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Journey to the High Country, Pt. 3

Welcome to Part 3 of my Colorado ride report. The scenic hits keep coming in this edition! In the last part, I had pitched my tent for the night in Glenwood Springs, CO; we start there…

Thursday, June 27th – Black Canyon of the Gunnison & Cottonwood Pass

I woke up at a somewhat more relaxed time and rolled out of the tent; the day looked like it’d be a good one…at least as far as mountain weather goes. I quickly packed up my trash, stopped by the local McD’s for a “Big Breakfast”, and rolled south to catch what I’d passed by the evening before, CO133 at Carbondale. I had no idea where I’d be when the sun went down.

I turned south on CO133 and marveled at the wonderful morning. A little ways south of Carbondale, Mt. Sopris (12,953′) exemplified what it was like…perfect.

The road was fantastic, with nice sweepers and a some tighter stuff as I came up on McClure Pass (8763′). It’s not a high pass, relatively speaking, but that doesn’t mean it was short on views.

Just another day cruising in Colorado…the wildlife…

Approaching McClure Pass…and more stunning views, with a little preview of what was coming up…

Partway up the initial climb up McClure, I ran into my first real construction stoppage on the trip. A bunch of guys were descaling the rock face beside the road (too far ahead of me for a pic). I was stopped for about 10 minutes and then moved on, but not before looking back down the road.

I’ve always considered Colorado one of the most scenic states…so I tend to gawk.

A little bike pr0n…McClure Pass.

Without stopping at the summit (basically a cut with no views), I made my way just down from it and stopped at a turnout to gaze at what was to come…a good little ride, that’s what!

One last look back up towards the summit. Have I mentioned that the FJR is the perfect machine for such a job?

After clearing the pass, the ride become more of a really nice canyon running affair, rolling alongside the Paonia Reservoir. Saw an FJR going the other direction with a group…that happened a lot. I never seemed to run into actual “stopped” FJR riders on this trip, until the very end. Usually it was FJRs zipping by in the other direction or folks walking up to me or the bike and professing to their liking or wanting an FJR. I have no trouble extolling the virtues of this fine machine to anyone who asks. 😉

Along the Paonia Reservoir…the sign tells the story….FUN!

I continued down CO133 with the goal of reaching Hotchkiss, CO where it looked like CO92 might be a good choice to hop on. Along the way, I experimented with some dirt…

This road leads up to Kebler Pass (10,007′), which heads east over to Crested Butte, a place I wanted to visit a bit later, but not right then. I turned around after having gone a number of miles up the road and facing down a few dump trucks. This is a road I have to explore in the future; it’s paved in bits here or there, but is treated dirt for the most part.

Back on 133, I continued heading south until I reached Hotchkiss, then turned east onto CO92. I had no real preconceived notions or prior knowledge about 92 other than noticing it skirted the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, so I reasoned that it had to interesting. I was richly rewarded for the pick as it turned out to be one of the best roads I’d ever run…

CO92 starts out rather sedately from Hotchkiss and then, as it approaches the rim of the canyon, the fun begins. The road clings to the side of the canyon like fudge drizzled over ice cream, with heaps of high speed sweepers and the occasional tight turn thrown in for good measure. The best part was there was little to no traffic…just an open, twisty ribbon of good pavement. Feej got a workout…

92 starts quietly…

Then hits the Black Canyon of the Gunnison…the gash you see on the right in the photo below.

Commence giggling like a school girl…

No shortage of views along CO92 and the canyon.

If you look hard, you can see 92 back in the distance as it loops around up to where I was at. Sweeper city was having a sale…

Beauty shot…and the scenery of course.


92 wasn’t finished yet; it just continued to dole out the curves…an unbelievable strip of pavement….really. I couldn’t have timed it any better in terms of traffic. You can see it skirting the canyon in the distance…

Morrow Point Reservoir lies at the bottom of the canyon. It was a bit hot and that water looked refreshing.

I think this road was allocated all of the guard rails from the other roads I’d been on so far…

Here’s what you get A LOT of on this road.

CO92 as it winds its way down towards meeting US50. I’d consider this road a bucket-list road…it was so much fun and I caught it at the perfect time.

Unfortunately, CO92 ran out and I was greeted by US50, where I had to make a decision…turn right, towards Montrose (US550 – Million Dollar Highway) or turn left and head east to Gunnison. The Million Dollar Highway was on my “to-do” list, but I was thinking it would make a great closer on this trip as I dropped out of Colorado and headed home. So I headed to Gunnison.

If you hadn’t noticed, the scenery in this area is markedly different, but it still retained every bit of beauty found in the mountains. The Blue Mesa Reservoir, on the way towards Gunnison.

Upon reaching Gunnison, which I blew through quickly, I decided now was the time to see Crested Butte, so I turned north on CO135. The ride contained a bit of canyon carving and mostly straight stuff…with the attendant knock-out views.

May I present Crested Butte…

There was some sort of huge bike event going on in Crested Butte and bicyclists were all over the roads (the theme for most of my mountain riding in CO). I passed through town, just kinda following the road to see where it led, and ran into a dirt road that headed up to Schofield Pass (10,722′). I followed the road up for a few miles, but decided to turn around after checking my map. The pass is good up to the summit, but goes 4×4 on a rock shelf past that apparently…something beyond the FJRs capabilities except for the most crazy of us. 😉

Schofield Pass road, looking towards the northeast…stunning scenery!

Just can’t help it…the FJR is a thing of beauty…

Coming back south, through Crested Butte…

My next task was exiting the valley Crested Butte was in and my choices were few and the day was getting very long. I could either go back south to Gunnison and continue from there, head west over Kebler Pass (the dirt road I’d turned around on earlier in the day), or tackle Cottonwood Pass and head east to Buena Vista. Well, Kebler would’ve put me back to where I’d been earlier in the day and Gunnison didn’t seem like a good choice, so I picked Cottonwood Pass…it looked like fun.

I backtracked a bit south on CO135 until just north of Almont, CO, taking a road called Jack’s Cabin Cutoff, which was a posted detour for the normal route out of Almont that was closed for construction. The road was dirt and rather fun! After a few miles, it dumped me off along the Taylor River and a beautiful ribbon of freshly-laid asphalt (Gunnison County Road 209).

The road meandered east through the National Forest, along the river up to the Taylor Park Reservoir (9400′). It would’ve made an excellent high speed sweeper road (reminded me of NC28 out of Deals Gap) if it weren’t for it being an “open-range” road and loaded with herds of cattle. I had a few surprises around corners, but my speed wasn’t too high, so it was more of a curiosity for me and the cows, as I maneuvered between them in very tight quarters. My shutterbug instinct completely failed me throughout my bovine experience, but I did eventually reach the reservoir..

Finding the right road past the reservoir was a bit tricky as there are several leading off in various directions, but I managed to stick to County Road 209 as it turned to 14 miles of dirt to the summit of Cottonwood Pass (I didn’t use GPS while in Colorado, just my Rand McNally Road Atlas “book” on the iPhone…no connections needed). What a road! The dirt road to the summit was a challenge with a heavy bike like the FJR, especially with soft spots in the road and the loose gravel switchbacks, but the ole girl did it, reaching the 12,126′ summit under clouds that were turning dark and starting to weep a bit.

Going to the summit from the west side means nothing but dirt for the whole 14 miles.

It wasn’t too bad, but the switchbacks were sketchy as they were covered with a lot more loose pea gravel. Every once in awhile a soft spot in the road would give me the heebie jeebies, but I kept the rubber side down.

Going up…

Looking back down at what I’d come up on. If this stuff were paved…oh my!

I reached the Cottonwood Pass Summit as darker clouds rolled in. I was very proud of myself for making those 14 miles without dumping the bike in some of the more sketchy sections….I came white knuckle close more than a few times. 😉

From the summit eastward, the road becomes Chaffee County Road 306 into Buena Vista and it is nicely paved all the way down…it was another fabulous bit of pavement with only a few vehicles on it.

I took one more look at the west side’s dirt road I’d come up on before setting off on the paved eastern side. You can just make out where the pavement starts at the summit.

I must confess, no photos going down the eastern side of Cottonwood…I was too busy having a frickin blast! It turned out to be a great stretch of pavement all the way down to the point where it hits the flats going into Buena Vista. The few vehicles I came up on kindly moved aside as if they knew what it was like for a motorcycle on that road. Feej was eating it up!

Once in Buena Vista, I turned north on US/CO24 and stopped to scope out accommodations for the night as the evening was creeping in fast. The local Days Inn wanted $147….for what I don’t know…perhaps the toilets had gold leaf or something. So I turned to the Allstays app on my phone; it came to the rescue as it pointed me to a little campground just north of town along the Arkansas River…not only did it have showers, but it was super cheap! Got my tent setup as the light was beginning to fade.

That night, I enjoyed a pretty tasty Subway sandwich and some beer while watching thunderstorms roll over the mountains I’d come over a bit earlier…it had been a most excellent day of riding! I wondered what tomorrow would bring…

Continues in Part 4


I live in Eastern NC, work on websites all day, and enjoy motorcycling immensely. What more need be said.
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