Bicycle trip through the western regions of the USA

Part 3: Colorado


Part 4: Utah

Tuesday July 18, Moab-Fruita (96mi/154 km)

Leaving Moab, I cycled along the Colorado river through a very scenic canyon. On the river a lot of people were rafting. The landscape along highway 128 was almost as fantastic as I'd seen in Monument Valley. About 30 miles from Moab I left the canyon and entered a landscape consisting of rolling hills and prairies. When I entered Cisco, half way the trip, I thought I could refill my bottles somewhere. Wrong, Cisco was a ghost town! All the buildings seemed to be deserted. Luckily there were some people busy with road constructions. After refilling my bottles I headed for the next part over the freeway to Colorado. It was allowed to cycle on the freeway, because there were hardly any other alternatives from Moab to Grand Junction.


Colorado river

Colorado valley

The only other alternative was the dirt trail along the Colorado River. This so called Kokopelli trail is 120 miles long and without a mountain bike, a good map and plenty of water and food not recommended, certainly not one day.

The ride along the freeway was not too bad, except for my first flat tire of the trip. The four lanes had wide shoulders and there was hardly any traffic. After a long day ride and more than 90 miles from Moab I arrived back into civilization. In a small village of Fruita, near Grand Junction, I pitched my tent at an expensive RV campground.

Wednesday July 19, Fruita-Lake Vega (77mi/124 km)

With a just bought detailed state map of Colorado I'd find my way over small back roads along lots of orchards, leading me around Grand Junction. When I'd wanted to pay for some peaches at one of the fruit stands, they offered it for free! At the turn-off to Colbran, I'd finally left the freeway. The narrow paved road was going through green meadows and farmland, reminding me of the Ardennes in Belgium or the Black forest in Germany. I ended the day at a primitive campground at Lake Vega.

Thursday July 20: Lake Vega-Glenwood Springs (63mi/102 km)

Riding on the mountainous gravel roads I hardly met other traffic and enjoyed viewing the wild life. At the end of the day I descended down to the Colorado valley, the last part to Glenwood Springs I had to cycle again over the freeway. Glenwood Springs is a busy tourist resort town. In the distance the snow capped Rockies were already visible.

Colorado riverColorado river

Friday July 21: Glenwood Springs -State Bridge (68mi/110 km)

From Glenwood Springs I followed the narrow Glenwood canyon, there was even a bike path along the freeway and the river! For the first time since Monument Valley I encountered two other bicycle tourists. One American girl, making a bicycle tour through Colorado, had already met a few other Dutch cyclists on her trip!

After 15 miles from Glenwood the freeway diverted from the river, but I'd decided to follow the Colorado, taking a narrow gravel road along the river and railroad. Although very remote, it was a quite scenic ride, which seemed also popular amongst other bicyclists. The villages shown on the map were often nothing more but a few farms. When I got to the hamlet of State Bridge, my fuel was empty, I forgot to get enough supplies in Glenwood Springs!

In the pouring rain I pitched my tent between the woods close to a lodge/restaurant, where I could use the shower for a few bucks. Seeking shelter from the rain, I enjoyed a good meal and live music in the restaurant.

Saturday July 22: State Bridge -Lake Granby (64mi/103 km)

RockiesThe restaurant was still closed in the morning, and I hadn't bought enough bread for breakfast and the (difficult) ride to the next town, Kremmling. Luckily the owner of the lodge gave me some donuts and a few miles further down the road I could make another breakfast stop at a holiday farm. I was set for the 30 miles dirt road to Kremmling. It was quite frustrating ride up and down. I still wonder why this road wasn't built along the railroad, following the Colorado river closely. The landscape was very scenic though, this part with snow capped Rocky mountains in the distance, reminded me a lot of the mountains of Jotunheimen, Norway.
The dirt road ended just before Kremmling, where I treated myself on a hot meal in a restaurant.
The next stage to Grand Lake went very fast and easy compared to the dirt road. I camped at a national forest campground, as always a very primitive one with poor sanitary facilities and without a shower. Because of the weekend the campground was crowded (possibly many people from Denver). Many campfires, barbecue and loud music, a typical American campground culture. Luckily the campground was "full", which meant another free site. I could pitch my tent on a spot behind some trailers, assigned by the campground host himself!

Colorado river

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National park

Sunday July 23, Lake Granby -Estes Park (63mi/101 km)

The whole day was sunny and dry. The climb through Rocky Mountain National park to the Milner pass beat my altitude records of the French Alps: 3,279m! Despite of the impressive altitudes the climb was not very hard, since I started at an elevation of 2,400 m. After Milner pass, the road continued climbing, on Trail Ridge pass I reached the highest point I'd ever been on bike: 3,713 m above sealevel! Unfortunately there were no signs along the road which proved this highlight. Another bummer were the huge crowds in the park, finding a traffic jam in a National Park is not what I expected. Between the long line of cars I headed down to Estes Park.

Monday July 24, Estes Park -Idaho Springs (68mi/110 km)

After the highlights I followed the "peak to peak highway" down south. No big passes needed to be climbed, but the highway is built across the valleys, which meant climbing up and down several times. I felt that this day was tougher than the long climb to Trail Ridge road. Half way I entered the village of ......Nederland! It was weird to be in a place named after my own country in a mountainous landscape like the Rockies. Of course I bought a couple of postcards: Greetings from Nederland, funny!

After a long descent I arrived in a small town crowded with bus loads of tourists. Black Hawk/Century City seemed to be gambling towns with lots of casino's. Resisting the gambling fever, I cycled the though climb uphill. On top of the hill I'd followed a gravel road along a few abandoned gold mines and finally arrived in Idaho Springs. Since there were no campsites, I stayed into a motel, which was nice for a change.


Tuesday July 25, Idaho Springs -Denver (99mi/160 km)

The snow capped peak of Mount Evans (4,346 m) rose high above the valley. The highest paved road climb in North America leaded to the top of this mountain. Of course I couldn't resist the challenge beating another all time high altitude record! Since I was planning to head for Denver afterwards, I headed with a fully loaded bike (!) up the mountain. The road gradually climbed at an average grade of 4% for 14 miles until reaching Echo Lake (+10,000 feet) so even with all the gear it was not too bad.

During the climb to Echo Lake a red van was passing me, every time a girl got out and chalked encouraging words on the road surface. They were also taking pictures of me and cheered me on. I was flattered by all this attention, but soon as I'd reached Echo Lake, it became clear that just behind me another cyclist was trying to tackle the climb, Greg from Illinois. His supporters offered their help to carry some of my luggage in the red sag wagon. After putting all my luggage in the back of the van, it felt almost like I had wings uphill. Greg on his fancy racing bike seemed not too fit and certainly not adapted to the high altitude and soon I'd left him behind as if he was walking.

Mount Evans

It was clear I had no problems with the altitude at all, being in this high regions for two weeks. Only the very strong winds, that nearly blew me from the road, were causing some difficulties. The grade was not very spectacular either, averaging only 5% or so. When I got to the summit, after 14 relatively easy miles from Echo Lake, I felt a bit disappointed that there was absolutely NO sign which showed the altitude!

On top of the world!

I left my bike at the parking lot, and hiked up a short trail to the actual summit. Greg, who arrived later, even carried his bike to the top! After a while, more cyclists arrived at the top. Mount Evans seemed a very popular destination for cyclists!

After saying good-bye to Greg and his family, I loaded my luggage onto the bike and headed quickly down to Denver, still 60 miles (100 km) to go! Several hours later my arrival at a campground close to Denver (Chatfield park) was a bit of a bummer after the great ride. A large, dreary and empty place, enclosed by freeways, not very nice. Luckily I was not the only one on bike. A Japanese couple, who'd just made a bike trip through Colorado, camped there also and we exchanged some experiences.

Part 4: Utah (2)