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Three Day Ride Through Black Canyon and Colorado National Monument

This Ride Report has multiple parts: 1, 2, 3
by brandon on Sep 8, 2011
Ride Dates:
Start Date: Sep 3, 2011
End Date: Sep 3, 2011
Distance: 263 mi
Rode on:
"Suzuki SV650"
Ride Report Discussion:
Go to the discussion thread!
This ride report covers a 3 day ride through Colorado over Labor Day weekend 2011. Some of the areas we visited were Gunnison, CO, Black Canyon and Colorado National Monument. The riders were Brandon on his 2004 Suzuki SV650 and Ryan on his 2011 KTM Adventure Dakar. Before the trip started, Brandon rode from Albuquerque to Denver on Friday, then after the trip, he rode back to Albuquerque on Tuesday.

Our first day started off great. We left Denver around 8:45am with temperatures in the 70's. We left by taking US 6 to I-70 out of Denver toward Vail where we would catch US 24. The ride down US 24 toward Leadville was nice. The scenery was beautiful and there were some nice curves.

We stopped for lunch in Leadville at the Golden Burro, which started in 1938 and is one of the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Colorado. The portions were a little smaller than we had expected based on the price we paid, but overall the food was good and the servers were attentive.

From Leadville we continued on US 24 as it merged to US 285 just after Buena Vista. We arrived in Poncha Springs to head west on US 50 toward Gunnison. A lot of these roads are one lane, so long lines of cars stuck behind a camper or truck are very common. Just be prepared for that. We got into Gunnison around 3:00pm and stopped at a liquor store to grab some beers and vodka for the next two nights. We then made our way to the Steven's Creek Campground on the Blue Mesa Reservoir.

The camp site was easy to find, as it was just off of US 50 about 11 miles outside of Gunnison. We setup our tents, unpacked some of the stuff off our bikes and started working on cooling down the beers. The high 80's temperatures had already started to warm them up. We built a small cooler by making a small rocked off area in the water to put the beers and help cool them down. The water was probably around 65 degrees, so it did a good job of keeping the booze chilled.

The campsite host came over as we were setting up our tents and started talking to us about what there is to do around the camping area. He asked us what we were doing tomorrow and we had just planned on riding some curvy roads around the area. He told us about Black Canyon and how there are some great cycling roads on the North Rim on US 92. He gave us a map and we made some notes and figured it sounded like a cool route, so we set the map aside for the morning. The host also told us about a restaurant just outside of Gunnison called the Trough, it’s marked by a pink pig statue outside of the restaurant. They have an adult kids meal for $8.95, which comes with a beer, burger, and fries.

One of the camping spots next to us had two or three families that had all set up camp in the same area. They had a bunch of kids and a boat full of water sport equipment. The camp site to the other side of us was still empty when we had arrived. Steven's Creek allows fires and each camp site has a nice pre-built fire pit. You can purchase firewood or go collect the driftwood that was everywhere. The driftwood burns extremely fast, so you might want to collect a lot of it before it gets dark so you don't run out. The campsite host also let us grab a couple handfuls of wood he had collected from when people left and had extra wood they didn't burn.

The first night started off good. Sunset was really nice because there were some clouds that really picked up the red/orange/pink glows as the sun set. We were tired and went to bed around 9:30 or 10. The neighbors next to us with the kids were up about an hour later than us talking and stuff. It made it a little hard to fall asleep, but we eventually did. Then an hour or so later we were awoken by two barking dogs and a screaming kid. We thought someones dog had got loose and attacked a kid, but weren’t sure. The crying and barking went on the rest of the night. It rained some time between midnight and two in the morning, but when we woke up you couldn't even tell. There weren't even any dust spots on the bikes. It must have been enough rain to make noise on the tents but that's about it.

The temperatures at night dropped into the 30's, so if you're camping in Colorado toward the end of the summer, make sure you bring a nice warm sleeping bag. Ryan got so cold he put on several layers of clothes and used his leather riding jacket to cover his face, and he was still freezing cold. Brandon had a low temperature rated sleeping bag and was comfortable through the night.

Photos from Day 1

Day 2: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Forest

by brandon on Sep 8, 2011
Ride Dates:
Start Date: Sep 4, 2011
End Date: Sep 4, 2011
Distance: 145 mi
Rode on:
"Suzuki SV650"
We noticed we had some new neighbors next to us when we woke up. All the screaming and barking was from them. They must have got in after dark and set up their camp site. It was a mom and dad with their 2 year old girl and 2 small yappy dogs. The dad took more care of the dogs than the kid, and you could tell the wife wanted nothing to do with the whole situation because she just sat in the car wrapped in a sleeping bag. Whenever we saw them, you could cut the tension between the mom and dad with a knife. She did not want to be there and she was so annoyed at the dogs and kid. They had also killed their battery in their car during the course of the night, probably due to sitting in it with the heat on but without turning the car on. They had to ask the host to jump it for them.

After eating breakfast, we backtracked to Gunnison to fuel up, then headed west on US 50 to US 92. It was about 66 miles from the campground to north rim of Black Canyon. The ride was well worth the curves, but beware, there are spots without guard rails next to several hundred feet drops. So if you're afraid of heights, you might want to take the south rim drive instead.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park North Rim is at an odd location. US 92 takes you toward Crawford and you're in the middle of farm lands, then you head on some side roads and all of a sudden you're looking down on 2,700 foot drops. Black Canyon is narrower and deeper than the grand canyon. The canyon drops 95 feet per mile. You don't really notice that when you're riding to the north rim, but on your way back you definitely notice the decent toward Gunnison. You should also beware of animals, as there were a bunch of chipmunks, squirrels and birds darting across the road. Whatever you do, don't try to dodge them or else you could fly off the mountain in a ball of flames. Also beware of rocks that have fallen into the road, as they're usually on the curves when you're least prepared to encounter them.

Make sure you take something to eat and have a full tank of gas before heading out to the Black Canyon. There isn't much around in case you run out of fuel or get really hungry. The Black Canyon North Rim isn't paved, but it's groomed gravel. Just keep this in mind when you're going out there. It's washboarded in some spots, but overall not bad. My SV650 handled it just fine. If you're looking for something less frightful and more tourist oriented, you can go to the South Rim of the Black Canyon where it's more developed.

After visiting the north rim, we ate lunch in Crawford, which is just a couple miles north on US 92. The restaurant we stopped at had a Sunday Brunch that was definitely not a diet menu. Roast beef, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, bacon, sausage, eggs, etc. The town was really small. it was basically a liquor store, two restaurants, a church and a gas station. We were the first bikers into the restaurant, but soon after a bunch more showed up. After eating lunch there, we fueled up and headed back to the camp ground.

The ride back on 92 to Gunnison seemed to go pretty quick, but the views and curves were amazing. Ryan almost hit a baby hawk at about 65mph, but it shot up at the last second. I saw it fly out of control for about 10 seconds before finally flying off normally. On the way back we also decided to see if we could get down near the river to get some photos of the Blue Mesa dam, but unfortunately the good spot was gated off for dam workers only.

We got back to the camp site around 3:00pm and our tents were completely full of dust, as there are no trees and very little ground cover. Any wind just picks up dirt and dust and blows it around. Even the rainflies put all the way to the ground didn’t keep the dust out. We spent a little time trying to clean our sleeping bags and stuff, then decided to re-build our lake cooled refrigerator and put our liquor back in. We had to move it about 3 feet closer because the water receded a bit during the day. I also had to add a shade attachment to keep the beers from heating up in the sun. We waited about an hour for the liquor to cool and tried getting in the water ourselves, but it was a brisk 65 degrees, so that didn’t work out too well.

After finishing the beers we decided it would be a good idea to give some fish a new home. We weighed down the empty bottles with rocks and sand and threw them in. The only problem is one of mine didn't have enough weight in it to fully sink, so it floated around for a good hour or two. We tried smashing it by throwing rocks at it, but it got too far away for us to do any damage. After the beers we switched our focus to finishing off the vodka and coke. Note: crappy vodka does not taste good when it's not cold or without ice cubes.

We had set up our little cooler near the boat ram and the people camping to the other side of us (not the one with the 2 year old) were bringing their boat in. All the kids were on the front and one of them fell into the cold water and started crying. We saw them throw in a life jacket and one of the adults jumped in after them. It took about 5 minutes for the boat to loop back around and pick them up, meanwhile the kid is crying probably due to the freezing water.

About 7:00pm the booze really started to kick in because we thought it would be a great idea to gather as much driftwood as possible for our fire. We ended up getting a bunch of big logs and a lot of medium sized pieces. We started our fire and waited a bit to eat dinner because we weren't quite hungry yet due to the huge lunch. By now it was about 8:30pm and dark and our fire was huge and blazing. We noticed that everyone else had already gone to bed, which seemed weird because the night before they were all up until 11 or so. We ate dinner around 9 and then kept the fire going for a little longer then went to bed.

Photos for Day 2:

Day 3: Riding through Colorado National Monument

by brandon on Sep 8, 2011
Ride Dates:
Start Date: Sep 5, 2011
End Date: Sep 5, 2011
Distance: 413 mi
Rode on:
"Suzuki SV650"
We woke up before sunrise on Monday to pack up our camp site, eat and get under way. It was in the low 40's when we left around 6:50 in the morning. Today's ride called for heading to Grand Junction to see the Colorado National Monument, then we'd head back to Denver. We stayed on US 50 from our campsite all the way to Grand Junction. We saw a huge herd of bighorned sheep just a few miles away from our camp site on our way west. It's a good idea to have some gas in your tank before taking this part of the journey because there weren't very many gas stations until you get to Montrose. We fueled up there and then made our way through Delta and finally to Grand Junction. In Grand Junction we fueled up again, grabbed a snack and then took US 340 into the Colorado National Monument. Depending on when you get there, it's probably wise to fuel up before entering the park.

If you're afraid of heights, then you might want to pass this ride. It's 26 miles with a lot of spots that have no guard-rail and sheer drops of a couple hundred feet. The road itself is in good condition and has some great curves and twists through some amazing red rock canyons. There are scenic overlooks about every mile or so where you can stop and take photos of the views. We also had to be careful because there were a lot of bicyclists and slow moving traffic to watch out for. The five dollar entrance fee is worth the hour and a half to two hours it takes to get through the Colorado National Monument.

After we got out of the Colorado National Monument we found ourselves in Fruita, Colorado two miles from I-70. We ate lunch at McDonalds and fueled up once again before getting on I-70. We rode in 90 degree heat for the rest of the day. We soon found out you need sun block on the face and hands even when you are wearing a helmet and gloves. The drive from Fruita to Denver is nothing exciting because it's a single straight road and in 90 degree heat you get tired easily. We found our selves stopping every 80 - 100 miles for gas, snacks, and soda. One cool thing about doing I-70 from Grand Junction to Denver is the wide change in scenery. It starts off very sandy looking in Grand Junction, then slowly turns into the ski areas with lots of pine trees. We made our last stop in Frisco, Colorado at a gas station that had two pumps and lots of traffic. Once we got about 5 miles outside of Georgetown we found out everyone was heading back at the same time, so for 25 miles we did anywhere from 3 - 50 mph. This took us about an hour and half to get past Idaho Springs. From there, it was a smooth ride back to Ryan's place.

Photos from Day 3:

Some things we learned throughout the trip:
1. Having cigarette adapter plugs for our phones and headsets came in extremely handy. The campsite didn't have any power outlets to charge things, so we wouldn't have had any other way to keep things charged.

2. Put some sunscreen on your wrists, hands and face when you're riding all day. The sun finds strange ways to work into cracks and you end up with sunburns when you thought you'd be fine.

3. Bring a sponge to help clean your cooking gear.

4. When you stop for food, grab some extra napkins and keep them with you. You always seem to find a need for napkins when you're camping.

5. If you’re going to be foraging for wood, bring some tweezers because you’ll probably end up with a splinter at some point.

6. If you don't have anything to start a fire with use antibacterial gel.
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