Colorado is a great place to ride, on the road or in the dirt.
Radek Motal, a visitor to the United States from Prague in the Czech Republic who took this photo off Colorado Route 141 not far from Naturita, Colo., says: “Looking back at all the pictures we took brings back a lot of nice memories, and so it's difficult to pick one that would capture the spirit of the trip.”
Here are four road routes you’re sure to enjoy.
1. The Unaweep Scenic Byway, Colorado Route 141 from Grand Junction to Placerville. One of the signs that you’ve found a potentially great motorcycle route between two towns is the fact that there’s a more direct route connecting them that everyone else usually takes.
The Unaweep Scenic Byway delivers on that potential. If all you want to do is get from Grand Junction to Ouray, you’d take U.S. 50 and 550. If, on the other hand, you want to have fun, well …
Rolling out of Grand Junction, named because it’s where the Colorado and Gunnison rivers converge, Route 141 runs for miles through Unaweep Canyon, which is thought to have been carved by an ancient, extinct river. That river cut through a high plateau, exposing hundreds of millions of years worth of geologic record.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the small towns of Gateway, Nucla and Redvale saw a boom as the area’s deposits of uranium were discovered. But that boom is long gone, leaving behind this road that runs beneath thousand-foot sheer cliffs and unbounded skies.
The word that sums up the Unaweep Byway is remote. It’s nothing to pass only a half-dozen cars in 100 miles. By the time you’re through, having picked up state Route 62 and U.S. 550 to complete your trip, tiny Ouray almost looks like a big city.
2.The San Juan Skyway, U.S. Route 550 from Ouray to Durango, including the Million Dollar Highway. You’d think if you named a road something impressive, like “The Million Dollar Highway,” there’d be a good reason.
In fact, there are a couple of possible explanations why the section of U.S. 550 from Ouray to Silverton has that name. And they may even be true.
Supposedly, the crushed rock used in the road bed included low-grade gold ore, stuff not worthy of processing, making this a highway of gold. Then there’s the fact that building a road over Red Mountain (which tops out at 11,008 feet) wasn’t exactly cheap.
Regardless of whether you believe either of those stories, there’s no doubt you’ll find plenty of million-dollar scenery all along this ride.
In addition to Red Mountain Pass, the road climbs over 10,910-foot Molas Divide (where 140-mile views have been documented), before dropping down through river valleys toward Durango, where you can pick up the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, offering trips along the route that was used to haul gold from some of Colorado’s richest mines.
3. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado Route 92 from Gunnison to Hotchkiss. This one is definitely a sport-rider’s route.
Heading west out of Gunnison, Route 92 skirts Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest lake, then serves up some of the most relentlessly serpentine pavement you’ll ever ride.
Soon, you reach the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, with turnouts where you can look down into this narrow, twisting defile carved by the Gunnison River. In places, it’s up to 2,400 feet deep and just 1,300 feet wide.
This route also comes with a plus. Thanks to the protection of the tall mountains all around, the region has an unusually balmy micro-climate. When other areas of the Rockies are cloudy, it’s not uncommon to find clear skies here.
4. The Silver Thread Scenic Byway, U.S. 160 from Pagosa Springs to South Fork, and Colorado Route 149 to Lake City.Looking for a more relaxed way to appreciate Colorado’s awesome mountain scenery. This is your route, combining easier sweeping curves with high passes and colorful history.
Route 160 climbs over 10,850-foot Wolf Creek Pass on the Continental Divide before reaching the junction with Route 149, which traverses aptly named Mineral County before climbing two more 10,000-foot-plus passes on the way to Lake City.
In this area, the mountains are littered with abandoned mining structures and ghost towns, some of them accessible on dual-sport bikes on spur roads. But even if you stick to the paved roads, you’ll get spectacular vistas well worth the ride.
The region has three other claims to fame: First, it’s the home of the headwaters of the mighty Rio Grande River, which flows 1,885 miles from here to the Gulf of Mexico. Second, the town of Creed, once home to Bat Masterson and Calamity Jane, was known as the roughest mining town in Colorado. And third, Lake City was the place where a man named Alfred Packer guided five miners into the mountains in the winter. Months later, a well-fed Packer returned as the only survivor. He was tried and convicted for cannibalism, a charge that was eventually reduced to manslaughter.