Pictures and Stories About Bicycle Tour Adventures
Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR - Segment):
Summitville, Stunner Pass, to Platora, Colorado;
By Bicycle Tour; July, 2011
- Cycling Summary -
Goal: Completely Ride Adventure Cycling's 'Great Divide Mountain Bike Route'.
Ride as much as allowed by the Weather and Forest Fire Smoke
on an 'Independence Day (4 July) Weekend.
This was a 4 July, 2011, 'Independence Day', Long Weekend and we wanted to ride two days on our tandem bicycle (a mountain daVinci hybrid tandem touring bike). However, like General Patton said 'The first thing to go is the Plan' and 'It is the planning that is important, not the plan'. We had expected to ride two 20 mile loops but we achieved only one 20 mile loop (40 miles total), granted that we were visiting some of the toughest back road country in the USA; we were prepared and really had a good bike ride.
We did not know it, but the 'Great Divide Mountain Bike Race' was occurring at the same time as our planned ride and we were lucky to meet three of the racers (one from Spain and two from South Africa - pictures inside). We saw other racers (two ladies from America, both named Sheila [learned later]) but they were flying downhill and we had our heads down for a tough climb in the other direction (they were by us before we could react). We saw two other gentlemen from a distance, one was ultra light and the other was pulling a Bob Yak (with a light load), but we do not know if either gentleman was part of the race.
All bicycle travel was round trip. We carried the bike in a rack behind our vehicle - no camping, prepared for bad weather, we carried snacks and lunch, and all bike cleanup and chain maintenance was saved for after arrival via dusty mountain back roads.
We stayed at the Conejos Cabins & Skyline Lodge one night
at Platoro, Colorado. We didn't know it ahead of time,
but the cabin was a duplex with active neighbors.
Temperatures reached the high 80°s F (30-32 C) each day at altitude,
and evening temperatures were in the low 70 °s F (20-22 C).
Everything worked as planned, however:
There were forest fires 300 miles away in Arizona and those fires sent smoke to our biking area; while we were in the valleys the local mountain air was pure and clear, but oddly, at around 10,000 feet altitude (3,000 m), where the air gets thin, the air was just smoky enough as to affect breathing and trigger minor asthma reactions - we really had to take it easier than planned and that robbed us of our additional planned biking distance (we thought that we would knock out this route in one day but it took a day and a half and then it rained for another half day - good for forest fire extinguishing).
ATV Road traffic got 'more busy' (dusty) the nearer we were to the small mountain community of Platora but the drivers were always courteous to us and they deliberately slowed down in our proximity (and we appreciate that behavior).
We did mount our (tougher) off-road tires on the tandem for this ride. The dirt roads on this segment were unusually bumpy and rocky; one had to be just as track selective going downhill as uphill. We could not ride fifteen minutes without hearing the sharp 'thwang' of a spoke vibration as a stone shot out sideways from underneath the tires.
The town name of 'Platora' is formed by two words, Plata and Ora; Plata is Mexican/Spanish for Silver and Ora is Mexican/Spanish for Gold. We were definitely in old and new mining country. Summitville still has a working gold mine and it is also the site of a huge Superfund Environmental Cleanup (mainly to keep heavy metals out of the water supply [creeks and ground water]).
We saw plenty of Deer and twice we saw Does with Spotted Fawns. There were numerous Striped Chipmunks (no pictures) that scurried in front of us going downhill and they would stand and laugh at us going uphill (arh arh). We caught a picture of a big fat Rock Chuck (a Wood Chuck that lives in a rocky hillside). Terry almost sat on a chipmunk and it shot away like a bullet, all we saw was a flash followed by our own laughter and jokes. Also, there were just a couple of mature Bovines on the road and they were not bothered by our presence (or visa versa).
As always, trying to set a good example, we took out more trash than we brought in.
Day 1 - Platora to near Stunner Pass
(Three passes above 10,500')
Above Left: We're just getting started; it is almost 1000 hours, we spent the night in Alamosa, we left early and it still took us 3 hours to get here. Pictured is the northern most building of Platora (Colorado) on the left side, Dennis and the Bee are in the background (facing northwest, our travel direction for now), and Terry is getting up close to some wild Irises.
Above Right: New to us, a big patch of short Yellow Yarrow (looked like Dandelions at first).
Above Left: Blue Flax.
Above Right: Columbine (State Flower of Colorado; it is growing out of a Geranium clump).
Above Left: Yellow Button Sun Flower.
Above Right: Wild Rose (Primrose) - The nearby air wafted of rose, in fact we would pedal in and out of rose aromas for most of the day.
Above Left: Dennis and Terry Struck on a Bicycle Tour of Colorado: Stunner Pass at 10,541' (3,212 m). Stunner is a mining ghost town on Alamosa Creek (ahead of us yet, it is located at the bottom of this coming downhill bike run; also, we get to climb this pass again coming back). This is the lowest elevation pass, of two more that we will see today - Cool!
Above Right: The other view from the Stunner Pass sign (Terry and the Bee + just a little haze from smoke).
Above Left: The blue plant is Penstemon; the white plant is Alpine Phlox. We have learned that the word Alpine [altitude-pine] actual implies that a plant is short lived, can grow in minimal soil conditions, and is usually short rooted.
Above Right: A view down the road, Lookout Mountain, 12,448'.
Above Left: Purple Vetch (barely visible in this small print), its other name is Loco Weed (makes cattle act crazy).
Above Right: This is Luke and Marian, from South Africa, on the Great Divide Bike Race. We're guessing that this is about Day 17 or 18 of what is usually a 30 day race. We were not smart enough to ask what was taped to the lower front fork of Luke's bike. The Great Divide racers are the ultimate ultra-light packers. They shared about 5 minutes of their time and we really appreciated the opportunity.
We wish that the photo could show their faces a little better, they were very friendly. We suspect that they don't mess with sunscreen and that they pretty much just stay covered in one multi-purpose outfit (less weight = more miles per day). They did mention words to the effect that the past few days of riding [from central to southern Colorado] had been the most challenging so far - they were doing this hard race work and they were complementing us for taking the challenge, well that made our day.
Addendum: We just read online that a gal name Marian finished 39 but a guy name Luke is still on the course - I would love to know the rest of that story [9 July 2011], perhaps the information is out of date or incorrect, we can't imagine them not being together.
Above Left: Little Red Mountain (center, 12,601') and Big Red Mountain (right side, 12,636'): The naturally exposed iron (red color) told the original miners that there were heavy metals in the area, thus they mined here for gold (and they found some gold and silver). The remnants of Stunner are just to the left side (and not visible from this photo position) and Alamosa Creek cuts through this valley and is visible between the two tallest trees (down hill is to the reader's right). We will take the uphill road (of course) the left of the middle tall tree.
Above Right: Alamosa Creek near Stunner, Colorado. Alamosa is Spanish/Mexican for Cottonwood Tree(s) but the Cottonwood trees are much further down stream in the San Luis Valley.
Above Left: We're next to Alamosa Creek and turning left for a climb toward Summitville via the old settlement area of Stunner.
Above Right: One of the remnant dwellings of the Stunner settlement area (now a NF Campground, behind us).
Above Left: Wild Irises.
Above Right: Lunch.
Above Left: A private lake, but we pedal around the corner and get to climb some more.
Above Right: Climb, climb, climb.
Above Left: We heard the water-fall/rapids before we saw them. This is where we took a little break and just as Terry was about to sit down, a panicked Chipmunk shot out of a little tunnel - we had a good laugh about that.
Above Right: Looking at the Bee from the water fall overlook.
Above Left: Shooting Star (many varieties and colors, found only at high altitudes in Colorado). We're guessing that the elevation is about 9,800' (2,900 m) here.
Above Right: A little roadside spring.
Above Left: Clumps of white Phlox.
Above Right: Our turnaround point for the day, it's 1500 hrs; the elevation is about 11,200' (3,400 m). The low point of the tree line on the right side of the image is Elwood Pass (at about 12,000'). The next image (following) is a wide panorama view taken from this same spot. Summitville is still about 6 miles away.
Above: Panorama view of the high altitude park area near Elwood Pass, Colorado: Now we head back to Platora; it's just 15 miles each way and we're averaging just less than 4 MPH in this terrain at these altitudes. It's really not too bad, but another Great Divide Racer (from Spain) is about to catch-up with us and pass us.
Above Left: Reverse view from the previous panorama.
Above Right: This is Joel Martinez (associated with Buscoa?), we are standing next to Alamosa Creek, having a snack and we're about to cross the bridge and make the big climb to Stunner Pass (again). Joel is a Great Divide Bike Trail Racer and he is from Spain. He's a writer and he brought a Mountain Bike from Spain, unfortunately a small part in the bike's derailer failed/broke (not clear about the actual mechanical issue) and he was relegated to the use of only some of his gears. It took him a while to get to the Breckenridge/Dillon area where it took a couple days to get a replacement part/piece at a local bike shop (part of the waiting time was caused by American bike shops not carrying his particular Spanish made bike parts). As we understand his explanation, an American mechanic did know of an American made part that could be substituted and they got a Next Day UPS delivery that fixed the problem. In any case, Joel was of good spirit and he was making up for lost time. We got to meet Joel again, later at a restaurant in Platora, when he was finishing a big cheese burger and fries meal more or less upon our arrival (there were only a few meal options). We wished him only good fortune.
Addendum: I just read online that Joel finished 43 of about 70 starters - very good Joel! [9 July 2011]
Above Left: Rock Chuck (near Stunner Pass on the Platora side).
Above Right: A view of the Platora mountain resort area (taken upon our return).
Day 2 - Starting to near Elwood Pass - To and From Summitville
Above Left: Early Start; it is about 0600. We're the only people on the road and we have been seeing a lot of deer.
Above Right: Elwood Pass: Dennis' watch altimeter indicates 11,800' (3,590 m, the watch altimeter has been off by as much as 300'/100m before, so it is only a relative reference tool) and the contour map indicates 12,000' (3,650 m). We made it, no matter what the official elevation is, now onto Summitville (in the direction of South Fork). That little strip of Yellow on the other side of the bushes is Dennis waving from the Bee. Technically, the actual high point of the pass road is about 100 yards to our left, we're going right; the road to the left is ugly, muddy, 4X4 road, with deep tracks.
Above Left: Blue Fringe (sometimes the plant is purple).
Above Right: That stump in the back center of the clearing is a Buck in velvet. The deer show continues, but they're usually gone before Yo mismo can get the camera operating.
Above: The [embeded Facebook] video is dark because it is early morning; please shift your viewing position, if needed, to see the video with as much monitor/display light as possible (if the video is not on display or the site is down, the URL is http://www.facebook.com/v/226297337402167).
The Story: Dennis just happened to see a Deer walk down the slope about 1/8 of a mile (.5 k) in front of us (Terry could not see the Deer through Dennis). All of the conditions were perfect for a movie recording: it was 0630 hrs, sun to our backs, shadow of tandem in the movie, there is motion (it was the camera that was in motion), there was movement noise (tires on gravel and wind), there was a slight downhill run so no worries about braking or pedaling, just pointed and shot (and didn't run off the road - Copilot gets nervous on road edges), we're probably moving at 20 MPH. We were at about 10,000' elevation on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route between Elwood Pass and Summitville, in southern Colorado.
Above Left: Oh man, we have to turn right for one more climb. We see a Doe and a Spotted Fawn about 100 yards after our turn. We are at about 9,800' and we will climb up to a high land park that is at about 11,500' - We're having fun now!
Above Right: Back view; picture taken right after seeing a Doe and Fawn; Sunrise on the Divide.
Above Left: High road to Summitville.
Above Right: Snow Plow Markers (big drifts here); Dennis and the Bee.
Above: The last summit before Summitville (in view at the bottom of the road on the left), this is a panorama of the high land park (old beaver pond in center, with trout). We are at about 10,900' (3,300m). That is Elephant Mountain (12,829'). We came up via the road on the right. The base of the mountain on the left side is successful mine tailing reclamation and the left side of the mountain is missing (mined out).
Above Left: You too can own mining land.
Above Right: It is not a clear picture, but this is where we turned around on our Del Norte to Summitville trip, in 2010. There is an old Cabin frame down there (bottom center).
Above Left: Stopping for a mid morning snack. Dennis has got to learn how to smile and take a picture at the same time - Terry is always amused by Dennis.
Above Right: View of the Bee, from our snack break.
Above Left: Hundreds of Alpine/Snow Buttercups (they're small).
Above Right: Tundra Big-Root Springbeauties (shortest root to flower plant).
Above Left: We are on our way back and we note that Tom was here.
Above Right: I see a dragon!
It does not look like it, but in one hour it will start raining off and on for the rest of the day. The rain is welcomed by everyone, especially the Fire Fighters in Arizona. We are proud of our tour work and we decide to call it a day (6 hour drive home).