Colorado Pass Roads

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

Parked at Extended Stay America in the Denver suburb of Aurora, I make sure the reinforced steel cable lock wraps around the front wheel and frame of my '04 Electra Glide. This baby's goin' nowhere. The next morning I'm packed, ready to roll, and slide the key into the barrel. It jams solid. I guess I was right. We're not going anywhere...

AAA responds to my panic call, but when the errant key shears off, it's locksmith time. An hour later, Jesus from Foothills Lock and Key slices through the cable with an angle grinder. Emergency over, and I'm finally on my way.

Four days, 12 passes

I turn off Interstate 70 west of Denver for Lookout Mountain. The Glide and I wind to the summit on gloriously curvy tarmac lined with fields and shade trees. William Cody was visiting his sister Louisa in Denver in December 1916 when his health failed. He died there shortly after. Louisa buried him on Lookout Mountain, a move disputed by Cody, Wyoming, the town Buffalo Bill founded. The dispute was formally resolved with a ceremonial burying of hatchets…in 1997!

Back on 70, I'm cruising past Idaho Springs when a sign advertising "Tommy­knocker Pub and Brewery" catches my eye. In mining lore, Tommyknockers were mischievous elves who blew out lamps or hid shovels, but they also revealed the richest veins. The side streets of this former mining town hide rows of refurbished miner cottages, and the grand frontage lining Miner Street reflect an earlier affluence. I have to pass on the brewpub. There's riding to do.

Berthoud Pass: 11,315 ft.

Stalled in construction on Highway 40 toward Granby, I buy water and peanuts at the Last General Store, the peanut bag blown up like a balloon in the thin air. Hwy 40 winds over the Berthoud Pass's turns, a heady mix of sweepers, hairpins and gentle bends, as I blast past grinding semi-trucks to the summit.

Over the pass, I descend steadily into Granby through manufactured ski resorts. The weather is closing in, and rain is falling in the surrounding mountains. I turn east for Kremmling, following the Colorado River as it pours through steep-sided Byers Canyon. That this rushing stream could be the source of a mighty waterway irrigating California is awe-inspiring.

Fremont Pass: 11,318 ft.

In Kremmling I ask the gas jockey if it'll rain. "Ninety-five percent certain," she says. I get into my rain gear. Five miles later on Highway 9, I'm stuck in another construction holdup when the precipitation starts. A blustery chill buffets the Glide and the temperature plummets as I roll back toward Copper Mountain on I-70. While I'm climbing Highway 9's winding two-laner toward Fremont Pass, the drizzle threatens sleet, yet miraculous shafts of crimson sunlight split the clouds. Leaving the precipitation at the pass, I roll into Leadville under asphalt-colored clouds.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2005 back issue.