Following the Rockies
When I started out on day two, I didn’t know which route I would take through Colorado. Once I got to Durango I stopped at a Starbucks and checked out my options in more detail. After considering a couple routes, I decided to make Grand Mesa my destination for the day. As the name implies, Grand Mesa is a large alpine mesa located east of Grand Junction, Colorado. I camped there many years ago and thought it would be a good idea to see what it was like after so many years.
To get to Grand Mesa I would need to take Route 550. Colorado has some awesome roads for the motorcycle enthusiast, and there is no better example than Route 550 that connects Durango with Silverton and Ouray. You know you are on a route favored by motorcyclists when you see a couple hundred bikes along the way. This approximately 100-mile section of winding road is loaded with one spectacular view after another. It also crosses two high mountain passes, one that is over 10,000 feet and another over 11,000 feet. The first one, Molas Pass, is also where the Colorado Trail crosses Route 550.
Once I left Ouray, Route 550 loses elevation and straightens. I passed the towns of Montrose and Olathe and then headed east out of Delta where I connected to the road that goes to Grand Mesa. If you have never been there before, you would certainly be impressed with Grand Mesa. It is an expensive alpine forest situated at over 10,000 feet and loaded with lakes. Additionally, the camping facilities were excellent. From either side of the Mesa the views were 70 miles or more and exceptional. Grand Mesa was even better than I remembered it.
Next stop on my way north would have been Walden, Colorado or possibly Laramie, Wyoming. There was also a possibility that I might have headed east through Poudre Canyon to Fort Collins. The Fat Tire Brewery is there, which would have been an added advantage.
I took Interstate 70 east for a while and then cut off on a secondary road to Walden. Most of the day the weather remained sunny with just a few clouds in the sky. However, off in the distant north I could see dark clouds over a mountain range. As I got closer, I realized the dark clouds were over the mountain range that is between Steamboat Springs and Walden. Once I got to Walden I stopped for a late lunch and to figure out where I wanted to spend the night. From what I could see of the clouds around Walden it looked like the route to Laramie had the least cloud cover. Since it was likely to rain sometime during the night, I decided to find a place to stay in Laramie. I requested an AirBnB that seemed reasonable, but the lady who had it listed could not get the room ready on such short notice. So, a cheap motel was my destiny for the night.
The next morning I stopped by a local coffee shop (Coal Creek) for breakfast and to see if I could get a camping recommendation for northern Wyoming. One of the patrons in the café grew up in Cody and said that the Bighorn National Forest between the towns of Buffalo and Ten Sleep offered some great camping opportunities. I checked it out on the map and decided that the Bighorns would be my next stop on my way to the Great White North.
To get to the Bighorns I would travel first to Casper, Wyoming which was about 150 north of Laramie. The only town in between was Medicine Bow where the historic Virginian Hotel is located (http://historicvirginianhotel.vpweb.com/Pictures-Upcoming-Events.html). If I had been looking for a place to stay, I certainly would have picked it.
The country between Laramie and Casper was exactly like I remembered Wyoming. High grassy plains with mountains off in the distance in all directions. Along the route there were more prong horned antelope than people. By the way, do you know how antelope negotiate barbed wire fence? Rather than jump the fence like deer or elk, they somehow squeeze themselves under the lowest strand of wire. I remember seeing an antelope do that many years ago when I lived in Wyoming. I saw it again while in route to Casper. An antelope ran across the road in front of me, then slid under the lowest strand of wire hardly missing a stride. Amazing.
Riding along, I also reflected on how fond I was of Wyoming when I lived here. The air was perfectly clean and the views seemingly went on forever. And every now and again I passed through an area where I could smell the subtle fragrances of the sweet grass that covers the high plains. My mind couldn’t help but wonder what life was like before Europeans came west. Nomadic native peoples living off the vast herds of bison. I wished I could have experienced that.
Once I got to Buffalo, Wyoming I headed west to the Bighorn Mountains in the direction of a little town named Ten Sleep. As expected the Bighorn Mountains were spectacular with lots of lakes and streams, and plenty of excellent camping opportunities. I found a great spot by a mountain lake that I had all to myself. The next morning I road into Ten Sleep for breakfast and then down the road another 100 miles to Cody, Wyoming.