Annie’s home is a turn of the century farmhouse and she is a local woman whose grandparents came first to work on the mines and then to ranch on the high plateau of Wright’s Mesa. We had a great weekend eating her good home cooking, admiring the view of the snowy mountains to the south and listening to her stories of life both past and present.
The amount of wild life in the area astonished me. On the way to Norwood we caught a glimpse of deer among the junipers and Annie’s garden had to be protected from their activities. Recently a bear was disturbed near the homestead. Sadly most of the other wild life we saw was squashed at the side of the road. More than once the smell of dead skunk revolted our nostrils and I saw many dead porcupine and more dead deer than I care to remember.
We biked down off Wright’s Mesa and, avoiding the steep ride to Telluride, stopped at the Ridgeway State Park and Campsite. This was the Hilton of campsites. Each site had its own table and benches under a beautifully tiled shelter. The views were great, below us the Ridgeway reservoir and to the south the San Juan Mountains. Then on to Montrose, which we thought was a delightful town. We later discovered that it had appeal for many people our age having been chosen by Time Magazine as one of the ten top retirement centers of the USA. Outside the town we visited the excellent new museum dedicated to the Ute People and in town we received and sent our e-mail at the public library. This free service available in many public libraries is a real boon to travellers like us.
The next day we biked due east again to the canyon carved by the Gunnison River. At the hamlet of Cimarron we visited with Mr. Newberry, the proprietor of the store started by his parents when Cimarron was a station on the now defunct railway. We had climbed up to this valley on the edge of the Gunnison River Gorge. Mr. Newberry pointed out another road 2000 feet above us on the other side of the hidden gorge. “Tomorrow you will be up there,” he declared. “Look out for my store!”
We continued climbing east, reached a high point and freewheeled down a narrow road to the Blue Mesa dam. Here we crossed the Gunnison River and began, in the early morning, another stunning bike ride. The road climbed slowly up as the river dropped deeper and deeper into the gorge below us. At the highest point we were 9000 feet above sea level with the river far below in its narrow dark gorge known as the Black Canyon and, in a gap in the hills, a tiny view of Newberry’s store. Way in the distance the snowy peaks formed a backdrop while in fields and among the trees at the road side was the loveliest display of spring flowers we had seen: bright patches of blue silver-tipped lupins among the trees, brilliant yellow ragged mule-ear daisies in green fields and purple irises in damp meadows.
This ride and the village of Crawford were a fitting finale to our tour. That weekend the village was celebrating their Pioneer days with community meals and parades. We joined in the fun, met many of the local people and decided that we were ready to spend time with relatives and enjoy a shopping spree before flying back to Europe. It had been a good trip. As always we forget the bad days so I was amused to read in my diary on the 3rd of June,
“It is a cruel land to bike in… beautiful but cruel.” I wrote. It had been very hot. I was covered by insect bites and still itching. We had not seen a café in any of the settlements we had passed through and so had to stop for a break by the side of the road where there was little shade.
All these minor things had turned me into a miserable complainer! But looking back, the memory of the bad days has faded and the many wonderful days are the ones we remember.
Back to Part One of Cycling Colorado.