Tour through Southwest Colorado

by brandon on Feb 22, 2011
Ride Dates:
Start Date: Sep 3, 2010
End Date: Sep 6, 2010
Distance: 1,450 mi
Rode on:
"Suzuki SV650"
Ride Report Discussion:
Go to the discussion thread!
Around August 20th, my buddy and I decided to do some kind of long ride over Labor Day weekend. Without having too much time to plan, we decided on doing a tour through SW Colorado.

Our only real requirements were to camp instead of staying in a hotel and to see some new areas of Colorado neither of us had been to.

I live in Albuquerque, NM and he lives up in Denver, so the plan went like this:

Friday September 3rd
I ride up to Denver from Albuquerque.

Saturday September 4th
We ride down to Pagosa Springs taking back roads and set up camp there.

Sunday September 5th
We ride from our camp ground to Mesa Verde and see some cliff dwellings then ride back to Pagosa

Monday September 6th
We pack up camp and head back to I-25 and see the Great Sand Dunes along the way. Then we split up and head home.

Total distance for me: about 1,450 miles

Day 1 - Albuquerque to Denver - 440 miles
I purchased some Nelson Rigg CL-950 saddlebags from NewEnough and packed them up the night before. In the morning I attached everything to my bike and headed off.

Since we were camping, I had to pack a sleeping bag and my sleeping pad. Amazingly, I was able to fit everything on the bike without any real issues. I also bought a magnetic tank bag that came in handy for gloves, camera and other misc. stuff.

When I left Albuquerque at 7:30am, there were wind gusts hitting about 50mph. Luckily that died down a few miles out of the city. It got colder and colder and I had to stop and put on my heavy gloves.

I stopped for lunch in Trinidad, CO and then started riding again. By now the temps were warming up and I could switch back to my summer riding gloves.

The ride was pretty uneventful, just normal highway riding, and I made it to my buddy's house around 3pm or so.

That night, we went to REI and bought a new camping stove and I bought a little folding chair (which you'll see below). We ate and had some drinks and then went to sleep.

Day 2 - Denver to Pagosa Springs - 275 miles
We woke up and ate and then started riding around 9:00am. We took 285 to 112 to 160 which lead us right to our campground (about a mile east of Pagosa Springs).

There was quite a bit of traffic the first half of the ride, but the scenery was amazing. We only almost got lost once (almost started heading east on 24 instead of staying on 285/24W).

We started getting really hungry but couldn't find any places that looked good to eat along the way, so we decided just to wait until we got to Pagosa. When we got into town we stopped at the first place we could find and got some burgers. This was about 2:30 and there must have been 2 waitresses working for the entire restaurant. That would have been fine any other day, but it just so happened there was a huge motorcycle rally about 40 miles away in Durango and there were a ton of people looking to eat here. We finally got our food and ate and went to check into our campsite around 3:45.

We got our campsite set up and then decided to go into town and relax in some of the hot springs after being on the bike all day. The hot springs were nice, but smelled like sulfur. The pools ranged from 89-109 degrees. We stayed in the 100 degree pool the whole time.

After drying off, we decided to hunt down a liquor store and buy some beers for the night. After riding back and forth along the main drag 3-4 times looking for a liquor store the iphone said existed, we finally stumbled upon one and bought some beers.

We got back to the campground and started a fire and ate (we just brought the freeze-dried backpacker meals and had those for breakfast and dinner).

After eating an when the fire died down, we decided to call it a night and went to sleep. It got down into the high 30's that night, but luckily our sleeping bags were good for temps well below that.

Leaving in the morning

Wrong turn on 24

Near Pagosa Springs (coming down 160)

Hot springs

The campground

These little chairs are awesome for camping, even though we had a picnic table (we didn't know we'd have one)

Day 3 - Pagosa Springs to Mesa Verde and back to Pagosa Springs - 240 miles
Today we got up early and had breakfast (more freeze-dried backpacking meals). We then hit the road and headed out to Mesa Verde. It was about 100 miles to get to the National Park, and then we had to ride through it.

On the way there, it started to get overcast and we thought it might rain, which i wasn't too excited about since I had left my saddlebags and rain gear at the campsite. Fortunately the clouds broke and the day turned beautiful.

We got to Mesa Verde and rode through the park looking at all the sites. The way the park's set up is pretty much everything is within a 1/2 mile walk from the road, so you just drive/ride around and pull over at designated areas and walk to see things.

We started by going to the visitor center and learning we got there too late to go on the guided tour through the biggest cliff dwelling there (Long house). They had some later tour spots open but we didn't want to wait around there all day or else we'd be riding back to the campsite at night.

We ended up doing the driving tour and got to see Long House from across a valley and got to see some other dwellings up close.

I'd highly recommend this as a place to go see. Just make sure you fuel up first because there's about 50-60 miles of road back through here to drive around.

We stopped for a late lunch in the park then headed back to the campsite.

When we got back to our campsite, we realized the beer we had leftover from the night before was rather warm. Since our campsite was against a river, we decided to ghetto-cool them and just put them in the river for a half hour and then sat there and drank them as they got colder.

We still had one bundle of firewood left but decided we wanted to get more, so before it got too dark we found a huge log we could burn and proceeded to burn it down the middle so we could have free firewood for several hours (vs. paying $5 per bundle). It worked well then we got tired and went to bed.

At Mesa Verde

Ghetto cooling our beers

Giant log

Day 4 - Pagosa Springs to Great Sand Dunes National Park (122 Miles) - and then to Albuquerque (365 miles)
On our last day out, we decided we had enough freeze dried backpacking meals for breakfast and I had some poptarts I brought. We headed out after that and started riding to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

About 20 miles outside Pagosa Springs we had to climb a few thousand feet in elevation (the shots from Day 2 when we were overlooking the big valley). The temps dropped dramatically and we started to freeze. Fortunately it warmed up pretty quick after that.

The ride to the Sand Dunes area was nice and scenic. There are a few towns along the way where it goes from 65mph to 25mph in about a half mile, so you really need to watch out.

We got to the sand dunes at around 11am and walked around there. It was like being in the middle of a huge desert. Sand everywhere and the dunes were probably 1,000 feet high off the ground at some spots. We saw people sledding and sandboarding.

Since we still had a long day ahead of us, we didn't climb all the way to the top, but we did get to walk around on them for a bit.

After leaving there, we got stuck in a long line of cars heading back to the interstate. When we hit Walsenburg we split up and Ryan headed back to Denver and I went south to Albuquerque.

I stopped in a little town called Wagon Mound to fuel up, stretch and get a 5 hour energy when all of a sudden some ambulances flew by and a medi-copter landed on the interstate. Apparently there was some huge accident just before I got off the interstate that I wasn't aware of (it was the direction opposite the way I was going).

They had the interstate blocked both directions about 1 mile out each way. Luckily they hadn't closed the onramp and I was able to get on the interstate just fine. The road was my own for about 20 miles before I started coming across any cars again. It was a very strange feeling.

All in all the trip was a blast. My ass hurt beyond belief the last day from riding so much, but I guess that's all part of the experience.

Heading into the Great Sand Dunes National Park

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