Colorado Rockies: Mountains, Mesas, and Monsoon Season?

Colorado Rockies: Mountains, Mesas, and Monsoon Season?
What a difference a day makes. Riding the ski lift at Crested Butte, my wife, Sharon, and I attempt to watch both the alpine panorama unfolding ahead and the shrinking festival grounds below where Lukas Nelson’s band POTR is performing to a growing crowd under a sapphire blue sky. Just yesterday, before the start of our RoadRUNNER tour, I was bathing in the Arkansas River and sleeping in a tent.

We’ve only been in Crested Butte a few hours but have already received a warm welcome and personal tour of the town by Dan Marshall, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. In the morning we’ll climb aboard my well-worn Suzuki 650 V-Strom and begin an early July, five-day roundtrip tour showcasing some of Colorado’s most stunning scenery with a layover in Durango to ride the historical Durango to Silverton Railroad.

Dirt roads winding into the mountains tempt us soon after we begin our tour.

A Proper Start

Departure time arrives all too soon as we drain our coffee cups at Izzy’s and reluctantly leave Crested Butte. Already quite at home here, we’re looking forward to returning at the end of the tour. We head straight for Kebler Pass, a wide, smooth dirt road recommended by Dan. It’s as spectacular as promised and fine for any bike so long as conditions are dry. Glimpsing snow covered peaks, we wind through pine forests and dense aspen groves carpeted with ferns. We spot mule deer and a moose before hitting the tarmac at Route 133. Craggy peaks transition to deep gorges as we near the Black Canyon of the Gunnison on Route 92, and the road hugs the canyon’s rim turn for turn.

We’ve gradually descended, and the topography morphs into a drier, more barren landscape. Cottonwoods line every water source, and the tall pines and aspens have been replaced with smaller scrub that clings to reddish rock faces. Signs advertise that we’re in wine country … what? It’s the first of several surprises we encounter on the tour. And where are the mountains? They’re hiding behind canyon walls, of course, but it’s amazing how quickly the peaks can vanish from sight.

Motorcycle & Gear

2005 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom

Helmet: Scorpion EXO-700
Jacket: Firstgear Kilimanjaro Air
Pants: Scorpion Deuce
Boots: Alpinestars Gran Torino GORE-TEX
Gloves: Eska Tour Waterproof

There’s another change as well; the morning’s clear skies have transitioned into an ominous display of fast encroaching storm clouds. I’m briefly concerned that the bike might blow over as we seek cover on the Coffee Trader’s front porch in Montrose. The locals sharing the porch inform us that it’s monsoon season. Yet another surprise.

The Durango to Silverton Railroad provides a mid-tour break from the bike but not from the scenery.

The storm passes, and we continue toward Ouray. We hit a few showers along the way and arrive late in the afternoon. We immediately notice the town has a different vibe than Crested Butte. Ouray, named after Chief Ouray of the Uncompahgre band of the Ute tribe, lacks some of the youthful, high-energy flash of Crested Butte, though its streets are still lined with numerous shops and restaurants.